43rd Annual FDF Stands Above and Beyond
A Weekend of Faith, Dance and Fellowship, and Helping Those in Need
By Kristen Bruskas (Director of Development and Communications – Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco)
The 43rd Annual Metropolis of San Francisco Folk Dance and Choral Festival was a weekend that exemplified Orthodox Christian unity, fellowship and love. The theme for this year’s event, STAND, took on many different meanings throughout the weekend, and gave participants the opportunity to reflect on the values and priorities in their lives that they stand for and that influence their actions and how they practice their faith.
Over 3,000 attended and participated in FDF, with 112 dance and choral groups representing 35 parishes. The sounds of instruments, singing, joy and laughter resonated throughout the four-day gathering, which was an inspiring demonstration of Faith, Dance and Fellowship.
“ʽWhat do you stand for?’ This is the question I asked the thousands of people at the start of FDF, emphasizing that we must stand for our Faith, stand by each other, and most important, stand by God,” remarked His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos. “FDF is a tremendous vehicle to actively engage our youth in the Church, and this year was especially noteworthy in the multitude of ways that everyone came together to help those in need – those who are hungry, those with cancer, and our Theological school. This indomitable spirit truly exemplifies that we are, first and foremost, Orthodox Christians. Dancing and singing bring about wonderful opportunities for fellowship, but when you see competition becoming secondary to uniting for a cause much greater than any medal, that is when we have the beautiful witness of putting our faith into action.”
To jumpstart the FDF weekend, hundreds of participants gathered for a Diakonia project, coordinated by the Metropolis of San Francisco Philoptochos in support of Rise Against Hunger. Dancers, parents, grandparents and friends stood together packaging 43,000 meals to feed the hungry. The enthusiasm to come together as an FDF family set the tone for the rest of the weekend. The Metropolis Philoptochos has been sponsoring a Diakonia project for three years in conjunction with FDF as a collaborative effort to expand the important work of their ministry.
Nearly 30 Metropolis Clergy were in attendance at the Opening Ceremony, participating with His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos in the Agiasmos Ceremony. Special video greetings were shared from His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and the President of Greece – Prokopis Pavlopoulos. A special presentation was made to dancer Sophia Kaplanis who has been battling cancer for three years and worked hard to perform this year with her dance group one last time before they go to college. Sophia spent considerable time at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN, but even though she was far away from her Metropolis family, she was always near in prayer, support and love. Through the proceeds of the sale of “I Stand With Sophia” t-shirts and the generosity of several individual donors, FDF made a contribution of $25,000 to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in her honor. Just two days before FDF, another young dancer, Kiki Kitsinis, was diagnosed with cancer on her 18th birthday. FDF is also rallying around Kiki and her family to help her on her journey to a cancer-free life.
Friday and Saturday were filled from morning until night with dancing and singing, and more dancing and singing! The groups work hard throughout the year to refine their knowledge and skills, and their commitment is evident in every detail of their performances – the intricate footwork, instrumentation, singing, and costumes. FDF is not a weekend that is solely focused on competition, it is a weekend that is focused on education and fellowship.
Nearly 20 inspiring faith-based workshops were held for the youngest dancers through their parents and grandparents. Topics included: “Knowing God Through Knowing Yourself”, “Is the Church Still Relevant”, “Stand for Truth and Fellowship”, and “The Cherubic Hymn”.
There were 11 groups showcased in the Choral Competition, and they displayed exceptional talent in their performances which included Liturgical Hymns, Byzantine Chant, Folk Music, and even some contemporary songs. Many of these youth participate in music ministry at their local parishes.
A highlight of the weekend was the visit of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Geron of America, who has attended FDF numerous times, marveling at this program which brings together the largest number of Greek Orthodox youth anywhere in the Archdiocese. This year, Archbishop Demetrios is celebrating his 20th year as Archbishop of America and a special dinner was hosted by the Archons from the Metropolis of San Francisco to mark this milestone in his Archpastoral ministry. Over 130 Archons, clergy families, and lay leaders from the Metropolis of San Francisco were present for this celebration at which Archbishop Demetrios was presented with a $20,000 donation to the Christos and Georgia Trakatellis Fellowship Fund, which Archbishop Demetrios and his brother established in 2011 in memory of their beloved parents.
Saturday evening also welcomed Greek singing superstar Thanos Petrelis. His high-energy concert captivated the FDF participants who danced and sang with him, while he came down from the stage and performed some of his most popular music in the midst of the crowd.
Sunday morning was a time for worship at the Archieratical Divine Liturgy, with Archbishop Demetrios as celebrant, and many Metropolis clergy serving in the Holy Altar. A beautiful Byzantine Choir offered their voices in hymn and prayer during the Liturgy, led by Rev. Dr. Romanos Karanos, Assistant Professor of Byzantine Music at Hellenic College Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA. He was joined by other chanters as well as members of the various youth choirs who participated during FDF. A Memorial Service was prayed for the founder of FDF, His Eminence Metropolitan Anthony, of blessed memory, along with many others who supported this ministry over the past 43 years and have reposed in the Lord. Sunday’s collection raised $10,000 which FDF is donating to Hellenic College Holy Cross in support of the only Greek Orthodox Theological School in the United States.
The Advanced Senior Competition on Sunday afternoon featured the ten outstanding groups who performed suites from Crete, Pontos, Macedonia, Epiros and Arkadia. Their precision and stylistic interpretations were truly magnificent works of artistry. FDF also had the opportunity welcome a special exhibition performance by the St. Achilios Music School of Larissa, Greece, which featured 34 high-school students performing dances and music as part of their tour to the United States.
The Awards Banquet on Sunday night was full of energy and excitement as the groups waited for the presentation of medals. There were 70 award categories in the areas of Dance, Instrumental Music, Choral Music, Costumes, Directors, and Special Achievement. Top honors went to: Choral Sweepstakes Winner – Aloha Youth Choir from Sts. Constantine and Helen Cathedral, Honolulu, HI; Division II Dance Sweepstakes – Hara from the Annunciation Church in Sacramento, CA; and Division I Sweepstakes – Oikogeneia from Holy Trinity Church in San Francisco, CA.
There were also ten scholarships presented for academic achievement, parish involvement and FDF participation. Two other awards were presented on Sunday evening – the Metropolitan Anthony Humanitarian Award given to Apostolos “Paul” Pries for his outstanding and exemplary stewardship of the Church; and the Elios Charitable Foundation Award of Excellence to Vicki Liviakis, Emmy® award-winning news anchor in San Francisco who has supported many programs that promote Hellenism.
FDF is led by a dedicated team under the leadership of Board of Trustees Chairman Father Gary Kyriacou, Vice Chairman Spiro Beckas, and Director of Finance Michael Syrengelas. They provide oversight and guidance to the volunteer Management Team comprised of over 40 young adults who coordinate and implement all aspects of the weekend. Paul Mantas, who works professionally as a project engineer, served most capably as the Managing Director. During the Sunday Awards Ceremony, Management Team member Elizabeth Kratsas was presented with the Metropolitan Anthony Leadership Award in recognition of her leadership in coordinating the Workshops held during FDF.
With Great Lent approaching, FDF participants have the opportunity to keep giving back through a Lenten Challenge from March 11 – April 28 to collect food and supplies for Project Mexico. The memories of FDF 2019 will continue to inspire, uplift and motivate our youth and their involvement in the church. FDF is about the kids and about providing a forum for Faith, Dance and Fellowship so that this generation and those that come after will always have the opportunity to celebrate the richness of our Orthodox Christian Faith and our Hellenic Heritage.
For a complete list of winners, view on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FolkDanceFestival
You can also view videos of all the performances on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/FDFLive
Photo Credit for Featured Image, Metropolitan Gerasimos dancing with Division III children, at the top of the page: Kristen Bruskas.
Email the author: The Hellenic Journal