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Hungry for More

Birmingham's Greeks Share Love of Christ Through Food

Article by Kali McNutt

Photography by Sam Evans, Rhythm Creative

Originally published in Birmingham Lifestyle

I’m chatting with Sonthe Burge, Greek Alabamian, parishioner of Holy Trinity + Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Dame d’Escoffier and cookie maven.

“The festival is deeper than a fundraiser, it’s a way to serve. It’s how we show the love of Christ. We aren’t good at evangelizing—Orthodox don’t know how to do that,” Burge states.

But they can cook. And laugh. And dance. They know how to do that.

And they’ve been doing it for decades here in Birmingham.

“The syrup can make or break it,” Fanoula Gulas says. She’s talking about baklava. And she would know. She is the co-chair of the baklava-making operation for Birmingham’s Greek Food Festival—now in its 49th year. Gulas also serves as president of The Birmingham Philoptochos Society—the philanthropic arm of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

The church ladies work seamlessly with the church’s kitchen staff today. A long row of KitchenAid mixers whirl, pans clang and laughs bounce off the walls of the industrial kitchen at Holy Trinity + Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral.

Our team is visiting with the women responsible for passing down beloved recipes for pastichio (Greek lasagna), baklava, and koulourakia (Greek Easter cookies). For months prior to each year’s festival, they come together to learn recipes and create massive batches of food to feed the crowds who flock to enjoy Greek soul food every October. Today the main event is pastichio. Mornings are spent with the pasta; afternoons are dedicated to the labor-intensive making of bechamel sauce. Elene Giattina has taken up the mantel as pastichio chair from her mother, Becky Kampakis, who today is busy in the kitchen.

Sonthe uses her mom’s recipe for koulourakia. A nutritionist, Sonthe generally sticks to lighter Greek cuisine at home—rustic Greek village salad, dolmades, spanakopita and perhaps some Greek fish or chicken. But she does love koulourakia—the light, braided cookies typically served at Easter. “It isn’t too sweet,” she says. It’s understandable that she was made co-chair of koulourakia—the cookies are a bit addictive—she sent me home with a Ziploc full which did not make it to my front door.

“We don’t use my mom’s recipe anymore because my husband prefers Sonthe’s koulourakia—they are crunchier,” Fanoula interjects. Laughs ensue. It’s clear that these ladies enjoy each other’s company as much as they enjoy the sweets they expertly craft.


Matthew Dorning converted to Orthodoxy. The seed was planted when he studied at UAB and took a church tour in 1985. He moved back to Birmingham from Kansas City about a year ago. Raised Protestant, he now works as art director for Ancient Faith Ministries and runs the church’s bookstore. Along with the church’s priests, he’ll be leading tours of the cathedral during this year’s festival.

The food may be the hook, but it’s clear from speaking with Sonthe, Fanoula and Matthew that sharing Orthodoxy is equally as important. “We see the church as a hospital of the soul—it’s not a courtroom where you come to get judged,” Matthew says. “God’s trying to cheer you on and get you healed.”  

They want us to know that all are welcome—you don’t need to be Greek or speak Greek. Many members of Holy Trinity are converts. Some are spouses of third generation Greek Americans. For those who want to learn more about Orthodoxy—it’s beliefs, history, and symbolism—the church offers “Hungry for More” the week following the festival, on October 20th. Greek language classes and “Inquirers” classes are also offered for those wanting to dig deeper.

Planning to attend?

You’ll want to buy a pan of pastichio to take home. It freezes for a year and is great for football and holiday weekends. 100% of proceeds are given to local charities determined every year by the women of the Philoptochos Society.

Learn more at

October 13-15, 2022
10:30 am - 9:30 pm

Holy Trinity + Holy Cross
307 19th Street South
Birmingham, Alabama 35233

  • Fanoula Gulas and Sonthe Burge
  • Pastichio Co-Chairs Elene Kampakis Giattina and Jackie Hontzas