The Historic Visit to Greece and Mt. Athos by Metropolitans Georges, Yuhanna, and Ephrem
From the 21st to the 30th of September 2010
His Eminence Metropolitan Georges (Khodr) of the Archdiocese of Jbeil, Batroun, and their Dependencies undertook a historic visit to Mount Athos, accompanied by Their Eminences Metropolitan Yuhanna (Yazigi) of the Archdiocese of Western Europe and Metropolitan Ephrem of the Archdiocese of Tripoli, al-Koura and their dependencies. They were also accompanied by Fr. Ephrem from Met. Yuhanna’s brotherhood, Deacon Georges Shalhoud, and Br. Parthenios.
From the entrance hall of the Beirut Airport, the Antiochian delegation set out for Athens, then Thessaloniki, on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010.
That afternoon, the first place the Antiochian delegation visited was the Monastery of the Transfiguration in the region of Nea Poli where they were greeted by, in addition to the priests and the abbot of the monastery, Metropolitan Barnabas, the local bishop. They greeted “the wise Georgios”, as he was called by Metropolitan Barnabas, who accompanied them to the monastery’s trapeza. They discussed many matters, like the situation in Lebanon and the Middle East, especially the situation of the Church, and the issue of how to attract the youth to the Church today. Metropolitan Barnabas has taken an active role in his diocese with the youth and is counted among the energetic personalities in this field.
On the second day, Wednesday September 22, 2010, the delegation visited the historic metropolitan’s complex in Thessaloniki and was met by the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki Anthimos, who greeted them. They then visited the museum of the metropolitanate, which houses historic icons and they then visited the metropolitan church, which is named for St. Gregory Palamas, bishop of Thessaloniki.
After that, the delegation went to the historic Blatadon Monastery which overlooks the city near its walls. They were met there by the abbot of the monastery, Metropolitan Pandeleimon who has in the past been dean of the Theological Institute at Balamand. It is worth mentioning that he has long known Their Eminences the metropolitans, especially Metropolitans Ephrem and Yuhanna who were his students. It is known that he is a well-versed specialist in Church law.
In honor of the beloved guests, as His Eminence described them, he invited them to the trapeza and gave them a valuable gift, a copy of the hierarchical service book in Greek which he had helped to prepare.
The third day was the chief purpose of the trip to Greece, the visit to the Holy Mountain. It should be mentioned that Metropolitan Georges had been dreaming of visiting the Holy Mountain, and we give thanks to God through the blessing of the Virgin that He granted him the opportunity to undertake this historic visit, as he himself described it, in all ways- spiritually, liturgically, and culturally.
The Antiochian delegation set out from Thessaloniki to the port of Ouranoupoli on the morning of the third day, Thursday September 23, and from there they went to Dafni, the port of the Holy Mountain, where they were met with two cars, to make their transportation on the Holy Mountain easier.
The first stop on the itinerary was at the Monastery of Vatopedi. The delegation visited the basic parts of the monastery, such as the church where the members of the delegation venerated the relics of the saints there, and the monastery’s private museum, in addition to the room where they preserve valuable treasures like church vessels and priests’ vestments. Metropolitan Georges expressed his amazement at everything he saw and he praised the role of monasticism, which is a special world in His Eminence’s expression, in preserving tradition.
The next morning, after participating in morning prayers and breakfast, His Eminence thanked, in the name of the delegation accompanying him, their hosts who granted them such warm hospitality with honor and noticeable piety.
The delegation then went to Karyes, capital of the Holy Mountain. After a warm reception from the head of the administrative council of the Holy Mountain, the members of the delegation exchanged words with their hosts. Metropolitan Georges said, “Orthodoxy is not made by knowledge or theology only, but also liturgy, icons, and worship.” He praised the role of the Holy Mountain as a center radiating out into the whole world, which gathers under its care all regions of the inhabited world, repeating the words of the Apostle Paul, “where there is neither Greek, nor barbarian, but all are one in Christ.”
After taking a commemorative picture on the steps of the administration of the Mountain, the delegation went to the first church of the Mountain, the Protaton, which is the first church built on the Holy Mountain. Inside there is the famous Icon “Axion Estin”. The church is rich with frescos painted by Panselinos. Metropolitan Georges expressed his amazement at its greatness and the tradition which is passed on from generation to generation to our own day.
It is worth mentioning that the metropolitans received a signed letter in the name of the monasteries and sketes of Athos welcoming the Antiochian delegation who demonstrate through their visit to the Holy Mountain the fraternal closeness of the Holy Catholic Apostolic Orthodox Church.
After visiting the capital of the Holy Mountain, the Antiochian delegation went to the Monastery of Iviron on Friday September, 24, accompanied by Monk Nikodemos and Monk Gerasimos from the Monastery of St. Paul on Mount Athos.
This monastery is famous for the icon called the Portaitissa. After being greeted there, there was a meeting in the afternoon with the former abbot of the monastery, the monk Vasilios, who is an illustrious spiritual and theological figure who has written many books. At this meeting between the former abbot of the monastery and the honored guest Metropolitan Georges, the two discussed many theological and spiritual matters, especially St. Isaac the Syrian and his importance in the Orthodox Church. Monk Vasilios said: “Orthodoxy is distinguished by freedom, because without freedom there is no Christianity and no life.” Among the gifts offered by the monastery to the delegation were the complete works of the monk Vasilios, former abbot of the Iviron Monastery. The delegation participated in vespers and the paraklisis for the wonderworking icon.
The next day after matins, the Divine Liturgy, and breakfast, the honored guest Met. Georges and those accompanying him went to the Monastery of St. Paul. There Met. Georges was greeted with celebration and they performed special prayers of thanksgiving to greet His Eminence, where he wore the mantiya and entered the church preceded by those carrying candles, incense, the Holy Gospel, while they chanted “It is truly meet”.
The monastery’s abbot, Archimandrite Parthenios greeted the delegation and Metropolitan Georges then thanked this monastery in particular because it was in this monastery that both Metropolitan Yuhanna and Metropolitan Ephrem were raised and he praised both their roles in Antioch, through the prayers of “the elder of this community”, as Met. Georges termed the monastery’s abbot Parthenios. He asked for his prayers for himself and for the delegation and for the Church of Antioch.
The important event of this visit was the participation of Met. Georges in vespers and the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, September 26, the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross, that is September 13th according to the Eastern Calendar. Met. Georges presided over the Eucharistic service, along with Met. Yuhanna, Met. Ephrem, and Met. Boulos (Yazigi), who was at the monastery with a great Antiochian multitude from Syria and from the cities of Greece who came to participate in this outstanding Antiochian event, along with, naturally, the abbot of the monastery, Archimandrite Parthenios, and a number of priests and deacons. In addition to the monastery’s choir, the choir of Met. Yuhanna’s brotherhood, led by Deacon Romanos al-Hannat served at vespers and at the noon service for Sunday.
After the liturgy, everyone shared at the agape table at the monastery and a picture was taken to memorialize the occasion.
On the afternoon of Sunday, Sept. 26, the Antiochian delegation which was joined by Met. Boulos (Yazigi) and a number of priests, went to the Monastery of Simonopetra whose great warmth and love for the Church of Antioch we have become accustomed to over the years.
After arriving, prayers of thanksgiving were performed and the abbot of the monastery, Elisha greeted Met. Georges and said that since they were little they had been hearing about Georges Khodr and that they had hoped to meet him. They had gotten to know him through his writings and his sermons and they had waited for the day when they would meet him. The time had come and the dream was realized, as he said. Met. Georges responded, saying, “The Spirit blows where He wills and we know that He has blown upon this great Mountain” and that he is nourished by it and that he tries to follow in the footsteps of those saints who shined forth here. He added that, “this Mountain is the spring of Orthodoxy” and likewise affirmed his appreciation for the importance of the work written especially for Great Lent by Fr. Macarios and that he benefits from it, asking the abbot to order him to complete the missing part of it, which is the part about Holy Week. On this celebratory day fell the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross.
The next day, His Eminence and the accompanying delegation participated in the festal vespers for that important day and on Monday morning September 28, His Eminence presided over the festal liturgy for the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross.
After the Divine Liturgy everyone shared in a meal and afterwards the delegation left the Mountain carrying with them unforgettable memories of this historic trip, especially for Met. Georges who has elevated the image of our Church with his understanding, his profundity, his wisdom, and his abundant theology.
After visiting the Holy Mountain, the Antiochian delegation returned to Thessaloniki where they spent the night. The next morning, September 29, they all went by plane to Athens. It should be mentioned that the Ambassador of Lebanon in Athens received the Antiochian delegation. Likewise, the delegation had a number of important visits, like the visit to the Archbishop of Athens, Hieronymos.
Additionally, the Lebanese ambassador in Athens, Mr. Ghabi Soufan, with his family invited the Antiochian delegation to lunch at his home in honor of Met. George and those accompanying him, in the presence of prominent personalities including the Polish ambassador in Athens.
Likewise, the delegation visited Metropolitan Nikolaos Hadjinikolaos.
And they visited the museum of Athens near the Parthenon.
In Athens, they stayed at Pendeli Monastery whose abbot Metropolitan John greeted the delegation and held a dinner in their honor.
On Thursday, September 22, Met. Georges, Met. Ephrem, Dn. Georges Shalhoub, and Br. Parthenios left for Beirut via the Athens airport, where the Lebanese ambassador saw them off. We were overjoyed with his humility and love for the Church.
To conclude, this trip was a historic pilgrimage which had great reverberations in the Greek Church. Metropolitan Georges impressed upon the souls of the people who met him that the Church does not grow old. Whenever a believer advances in age, he increases in blessings, wisdom, and theological profundity, as is the case with His Eminence Metropolitan Georges.