Cultural celebration: St. George Orthodox Christian Church plans annual Middle Eastern Festival


St. George Orthodox Christian Church has been celebrating its parishioners’ Arab heritage for the past 26 years with its annual Middle Eastern Festival. This year’s event is set for Sept. 15-17 at the church, 10748 E 116th St. in Fishers.

The church is easy to spot with its distinctive dome, traditional for Orthodox churches. Riyad Bannourah, a festival organizer, said the event celebrates the cultures of Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt and Iraq. Those countries all have sizable Christian Arab populations.

Bannouorah, who is Palestinian, said St. George has non-Arab members, as well, but the church was founded in Indianapolis by Arab immigrants in 1926. The church stuck with the Arab “flavor” for its annual festival.

There will be plenty of flavor available, too. Bannourah said parishioners use the church’s commercial kitchen to prepare all kinds of Arabic food. That includes falafel, a fried vegetarian patty made with ground chickpeas and spices; lamb shank; shawarma, which is marinated chicken served in a pita with pickles and a creamy garlic sauce; kafta, which is ground beef mixed with parsley, onions and spices, served in a pita with tahini sauce and tomatoes; stuffed grape leaves; and kibbee — ground beef or lamb mixed with bulgar wheat wrapped around a mixture of ground meat, onions and spices, and fried or baked.

Then there’s dessert. They offer different kinds of baklava — crispy filo dough with nut fillings; and various cookies, including gharibeh, a buttery, crumbly shortbread, and mamoul, another kind of shortbread filled with dates or nuts.

But save room for the knafeh, a rich, indulgent, extremely satisfying dessert. It has a base layer of cheese — the cheese from Nablus, Palestine, is best — topped with shredded pastry, baked until crisp on top and smothered in syrup. Eat it while it’s hot and melty, and don’t think about the calories.

There will be opportunities to burn a few of those calories off. Bannourah said a dance group from Detroit will perform the traditional dabke — a type of line dance. Bannourah said the Mawtini Dabke Troupe dancers come from a small town outside of Ramallah, Palestine. They’ll perform their own routines, and then will spend time teaching dances to festival attendees.

“And of course, we have our Saint George dancers that also will be performing,” Bannourah said. “We have two groups. We have the young group, and we have the teen group.”

He said the dabke is an important part of Arab celebrations.

“The dabke really started during the weddings,” he said. “(An Arab) wedding party starts a week in advance of the wedding. It’s not like here, just one night. They start from Monday and all the way to the climax of the big feast, on Sunday usually. And the dabke is part of that culture, to bring everybody together. Let them dance together and enjoy everybody’s company.”

The festival also will have a children’s play area for kids ages 3 to 15; a section for adults to try Lebanese wine and other grownup beverages; various vendors offering Middle Eastern goods, such as carvings made from olive wood; a silent auction; and a band — David Hakim of Cleveland, Ohio — playing traditional Arabic music. There also are scheduled tours of the church, which was built about nine years ago.

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St. George Orthodox Church in Fishers will offer scheduled tours of the ornate interior during its annual festival Sept. 15-17. (Photo courtesy of St. George Orthodox Church)

With the thousands of people expected to attend the three-day festival, parking is an important part of the planning process. Bannourah said they arranged for parking at Hoosier Road Elementary School at 11300 E. 121st St., and will have a shuttle bus every 15 minutes to bring people back and forth between the parking lot and the festival. Handicap parking is available at the church. There is a $5 fee per car to park, but the festival itself is free to attend.

Bannourah said money raised through food sales and festival sponsorships goes toward the church’s community programs. Sponsors include Canal Bistro Mediterranean Grill, Timpe wealth management, First Internet Bank, Taft law firm, Ascension St. Vincent and the Fishers Arts & Culture Commission.

For more, visit

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Between 5,000 and 7,000 people have attended the three-day St. George Middle Eastern Festival in past years. (Photo courtesy of St. George Orthodox Church)
Headline: Cultural celebration

Schedule of events

The St. George Orthodox Christian Church annual Middle Eastern Festival is 5-10 p.m. Sept. 15, 1-10 p.m. Sept. 16 and 1-5 p.m. Sept. 17 at the church, 10748 E 116th St. in Fishers.

Dabke dancing:

  • Mawtini Dabke Troupe dancers perform at 7 and 9 p.m. Sept. 15; and 5, 7 and 9 p.m. Sept. 16.
  • St George Dancers perform at 6:30 and 8 p.m. Sept. 15; 4, 6 and 8 p.m. Sept. 16; and 2 p.m. Sept. 17.

Church tours (enter through the glass lobby doors):

  • Sept. 15, 6, 7:30 and 8:30 p.m.
  • Sept. 16, 2, 3:30, 6:30 and 8 p.m.
  • Sept. 16, Vespers (evening prayers), 5 p.m.
  • Sept. 17, 2 and 3:30 p.m.