FDF 2023 – Rise and Shine in Phoenix!
The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco 46th Folk Dance and Choral Festival was held in Phoenix, Arizona from February 16 – 19, 2023, and it was one for the record books! Support for this thriving ministry soared to nearly record levels with over 3,500 participants. There were a total of 94 dance and choral groups registered, representing 30 parishes from the states of Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington. Special guests for the weekend included His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America and the Consul General of Greece in Los Angeles Ioannis Stamatekos.
This year’s FDF theme was RISE, symbolic of the Phoenix bird rising from the ashes, while also being connected to FDF rising back to the top, full of enthusiasm, excitement and renewed commitment to Faith, Dance, and Fellowship.
On Thursday, February 16 immediately prior to the Opening Ceremony, the FDF participants joined with the Metropolis Philoptochos, under the leadership of President Jeannie Ranglas. They worked side by side to assemble personal care items which were donated to the Sojourner Center, a leading non-profit organization that has been a safe haven from domestic violence for women and their children in Arizona. Since 1977, Sojourner Center has transformed lives by providing shelter and support services to more than 60,000 adults and children affected by domestic violence. Jeannie Ranglas stated, “We pray that these women and their children can find healing and peace, and that this small effort we made this weekend can ease their struggle and give them hope.”
The Opening Ceremony is always a spirit-filled evening with the parade of parishes, and participants wearing their team shirts. Following the presentation of the colors, the national anthems were sung by Nicholas Katopodis (USA) from Saint John the Baptist Church in Las Vegas, and Chrysalis Kallis (Greece) from Saint Sophia Cathedral in Los Angeles. His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco, and His Grace Bishop Ioannis of Phocaea led the clergy and faithful in an Agiasmos service, blessing the commencement of the FDF weekend. In his opening remarks to the attendees, His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America proclaimed, “We will rise with dance steps that defy gravity. We will rise with music that lifts our hearts, as well as our feet. We will rise with songs that speak across all generations. We will rise with hands joined together in a circle of love. And we will rise with one another – with respect, with generosity, with faith, and with friendship.”
All day Friday and Saturday were filled with dance competition, workshops, and plenty of time for fellowship. There were also four groups participating in the choral competition which performed mid-day on Friday, displaying beautiful expertise in byzantine, choral, and folk music.
Workshops were led by clergy and ministry leaders from the Metropolis and Archdiocese, and included engaging topics like: God Loves You; Raising Kids with Emotional Intelligence; Helping Our Youth Discover Their Purpose; Rising to the Call; Music in Our Lives, Music in the Church; and Evangelism and Witness in the 21st Century.
On Friday evening, the clergy attending FDF enjoyed dinner with Archbishop Elpidophoros, Metropolitan Gerasimos, and Bishop Ioannis. This provided an opportunity for discussion and reflection on the importance of youth ministry, and the future of our Archdiocese as young leadership continues to be cultivated. Metropolitan Gerasimos commended the clergy for their presence and shared that they must continue to “support and love the youth, and to teach them that the only award they need are the crowns of righteousness from the Lord.” He continued to challenge the priests about the “infinite possibilities ahead for our faith. Our successors are out there, but we need to be deliberate and impactful in our ministry to them, and to all the faithful we serve.”
On Saturday afternoon, the Division III dancers – the future of FDF – participated in their traditional Kalamatiano led by His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco. There were 14 groups of young children, many performing on stage for the first time, demonstrating their tremendous potential to be realized through their ongoing participation in FDF for many more years to come.
Sunday morning brought together the entire FDF family in worship at the Archieratical Divine Liturgy celebrated by His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros, along with His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco, and His Grace Bishop Ioannis of Phocaea. There were over 25 priests joining in prayer which truly demonstrated the unity and support of the clergy for this exceptional youth ministry. At the end of the service, Archbishop Elpidophoros elevated Rev. Father Gary Kyriacou to Protopresbyter of the Archdiocese, in recognition of his years of faithful service to the Church. The Music School from Larissa, Greece along with members of the award-winning Aloha Youth Choir from Saints Constantine and Helen Cathedral in Honolulu, HI, offered their voices for the hymns and responses during the Liturgy, under the direction of Christopher Hondros who leads the Music Ministry team for the Metropolis of San Francisco.
Each year the Metropolis Philoptochos hosts a brunch for clergy families and special guests. This year included the students from the Music School of Larissa who performed for the attendees. At the luncheon, Jeannie Ranglas presented two gifts to Archbishop Elpidophoros – a beautiful Epitracheli and Omophorion, along with a $5,000 donation towards the Clergy Pension Fund. His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos acknowledged with deep gratitude the FDF Executive Leadership Team – Fr. Gary Kyriacou (Chairman); Spiro Beckas (Vice-Chairman); and Michael Syrengelas (Director of Finance) who volunteer countless hours to cultivating the FDF ministry. The FDF Executive Board also presented Archbishop Elpidophoros with a $15,000 donation, which was generously offered by the FDF participants and collected during the Divine Liturgy, designated to support the earthquake relief efforts in Syria and Turkey.
Sunday evening’s Awards Ceremony is always a joyful culmination of the weekend, celebrating the extraordinary accomplishments of all the participants. Even though not everyone goes home with a medal, FDF is more than just a competition, it is about a family coming together in Faith, Dance, and Fellowship, and the cultivation of lifelong friendships from its nearly five decades of success. In his closing remarks, Archbishop Elpidophoros commented, “All of you have offered your very best, and all of you are champions. You have all responded to the theme of this 46th annual Folk Dance and Choral Festival, and you have risen to the occasion with grace, with dignity, with artfulness, and with excellence. I am very proud of all of you and I know that I speak for everyone who witnessed your performances, when I say, you are all winners.”
The Elios Charitable Foundation presented their annual Award of Excellence to Elizabeth Grillos who, as a Board Member has played a prominent role as Co-Director for Elios’ biennial Hellenic Charity Ball in both 2019 and 2022. She has generously shared her expertise as a distinguished hospitality and lodging industry executive, using her talents for the continued success of the efforts of the Elios Charitable Foundation which has supported many worthwhile endeavors including FDF, the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival, Modern Greek Studies Foundation, and the Heritage Greece® program under the auspices of the National Hellenic Society.
The Metropolitan Anthony Humanitarian Award was presented to Rev. Father Jon Magoulias whose distinguished ministry has touched the lives of countless people through his pastorship, especially at the Annunciation parish in Modesto, CA where he served for 36 years prior to his retirement last year. He has held many noteworthy positions in the Metropolis and Archdiocese, and is a respected clergyman, who is always striving to do more for the growth of the church. One aspect of Father Jon’s ministry that is most noteworthy is the way he engages with youth as an outstanding mentor and spiritual father for his flock.
The FDF Management Team award was presented to Managing Director Christine Karambelas, and Metropolitan Anthony Leadership Awards were presented to Nicole Ossey-Freeman and Stavros Stathoudakis. Fourteen scholarships totaling more than $23,000 were also presented to several FDF dancers and singers who were recognized for their achievements at the parish, in school, and through extracurricular activities. A special tribute to Elektra Fourakis, who reposed in the Lord in 2020 at the age of 22, was featured at the Awards Ceremony and a scholarship was offered by FDF in her memory.
The Sweepstakes Award for the Choral Competition was presented to the Aloha Youth Choir from Saints Constantine and Helen Cathedral in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Division II Dance Sweepstakes Award was given to Enosi from Saint Nicholas Church in San Jose, CA; and the Division I Sweepstakes was awarded to Spithes from the Annunciation Cathedral in San Francisco, CA.
FDF would not be possible without the support and leadership of His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos, the FDF Board of Trustees, Management Team, the families, directors, musicians, and volunteers whose combined efforts have elevated this ministry to this exceptional level of success. Thank you all!
See you at FDF 2024!
Photo: GOARCH/Brittainy Newman