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Archons Pilgrimage to the Mother Church

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Nov 30, 2004

CONSTANTINOPLE - The 2004 Archon Pilgrimage to the Ecumenical Patriarchate coincides with the unprecedented historical event of the restoration of the holy relics of St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom to their rightful place from which they were forcibly taken 800 years ago by the Crusaders of the 4th Crusade in 1204.

The Archons of the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle arrived in Constantinople Nov. 28 and were greeted at the airport by the Order's National Commander Dr. Anthony Limberakis, Secretary John Halecky and the Chairman of this year's Pilgrimage Alex Pritsos.

The pilgrimage to the monuments and treasures of the Mother Church of Constantinople started immediately upon arrival with a visit to the historic monastery of Chora, the Church of the Holy Savior of Chora (which today is a museum), where the Archons had the opportunity to admire the superb mosaics and frescoes that have recently been restored by the Byzantine Institute of America.

The next stop was the Church of Panagia of Blachernae, known as the Aghiasma of the Theotokos, which is the place where the Akathist Hymn was first chanted during the time of the Emperor Heraclius in 626 AD. The pilgrims visited the newer surviving church where the holy water fountain is housed. There they gathered in the center of the church and chanted three times the Akathist Hymn: Ti Ypermaho.

Dr. Limberakis had the opportunity to welcome his fellow Archons and pilgrims to what he described as a spiritual odyssey. "Thank you for taking time to demonstrate our love and respect to our Ecumenical Patriarch, thank you for being here so you can see and live the martyria and diakonia our Patriarch, the Synod and the Church of Constantinople give on a daily basis. You will be inspired and transformed by this experience," he said.

In the evening, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America, who leads this year's Archon pilgrimage, welcomed the participants during an orientation dinner held at the hotel overlooking the Bosphorus.

George Demacopoulos, Assistant Professor of Historical Theology at Fordham University who, through his research contributed to the return of the relics, offered an enlightening overview of the lives and history of the two Great Fathers of the Church, St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom.

Archbishop Demetrios of America applauded the instrumental roles of Professor Demacopoulos and Fr. Alexander Karloutsos in the work that preceded the return of the relics and recognized "the tremendous work of the Archons in advocating the important issues of religious freedoms for our Ecumenical Patriarchate."

Monday, November 29, began with a visit to another famous and ancient shrine of Constantinople, the Monastery Panagia of Zoodochos Peghe at Balukli, located just outside the walls of the city. The pilgrims visited the underground "Life-Giving Fountain" located under the icon of the Holy Virgin.

The monastery compound includes many patriarchal graves including those of Patriarchs Athenagoras and Dimitrios, of blessed memory. There, Archbishop Demetrios, in the presence of all the pilgrims-, offered a trisagion memorial service for Patriarch Athenagoras who had been his predecessor in the Archdiocese of America.

A visit to the Balukli Home for the Aged followed, where the Archons had the opportunity to meet many of the Greek Orthodox residents of the home. The Order of St. Andrew and some individual pilgrims made monetary offerings in support of the Patriarchal institution.

Early in the afternoon the group visited the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Phanar. They were given a tour of the Patriarchal compound and the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George where His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America presented to the pilgrims the holy relics of St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom. "Blessed are we who are able to venerate and see these relics, these bones that held the flesh and the body and the brain and the personality of these two Great Saints," said the Archbishop.

Immediately following the Archons were welcomed by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in the room of the Throne. His All Holiness spoke of the edifying presence of Archbishop Demetrios as a member of the Holy and Sacred Synod and he said "these days our love and prayers are particularly with Metropolitan Anthony of San Francisco because he is suffering?"

Speaking about the return of the relics the Patriarch noted the very important contributions of Fr. Alexander Karloutsos and Prof. George Demacopoulos to whom he offered as a token of appreciation an icon of St. George.

"I express once again my genuine joy and satisfaction that you are here and through you I express my gratitude to the whole Greek Orthodox Community in America," said the Patriarch addressing the Archons. He added: "We thank the Archons and Dr. Limberakis personally for organizing this pilgrimage and for proceeding to Ankara in order to support our issues and defend our faith?"

The Archons reverently attended Great Vespers at the Patriarchal Cathedral on the eve of the feast of their protector and founder of the Church of Constantinople St. Andrew, the First-called Apostle.

In the evening His All Holiness hosted a dinner for the Archons and the Vatican Delegation.

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