By Joe Anuta
Even by conservative estimates, volunteers from a Flushing Greek Orthodox church had prepared well over 50,000 fried dough balls during the four-day St. Nicholas festival that culminated Sunday night.
Crowds filled the sidewalks and streets surrounding the Greek Orthodox Shrine Church of St. Nicholas to gulp down the honey-drenched dough nuggets topped with cinnamon, called loukoumades, and to sample other Greek fare, listen to music or shop at one of the many stalls surrounding the building.
The church, at 196-10 Northern Blvd., is touted as the largest Greek Orthodox church in the country, and its ranks of about 2,000 families certainly came out for the celebration.
“It’s about fellowship, respect and love for our heritage and our faith,” said Steve Georgiou, chairman of the festival.
One lot outside the church was completely dedicated to food, and parishioners served up pastries, pies, gyros and salads on a military scale.
Adonis Valvis looked like a sooty coal man from a locomotive as he stood with a shovel and heat-resistant gloves next to huge skewers of pork slowly cooking on rotisseries.
“Whatever money we collect goes to the church,” he said as he prepared more hot coals to be transferred under the juicy hunks of meat.
The festival, which celebrates St. Nicholas, is the church’s largest fund-raising event of the year and supports its growing congregation and the programs it offers, according to Georgiou.
The church has grown immensely from its humble origins in the early 1960s. It was once a small group of families who congregated on Beech Avenue in Flushing.
Now the church boasts an impressive domed chapel and a parochial school as well as after-school and other youth programs.
“Around every Greek Orthodox church, you’ll find a very strong Greek culture,” said Georgiou.
On Sunday night, many Greek families chatted with each other in the other plazas outside of the church. Sword-fighting children waged war with light-up sabres from a mini-carnival that was set up on another lot.
On a nearby stage, a man played the bouzooki, a lute-like Greek instrument.
But there were many non-Greek families from the diverse neighborhood in attendance as well. Many came out for the food — meat-based dishes like gyros, souvlaki and pastichio were flying off the tables — as well as for the flea market in the basement.
St. Nicholas’ feast day is not until Dec. 6, according to Andy George, but the church has the festival on Columbus Day each year because the weather is nicer and it rarely coincides with other Greek festivals around the borough.
The saint, who is the basis for Santa Claus, is the patron saint of merchants, children, thieves, sailors and students, and was known for his secret gift-giving.
The church actually has a fragment of St. Nicholas’ skull, which is kept in a small box inside a golden dome in one corner of the church.
Each year on Dec. 6, the priests parade the fragment around the church.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4566.