Through The Eyes of Our Guests
by: Steven Yates
The dictionary defines “odyssey” as “an epic journey” and also as “an intellectual or spiritual wandering or quest”. The Saint Barbara parish 2012 Odyssey festival truly fits both of those definitions and goes far beyond them. For those of us who participate in the Odyssey as workers of one sort or another, the event is a time of planning, work, fellowship, and service. But for the many hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors to our church home, it is a different experience. As I wandered among the crowds, I tried to observe the festival through the eyes of these visitors and to learn what it was like for them.
As Father Peter said in a pre-festival radio interview, our festival provides a chance for visitors to experience Greece without having to get on an airplane. Arriving guests are greeted by parishioners who welcome them and help them park their cars. I heard more than one of the “parking specialists” tell newly arriving guests, “Welcome. We are glad you are here. Enjoy!” Many visitors used the festival program as their tour map to guide their wanderings or to assist them in getting to the food items or events they had come for. While many of our guests are of Greek heritage, many more are not. The music of the bouzouki was exotic to their ears and the smell of moussaka and pastitsio were unfamiliar and alluring. I saw several festival workers in their aprons giving directions to guests, always with a smile and a welcoming word of greeting.
It was interesting to hear people in the crowd talking about their anticipation of watching the dancing or finding bargains in the “Junque ‘n Treasures” area. So many of these people were returning to our festival after enjoying it in years past. These folks were easily spotted as they made a “bee-line” to the baklava sundaes or the Greek grocery store. They did not want to miss a chance to experience again the sensations they had enjoyed before. More than one visitor was guided by the PA system announcements to the Snack Bar, Meze Grill or the Restaurant for the treats that were unique to those locations. And each of those venues had its own charm and character.
Visiting VIPs, among them elected officials and candidates, commented on the size and character of the festival. Not lost on them was the uniqueness of this event as compared to the many agricultural or civic fairs that fill the calendar at this time of year. There is something special about Odyssey, each remarked. It must be a treat for a politician to come to a non-partisan event where music and laughter drown out the din of debate.
Most special of all, perhaps, was the effect that walking into our Sanctuary had on those who had never been inside before. Jaws literally dropped as visitors beheld the “earthly heaven” that is so familiar to members of our church family. Just as the ancient wonders of Greece must become commonplace to the people who live among them, the ornate, unique, and beautiful iconography of our church is something we have grown accustomed to seeing each Sunday. It is a reminder of how blessed we are to see our guests craning their necks to see all of the gorgeous depictions of the saints and of the life of Our Lord which cover the walls and ceiling. Father Joel provided insight and commentary that gave meaning to these sights beyond mere artworks. Many guests lingered to chat further with him and to soak up the beauty and majesty of our church home after his presentations had concluded.
How wonderful it was to see old friends meeting again under the dining tents, sharing delicious treats and enjoying the beautiful weather and the ever-present music. Parents fed their young children, took them on exciting rides, and taught them to enjoy the color and motion of the dancers who gracefully circled before them. The hillside overlooking the dance area was filled with people sitting on the grass, nibbling on pastries and being transported to distant villages and islands of Greece through the sights and sounds.
As people reluctantly left the festival, I heard our “parking specialists” thank them for coming. I saw people who had not just eaten and shopped and heard music, but who had experienced an epic journey of the mind and spirit, who had taken the time to wander through a culture and a community of faith and had been touched by the experience. This is how Odyssey 2012 affected the people who came to it. They are already looking forward to their next Odyssey.
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