Loving people, using things: John Vithoulkas in response to concern over the fate of Greek associations

I would like to thank Dean Kalymniou and Alex Economou for their articles relating to the future of Hellenism in Australia and the position of the many Greek organizations. Beyond everything, I believe we have a future. Organizations such as the Greek Orthodox Church and the Greek community are strong. As Dean mentioned, a number of us over 4 years came together in an unofficial working group called Hellenism Victoria that met every few months.

We made new friends and learned a lot. With friends such as Kosta (Samos), Xristo (Kos), Kosta (Rhodes) Joseph (Periklis), Peter (Pontian Akrites), Natasha (Oakleigh Greek Orthodox College), Anastasia and Nelly (Neos Kosmos), we were able to organize events such as the Spirit of Hellenism Award, a competition encouraging students to research and document migration stories, which, above all, have filled our own hearts with love. We are all proud of this period and of what we have contributed.

That Dean and Alex write in 2022 on the question of what will happen in our future, a question that Profession Tamis began discussing in 1980, shows that we still have to sort out the issues. Maybe the question will always exist because we will always be looking to see how we can do things better. But one thing we’ve learned from Hellenism Victoria is that Hellenism is a patchwork – every organization, social club, church, newspaper, dance school, language school, cafe, or restaurant contributes to it. We tend to think in the absolute, will we exist or will we not, but we exist in degrees. If there was only one Greek cafe left in Melbourne, we would exist in this little corner, just a degree of Hellenism. But a glittering building filled with Hellenes and Philhellenes in every High St is a much better goal for us (and why not a John and Susie Rerakis Philhellenes in every corner!)

The closure of the Pontian Community Building left me with sadness as I remember it as a haven of Hellenism, a place to visit when I needed to recharge my Hellenic soul. It was the same when Medallions closed, Salapatas and Melissa Smith St. With each we lost a degree. Opening Nikos Cakes in Fairfield recharged my soul. Higher degree. But I am an old man steeped in my ways. I am Greek and will be looking for Greek. The reason Kosta and Alex are discussing this is because these are young hearts and souls that we want to paint blue and white.

So there is a lot to consider. But what we raise as a problem is one to give us hope. Each organization is individual and will evolve with the ideas of its members and its board of directors, and that is as it should be because each club was built by its members. But we can only create waves with many drops of water. Many wonderful ideas were raised about the Hellenism of tomorrow, ideas that would act like waves of Hellenism moving together.

· Clubs creating an “Oakleigh” of the North and the West. That would involve waiting for a redevelopment opportunity (for example, like the upcoming Northcote Plaza redevelopment) and buying properties for rent from Greek-themed businesses at a discount – in effect securing multiple Oakleighs.

The creation of a Hellenic Foundation (functioning a bit like the Onassis Foundation), with the clubs which can no longer function by moving their management to this foundation which would use the revenues to finance Hellenic projects on behalf of this organization (competition, scholarships, arts, films, etc.).

· Clubs align with their local church and create many local Hellenic communities.

Clubs that remain active by retaining their individual structure but posting events in a unified calendar, allowing a patchwork of events to be a Melbourne-Hellenic lifestyle, something that has started to Neos Kosmos.

Each of these ideas is positive and each would work. Any action by any club is a positive step for Hellenism. The challenge for clubs is to select the vision they deem best and move towards it with other clubs who share the same vision, so that we can use our size, a gift from the first migrants, to develop many strong Hellenic movements.

Personally, I believe that we are at the stage where we need to move beyond the question of what is going to happen and facilitate the conversation we need to have and action. It is a difficult path because we need to move away from the status quo, put aside the slights of the past and have difficult conversations and difficult actions. Some actions may be unpopular and we may need to reassess attachments, but every club that moves will add to Hellenism in Victoria.

I consider that it all starts with knowing the clubs. When we meet, we make friends and we work together; 1 + 1 = 3. We learn and grow and we develop. With Hellenism Victoria, community clubs have taken the lead, but to really move forward we need a facilitator beyond the syllogue – an organizer to schedule the major discussion questions, to clarify the possibilities and to allow each club to move forward in the path it has chosen. My personal belief is an organization like Neos Kosmos could organize this roundtable to help us move from conversation to action. It is an independent organization with people filled with love for Hellenism. In a similar scenario, I consider that the Greek community or the Greek church is also able to facilitate the round tables. Any development on this front would be welcome by the clubs.

A good friend told me that each club gives what it can from its own silo. Each club has its members and its house, but in our silos we are alone. Together our soul is filled and our energy awakened. We need a round table. We will move forward, the Orthodox Church and the Greek community will exist, but our job is to make Hellenism as strong as possible.

I have spent so many nights in the Pontian community of Brunswick and I have never been able to thank them, but I thank them, as I thank every organization and every volunteer for their efforts. Minimalists postulate ‘like people, use things’ and I think that suits where we are. We have a great number of assets in the Hellenic community, but assets exist only to support the people. No one sees a glittering building that is empty.

About Stephen Arrington

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