Once a church picnic, now a 3-day Greek Festival

Food, music, dancing highlight Greek culture at Church of the Annunciation in Cranston this weekend


The late Reverend Peter G. Mihailides would be proud of what will take place this weekend on the spacious grounds at 175 Oaklawn Avenue in Cranston.

One hundred and one years ago, Father Mihaildes immigrated from his native Nysiros – a.k.a. the Dodecanese Islands -- in Greece, settled in Rhode Island and celebrated the First Divine Liturgy at Church of the Annunciation on Pine Street in Providence on March 25, 1921.

He was joined by his family – Presbyera Calliope and their three children – Helen, George and Emmanuel – in 1927 and was the first pastor in parish history who was married.

As time went on, Father Mihaildes had the idea of holding a church picnic on the grounds of the now vacant Club 400 in West Warwick (later West Valley Inn) that became a tradition and has since blossomed into a three-day fun and food fest that ranks among the state’s most cherished summer traditions known as the Cranston Greek Festival that will open its 36th annual three-day run this weekend.

“It’s a labor of love for everyone in our parish,” offered Rev. Father Andrew George, the long-serving pastor at Church of the Annunciation. “These
current days there is a lot of preparatory activity with our Odyssey Dance Troupe having many practice sessions and our pastry makers on site numerous evenings. Everyone is excited and preparing with great vigor.”

Thus, all is ready for what promises to be another record-setting super social event that officially opens Friday (Sept. 9) at 5 o’clock and runs until 10 p.m. Saturday. Hours are 12 noon to 10 p.m. and Sunday from noon until 8 p.m.

“We invite people to come and enjoy a taste of Greece and our culture,” said Theofanis “Frank” Markos – one of five co-chairs who is an example of the many phases of the extremely well-planned event. “We are all proud of what our Cranston Greek Festival has become.”

Markos shares his unique role with Evan Andrikos, Kevin Phelan, Tina Fotopoulos Liakos and Costa Dafoulas.

Likewise, proud parishioners Koula Rougas and Roula Proyous – who for years have been integral reasons for the on-going success – as well as Hoda Daia have shared honors for to lead Annunciation’s “Baking Brigade” who have made upwards of 40,000 pieces of Greek pastry on sale this weekend.

“Our pastry booth offers all hand-made Greek goodies,” said Paul Pliakas, popular publicity. “The selection includes our famous baklava, Galaktoboureko, rice pudding, karidopita (Greek Walnut Cake), kourabiedes (wedding cookies), koulouria (Greek butter cookies) and melomakarona (honey cookies) that all go nicely with authentic Greek coffee or a Greek Frappe (ice coffee).”

Pliakas also noted “our guests can sample a wide variety of Greek foods including roast lamb, Greek-style chicken, souvlaki, skewered pork or chicken, Pastisio (Greek lasagna), spanakopita (spinach pie) and tiropita (cheese pie).

Entertainment and culture are featured in many phases of the festival, highlighted by Annunciation’s famous and award-winning Odyssey Dance Troupe that was founded in 1984 and performs throughout the state as well as New England.

The ODT— which will have offer five prolific performances amid Greek music beginning Friday night at 7 o’clock and back-to-back shows at 4 and 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday -- is under the direction of Dr. Steven Rougas and his mother Koula Rougas and all dancers will be dressed in different Greek costumes that represent the many regions in Greece.

“We are a Greek folk dance troupe which was formed with a goal and purpose and continues to be to unite the youth and young adults of our Rhode Island community in a fun, non-competitive environment which promotes Greek Heritage,” said Dr. Rougas. “Our groups are composed of approximately 90 volunteers ages 5 and up.”

Added Pliakas, “There are many hours and as much hard work that goes into their (ODT) practices as there is during our many baking nights. When it’s festival time, Team Church of the Annunciation is ready to welcome guests from all over our great state.”

Likewise, as Dr. Rougas added,  “The ODT started with only eight children and has grown over the 38-year history into an organization which prides itself on preserving and prompting the rich Greek culture through the art of dance.”

Perhaps one of the most important parts of the Cranston Greek Festival is parking and parking is always at a premium on and around Oaklawn Avenue, additional free parking is available at Cranston High School West where free shuttle buses run continuously and drop festival-goers off directly in front of the church.

As Assistant Pastor Rev. Father Nick Lanzourakis emphasized, “Our Greek festival gives us the opportunity to provide our hospitality to all who step foot on the groups. When you come, you are family.”

Father Lanzourakis then concluded,  “that began as a one-day picnic many years ago has grown into what few could have imagined! This can be attributed to the hard work of our volunteers but also their love for the parish and the surrounding community. We love bringing everyone together and our satisfaction is that you enjoy!”

Fathers George and Lanzourakis will offer 30-minute church tours – one Friday night three each Saturday and Sunday – of beautiful Annunciation Church that is part of the Eastern Orthodox Church and is one of the world’s oldest and richest Christian communion in the world with a global following of more than 250 people.


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