Located on the corner of Burke and Ridge Streets in Surry Hills stands the Greek Orthodox Church of Holy Trinity. The oldest Greek Orthodox church in Australia, and the Southern Hemisphere to boot, it stands as a continual reminder of the Greek Orthodox Community of Sydney’s (GOC) beginnings, and the important role it would come to play in the years to follow.

This year marks the 120-year milestone since the members of that very community, albeit fewer at the time, came together in 1897 to raise funds to build a place of worship. Starting out on a generous footing that would set the tone of its mission, the land for the church was donated by Ioanis Cominos, and finally realised with the donations of 62 individuals for the sum of 257 to fund its construction in 1898.

The organisation officially commenced in 1898 when some 100 residents of Greek decent came together at the Australia Hall down Sydney’s Elizabeth Street, ahead of the formation even of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901, making it one of the oldest migrant organisations in the country.

Led by the then president, Dyoniosis Kouvaras, the foundation stone of the church was laid on 29 May 1898. During the first 60 years of its establishment, the GOC was mostly centred around the church. However, tensions between various community leaders, would see fragmentation occur, and the establishment of a second church, St Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, in 1927.

In 1959, a third church, the Dormition of Theotokos, was built on Abercrombie Street in Redfern. It is said that upon arriving to the port in Sydney, Greek migrant women would rush to the church to thank Mary for the safe trip, and to ask for help in establishing themselves in the country. Even today, the church is a popular meeting spot, with the surrounding streets flooded with parishioners, namely on Mary’s feast day, 15 August.

But that same year, greater change was ahead. With the appointment of Bishop Ezekiel Tsoukalas as Archbishop of Australia and New Zealand, relations changed and became hostile between the various Greek community groups in Sydney, and across the country with the archdiocese.

This saw new parishes being built across the country, and so the GOC changed its focus over the next 60 years. While still steeped in the Orthodox tradition, it took on a more proactive role placing it at the forefront of the Greek community’s struggles: national, social, or cultural.

Members worked towards ensuring migrants had fair working conditions so they wouldn’t become victims of exploitation, helping to strengthen democracy, and establishing a policy of multiculturalism in Australia.

On a community level, there was also a lot of emphasis placed on enhancing resources for the teaching of the Greek language, with the establishment of community language schools, and the organisation of cultural festivals.

Meanwhile the community’s thoughts were still with the motherland. Members of the GOC helped to develop anti-dictatorial action in the years of the junta dictatorship in Greece, to restore democracy.

This next phase, saw the community purchase the former Odeon Cinema Complex on Oxford and South Dowling Streets in Paddington in 1963. The interior was altered to set up the GOC’s office and a space for meetings to be held. It was sold in 2017 for $23 million, after a majority vote from members at a general meeting.

The community also established three daycare centres in Stanmore and Marrickville in the late 1970s and early 80s, and in 1992 opened an aged care facility in Earlwood.

In addition to this, today the GOC is responsible for the Greek language education of 550 students across 20 schools, and continues its welfare work through the Greek community clubs across Sydney, providing free legal and tax advice. While on a cultural level, it runs both the Greek Festival of Sydney and the Greek Film Festival annually.

These works have been made possible, and continue until this day, thanks to the thousands of members and supporters who have come on board and worked with the GOC throughout its history; driven individuals who have a shared passion for their Greekness and, living in as fair and just a society as possible.

As the community celebrates its 120 years, it is far from resting on its laurels, working just as hard to ensure its future is viable, to meet the changing needs of the community.

“The challenges for the future of the Greek community are many and varied,” says current GOC chair Harry Danalis.

“And will require the continuing support of all our members, friends and supporters, and indeed, of the whole of the Greek community of NSW for the continuing role of the Greek Community of NSW.”