The main hall of Saints Peter and Paul Antiochian Christian Church was filled with about 25 volunteers seated elbow to elbow, creating Middle Eastern cuisine and chatting. Thin sheets of pastry were cut into triangles and dipped in homemade syrup to make baklava. Homemade dough was molded and filled with walnuts to make maamoul, or Lebanese cookies.
Bob Younes, a doctor from Potomac who volunteered on his day off from work, carefully rolled grape leaves around a mixture of rice and lamb meat on Thursday afternoon. Making the Middle Eastern cuisine brought back memories of his Christian Arabic heritage.
“My mother used to do the same exact thing when I was a kid,” he said, spreading another grape leaf onto his work space with care. “These folks here are very close to my heritage. I enjoy listening to them talk about their lives and history because it reflects my background.”
SAINTS PETER AND PAUL Orthodox Church will hold its 23rd annual Middle Eastern Bazaar Oct. 13-15. The three-day event draws about 3,000 people, according to Archpriest George Rados. It features food, live music, arts & crafts, jewelry, raffles, and religious items, and there will be live music on two of the nights. Deacons of the church will provide tours of the large Byzantine structure for visitors.
The volunteers are working to compile a special cookbook of traditional Middle Eastern foods in time for the October event. The cookbook will provide suggestions about what foods to eat during different holidays, such as Lent.
Side items range from $1-$3, sandwiches are $4-$6, and meals cost $8-$12. Proceeds from the event benefit the church.
Although the items at the Bazaar cost money, Rados said that the enormous amount of volunteer hours that go into the effort make it “a labor of love by our people.”
“We specialize in the food, the camaraderie and the fellowship” at the Bazaar, said Rados.
Volunteers make the Bazaar possible by cooking Middle Eastern foods such as baklava, kibbeh, tabouleh, falafel and spinach pies.
“It takes many willing hands to pull this off,” said Bazaar chairwoman Rosalie Nahas. “Our community is dedicated to working for the church.”
Food preparation begins long before the event kicks off.
“It’s very labor intensive – the baklava requires a million pieces of fillo dough that have to be buttered and layered,” said Nahas. “There’s no way we could prepare everything we need three days before the event.”
Caroline Emad of Potomac supervised preparation of the grape leaves at Thursday’s volunteer session. She has been a member of Saints Peter and Paul for seven years and volunteers at the Bazaar annually.
“When you have good leadership and a great membership, it’s a recipe for a great congregation,” she said. “[The church] is like a big extended family. It filters down to the younger generation as well – the kids love coming here.”
Suzanne Hermes of Potomac also volunteered her time on Thursday. She said that the Bazaar is a good opportunity for community members to get acquainted with the church and its members.
“We’ve had people come by and want to see the church, but no one’s here during the day,” she said. “During the Bazaar, they say, ‘Wow, you all are very friendly and you’re right next door.’”
SAINTS PETER AND PAUL is one of about 20 orthodox churches in the DC area. Archpriest Rados has headed the church since it opened 25 years ago.
“We sponsor a lot of things within the county to show cooperation, and we do a lot of charitable work,” said Rados. For example, the church allows community groups who raise money for charities to use its hall for fundraisers and receptions.
The congregation of roughly 1,000 moved into the large Byzantine-style church on River Road in 2000. The church had previously been located in a renovated firehouse on Bradley Boulevard. Many members have roots in countries near the historic Antioch in the Middle East, such as Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine, but there are also Greeks, Russians, Egyptians and European-Americans in the congregation.
The Antiochian Orthodox Church is one of five churches that composed the Holy Catholic Church before the East-West Schism of the Middle Ages. It claims to be the closest successor to the early Christian community founded in Antioch (modern-day Turkey) by Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul.