With wonderment and deep emotion, on Saturday, 12 August 2023, His Eminence Archbishop Makarios of Australia crossed through the threshold of the small Greek Orthodox church that dominates in the “heart” of the city of Bendigo, in the State of Victoria. This historical church is dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, which for decades was a refuge of comfort and hope for the Greek immigrants who lived in the city and laboured for a better future in their new homeland.
It is worth noting that Greeks had already settled in Bendigo from the end of the 19th century, while most families came from the island of Lemnos. In recent decades, the population of the Greek community there has been significantly reduced, but every year during the period of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, the Greek Orthodox church “comes alive again”, welcoming pilgrims from other parts of the State and mainly from the city of Melbourne, which is around 130 km away.
The same pilgrimage took place once again this year, in light of the feast of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, with the difference being that the leader of the group of pilgrims was His Eminence Archbishop Makarios of Australia. This gave a historic character to this year’s pilgrimage, as it was the first time that an Archbishop of Australia visited and officiated at the Greek Orthodox Church of Bendigo.
In an atmosphere of deep devoutness, His Eminence officiated at the Matins Service and presided over the pre-feast Divine Liturgy of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, and was joined also by Their Graces, Bishop Kyriakos of Sozopolis, Bishop Evmenios of Kerasounta, as well as clergy from the Archdiocesan Districts of Melbourne and Northcote.
Reflecting on the historicity of the moment, at the beginning of his address the Archbishop chose to mention, with words of gratitude, the Greeks who settled in this corner of the Australian land and worked hard, toiled, struggled, but managed to progress and at the same time preserve the treasures of our Faith and Nation. “This is why I decided to come here today,” he emphasised, among other things, “to exclaim an “eternal be their memory” for all those who worked and toiled here, whom we do not wish to be forgotten to history.” Furthermore, His Eminence Archbishop Makarios expressed it to be a great honour and blessing for himself, to be the first Archbishop to visit and officiate at the Church of the Dormition of Our Lady, in Bendigo.
Afterwards, His Eminence spoke to the faithful about the existence of the Church as an indivisible body of clergy and laity with Jesus Christ as its head. As he characteristically distinguished, “we do not say “we will go to the temple”, but “we will go to the church”. Because the temple is the building. The church is not the building but you and the Priests, the Bishops, and the Archbishop. All of us together make up the body of the Church and there cannot be a Church with only the Archbishop, only with the clergy or only with the faithful. This shows how much we need to be united.”
Finally, focusing his attention to the honoured person of the Most Holy Theotokos, His Eminence emphasised the gratitude that the entire human race should express to Her. “Because if it was not for the Virgin Mary,” he pointed out, “there would be no salvation for humankind today. If it were not for the Virgin Mary, there would be no Christ, no Church, no Heaven. If it was not for the Virgin Mary, there would not be this joy that Orthodox Christians have, despite all the difficulties and trials”.