The Greek Community of Melbourne (GCM) proudly hosted its inaugural Appreciation Ceremony to recognise and honour the dedication and selfless contributions of exemplary volunteers with more than 10 years of community contribution.
This heartwarming ceremony brought together community members, devoted volunteers, and priests from the Holy Church of “Annunciation of our Lady,” “Holy Trinity” Church, “St. George” Church, Holy Church of “St. Eleftherios” and Holy Church of “St. Dimitrios.”
The ceremony began with a warm welcome from Nick Koukouvitakis, GCM Secretary, expressing gratitude for the invaluable contributions of volunteers who have made a significant impact on the community.
Mr Koukouvitakis started his speech with a famous quote from Helen Dyer, “Volunteerism is the voice of the people put into action. These actions shape and mould the present into a future of which we can all be proud.”
“Your compassion and kindness towards others are an inspiration to all, and your efforts have not gone unnoticed,” he added.
The GCM President, Bill Papastergiadis OAM also gave a speech and took people on a retrospective journey through the history of the community and its churches.
Mr Papastergiadis put together the threads of the community’s past, highlighting key milestones, challenges, and triumphs, created a powerful narrative that resonated with everyone present.
By delving into the history, Mr Papastergiadis not only honoured the sacrifices and contributions of those who came before us but also provided a context for our present identity and aspirations.
The key points of this narrative were that in 1898, an eight-member ecclesiastical committee consisting of Greeks and Syrians was appointed with the goal of bringing a permanent priest to Melbourne. On December 6, 1900, the foundation ceremony of the first Orthodox church took place, marking the official beginning of Orthodox doctrine in Victoria.
For almost 60 years, the Holy Church of “Annunciation of our Lady” was the sole church meeting the religious needs of Orthodox Greeks. Today, it is considered one of the most significant buildings representing the historical Greek presence in Melbourne.
In the 1950s, the Community responded to the increasing needs resulting from post-war mass migration by establishing two additional Orthodox churches.
Throughout these years, the members of the Community volunteered their contributions to the operation of Orthodox churches, covering administration, financial obligations, fundraising, and everything necessary for their smooth functioning.
Mr Papastergiadis stated, “The GCM is built on the foundation of unity and shared values. Our volunteers embody these principles, and it is only fitting that we come together as a community to honour their commitment, passion, and generosity.”
“This event serves as a platform to shine a spotlight on their selfless acts and express our heartfelt gratitude for the positive change they bring to the lives of others and our community,” he added.
Father Phillip Papagiannopoulos, a representative from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, expressed his gratitude to the volunteers.
“Our volunteers are the heartbeat of our community, and their unwavering dedication deserves to be recognised. You are our light. You are our faith. You are the backbone of our churches. Your exemplary service echoes the spirit of love, compassion, and unity,” Father Phillip said.
The Consul General of Melbourne, Emmanuel Kakavelakis, also spoke and fostered a sense of unity and continuity, reminding us that our shared history is a source of strength and resilience.
He remarked, “Volunteerism is not imposed; it is inspired. It is grounded in Love, the kind that is written with a capital ‘L’ and resides deep within us. This humility is a path of greatness. The power of volunteering is unifying, is transformative. Your dedication is a source of inspiration for us all.”
The Chairperson of the Victorian Multicultural Commission, Vivienne Nguyen, by sharing her personal story being a refugee herself, expressed profound appreciation for the volunteers, “This ceremony is a testament to the profound impact you had on the wider community.”
“You set a strong foundation for all the communities that came after you here in this city. We followed your footsteps. You have created a sense of belonging for all of us. It was very healing founding this reminder of the home we left behind. We are immensely grateful for their tireless efforts and selfless service,” Ms Nguyen added.
Following the moving speeches, Associate Prof. Marinis Pirpiris, Treasurer of the GCM, and Helene Hiotis, GCM board member and principal of Bentleigh Secondary College, presented certificates of recognition to over 40 of the GCM longstanding volunteers.
Four certificates were also given to the families of volunteers who are deceased. Among the volunteers was Costas Kolokythas, who has been the chanter of “St. George” Church for 58 years. With his selfless contributions and humble commitment, he was an inspiration for all the attendees.
The success of the inaugural ceremony has set a positive tone for future endeavours aimed at recognising and appreciating the unsung heroes within the GCM.
*All photos supplied by Kostas Deves.