Greek, Middle Eastern food, music and culture served up at Rohnert Park festival

Marti Kennedy, an Episcopalian from Santa Rosa, sat on a wooden pew inside St. George Orthodox Church, a darkened sanctuary with sweet incense burning and icons depicting the congregation’s Christian faith on all four walls.

“I came to have food and see the church,” she said, awaiting a tour by a priest of the Rohnert Park parish, Rev. Nektarios Raie. “I want to hear what he has to say.”

Outside in bright sunlight, people of all ages were listening to live music and munching on authentic Mediterranean cuisine at the church’s 13th annual Greek & Middle Eastern Festival, which continues Sunday from noon to 9 p.m.

The festival, put on by the congregation of about 100 families hailing from Fairfield to Santa Rosa, is intended to “share our religious and cultural heritage with the community,” said Raie, wearing a long black robe with a bright red and gold cross on a chain around his neck.

On the tour, Raie said he would explain how Orthodox faiths “see the holy fathers and recognize the Virgin Mary,” whom they call Theotokos, which means mother of God in Greek.

“We say she’s the mother of light,” he said.

Raie also recommended kunefe, a dessert with a bright orange top overlaying sweet cheese, one of the Greek and Middle Eastern foods that had people lined up to savor.

“It’s a great event. Excellent food,” said Nick Egan of Petaluma, seated under a tent in the church’s small courtyard, where he consumed skewered chicken cooked over a grill and stuffed grape leaves called dolmas.

“Religion is something we’re interested in,” said his wife, Angela. “We like seeing how different cultures celebrate.”

Their daughters — Lily, 8; Isla, 5; and Wren, 3 — got henna tattoos on their arms.

“You can’t go in the (inflatable) bouncy with it,” a woman advised, since the dark brown henna needs time to dry.

Isla ate chicken with rice and a snow cone, which she pronounced “good” with an emphatic nod.

Linda Tams of Rohnert Park, whose father and uncles founded the local Orthodox congregation, said festival proceeds support the congregation, with some of the money going to needy people who ask for help, regardless of their faith.

Tams, a lifelong member, said the Orthodox Church enables “different nationalities and cultures to come together. We’re not all Greek, Arabic or Russian; we are all one and we pray together.”

Kennedy said Saturday was her third visit to the festival in about a dozen years. Her mother, a Hungarian, was raised in the Greek Orthodox Church but became a Roman Catholic when she adopted her husband’s faith.

She attends Church of the Incarnation in Santa Rosa.

George Wiltshire of Santa Rosa said he was looking for a place to have lunch when he saw the festival sign and pulled in.

“Very good,” he said, munching on a steak gyro with shredded lettuce, onions and tzatziki sauce made of Greek yogurt mixed with cucumber, olive oil and herbs.

Five women from a Balkan music ensemble called Gradina sang for the crowd, wearing bright red aprons they bought on a trip to Bulgaria and embroidered blouses.

Jana Mariposa, the group’s spokeswoman, played an accordion and tamburá, a four-stringed Macedonian instrument that resembles a mandolin.

Wiltshire, a folk dancer who was raised a Methodist, said he enjoyed their performance.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or On Twitter @guykovner.

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