Boston.- By Dr. Timothy Patitsas
The 2015 St. Helen’s Pilgrimage is on its 45th Day of an intense spiritual journey that has so far included frequent educational tours, stays on Mount Athos or Ormylia, a formal audience with His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch, liturgy in a Christian catacomb in Rome, and more than 60 hours of intensive Modern Greek Language instruction.
The twenty-four Hellenic College Holy Cross students on Part A of the Pilgrimage left campus on May 19, just three days after Commencement, for Constantinople. After six days in residence at the famous Halki Theological School, the students moved on to the New Testament city of Thessaloniki, Greece, and began their language courses. The seminarians split up for Pentecost, with the men spending four days on the Holy Mountain, and the women making pilgrimage to Ormylia. The following weekend saw our students in Rome, where they venerated the sacred relics of St. Peter and St. Paul and visited the sites of their martyrdoms. However, the highlight of the trip to Rome was a liturgy conducted in an ancient Christian catacomb church built by St. Constantine, and the veneration of the oldest existing image of the Mother of God, a fresco on the walls of the catacomb of St. Priscilla dating to the early 100s A.D.
On June 19, Part A concluded. Thirteen students were able to stay on for Part B, which is organized by College Year in Athens. Continuing with the same textbooks used in Thessaloniki, the students are deepening their knowledge of Modern Greek, and adding tours in Athens and Paros. For example, their tour of the Acropolis included the nearby church which was the model for the Holy Cross chapel itself. The students are currently at Hotel Narges in Aliki, Paros, for the next three weeks, taking four hours of classes per day, and adding educational excursions by night. Two lovely nearby beaches provide a few hours of relief each day from the intense demands of Greek homework.
A theme of the Pilgrimage is the life and offering of St. Helen herself, Equal to the Apostles and Augusta of the Roman Empire. Not only did we visit the city founded by her son, but we venerated her magnificent, solid porphyry tomb at the Vatican Museum in Rome, and just today sang hymns in her honor at the Church of Ekantopyliani, which she built here in Paros, the oldest surviving church in Greece. It is fitting that the Pilgrimage was named in her honor, as she was of course the discoverer of the True Cross, and she is in a sense the Mother of both Christian Rome and of the Christian Holy Land, through her church constructions there.
All told, the 2015 St. Helen Pilgrimage will last 65 days, and is making a tremendous impact on the hearts, minds, and souls of the future priests and theologians of the Greek Orthodox Church in America. We are grateful above all to the Carlos family for sponsoring this transformative educational and spiritual experience, to St. Helen herself, to all the saints whose relics we have venerated, and to God.
For more information about St. Helen’s Pilgrimage, please contact Rev. Dr. James Katinas, Director of Institutional Advancement, at 617.850.1303 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
*** Timothy Patitsas, Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics and coordinator of St. Helen’s Pilgrimage