60-year mile­stone for Greek church

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - News - Athena O’Reilly or­eillya@ti­soblack­star.co.za

With a rich his­tory and grow­ing Hel­lenic com­mu­nity in the Eastern Cape, the Greek Or­tho­dox Church in Port El­iz­a­beth cel­e­brates its 60th an­niver­sary this week­end.

The ac­tual “birth­day” of the church in Par­sons Hill – which has be­come a city land­mark – was on Au­gust 15, but most of the com­mu­nity mem­bers re­turn to Greece on hol­i­day to visit fam­ily dur­ing that time.

The four-day cel­e­bra­tion, which started on Thurs­day, is open to those who wish to im­merse them­selves in this “cen­turies-old and thought-pro­vok­ing cul­ture” un­til Sun­day.

Com­mit­tee chair Peter Clainos said: “We are ex­tremely priv­i­leged to be a part of a com­mu­nity that is cap­ti­vat­ing to so many Port El­iz­a­bethans.

“Our beau­ti­fully rich cul­ture is warm and wel­com­ing, which is a trait that makes all those in our com­mu­nity proud to be Greek.”

The pub­lic is also in­vited to visit an ex­hi­bi­tion in the Hel­lenic Hall that show­cases the his­tory of the church with pho­to­graphs, icons and books that date back to 1958 when the church was founded.

Over the years, the Hel­lenic com­mu­nity has been in the fore­ground in rais­ing funds for the com­mon good, sup­port­ing var­i­ous lo­cal char­i­ties.

“We would like to take this op­por­tu­nity to wel­come the pub­lic to cel­e­brate this spe­cial oc­ca­sion with us and we wel­come them to ex­pe­ri­ence the won­der­ful feel­ing of Filo­timo [love of hon­our],” Clainos said.

“As a Greek com­mu­nity we had a func­tion called Bon Ap­pétit in the 1980s at the Feather Mar­ket Hall. It was a mas­sive event that brought the peo­ple and busi­ness of PE to­gether.

“[An­other high­light] was dur­ing the 2010 World Cup.

“The Greek team was play­ing in PE and we had a big func­tion with a lot of the Greeks from all over South Africa join­ing us.

“We must have had about 2,000 peo­ple in the hall. Even though we lost the match, it was a party sec­ond to none.”

In 1936, 57 years af­ter the first Greek set­tlers ar­rived in Al­goa Bay, the founders’ ob­jec­tives were to es­tab­lish a Greek Or­tho­dox church, a hall and a school which was a nec­es­sary cat­a­lyst to pre­serve re­li­gious and cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties.

World War 2 halted the fundrais­ing ef­forts for the church as fi­nances were used to aid the starv­ing pop­u­la­tion in Greece.

And in 1953 an earth­quake in the Io­nian Is­lands again re­quired the fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance of the com­mu­nity, which left the church’s funds de­pleted.

Funds were ac­cu­mu­lated from as far afield as Zim­babwe to erect the church, with the bell tower com­pleted only 40 years af­ter­wards.

Dim­itri Paizis, of Framesby, who has been an as­so­ciate of the church for 42 years and be­came chair in 1979, was in­flu­enced by his par­ents, who were staunch be­liev­ers.

“We couldn’t just let this aus­pi­cious oc­ca­sion go by with­out any form of cel­e­bra­tion and this is a great op­por­tu­nity for us to share our his­tory and cul­ture with the peo­ple of Port El­iz­a­beth,” he said.

“As a com­mu­nity we were at our peak in the 1960s and 1970s, but a lot of peo­ple em­i­grated to Amer­ica or Aus­tralia, or re­turned to Greece.

“Now we are about 500 peo­ple in the city, but when you look at what we have got here it is quite an achieve­ment that a hand­ful of fam­i­lies have put to­gether one of the nicest churches in South Africa.

“Our pre­de­ces­sors need a real word of grat­i­tude,” he said.

Pho­to­graph: BRIAN WIT­BOOI

AT CEL­E­BRA­TIONS: Fr Ge­or­gios Gian­nakopou­los, left, His Emi­nence Arch­bishop of Good Hope Ser­gios Kykko­tis, Fr John Ty­ropo­lis and Dim­itri Paizis at the Church of the Dor­mi­tion of the Theotokos in Port El­iz­a­beth

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