The foundation stone of Bulawayo’s Greek Orthodox church, St John the Baptist, was laid down in 1934 and was consecrated by the first Greek Orthodox archbishop for southern Africa, Archbishop Isidore of Johannesburg and Pretoria. Archbishop Isidore died soon after in the town of Shurugwe where there was a big Greek presence at that time.
In 1936, the school hall was built in the St John the Baptist church grounds.
At its peak, in the 1970s, there were over 15,000 Greeks in Zimbabwe. Not a large number, but big enough to provide the subscriptions to support flourisihing community services and facilities, a church and Greek schooling in the country’s larger towns and cities.
Today that number has dwindled to around 1500; 70 per cent of them live in the capital, Harare. About a third of the country’s population of Greeks is now over 60 years old.
There were once; Greek mayors, politicians, businessmen, farmers, artisans and professionals who played their part in the life of Zimbabwe. There were Greek schools that taught the language to second- and third-generation Zimbabwean Greeks.
“There were a lot of successful Greek businessmen who helped to build our own churches, and facilities to cater for our communities,” said Panayotis (Peter) Leondios, the longserving president of the Hellenic community in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city.
Today with just 150 members, the community in Bulawayo is struggling to care for its older members and maintain the church, St John The Baptist in the city centre.
Fr Glafcoss who serves St John the Baptist and the missionary church, St Augustine’s in the Bulawayo township of Mzilikazi, says St John’s is well provisioned and has all that is needed for any type of service under the Orthodox rite.
“It has everything you can expect of an Orthodox Church.
“One of the smaller towns, Mutare (which is on the Zimbabwean border with Mozambique) there are just 55 members and most are over 65. In such cases the communities may have to turn to their wealthier members for support,”said Fr Glafcoss.
“In Harare, the community also relies on wise investments. It owns a shopping complex in a key location in the city form which it has drawn an income that helps to pay for the elderly and its charities. And the communities also maintain the churches.”
In Bulawayo, Mr Leondios says that with further investment the community has plans to build apartments within the church compound to house some of its elderly members who have fallen on hard times.
“We built the structure at the back of the property and we have the plans to build six flats for the needy ones in the community but because of the economic situation we cannot go ahead. Our people are getting old and we must look after them,” said Mr Leondios.