An Orthodox welcome, tasty food highlight St. Mark's fest

EAST MANATEE -- Welcome.



With those words uttered by Father John Chudik and church historian Nadya Gulubov, the kitchen was officially open Sunday at St. Mark Orthodox Christian Church's 2012 International Food Festival.

And the first of what would amount to about 150 diners began to line up for delicacies at the five-year-old church at 1517 57th St. E., also known as Morgan Johnson Road off State Road 64 in East Manatee.

"One could call this a fundraiser, but it really isn't because we are always celebrating like this," Golubov said. "I would say the food festival is, 'Welcome, welcome, all are welcome to come, try our food and experience Orthodoxy.' "

The members of St. Mark count themselves among an estimated 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide who take pride in the fact that their church is among the world's oldest.

St. Mark's members date it back to 33 A.D..

Orthodox membership is strong in countries such as

Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria and Cyprus.

Members said whattheir faith is all about isimitation of Christ's principles to discover a fulfilled life.

With such a strongEuropean heritage, it's not surprising the menu Sunday included kielbasaand kraut, Greek stylechicken, potato pierogis, cheese pierogis and sauerkraut pierogis, stuffed cabbage and dolmathes, which are grape leaves stuffed with rice.

There were also gyros, which are composed of grilled lamb and beef served with tomato, onion and cucumber sauce on pita, and spanakopita, which is spinach and feta served in phyllo dough.

There were chevaps, which is seasoned ground beef grilled and served with onion on a peta.

"The food is wonderful," said Pete and Judy Schwanz of Trailer Estates.

If a diner or two felt the tradition, unity, pride and passion of the Orthodox faithful, so much the better, said Diane Mitrovich, a church member.

"We are a global hodgepodge of people who are unified by our Orthodox faith," Golubov said.

The Schwanzes got a sense of what she meant when Pete Kalogeropoulos yelled out that the chicken was done.

At the same time, the confident and bold voice of Rada Kouestlas, who is Serbian, rang out as she declared the chevaps ready.

The food seemed to bind everyone together.

Church member Patty Martinovich said she wanted to adopt Kouestlas as her mother after tasting one of Kouestlas' chevaps.

Apparently, in the Orthodox faith you can just adopt a mother if you want. No one really cares. They say humans are all one big family anyway.