60-year milestone for Greek church
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.
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