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Archons lead Historic Pilgrimage to holiest places in Christianity to Cappadocia, Holy Lands, and Mt. Sinai

Archons and pilgrims arrive in Keysari, Turkey. (Photos by J. Mindala)

Archons and pilgrims from across the U.S. returned from a 13-day pilgrimage visiting historic sites of Cappadocia, Turkey, the Holy Lands in Israel and Mt. Sinai, Egypt. One of the many highlights of the pilgrimage for the almost 80 participants was being in the presence of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem and All Palestine and His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel of Romania. With the blessings of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America, Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, leading the pilgrimage were National Commander Anthony J. Limberakis, MD; Sergeant-of-Arms Alexander Pritsos; and Spiritual Advisor to the Archons Fr. Alexander Karloutsos.

CAPPADOCIA
The group of travelers arrived in Istanbul on May 29 and traveled immediately to Cappadocia. Following a day-long journey, Archons and pilgrims gathered at the Dinler Hotel in Urgup for a welcoming dinner. Early the next morning the pilgrims explored the monastic dwellings of Goreme--a volcanic valley filled with richly painted churches hollowed from the soft volcanic stone, dating back to the 9th-11th centuries. The icons adorning the ancient cave churches, have been desecrated over the years where eyes of religious figures have been gouged out by Turkish locals.

Following a tour of the monastic caves, pilgrims traveled to learn about the trade of carpet-weaving, of which Turkey is one of the best in the world. The afternoon ended with a luncheon served with traditional Turkish cuisine in a "cave setting." Later in the day, the pilgrims attended a Vespers Service presided by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Patriarch Daniel. The service took place at Saints Constantine & Helen Church, which was filled to capacity, in the old Greek town of Sinasos, presently know as Mustaphapasha.
 

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Patriarch Daniel of Romania concelebrated the Divine Liturgy inside St. Theodore Church in Malakopi, Turkey.

On Sunday morning, May 31, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Patriarch Daniel concelebrated the Divine Liturgy, which commemorated the Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council. The Liturgy, held in the church of St. Theodore inside the old Greek town of Malakopi (Derinkuyu) was attended by His Excellency Konstantine Stephanopoulos, Former President of The Hellenic Republic. Following the service, pilgrims toured the region with a visit to one of the largest underground cities, Kaymakli. The long, narrow labyrinth-like dwellings were used for shelter by thousands of people, including Christians, from the frequent invasion of enemies. Twenty underground levels have been discovered, but only eight can be visited.

On Sunday evening, the Order of St. Andrew held a banquet in honor of His All Holiness. Esteemed guests included Patriarch Daniel, President Stephanopoulos, National Philoptochos President Aphrodite Skeadas, Professor Anastasios Kalofoutis, Head of the Medical Symposium on Primary Care that was being held in Cappadocia at the time of the pilgrimage, along with hierarchs of the Romanian Patriarchate. Sergeant-of-Arms Pritsos offered a welcoming toast, saying, "It is my honor to offer a toast of recognition and gratitude to the Ecumenical Patriarch who made the history of the patriarchate alive to me and those of my generation in a most meaningful manner; who has given it meaning and purpose, who has knitted the mission, value and purpose of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to our hearts like no other in this generation; who has rekindled the flame of Byzantium and Constantinople to his flock in America and through out the known world today."

In his remarks, National Commander Limberakis later said, "Part of the sacred mission of The Order of St. Andrew is to lead pilgrimages to The Holy and Great Mother Church so that we may witness, firsthand the Martyria and Diakonia of His All Holiness and of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. As Archons in the United States, we promote and defend the Spiritual Center of world Orthodoxy, under the leadership of the Exarch, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios."
 

National Council members and Regional Commanders present a wooden diptych icon during a banquet celebration honoring His All Holiness.

Limberakis continues, "How fitting it is as we embark on our historic Archon Pilgrimage that we are blessed to be in the presence of our worldwide and beloved spiritual father His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the 269th successor of the First Called Apostle of Jesus Christ, Andrew, whose home we will visit later next week in Capernaum. How fitting it is as Pilgrims we venerate the sacred ground where the Christian Church clearly expressed the true worship, the Orthodox Faith, where the Cappadocian Fathers, St. Basil the Great, bishop of Caesarea, his younger brother St. Gregory of Nyssa, bishop of Nyssa and St. Gregory the Theologian, Archbishop of Constantinople and author of the Nicene Constantinopolitan Creed pursued their ministries."

The National Council and Regional Commanders made a special presentation of a wooden diptych icon of St. Andrew the First Called and St. Bartholomew to His All Holiness, who offered his appreciation and thanks.
 

Archons and pilgrims with His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem, All Palestine, and Holy Zion in the Throne Room at the Jerusalem Patriarchate.

JERUSALEM & BETHLEHEM
Pilgrims continued their journey to Jerusalem and had a private audience with His Beatitude Theophilos III, Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem, All Palestine and Holy Zion, at the headquarters of the Jerusalem Patriarchate. The Patriarch offered an explanation on the various holy sites of the city and entertained questions from pilgrims. A special offering was made to His Beatitude on behalf of the National Council and Regional Commanders and His Beatitude reciprocated with a special gift and his blessings for each of the pilgrims.

This visit to Jerusalem offered Archons and pilgrims an opportunity to visit holy shrines at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher--the site of Christ's death and Resurrection--and to venerate the site of Golgotha--the place of the Crucifixion. The area where the Christ's body was anointed with spices and fragrant oils in preparation for burial was also venerated. Pilgrims were then led to pray before the Tomb of Our Lord. Fr. Karloutsos offered biblical and theological explanations on the various shrines and led pilgrims in prayers at each significant site in the Holy Sepulcher, and throughout the pilgrimage.

Archons and pilgrims were later led to the Church of All Nations outside the Garden of Gethsemane. The pilgrims also prayed and offered hymns at the Tomb of the Virgin Mary and venerated a miracle-working icon of the Most Holy Theotokos. Continuing in their remarkable journey they traveled to the Church of St. Anne where they prayed in the Chapel and underground caverns where the Virgin Mary was believed to be born. Pilgrims then visited the Greek Orthodox Church atop the Mount of Olives and the Prison of Christ, also known as the Praitorion, where the thief and murderer Barabbas was also held prisoner. At the Praitorion, they had the rare opportunity to venerate a cross, carried by the Patriarch of Jerusalem in Holy Friday processions for over 300 years.

On the following day, June 3, Archons and pilgrims traveled to Bethlehem to visit the Church of the Nativity and worship the site where our Lord Jesus Christ was born. They also visited the Greek Orthodox Church of Shepherd's Field, identified as the scene where the Angel of the Lord visited the shepherds and informed them of Christ's birth. One of the underground caves is a Church functioning first as a shelter, then as a tomb of the shepherds, and has been treated as such by Christians since the Fourth Century. Later, the pilgrims visited Holy Cross Monastery in Bethlehem, located upon the site where the wood from the tree that was used for the Holy Cross can be prayed before.
 

National Commander Limberakis receives the 'Order of the Orthodox Cross-bearer of the All-Holy Sepulchre' from Patriarch Theophilos during the banquet.

A banquet at the King David Hotel honored Patriarch Theophilos that evening. His Beatitude awarded National Commander Limberakis with a cross of the "Order of Orthodox Cross-bearers of the All-Holy Sepulcher" for his honorable work and faithful dedication to the Mother Church of Constantinople and the Jerusalem Patriarchate. Limberakis, who humbly accepted the award, said, "Let us never forget the sacred ministry of His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos and the Patriarchate of Jerusalem preserving the birthplace of our Christian Faith and protecting The Holy Fire that illumines all Christendom. Your Beatitude, please know that you and your holy Patriarchate will be in our prayers and we most respectfully ask you to bless us and pray for us so that we may strive to be Christ-like and in the words of our Lord and Savior, ‘good and faithful servants.'"
 

A question and answer session with the Archbishop of St. Catherine's Monastery in Mt. Sinai, Egypt.

MT. SINAI
On Thursday, June 4, the group traveled via the Dead Sea to the Taba Border and into Egypt to the Monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai Peninsula--one of the world's oldest Christian monasteries. Founded by Saint Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, in the early Fourth Century, the monastery is under the spiritual guidance of its Abbot, Archbishop Damianos. It is revered as one of the most sacred and significant monasteries found in world-wide Christendom and contains a large living shrub that is said to be a direct descendent of the very Burning Bush mentioned in the Old Testament scriptures that was seen by Moses.

The pilgrims venerated the Holy Relics of Saint Catherine and were given a tour by the monastery's librarian, Fr. Justin Sinaites--the only American ever to live at the monastery. They toured the chapel and library--the oldest in the Christian world which preserves the second largest collection of early codices and manuscripts in the world (outnumbered only by the Vatican Library). The library collection includes more than 3,000 manuscripts and more than 5,000 early religious books. It also has a precious collection of more than 2,000 icons of Christ, Mary and the saints, displayed in its museum gallery. These represent almost every school of Byzantine iconography from the 6th to the 18th century. The evening concluded at the monastery with an audience with Archbishop Damianos.
 

Pilgrims had the opportunity to make a very early morning climb to the top of the Holy Mountain (Mount Horeb) where Moses stood to receive the Ten Commandments.

On early Friday morning, 23 pilgrims made a climb to the top of the Holy Mountain (Mount Horeb) where Moses stood to receive the Ten Commandments, and visit the Chapel dedicated to the Holy Trinity and cave where tradition holds that God put Moses. After Divine Liturgy at the Church of St. Catherine, the pilgrims departed for the Taba Border and visited the resort city of Eilat for the opportunity to float in the Dead Sea.

June 6th began with a visit to the ancient city of Jericho to the Church of St. Elisseaos on the Mount of Temptation, followed by a visit to the Monastery of St. Gerasimos Iodanitis. Father Demetrios Tsigas led a prayer service at the River Jordan--the site where St. John baptized our Lord--and blessed the pilgrims with Holy Water from the Jordan River. Later, pilgrims were led to the Church of Tabgha by boat across the Sea of Galilee. The church is located on the Mount of Beatitudes in beautiful Capernaum where our Lord began His ministry and where His first chosen apostles Andrew and Peter lived.
 

Prayers were offered at the Tomb of St. George in Lydda.

Fathers Demetrios and Konstantine Tsigas celebrated the Feast of Holy Pentecost at the Church of the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor. A visit was made to the Greek Orthodox Church in Cana where Jesus offered His first miracle, turning water into wine. Visits were also made to Annunciation Church in Nazareth, the home of Mary and Joseph and the place where Jesus was raised, the Churches of the Annunciation and Virgin Mary, Mt. Carmel in Haifa and the Church and Tomb of St. George in Lydda.

The pilgrimage concluded with visits to the Western Wall (or the Wailing Wall-- the last remaining wall of King Solomon's Temple), Mt. Zion, the Upper Room of the Last Supper, King David's Tomb and the House of St. John the Theologian.

Archons and pilgrims left Jerusalem for their return to America on Tuesday, June 9. Their visit and the tour of the holiest places of Orthodox Christianity offered a rare chance to travel as true pilgrims, walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, His disciples, and the ancestors who have formed our Orthodox Church.

A day-by-day breakdown of the entire Archon pilgrimage can be viewed in the photo gallery. This tour was arranged by Ms. Cally Papas of Cloud Tours.
 

View photos of the 2009 Historic Archon Pilgrimage