Celebrating culture at the Egyptian Festival
COMMUNITY: NT's Coptic Orthodox church to host annual event this weekend.
The parishioners at St. Mary and St. Moses Coptic Orthodox Church in North Tonawanda observe the Christian faith, but they have more than just their religious practices to share with the Western New York community.
They’re hosting their 8th annual Egyptian Festival this weekend on the front lawn of the church, located at the corner of Wheatfield Street and Payne Avenue. The event will give the community a chance to learn about not only Coptic practices, but also about the history and culture of the area where the Coptic religion came into existence.
“A lot of people don’t have that much knowledge about the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt,” said Father Mark Iskander. “So we thought to spread the message in an informal way, like a festival.”
The event will feature tours of the church, which was consecrated as Orthodox in July 2003. Iskander said the tours will include lessons in Egyptian history and how Christianity first came there.
He said the tours have become one of the most anticipated parts of the event, receiving strong positive feedback in previous years.
Another highlight of the festival has been the menu, which consists of a number of authentic Egyptian dishes such as kofta, traditionally seasoned ground beef and lamb, and shawarma, a beef sandwich with peppers and onions. The festival will also cater to those who maintain a vegan diet with options like falafel and koushary, a rice and lentil dish.
“Last year we served around 1,000 people, which is nice because it is a small church and a small community,” said Amy Boulos, who is coordinating the festival. “We really do want people from Buffalo and Niagara Falls to come and have the opportunity to experience it. There are a lot of people out there who have an interest in Egyptian history and culture.”
In addition to Egyptian food and tours of the church, the festival will include a raffle, with autographed Sabres gear as the featured prize. There will also be a kids corner with activities for the festival’s youngest guests.
There will also be a gift shop that features both Christian items as well as pharaonic items that highlight the rich history of ancient Egypt. Those involved say that part of being a member of the Coptic church is embracing that heritage.
“Being Christian and being Egyptian are two sides of the coin,” Iskander said. “Egyptian history goes back thousands of years and we’re trying to give people the flavor of Egypt and of the Coptic Church as well.”
While the festival has become more and more popular over the last eight years, Iskander said it’s still just the beginning and they’re hoping to continue to grow until they’re on par with other local cultural festivals. In the meantime, however, he said it’s enough to see the church community working together as one to create a fun event and spread their message.
The Egyptian Festival will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. today, 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Saturday and noon to 7 p.m. Sunday. Prices for food will be $8 for sandwiches, $10 for entrees or $15 for the deluxe platter.