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It's all Greek to us

August 24, 2013 Updated: August 24, 2013 at 6:10 pm
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photo - Elias Elias (cq) leaps in the air while performing with the dance group "Kleftes" at the 15th annual Greek Festival Saturday, August 24, 2013. "Kleftes" is Greek for Thieves and the group is from the Hellenic Dance Academy of Denver. The festival continues Sunday 11am- 4pm. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
Elias Elias (cq) leaps in the air while performing with the dance group "Kleftes" at the 15th annual Greek Festival Saturday, August 24, 2013. "Kleftes" is Greek for Thieves and the group is from the Hellenic Dance Academy of Denver. The festival continues Sunday 11am- 4pm. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

In the hot, five-oven kitchen of the Archangel Michael Greek Orthodox Church, three women and two men slaved over a Greek feast on Saturday.

The women made traditional salads - with olives, tomatoes, dolma and greek dressing - and the men cooked and carved 250 pounds of local Colorado lamb. It was all for the church's annual Greek Festival, into its second of three days on Saturday.

Everyone in the basement kitchen was Greek Orthodox, an "old country" religion that has changed little since it was founded roughly around 350 A.D., the chefs said.

"Ask how many people in this room are Greek?" said Bev Foster. The response was a chorus of "I'm not!" from everyone except Angela Katsampes, who is.

Foster and her husband were converts to the religion. Kristine Vanwert, also a convert, is Serbian by background, she said. Most people are attracted to the Christian-based faith because "it just stayed the same" over thousands of years, unlike other denominations of Christianity that branched out and evolved, said Foster. The faith is popular in eastern Europe, and orthodox peoples can be found in Greece, the Balkans, and Russia, among other areas.

The Colorado Springs church, at 2215 Paseo Road, which has put on the festival for 15 years, is a mixture: some people are converts, while some people are drawn to the church because of their Serbian or Romanian backgrounds, Vanwert said. Others like Norm Struck, who runs the festival, were brought to the church by Greek spouses. The church has 80 families who are members, Struck said.

Despite the mixed heritage of the congregants, the festival sounded, looked, and smelled Greek. Scents of freshly cut lamb wafted through the air. Struck showed off a whole table of homemade Greek desserts, which were being baked by the tray-full in one of the church's ovens. There was Greek music, a Hellenic dance group from Denver, and Greek wine. Inside the church, parishioners were lighting candles.

The annual summer festival - moved from July to August last year because of the Waldo Canyon fire - isn't a tradition, said Struck. It's more of late-summer excuse for some old-country fun.

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