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The Greek Orthodox Church in Charlotte

Interior of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Charlotte. hspace=2

Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral is mostly known for the annual Yiasou Greek Festival. Organizers say this four-day September festival attracts up to 60,000 visitors. "We're proud. We have a heritage. And our culture somehow we want to say, 'Here! We have some food that is genuine Greek!'" says Fr. Michael Varvarelis with a laugh. He is dean of Holy Trinity. "That's why we would like to have a festival. To celebrate our heritage and invite everyone who wishes, to see what is happening," he says. Beyond the music, the flavorful food and the festivities, Greek life is centered around the church. In the 1920's a Greek Orthodox church was hard to come by in North Carolina. Eighty-five year old Helen Mandas' parents migrated to North Carolina from Greece. She was born and raised in Henderson, north of Raleigh. Mandas says, "We have grown up in different churches a lot of us. I grew up in the Episcopal church. It's very close and I stayed with the Episcopal because there's not much difference in there. The only thing is the Greek." Holy Trinity has been at its Dilworth location since 1953. It was first established in a temporary space in south Charlotte in the 1920's. Varvarelis says he's impressed with people's devotion here. "It's really unbelievable what the help, for us. The bible belt. The understanding that people love the word of god and want to be Christians," says Varvarelis. He came to Holy Trinity three years ago after serving 21 years in the Northeast, and immediately noticed a difference. "I could say that in the South, people are very warm, very good in being thoughtful, kind and also to be true Christians. They want discipline in their lives I never witnessed this before in the communities I served," he says. During a Sunday service, a choir leads the congregation in Greek and English. Incense fills the air of this church with ornate, colorful iconography on its walls. At this point in the liturgy, the priest in shimmering gold-threaded vestments, processes with a wine-filled chalice and a vessel overflowing with cubes of bread. "We are making a great entrance, symbolically as Christ was going to Golgotha to be crucified through the great entrance onto the holy altar where we are offering them to the lord to sanctify them and to change them and to have them as body and blood of Christ," notes Varvarelis. The Greek Orthodox church is one of the oldest in Christianity. Its line of patriarchs can be traced back to the apostles. The Roman Catholic church has Orthodox origins. The Church believes that the bread and wine are changed into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ. This is a fundamental tenet of all Orthodox churches and the Roman Catholic church. It has also been a point of contention among Protestant denominations, which more readily accept the symbolic body and blood of Christ. The Orthodox church follows a different calendar, which explains why Easter usually falls on a different day for this Christian denomination. Varvarelis explains, "Calculate from the Sunday that is after the spring equinox and the full moon. Wait for the full moon and then there will be the Sunday, for Easter." During the Yiasou Festival visitors can tour the church and the divine liturgy is explained. Varvarelis' son, Fr. Stathi handles outreach and answers questions from curious visitors. He says sometimes people become more than curious. As with the growing population in this part of the country, church leaders are seeing growth in their ranks. St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox in south Charlotte is celebrating its 10th anniversary. And St. Luke's Greek Orthodox in Mooresville is three years old. These members soon find that they come to a church touched by the south's brand of devotion.