One of the 33 Greek parishes of Sydney (two Ukrainian parishes are under Constantinopolitan care), the new building dates from 1961 and is adjacent to St Spyridon College, a school where 800 or so young Australians get their education. The saint was the 4th century bishop of Tremithus, now to be found in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and was one of the fathers of the Council of Nicea. The iconostasis is more Byzantine than realistic baroque (which one can find in many Greek churches), and includes some icons from the earlier church. Otherwise, the building is white painted concrete, and features pews through the entirety of the nave. Candles and small icons are available in a wee shop to the right of the entrance.
Seven per cent of Kingsford’s 15,000 inhabitants are of Greek ethnicity. Most of them are islanders from Kastellorizo, off the southwest coast of Turkey, or they are their descendants, and it is likely that most of them are at least theoretically Orthodox.
Kingsford is a postwar suburban area in southeast Sydney, due east of the airport, and is named after aviator Sir Charles Kingsford Smith. The Alevri café is down the street, but sadly there was no καφε ἑλλενικη (Greek coffee) available on Sunday for, as the barista noted, it takes a few minutes of watching the briki for the foam to rise, and with all of the clients from St Spyridon’s, they would be driven insane – she used an Australian colloquialism, unsuitable for the delicate ears of shipmates. But she told me to come on the Monday and there’d be no problem. English is the first language of less than half of the townsfolk, and at the service, Greek seemed to be spoken fluently by all ages.
The service was a standard Orthodox liturgy, with the priest and a deacon, as well as a cantor and a small choir of men.
What was the name of the service?Divine Liturgy and Memorial Service.
How full was the building?
The church might have fit up to 500 or so in the nave, and was full, with many people standing. There was a remarkably good spread of ages, including children and teenagers as well as older worshippers, and primarily in family groups or posses of friends. Finding a seat was a challenge. My Australian friend took it all in stride and pulled me along.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Eye contact with several people as I entered, partly because Australians are generally friendly and welcoming, and partly because I really don’t look very Greek and they were curious. There were a few of us barbarians scattered about, likely captives of Hellenic Australian women.
Was your pew comfortable?
I liked these pews, and the kneelers were padded.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Bustling. Mediterranean greetings combined with Australian bonhomie are not silent or meditation-inducing. As well, the Liturgy would be followed by a brief memorial service for the anniversary of those who had died the previous year, and I imagine that we also enjoyed family members greeting each other.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
It was not clear to me if the service had already started or not. There may have been some preliminary kontakia or troparia, or something chanted.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. Parishioners followed the service by memory, or just listened along to the cantor.
What musical instruments were played?
In the Greek manner, the entire ceremony was without instruments. The cantor and a very capable choir of a half dozen men were parked up along the epistle side by the iconostasis.
Did anything distract you?
About halfway through the service, the men began to leave the church. Desiring a break and knowing that the Orthodox are often not irked by people going in and out, I went to see what was happening. A number of them were headed off to the Alevi café to have a long black or flat white or whatever, but more were gathering in a nearby parking lot to light up. I headed off to the café to have my break.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This was a community liturgy and folksy in the Orthodox ethnic parish way, with everybody knowing everyone else and having been to all of the baptisms and weddings, and many of them having gone to school together in their neighbourhood. Bemused non-Orthodox boyfriends and girlfriends were looking about to see what they had gotten themselves into. Although I couldn’t see much beside clergy popping in and out from the sacred doors, worshippers seemed pretty attentive.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Perhaps it lasted about 10 minutes. It was all Greek to me, although there were a few minutes in English at the end.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 — In his pronunciation he was very clear and articulate, so I would give him 8 or 9, judging by his communication skills.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Good question. Sadly, my poor vocabulary of koiné and classical Greek from 40 years ago could not help me assess the quality of the content. It was almost entirely in Greek, and I only caught occasional words. He spoke demotic Greek for most of the sermon, and whatever his message might have been, it was well received.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The friendliness and feeling of community, which is the positive side of ethnic Orthodoxy. Without anyone detailed to meet visitors after the service, I think that I was greeted by over 20 people from my pew to the bottom of the entrance steps.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Not much, although I wouldn’t have minded a bit more English. Still, there was no false advertising and I knew it would be greatly in Greek.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was swept out by the crowd and my Australian friend made sure not to lose me, as we were then off to a post-memorial service lunch held by a parishioner whose mother had died last year. She had been impressed that I knew the first two lines to a Greek hymn (Φως ἱλαρόν, Phōs Hilaron, Hail Gladdening Light, which some Anglican shipmates may know from one of the orders for Evening Prayer), and she dragged me over to one of the clergy to boast of this on my behalf. The priest perceived my bewilderment in the crowd, and kindly chatted with me for a few minutes. I told him that I had been taught the lines by the late Nikos Nissiotis (a theologian I met at a student workshop years ago), and he was duly impressed, but I was then pushed out of the way by a dozen worshippers. Just before my departure from Oz a few weeks later, I was told that he would like me to drop by for coffee. Oh well, next time.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
As noted, I had already had my coffee, but was then taken off to the memorial lunch waiting beside the host’s swimming pool, with lamb kebabs grilling and squid on the barbie. Bowls of salad and trays of figs were at the ready. Bottles of local wine were emptied as we heard stories of the host’s mother, who was remembered at the memorial portion of the service. After about five hours, large brass briki were filled with very black Greek coffee for us, along with snifters of various sorts to toast the departed and to speed us on our way. Hopefully it was free trade.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 — While I really didn’t understand that much, the friendliness and energy are not much found in English-speaking Christianity in my part of Canada. I would have to brush up on my conversational Greek.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Anglicanism in Canada doesn’t provide one with much experience of being in a large group of believers, and that was an interesting phenomenon.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The wine at the memorial lunch perhaps fogged my memory just a bit, but being in a group of cheerful people remembering lost friends and relations was remarkable.