Hellenistic culture takes center stage with Greek Fest

Hellenistic culture takes center stage with Greek Fest
Avra Alexiades will donate one of her seascape paintings to the auction that will benefit the Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church during the Greek Fest this weekend. Photo by Tony Cagala

CARDIFF-BY-THE-SEA — Celebrating the Greek culture is something that Americans do on a daily basis whether they know it or not. 

“In America, we are all Hellenists,” said Father Michael Sitaras. “Because we live in a democracy and that came from the Greeks.” Sitaras is new to the Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church since transferring earlier this year from his previous post in Massachusetts.

Having been born in Greece, Sitaras will be able to experience further Greek celebrations and culture when the church hosts its annual Greek Fest this weekend.

Avra Alexiades wasn’t so quick with her enthusiasms for her Greek heritage especially, she said, when it came to her name.

“I had fought it,” she said. “I wanted to be a true American and I always suffered with this name that I had, which I always had to explain. I wanted to be like ‘Mary-Jane,’” she said.

Avra, she explained, is an ancient Greek name that means “morning mist over the Mediterranean.”

Alexiades is a painter.

She paints in her apartment home near the grounds of the Greek Church, turning her spare room into a studio where several finished paintings line the walls. Oil paints (she only works with the finest oils and the most expensive) lie on paint-crusted easels or in drawers.

“When I was about 16, I dated a guy who was a student at the University of Chicago, and he said, ‘Wow, you’re Greek. Do you know what your heritage is?’ And then he took me in hand and he made me read all the Greek playwrights, and then told me all about the history of Greek art,” she said.

Alexiades grew up in a suburb of Chicago and loved being in nature, having lived across the street from a wooded preserve, where she spent a lot of time.

“But I never wanted to paint landscapes,” she said. “I kind of concentrated on people.”

During the ‘60s all the rage in the art world was abstract expressionism. “And I was not geared to be an abstract expressionist,” she said, adding that she was forced to paint that way. Though when she went to grad school, Alexiades found the freedom to go back to her representational-style.

Alexiades has a satirical side or what she calls her “perverse sense of humor,” and an observant eye for picking up on what’s going on in the lives of strangers.

In one of her paintings titled, “Promise me you’ll take care of your mother,” Alexiades had spotted a mother and daughter in a restaurant. “And I knew…intuitively you know something’s going on, and you knew this girl did not want to be with her mother, taking care of her mother,” she said.

In the painting, the daughter’s face shows a distinct look of dread, while her elderly mother sits feebly beside her. “It’s meant to be funny,” she said.

Alexiades does have a kinder, gentler side, too, and that comes through in her seascape paintings.

It’s one of her seascapes that she will donate to have auctioned off during the Greek Fest to help raise funds for the church. She donates a painting every year.

“I consider this a really good work of art,” she said. “They’re not all good,” she added. “You hide the bad ones.”

The Greek Fest is the big fundraiser.

“Everybody works for the festival because they realize this is a way for the church to continue. We’re a small congregation, there are not too many Greek people around,” Alexiades said.

Sitaras, an artist in his own right (he has a bachelor’s degree in painting) will also be donating one of his paintings for the auctions.

“It’s a landscape; one of my first since I’ve been here,” he said.

Greek Festival

Where: Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, 3459 Manchester Ave.
When: Sept. 8, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sept. 9, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Admission: $3; 12 and under free. Parking is free at MiraCosta College

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