History of the Holy Orthodox Church

Part IV - Orthodoxy in Australia

- Greek Orthodox Presence in Australia

- Serbian Orthodox Church in Australia

- Antiochian Orthodox Church in Australia

- Russian Orthodox Church in Australia

- OCA Representation in Australia

- Other Jurisdictions


The early history of the Orthodox people in Australia is closely related to the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in the open air, at home, or in a church.

As early 1820, a Russian Antarctic expedition put into the port of Sydney, where it remained for several months. Captain Bellingshausen's journal records that the Byzantine Liturgy was celebrated in all its glory (colorful vestments, church vessels, choral singing, incense, etc.) by the priest-monk Dionysii at Kirribilli Point in Sydney.

While there exists no record of whether Fr C Arsenios (who settled in Queensland in 1868 and was naturalized a British subject) celebrated the Liturgy, there is evidence that Fr Dorotheos Bakalliaros, a Greek priest from Samos, who visited the colonies of New South Wales and Victoria for a short time in the 1890s inspired Greek people by celebrating such services as the Liturgy, marriage and baptism.


As far as one can tell, there were no Greek Orthodox people in Australia in the early colonial period. There are no names listed in the records of the First Fleet which are at all likely to have belonged to Orthodox. After 1810, however, some Greeks made their way to the convict colonies of Eastern Australia. We surmise this by certain complaints lodged with the daily press concerning the unusual behavior of Greeks and Irish, among others.

There were certainly some Greeks in search of gold in the 1850s. But by the end of the Nineteenth century there were sufficient numbers to establish Greek parishes in Sydney and Melbourne. The first Greek Orthodox Church was opened in May 1898 at Surry Hills (New South Wales) and was dedicated to the Holy Trinity. By the first quarter of the 20th century, Greek Orthodoxy was quite visible in Australian society with Greek Communities being formed in Perth, Brisbane, Port Pirie, Adelaide, and Darwin. Beyond any doubt, in all of these Communities the church was the center of stability and unity for the new life of the migrant in Australia.

Naturally the increase in numbers of Greek Orthodox faithful created an urgent need for a more organized pastoral ministry on the part of the Church. In the preliminary stages the Greek Orthodox people in Australia had developed warm relations with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which up until 1902 provided the priests, service books, and sacred vessels. The first priests sent from Jerusalem in 1898 were Fr Saraphim Phokas for Sydney and Fr Athanasios Kantopoulos for Melbourne.

Thereafter, the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece took up the administration of the Greek Orthodox communities and provided their priests, with the consent of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, from 1903, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople from 1908.

Yet the character of ecclesiastical jurisdiction in the first years was unstable, as there was no resident Bishop locally to organize and supervise Church affairs. As one might expect, the early Greek Orthodox communities in Australia were created primarily at the initiative of lay people. Greek people were drawn together by the common faith and traditions which they enjoyed in their mother countries, and by the difficulties of the new situation. An important change took place, however, on March 1924, when the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople made use of his canonical rights to assume jurisdiction over the Greek Orthodox Christians living in the Diaspora with a view to establishing the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia and New Zealand "for the better organization of the Orthodox Church" in Australia. Ever since, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople has continued to exercise spiritual jurisdiction over the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia and appoints its Archbishop.

Though proper and canonical for its future progress, such belated intervention on the part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate met with local opposition and even dissension by local elements within the Greek community. To illustrate this point, one could refer to the tension and agitation generated between certain groups of the laity, who had taken the initiative to establish the first communities in Australia, and the Church hierarchy appointed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople from 1924 onwards. Such friction has continued to this day, though not always for the same reasons, resulting in the creation of several independent Greek Communities with uncanonical clergy, not under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. As time proceeded the situation became more complicated with the introduction into the local scene of political and ethnic disagreements imported by Greek people from their mother country. In all cases the Church projected the image of liturgical unity, as realized in the local eucharistic community.

The primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia is Archbishop STYLIANOS who succeeded Archbishop EZEKIEL on 12 February 1975. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia has five districts, each headed by an assistant bishop who is responsible to the Archbishop in Sydney.

Most parish services are totally in Greek, though a few parishes are now using a mixture of English and Greek. Some parishes (e.g., Templestowe in Melbourne) are in English only.

The Archdiocese has a seminary in Sydney: St Andrew's Greek Orthodox Theological College.


Immigration of Serbian nationals to the USA, Western Europe (UK, France, Germany, Belgium, etc.), Canada, and Australia led to the establishment of many Serbian Orthodox communities outside the former Yugoslavia. The Serbian Patriarchate of Belgrade exercised jurisdiction over all these dispersed Serbian Orthodox until 1963. In that year 75,000 Serbian Orthodox in the USA and Canada declared themselves independent of the Patriarch at St Sava's Monastery, Libertyville, IL. The issue was the matter of links with a church body which, it was claimed, collaborated with the Communist rulers. Some of the Serbian Orthodox outside Yugoslavia remained loyal to the Patriarch in Belgrade.

In Australia those who remained loyal to the Patriarch were called the Serbian Orthodox Church in Australia and New Zealand. Those who identified with those who declared independence in 1963 were called the Free Serbian Orthodox Church, and were a majority, reflecting their earlier migration for political reasons. With further migration for economic reasons, the balance probably moved in favor of the group loyal to the Patriarch. In 1993 under Patriarch PAVLI [Paul], a reconciliation was effected with the leader of the North American group and the Free Serbian Orthodox in Australia became a parallel diocese to the original one. It is still related to North America but is recognized by the Patriarch under the title of Serbian Orthodox Church of Australia, New Grachanica Metropolitanate [Grachanica is the location of a 14th century church in Serbia, a replica of which was built in North America]. Full unity, including property rights of the former Free Serbian Church, is in progress.


The first lay members of the Antiochian Orthodox are thought to have come to Sydney about 1870. The first priest (1913) was V.Rev. Nicholas Shehadie who resided in Redfern (NSW); a second parish was formed in Melbourne in 1937. An Australasian Diocese was formed in 1970 with Bishop GIBRAM (Rimlawi) as ruling hierarch. A second Sydney church as opened in Punchbown in 1974. The diocese has grown to the point where there are four large churches in Sydney, a small center in Wollongong, two churches in Melbourne, a group on Adelaide, and a group on Brisbane. There are 3 communities in New Zealand.

In the mid '90s an Anglican priest at Southport (Queensland) and some 90 parishioners came into the Antiochian Church, with the mixed blessing of their former jurisdiction, as a result of the Anglican approval of the ordination of women.

The diocese and the parishes are under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Antioch (Damascus, Syria).

A totally English-speaking parish is expected to be formed in Canberra in late 1998 by Fr John Vesic who graduated from St Vladimir's Seminary (Crestwood, NY) in May 1998.

For further information on Antiochian Orthodox parishes in Australia, visit the website of St Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church (corner of Victoria Parade and Simpson Street, East Melbourne) where you will find information about the various Antiochian Orthodox parishes in Australia.


A small number of Russians migrated to Australia in the 1920s from Manchuria, and the first Russian Orthodox parish began in 1922. There was a large influx of Russian Orthodox refugees from China following Mao Tse Tung's rise to power.

An Australian Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR, also know as the Russian Church Abroad (ROCA), or the Synod) was formed and now has about 22 centers in Australia and New Zealand. There is a Russian Orthodox convent in Kentlyn (near Sydney) and Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Bombala (NSW). These communities are not in communion with the Russian Orthodox Church, nor with Local Orthodox Churches throughout the world, and are thus considered to be non-canonical.

There are parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) in Glen Iris (Victoria) (celebrating in English) -- though this is currently administered by the Antiochian diocese -- and in Blacktown (NSW) (celebrating in Slavonic). There appears also to be a Belarus Orthodox community in Bankstown (NSW) that is administered by the Moscow Patriarchate.

The Russian Orthodox congregation in South Yarra (Melbourne) is under the jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese -- and it celebrates services in English.


As a result of a court case between a group of parishioners and the Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA), four of the Clergy and one parish, as well as groups of parishioners, broke away from ROCA. They applied to the Orthodox Church in America -- then known as the Metropolia -- to be taken under its protection. This was granted immediately.

The first parish formed in 1971, was the St. Nicholas Church in Bankstown (NSW) under its rector Archimandrite Veniamin (Garshin), who was also appointed the Administrator of the OCA parishes in Australia. The second parish was organized in Brisbane, Holy Annunciation Church under the rectorship of Fr Gregory Malisheff.

The other two priests who left the Church Abroad, were Fr Dimitri Obuhof who joined the OCA and Fr Theodore Michaluk who joined the Polish Orthodox Church under the Ecumenical Patriarch. Fr Theodore assisted Archimandrite Veniamin whilst Fr Dimitri ministered in Brisbane and Sydney as required. A fifth priest -- ordained, by Archbishop John (Shahovskoi) of San Francisco and the West -- was Fr. Michael Mersher and he was sent for his ordination by a group from Sydney, later to be known as the Australian, Orthodox Fraternity of St. Michael. The ruling OCA hierarch for Australia at that time was Archbishop Sylvester of Canada (now retired).


Other canonical jurisdictions represented currently in Australia include:
- Romanian Orthodox (under the Patriarchate of Romania)
- Bulgarian Orthodox (Patriarchate of Bulgaria)
- Polish Orthodox


- Autocephalic Greek Orthodox Church of Australia
- Old Calendar Greek Orthodox
- Macedonian Orthodox
- Ukrainian Autocephalic Orthodox
- Belarus Autocephalic Orthodox
- Old Believers