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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 20 September 2014
SATURDAY 20 SEPTEMBER 2014 9 AUSTRALIA The Greek Orthodox Commu- nity of Melbourne and Victo- ria (GOCMV) was established on 22 August 1897, in Mel- bourne, when a number of Greeks gathered to discuss the issue and bring over a priest from the Patriarchate of Jerusalem for the religious needs of themselves and those Arab speaking Orthodox peo- ple of the Victorian capital. The idea of the establishment of a Greek Community had pre-existed since 1895, when a letter with some money was sent to the then Patriarch of Jerusalem Gerassimos, for sending a priest. The Greek- born population of Victoria at that time was approximately 200 and that of Melbourne, probably less than 150. In 1897, Dorotheos Bakalia- ros, an Archimandrite, visited Melbourne and Sydney and assisted the Greek migrants for a while with their Church needs. The members of the Greek Community met again in March 1898, elected a Com- munity Council (CC) and wrote a new letter to the Patri- archate. This time their effort was successful, the Patriarch accepted their appeal and sent Father Athanasios Kantopou- los, who arrived in Melbourne on 22 June 1898, whom the members of the Greek com- munity welcomed with "inde- scribable joy", as the Commu- nity Minutes inform us. In September 1898 a General Meeting (GM) decided unan- imously to collect money to buy an appropriate block of land for erecting a Community church which they should "put under the protection of the free corner of the Greek na- tion". By July 1899 the money collected was £125. The Com- mittee negotiated the present site of Evangelismos at £600 for which the collection was paid, plus a loan provided by the three executive members of the committee, Grigorios Matorikos, Alexandros Ma- niakis and Antonios J. J. Le- katsas. The foundation stone of the church was laid on 19 December 1900 (6 December with the Old Julian Calendar) in the presence of local au- thorities, and the church was completed by 1902. In 1902 a conflict had aris- en between the Community Council and the priest Father Kantopoulos, who wanted to register the church as prop- erty of the Patriarchate of Je- rusalem, making an alliance with the Orthodox Arabic speaking Syrians. The CC op- posed this decisively. It called a Special General Meeting (SGM) in August 1902, passed unanimously a Constitution, named the Church of Greece as the Community's spiritual head and elected a board of three trustees, Alexander Ma- niakis, Antonios J. J. Lekatsas and Grigorios Matorikos, and declared the church as prop- erty of the Greek Community of Melbourne. In 1906 the Community, after a series of Bulgarian attacks which caused many Greek victims in Macedonia (under Ottoman rule at the time), or- ganised an appeal, collected the amount of £187 and sent it to the Greek minister for fi- nance, with a letter stating "for reorganisation and building a well-trained army and navy (...) to enable us in the near future to be able to fight effec- tively against our multiple en- emies" (Community minutes). In 1912, after the declara- tion of the First Balkan War, the Greek Community called a public meeting, collected money and sent to the Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos £2,472 for the as- sistance of the Greek national struggle. In 1916 the organisation started celebrating the Greek National Day of 25th of March and in 1922 decided to take steps to establish a Greek afternoon school, which started operating in Novem- ber 1923 in the rooms of the Ithacan Association ‘Ulysses’. However, the Greek school folded the following year. It was not until 1929 that the GOCMV established its own Saturday school under the guidance of an independent school committee. In March 1932 the Commu- nity faced economic prob- lems for the second time since 1921 but it managed to over- come them in the end. At the Annual General Meet- ing in August 1934, Nikiforos Lekatsas proposed that wom- en be given the right of full membership, however, the new CC, with Angelos Lekat- sas as its president, postponed taking any decision for imple- mentation of the proposal. The Annual Community Dance Grecian Ball, a very important event in the social calendar of the Greek Com- munity in Melbourne, was set up in 1936. In September 1938 a Special General Meeting voted for the change of the title of the Community to 'Greek Ortho- dox Community of Melbourne and Victoria'. In February 1940 the two Community schools were amalgamated. Full membership rights were granted to women in the AGM of August 1952. In February 1952, at the on- set of the Cold War, and a few years after the Greek Civil War, the Community Coun- cil decided to dissolve its Ath- letic team ‘Olympiakos’ be- cause it had shown signs of ‘pro-Left tendencies’. In September 1960, as a re- sult of conflict with the Greek Archdiocese of Australia, the then president of the Greek Orthodox Community of Mel- bourne and Victoria, Dimitrios Elefantis, and 10 councillors of the Greek Community of Adelaide were excommunicat- ed. The abrogation of the ex- communications by the Arch- diocese came in May 1961. In September 1961 the old Greek Community Centre in Lonsdale Street was launched. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s there were attempts for negotiations in order to solve the ongoing Church dispute in Australia, centred on the issue of who was going to have the upper hand in the representation and the leader- ship of the Greek Community in the Antipodes. In the 1970s the Greek Or- thodox Community of Mel- bourne and Victoria partici- pated together with other Greek community organisa- tions in the Greek (Cultural) Festival, which was run un- der the auspices of the Greek Consulate in Melbourne. The Greek Festival was the pre cursor of the Antipodes Fes- tival, which was started by the Community in 1987. In September 1979 the edu- cationalist Costas Yiamiadakis proposed the establishment of a Community day-school but failed to get the support of the majority at the Annual General Meeting. The issue of the establishment of a day school preoccupied the mem- bers of the Community for a number of years. In November 1987 the An- nual General Meeting ap- proved the purchase of the land and buildings of the Pa- rade College at Alphington for establishing a Commu- nity day-school, namely the Alphington Grammar School. In the early 1990s the Com- munity faced huge financial problems due to its large debt, as a result of the loan for the purchase and operation of the school and the steep increas- es of the interest rates. How- ever, the board of the then president of the Community, George Fountas, managed to get a loan by the National Bank of Greece (4.75 million dollars), guaranteed by the Greek government. The loan, which was never paid back, managed to save the Com- munity from bankruptcy. The Greek government came to the help of the Greek com- munity again in the early 2000s, with another dona- tion of 2.6 million dollars, in order to support Alphington Grammar School. Bill Papastergiadis, the cur- rent president, and his board took over in the Greek Ortho- dox Community of Melbourne and Victoria, the oldest Greek organisation in Australia, in January 2008. Under their leadership, amongst others, the Community is able to of- ficially launch tomorrow its new 15-storey building at the historical centre of Hellenism in Melbourne, at the corner of Lonsdale and Russel Street. * Most of the information for this article was drawn from Christos N. Fifis ‘Brief Outline of the History of the GOCMV’ as it appears on the website of the Community. The founding fathers of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria. L-R: Alexandros Maniakis, Grigorios Matorikos and Antonis Lekatsas. A brief history of the GOCMV On the occasion of the unveiling of the new Cultural Centre, Neos Kosmos presents the story of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria “Full membership rights were granted to women in the Annual General Meeting of August 1952.” “The Greek government came to the help of the Greek Community again in the early 2000s, with a donation of 2.6 million dollars, in order to support Alphington Grammar School.” Evangelismos, the Annunciation of Our Lady in East Melbourne, is the first Greek Orthodox Church in Melbourne. Greek school photo from 1931.
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