Greek Orthodox Church of 2A, Library Road, Kolkata – 700026 is a Grade I heritage building under Kolkata Muncipal Corporation. This church is comparatively new compared to the other churches of the city of Calcutta (now Kolkata). The foundation stone was laid on 3rd November,1924; and the first prayer was held about a year later on 19th November, 1925.
H.E.A. Cotton in his book “Calcutta Old and New” states that the Greek Church stands in Amratollah Street and the same was erected in 1780 and dedicated to the Transfiguration of our blessed Redemer on Mount Tabor. Hadjee Alexias Argyree was the first eminent Greek who settled in the the then Calcutta. Ten years before the erection of the church he sailed in the ship Alexander from Calcutta for Mecca and Jeddah as an interpreter of Captain Cudbert Thornhill, who was an officer of Fort William. The ship met with a severe cyclone and the vessel was dismanted. At that moment Argyree made a solemn vow that if they survived, he wound set up a Church in Calcutta for the Greek inhabitants. Surprisingly, the ship reached its destination. Finally it came back to Calcutta. Keeping the promise Argyree got the necessary permission and established a Greek Church. A small house was purchased near the Portuguese Church for divine service. But Argyree died in August 1777. Three years after his death, the foundation of the church was laid in June 1780 at Amratollah Street. At that time, the Greek population in Calcutta was around five hundred. The major part of the cost of the building was borne by Argyree together with his family and the rest was raised by public subscription. Among the other donors whose names are inscribed in marble at the entrance to the new Church included Warren Hastings who contributed an amount of two thousand rupees for the church. Others included Alexandros Argyris, Archimandrite Parthenios, Georgios Michael, Christodoulos, Mavroidis, Georgios and Aggeliki Leontiou, Athanasios Mitsou and Michael Andriadis. Father Parthenio was the first minister of this church. He came to Bengal in 1775. The church was dedicated on 6th August, 1781.
The church at Kalighat is built on a high plinth which is accessed by a flight of marble steps. The building is about fifty feet in height. The entrance to Greek Orthodox Church at Kalighat has two stone plaques on either side written in Greek. If translated into English it comes to “It is in memory of the Greeks who donated generously to build the first church in Amratolla… Their bodies are buried but their names will remain alive for generations.”
The present Greek Orthodox Church near Kalighat had four Doric columns keeping in mind the Greek architecture and looks really beautiful. Messers Railley Brothers was entrusted with the duty for the construction of this church. The wooden door leading to the church was also spectacular. There are a number of stone plaques on the outer wall of this church. The building occupies an area of about 2000 square feet surrounded by high metal railings and it includes the priest’s residence.
The stone plaque on the right is found on the lower portion of the wall on the back of the church, and surprisingly, it is in English. It states that Reverend Dioniscious George, a Greek who left his heavenly abode on 23rd January, 1829 after being forty years as Minister of Greek Church in this city.
The Greek Orthodox Church in Kolkata is very much well maintained. “The Iconostasis is a screen between the nave and the altar. It is covered with icons, in this case, the Transfiguration, the Angels Gabriel and Michael, St Stephen and the Gospel writers, Matthew, Luke, Mark and John”. The iconostasis contain three doors. The one in the centre is known as the Beautiful Gate which leads to the Altar and is exclusively meant for the use of the clergy. There are two other doors on either side – Deacons’ Doors or Angel Doors as they have Angels Gabriel and Michael painted on them. The walls of the Greek Church are “covered with paintings or icons in the Byzantine style, of Greek saints like Akrivi, Nektarios, Dionysius and Spiridon and of the Apostles, Peter and Paul on either side of the inner walls of the main entrance”. I visited this church a number of times, and, during my recent visit on Chiristmas Day this year, it was beautifully decorated. Many people visit the church during the Christmas Day. I found a beautifully decorated Christmas tree on the left.
The floors are made of marble. The corridor leads to the polished wooden altar which had three doors leading to the sanctum sanctorum. The altar has beautiful panels and paintings on canvas relating to the life of Christ. Almost all the furnitures which used to be in the church at Amratollah Street are brought here and redecorated. Previously there used to be two chandeliers made of silver which used to illuminate the interior of the church; but they are not used now. Instead three newly designed chandeliers hung from the ceiling and, when lit, add a new dimension to the beauty of the church.
Presently service is performed regularly on Sundays in Bengali. I have been told that the main centre of Greek Orthodox Church is located at Istanbul in Turkey.
- Calcutta Old and New by H.E.A. Cotton
2. Kolkatar Upasanalay (2nd Part) by Pijushkanti Roy
I am also thankful to Rev. Fr. Raphael Maity of Greek Orthodox Church, Kolkata and Sister Nektaria Paradisi.
Date of Posting: 9th February, 2020.