Victoria’s first Orthodox Church was severely damaged in a fire on Monday, which also destroyed priceless icons dating back to the 1800s. The heritage-listed Annunciation of our Lady (Evangelismos) church in East Melbourne became engulfed in flames at approximately 1pm, Monday 2 May, shortly after a morning liturgy was held to celebrate the holy day of Saint George, and just a day after Greek Orthodox Easter celebrations.
“Luckily no one was inside the church at the time of the fire and the MFB was able to gain control of the blaze within half hour,” said Greek Community President Bill Papastergiadis.
“This is an iconic church not only for Greek-Australians but all Orthodox people. Planning for the church’s restoration will begin as soon as the police and the MFB finish their investigation and a full account has been taken of the damage,” Mr Papastergiadis said.
The cause of the fire has not yet been determined. It is estimated to have caused more than $500,000 in damage, although it will take some time to ascertain a more accurate figure.
The most extensive damage occurred in the west section of the church, where some irreplaceable icons dating back to 1800s were completely destroyed and rare lead-light windows were damaged beyond repair.
The Greek Community office has been inundated with phone calls and messages on social media from people keen to share their fondest memories from the church and to offer assistance.
"It's been part of parishioner’s lives for so many years, many people have got married here, many people have got christened here, that's devastating that the church has caught on fire.” Parish priest Father Kosmas Damianides said.
Built by the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne & Victoria, The Annunciation of our Lady (Evangelismos) was constructed in 1900-2 to serve Greeks, Syrians and other nationalities of the Orthodox faith.
The Church is protected by the Heritage Act 1995 and was listed as part of the Victorian Heritage Register in 1982.
Services will continue at an alternative venue, details of which will be announced by the end of the week. The Greek Community will continue to share information through its social media networks and will also create a fund to accept donations from those who wish to contribute towards the restoration of this iconic piece of Victorian history.