A cameo history of the Port Elizabeth Hellenic Community

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This long-standing bastion of the Hellenic community in South Africa was established 80 years ago by immigrants from the Motherlands of Greece and Cyprus, seeking to find ways of making a living and helping their families back home, after the devastation of Greece and the Balkans due to the many wars in Europe.

The first recorded arrival in Port Elizabeth of a Greek person was in 1897 and the first Greek Orthodox service was held at St Peter’s Anglican Church in South End on 2 July 1905, with about 70 Greeks attending the service, as no Greek Orthodox Church had yet been built.

In 1936 there were approximately 17 Greek families living in Port Elizabeth and so the community formally established itself as the Hellenic Community of Port Elizabeth and Eastern Province. It took nearly 50 years after the first Greek set foot in the friendly city!
The actual church edifice as it stands now was built 60 years ago after the purchase of the Parsons Hill site. Herbert McWilliams, one of the city’s leading architects, was commissioned to design the church, including the adjoining school and presbytery. So he went to Greece to see for himself how to build a typical Greek church.

The church we see today was the result and has been touted as the best example of Byzantine cruciform church buildings in South Africa. On Sunday 17 August 1958 the first Divine Liturgy was celebrated by Father Porfyrios Marinakis. The Church had been consecrated and was named the Dormition of the Theotokos to honour the Mother of God.

community-hall

Three years later the adjoining plot was purchased and the Hellenic Hall was built which gave the community a central pivot around which they could keep up their heritage and traditions.

Compiled by Pepe Sofianos

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