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Did you know Kolkata port had a flourishing trade with Greeks

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Amidst the chaos and din of Kalighat tram depot, stands the Orthodox Greek Church with its Doric columns in the portico, supporting the pediment and the shiny whitewashed façade -- an oasis of peace and tranquility. This is a place where the past and present merge and 66-year-old Sister Nektaria Paradisi stands alone in the midst of the flux, bridging the two worlds. Kolkata has an ancient connection with Greece and Sister Paradisi is a remnant of that connection.

Greeks migrated to India after the Ottoman and Turkish invasions in the 16th century. There is now tangible evidence indicating that the settlement of Greek merchants in Bengal must have begun as early as the beginning of the 17th century. This is substantiated by the discovery of two Greek tombstones, dated 1713 and 1728, and preserved in the aisles of the Catholic Cathedral of the Virgin Mary of the Rosary in Murgihatta of Kolkata.

Many Greek families migrated to Bengal mainly from the rich commercial Thracian cities of Adrianoupolis and Philippoupolis, when their properties were destroyed during the Turko-Russian War in 1774. Another steady stream of immigrants arrived in the Eastern ports of India on the ships which carried British colonialists from the Ionian Islands as well as from Greek cities in Cappadocia and Aegean Islands. In the beginning of the 19th century the Greek community in Bengal comprised of about 120 families. Kolkata had a sizeable Greek community, mostly a close-knit clan of noble families from Chios, pursuing trade with the British.

Like most Europeans, the Greeks came to Kolkata to try their fortunes here and made the city their second home. They flourished in the business of jute and spices. but most of them left after Independence. During their stay in Kolkata, the prosperous mercantile community constructed this church, one of the most carefully maintained buildings in the city. The first Greek Orthodox Church of Kolkata came up in 1752, but it was soon abandoned. During the time of Warren Hastings, the second Greek Orthodox Church came up in Amratala area.It was opened to public in 1781.In 1924, during the reign of Geroge V, Greeks shifted their church for the second tim eand this time they chose Kalighatas the new location for building the church. The foundation stone of the church was laid on November 3, 1924 and the first prayer was held on November 19, 1925.

At present, the church is maintained by the Greek Embassy in Delhi. The Greek Church was shut down in 1960, after Archimandrite Athanassios Alexiou had blessed the last Greek immigrants who left for a new permanent residence in Greece and England. Nine years later, Father Kallistratos Adamou came from Australia on a two-year agreement to re-open the church. He arrived in October 1969 and in his time, there were only two Greek men and two Greek ladies in Kolkata. However, the Kolkata port received about 50 Greek ships every month and some of their sailors would visit and assist him in his work in the church. However, his efforts at revival came to a stop in 1972 and the church was shut down.Father Ignatios Pavlos Sennis, a Greek monk from the monastery of Stavronikita on Mount Athos, was appointed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople to take over the management of the Greek Orthodox Church in Kolkata in the 1990s. Initially, he restored the building and began a substantial and extensive social welfare mission in Calcutta and its surrounding territories.

Sister Paradisi, who came to the city 25 years ago, continues performing her duties diligently. She lives in Bankeshwar, off Kobordanga in Tollygunge. She is the matriarch of the two separate orphanages run by the Philanthropic Society of the Greek Orthodox Church that houses 200 girls and 55 boys.Every afternoon she travels all the way to the church to oversee the daily chores. Arrangements are made daily to feed around a hundred pavement dwellers who live in the neighbourhood. The rest of the afternoon is spent corresponding with dignitaries for raising funds for the philanthropic activities undertaken by the church and welcoming foreign dignitaries when they come to the city. Sister Paradisi’s silent but efficient presence is felt everywhere as she moves from one end of the church to the other, quietly performing her duties. Her mother expired in Corith some years ago and since then this has been her home and the poor, abandoned children her own.