THIEVES stole up to $300,000 worth of gold chains, watches, coins, rings and bangles from the Red Hill Greek Orthodox Church on Wednesday afternoon.
An iconic framed image of the Virgin Mary was left behind.
The robbery occurred when The Reverend Father Eleftherios Tatsis was farewelling visitors at the church’s front gate. The thieves are believed to have entered a side door and broken a sealed glass box to steal the items.
Detective Senior Sergeant John Coburn, of Rosebud crime investigation unit, said police were appealing for public assistance to retrieve the items which had been donated to the church, on Arthurs Seat Rd, over the past 30 years.
A church spokeswoman, Georgie Marinis, described the thefts as “shocking”.
“We never thought anyone would take anything,” she said. “Now I am trying to put something back on the Virgin so people coming to the church on Sunday won’t feel as bad as we do now.”
The icon had been adorned by jewellery collected since the church was established in 1983. A recent photograph shows it covered with chains and surrounded by valuable items. This has helped police establish the value of the haul.
Ms Marinis said the church’s front door was always open, but that the thieves had entered through the side door before breaking the glass display case and grabbing whatever they could.
“They must have got spooked when the Reverend Father came back in because there was a trail of gold and jewellery leading to the door,” she said.
“We believe they must have been watching him go out – they were very quick.”
Normal police practice is to ask local pawn shops to be on the lookout for stolen items as the thieves attempt to offload their haul.
“If they try to resell it we will know quickly,” Ms Marinis said.
“The most shocking thing is that the thieves may be members of the congregation – that’s got the most ‘aggro’ around here. If it is a stranger we’d find it easier to cope with.”
The richly endowed church – the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Panagia Kamariani (Constantinople) – has a façade of traditional byzantine stone. Also on the property are a rectory, historic dwelling and shedding.
Anyone with information is asked to phone Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or submit a confidential report at www.crimestoppers.vic.com.au