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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 30 May 2015
12 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 30 MAY 2015 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Once were Auckland remains a little Greece in disguise BILLY COTSIS It was at the home of schoolteacher Ilias Pavlidis that it hit me. For what you will find here, nestled amongst the population of 1.6 million, is a small Greek community that brings to you all the wonderful aspects of filoxenia that one traditionally finds in a village. Ilias had invited me to his home, just like a number of other Greek people who were interviewed for this article, and immediately showed a sense of warmth that I have come to expect from a country that is well and truly on the other side of the planet. Auckland was settled by the Maori in 1350 and has a laid-back style and friendliness that makes it ideal for any migrant, especially a Greek, to adapt to. It is this feature that makes this small community a strong and viable hub for Greek speakers. Unusually for a Greek community in a large English-speaking city, there is not a recognised Greek neighbourhood and almost a dearth of representation of Greek businesses. In fact, I had to catch the ferry out of the city to find Greek food on the coast and even that was not owned by Greek people. Admittedly, the 20-minute trip and walk through a beautiful country style of a main street was a highlight, as was the welcome sight of a Greek tavern. It probably has room for improvement with food, however, the service was first rate. GREEK CHURCH The country-style feel seemed to be a theme on my journey. I entered the Greek Orthodox church to meet a priest who immediately inspired me to reassess my own recent absence from church. Father Pavlos Patitsas oversees the Sacred Naos of Holy Trinity, located 20 minutes from the CBD and on the same property as the Greek Community Centre. In the absence of a Greek neighbourhood, this is essentially it. This is one of the few occasions over the years that I have seen this set up, which makes it convenient for the Greek community and ensures there is no rivalry between church and community. It was essentially a mission to get here from a previous engagement. When I finally arrived, it was great to correlate the work and life of the father with his own mission, and that was to serve God, a calling he had known since the age of five. What makes Father Patitsas unique is that he is American, having had his first parish in Ohio 20 years ago. For a good hour I was told of his life's work, including undertaking missionary work in Kenya. He made a poignant remark which reminded me of why I first paid real attention to the faith. He told me that "the Church has many other functions, including as a place of learning and a fellowship". The parish has a regular attendance by several hundred people and not all of them are Greek, a parish he first encountered in 2009 on a visit to Auckland. I was told that he instantly knew that this was a place for his family. I was pleased to learn that Bible study class has helped to engage with a younger audience who are showing a keen interest in the faith. This in turn will help to continue the longevity of the Greek community for years to come. New Zealand has become one part of the diaspora where mixed marriages are at a high proportion, with up to half of those married in Greek teacher Ilias Pavlidis at a welcoming function for newly-arrived Greeks. a Greek Orthodox Church being non-Greek. A partner not from a Greek background usually receives baptism before the marriage takes place. TEACHING GREEK WITH MR COOL Ilias had told me that he is drawn to young people, being a teacher he enjoys having a good rapport with his students. I myself grew up with a number of the teaching fraternity who belonged to the dark ages of using a cane and I generally seemed to draw uninspiring mentors until late high school. Yet here was a teacher who oozes a sense of cool, and most likely helps inspire his students as he rolls up to class on his motorbike; a great knowledge of how young people want to be taught. Ilias arrived here from Thessaloniki, a similar-sized city, in 2002. He is the teacher for all Greek classes at the Greek Community. His initial intention was to visit this far away country "as a sense of adventure, to stay for a few years", then return to Greece. He told me that when he arrived, "it would rain nonstop". This may have put an initial dampener on his adventure, however, like just about everyone who visits Auckland, he fell in love with the city and his future wife. Ilias is also involved in the Greek culture committee and in 2015, there are 15 events planned. In the past they have shown documentaries, had recitals, excursions and held a lecture on Homeros, which in itself is symbolic of the adventure that many like Ilias have undertaken. A study was undertaken in the 1990s around the ability of Greek people to speak the language at a high level. The conclusion was that a significant portion were able to speak, read, write and understand Greek at an advanced level. This has become a key platform for the Hellenes in the country and indeed the Greek government over the years as they send resources and a teacher to key cities to help maintain the status quo. New Zealand soldiers at a Cretan village in 1945 The Greek Community Centre and church.
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