The Rev. Michael Constantinides prefers not to quote the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”
The priest, who marked his one-year anniversary at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Rock Island two weeks ago, says much of the 2002 film is an exaggeration of his culture.
But to him, some parts — the ones about food — are “right on.”
"We do get together for meals at the drop of the hat," Constantinides said. "And some meals could last hours. We're all done eating, but we're talking around the table."
You’ll likely see that in action at the church’s 12th annual Our Big Fat Greek Festival slated for Friday and Saturday.
“Everyone knows the movie and loves the movie,” said Gus Pappas, festival chairperson. "We like to have some fun with that."
But, he said, you’ll see scenes that go beyond that big screen tale.
“It’s sharing our food, but also the Eastern Orthodox faith and our culture and what it means to be Greek,” he said. “What do Greeks do? We feed people. What are we all about? Come see.”
To him, the two-day party is about gorging on Greek food such as spanakopita, gyros, baklava and tiropita.
It’s about dancing in the church parking lot and sampling Greek beer and wine and coffee.
It’s about inviting people into his “iconic church,” with its stained-glass windows and mosaics.
And it’s about buying a pastry made from scratch by someone’s “yia yia” (grandmother).
“Greek food is the best, tastiest food in the world,” Pappas said. “And the secret to Greek food is the yia yia.”
In fact, that’s one thing the movie gets right.
“You know the scene where they offer Ian food, but he says he’s not hungry and then the yia yia says, ‘OK, I’ll make you plate.'” Pappas said. “That’s what a yia yia does. They don’t accept not being hungry.”
Pappas knows this well. He has attended St. George his whole life. There are photos of his parents and grandparents in the church's hallway.
Every year, Pappas takes a week off from his job at Fifth Third Bank to prep for the festival, which about 7,000 people attended last year.
The church, which has been in its location on 31st Avenue in Rock Island since the 1970s, has had a Quad-City home for 105 years. But Pappas and Constantinides agree the Eastern Orthodox faith still seems foreign to many in the area.
"We seem different to people," said Constantinides, who is originally from New Jersey. "We’re just different enough where some people are curious to try something new."
One thing that's not so foreign?
"We all know comfort food," he said. "You might think of macaroni and cheese, and I think of pastisto."
"At this church, we all come from homes that cook every day," he said. "The Greek way of eating is you get everyone together."
And this weekend’s festival, along with being a big fundraiser, is a way to get even more people together.
"It's an act of outreach," Constantinides said. "This place is more of a hospital for sinners than a place for saints. We want people to know our doors are open to everybody."