St. Michael’s Mediterranean Festival shares Beaumont’s Orthodox heritage

After a two-year COVID-caused hiatus, St. Michael’s Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church’s annual Mediterranean Festival returns, May 7, and volunteers are hard at work preparing dolmas, gyros, falafel, tabouleh, cabbage rolls and more to celebrate the community’s rich heritage.

The festival began in 2008 and quickly became an event to look forward to. The idea for the festival came from the church’s pastor, Father Michael Pavez, his wife Mireille said.

For 80 years, the church held a Syrian Dinner, serving kibbeh, cabbage rolls and green beans for three hours one Sunday. But Father Michael thought there was a greater opportunity to share the church members’ culture and faith.

“He said we have so much to offer for our community, why are we just offering that little thing?” Mireille said. “It was time to showcase more than just two items that we eat. And not only this, our music, our dances, our tradition, our hospitality, our faith. It’s a faith we’re talking about 2,000 years uninterrupted.”

The food is the biggest draw for the event, which Mireille said expects to draw 7,000 visitors over the course of eight hours, and the church’s volunteers have been gathering to prepare mass quantities of food over the past two months. One Saturday, the volunteers gathered at 7 a.m. and made 4,000 cabbage rolls.

Mireille Pavez srolls dolmas in her Kitchen. Photo by Andy Coughlan

“They will be fresh cooked Friday night,” Mireille said. “We will spend all night in the church cooking those pots.”

Mireille is responsible for making falafel, making 165 pounds of the mix.

She also made the pickles from scratch. “Thank God for the Easter Monday (holiday),” she said. On Friday, she will make the tahini sauce and chop all the vegetables.

The various groups that make up St. Michael’s congregation bring variants on the food. There is Middle Eastern baklava and Greek baklava, for example.

“The tastes change a little bit — the Greek baklava, they use honey in their syrup,” said Mireille, who is from Lebanon. “We use just a normal syrup, water and sugar.”

Other foods available include spanakopita, a savory spinach and feta cheese in flaky pastry, and kafta made the Lebanese way — as a sandwich.

The sense of pride is strong in among Beaumont’s Orthodox community and the recipes are handed down through generations. The festival does not accept outside vendors and all the food is made from scratch.

“They’re very meticulous in our church, they wanted to do it their own way,” Mireille Pavez said. “I’m telling you, when you have a church 125 years (old), it is so hard to change a drop of salt. So, it’s like, ‘Our recipe, my grandfather, grandmother, they came from Lebanon with this recipe, you cannot change it.’ And it’s a big ordeal.”

The Mediterranean Festival offers more than just food. There will be live Greek, Lebanese and American music and a petting zoo for kids. A troupe of Greek dancers will perform traditional dance and a performer will sing and play the oud, an Arabic instrument similar to a lute.

For the curious, at 5 p.m. they will host “Teach me how to Belly dance,” Mireille said.

Funds raised benefit not only the church, but also a local charity. This year, St. Michael’s will donate to Indian Springs Camp-Veterans Helping Veterans and Youth.

St. Michael’s was founded in 1905 by immigrants from Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. It is the second-oldest Antiochian church in the United States. During the festival, volunteers will conduct tours of the church. Mireille Pavez said each tour draws 70 to 80 people, many of whom return to ask about the Orthodox faith.

“We just want to share more, mostly our faith and tradition, with the community,” she said.

The Mediterranean Festival is May 7, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at St. Michael’s, 690 North 15th St. in Beaumont. Food and rides accept tickets, which will be available at the entrance.

For more information, visit

This story first ran in the May 6,2022 Art of Living section of The Beaumont Enterprise.

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