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Middle Eastern Food Fest

Melkite Greek Chuyrch brings traditional food and fun to annual festival.

Holy Transfiguration Church is abuzz with activity as volunteers work to get the church and grounds ready for the annual Middle Eastern Food Festival. New activities and delicacies have been added to this year's festival in response to the growing diversity of people who attend the event.

This is the 11th year the church has hosted the festival on its grounds on Lewinsville Road, in McLean. The festival features authentic Middle Eastern foods, pastries and entertainment as well as games and tournaments.

Holy Transfiguration Melkite Greek-Catholic Church is the local parish of the Melkite Eparchy in Newton, Mass. The term Melkite refers to those Catholics of Middle Eastern ancestry who follow the Byzantine tradition in worship, theology and spirituality.

“We are Byzantine Greek Catholic. We are one with the early church, our liturgies are same,” explains Lani Kanakry, the co-chair of the festival. “Our church has icons instead of statues. We have retained the old customs and traditions,” said Kanakry.

Sona McCormick said the festival is an offshoot of the customs of the parishioners. “Middle Eastern people are known for their hospitality. We’re going to have great dancing and live music and, of course, great foods,” said McCormick. The congregation is made up primarily of people with ancestors from Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, according to McCormick.

This is the biggest fund-raising event for the church and drew nearly 900 people last year, according to Kanakry. “A lot of different types of people come. You’ve got the Middle Eastern people themselves but you’ve also got people who come that love cultural festivals,” Kanakry said. “We also get people who are interested in the church and want to know what we’re about. We have a climate for everyone,” said Kanakry.

MCCORMICK SAYS the funds raised from the event will be used to expand the church. “We’re building an addition on the church that will have classrooms. We’ve been around 20 years and we are finally in a position to expand,” McCormick said.

New at the festival this year will be backgammon and chess tournaments. Admission to the festival is free but food is paid for to the vendor. Expect to find traditional Middle Eastern foods, such as kabobs, falafel, and baklava. “The food is scrumptious. You can smell it a mile away which is why all the neighbors go,” said Shelley Curran.

The roast lamb served last year was such a success that the sponsors have decided to hold two dinners highlighting the entree. “It’s a steal at that price,” said McCormick.

The festival takes place over Labor Day weekend on Sept. 4 and 5. The lamb dinner is being served on Saturday evening at 7 p.m. and on Sunday at 4 p.m. for a cost of $10. There will also be a “dance party” on Saturday evening, according to Kanakry.

“We are trying to make this festival a very fun experience. Not just buy your food and go. Our aim is to have people enjoy themselves and stay with us and enjoy themselves. The evening is going to be different than the day,” said Kanakry. “In the evening we will turn it up a notch.”

The music will be an integral part of the festivities during the day and night. The Cedars, a Middle Eastern band, will be playing. “They are inspiring and get people up to dance,” said Kanakry. One of the musical and dancing highlights will be the performance of the Debke, which is similar to a line dance.

“We will be dancing and pulling people up as we go along,” said McCormick. There are several games and activities planned for children as well.

The festival is being held at the church grounds on 8501 Lewinsville Road, near Spring Hill Road. Event times are Saturday, Sept. 4 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 5 from noon to 7 p.m.