Peter of Cleveland Leads Pilgrimage to Mt Athos
With the blessing of His Eminence Archbishop Alypy of Chicago and
Detroit, and in conjunction with the local Greek Archbishopric,
His Grace Bishop Peter of Cleveland led a pilgrimage to the Holy
Mountain, Mt Athos. In addition to Bishop Peter, participating in
this pilgrimage were two subdeacons, Reader Andrei Urtiev, Reader
Artemy Boldetsky, Choir Director of Holy Virgin Protection Cathedral
Michael Gill and two Readers from California, Paul Urtiev and Paul
Before heading for Mt Athos, we spent a day in Thessaloniki, where
we visited the local churches and venerated relics and icons. Among
these was one miracle-working icon of the Mother of God particularly
adored by the local population. Unfortunately, we were unable to
learn of the history and name of this icon. We were, however, able
to venerate the relics of St Dimitri of Solun, St Gregory Palamas
and others. The Church of St Sophia and many other ancient churches
scattered among the modern buildings of the city were visited; through
the effects of time, these churches are now lower than street level.
We also attempted to visit the Church of St David of Solun, but
it was closed at the time.
During their visit to Thessaloniki, we visited the Ministry Department
and registered to visit Mt Athos and received their travel documents.
Vladyka Peter had an official letter from the Patriarchate of Constantinople,
and the process went smoothly.
The following day, early in the morning, we departed by taxi to
the bus station, whence we traveled for two and a half hours to
the town of Ouranoupolis, where there was a dock from which boats
transported passengers and trucks to Mt Athos.
It was necessary to receive further documents and the port. Producing
all the necessary documents and receiving their tickets, we embarked
on their trip and after a few stops on the way, reached the port
of Daphne. As we disembarked from the boat, we were able to see
various sketes and monasteries, of which the most noticeable was
In the port of Daphne we boarded a bus to the Skete of Apostle Andrew
the First-Called, where we first entered the church and venerated
the head of St Andrew. It is interesting to note that until the
1960's, Russian monks lived in this monastery, and in the early
part of the century there were 500 residents there. Now the skete
belongs to the Greeks. After viewing the church, which left an indelible
impression, we were greeted by hospitable monastics and invited
to the refectory with the traditional offering of water, "rakia"
wine and "rahatlukum" [an oriental sweet]. After this,
the monk greeting us provided rooms for the night: Bishop Peter
was given a separate room in the same building, while we were given
a single room in another building. When we settled in, we went downstairs
for a snack, where we were told the history of the monastery and
shown the "cemetery," a room with the skulls of reposed
Russian monks, where Vladyka Peter served a litiya as we sang.
We then headed for the capital of Mt Athos, Kariai, a five-minute
walk from the skete, where the original miraculous icon of the Mother
of God "It is Truly Meet" is kept. Since the main church
is under restoration, this icon is kept in a small church next door,
but it was closed upon our arrival, so we visited a few icon shops
and returned to rest before evening services.
After a brief respite, we gathered for a trapeza with Bishop Peter.
Afterwards, we returned to Kariai, where we were able to visit the
icon of the Mother of God "It is Truly Meet" and attend
evening service in the main church of the capital. After service,
the Protos [leader] of Mt Athos invited Vladyka Peter and we to
a traditional reception during which he asked about the travelers
and about the ongoing discussions between the Russian Orthodox Church
Outside of Russia and the Moscow Patriarchate.
The following day, after liturgy, which began at 4 am, we were offered
breakfast, after which we departed on foot, with all the luggage,
to the Skete of St Elias. First the path headed downhill, but after
some time we emerged onto a big road into the mountain, and walking
became difficult. Fortunately, a car soon pulled over and the driver
agreed to give us a lift to the skete. The driver, Fr Joseph, turned
out to be Russian and knew Bishop Peter. At one time he had lived
at the Synod of Bishops in New York. We quickly reached the Skete
of St Elias, which was Russian at one time and was home to 300 monks.
The manuscripts of St Paisius Velichkovsky were carefully preserved
by these monks, along with a magnificent library. Now it is Greek
hands, and the number of monks has diminished to 15. The skete itself
is maintained in exceptional order and cleanliness, but unfortunately
all Russian inscriptions were painted over. The skete is located
on a mountain with a beautiful view of the ocean. The main church,
dedicated to Prophet Elias, was opened for us, as was the refectory
chapel, where we venerated the miracle-working icons and holy relics.
After a brief rest, during which a kind monk offered us water and
cookies, we once again headed out on foot along the path to the
Skete of the Theotokos. The path was overgrown and not cared for,
and the ascent was steep and difficult. Fortunately, the weather
was overcast and the sun was not harsh. By noon we reached the skete,
where a Russian monk, Fr Nikolai, met us with two other Russian
residents of the monastery. Visiting the skete's church, we were
refreshed with vegetables and water, and after viewing the property
and vegetable garden, we departed for Vatoped Monastery.
The road from the Skete of the Theotokos was paved. First it ascended
a hill, but then opened onto a large road leading to the monastery.
Fortunately, a police car caught up and took us to the monastery.
But the car was not large, and only the luggage and four pilgrims,
including Vladyka Peter, were taken along. Two of the younger and
stronger pilgrims continued on foot, but without their baggage,
down the hill.
In Vatoped Monastery, we were already expected. We were immediately
welcomed to the reception area with the traditional glass of water,
shot of ouzo (a strong drink akin to rakia) and rahatlukum, and
then settled into rooms for the night. Vladyka was again given a
separate room. Some time remained before the beginning of evening
service, so we took the opportunity to rest and freshen up.
Vatoped Monastery is one of the oldest and wealthiest in Mt Athos.
At the present time, there are some 100 monks, among them one Russian
from Voronezh, Fr Serafim, who was introduced by our interpreter,
guide and instructor in the ways of the monastery.
After minor compline, when everyone emerged from the church, Fr
Serafim remained behind with us and told us a brief history of the
monastery, offering to allow us to venerate the holy relics, which
had been brought out of the altar into the nave. Among these was
the head of St John Chrysostom with his incorrupt ear, which, according
to Church tradition, was the one into which the angel whispered
the interpretation of Holy Scripture. Here we were also permitted
to venerate the miraculous icon of the “All-Reigning” Mother of
During a common meal in the refectory, we were shown the museum
with various icons and ecclesiastical treasures from the monastery’s
history. We were then called to the refectory and fed at the main
table with Fr Serafim. After evening service, the abbot of the monastery
invited Vladyke Peter and the rest of us to a reception with the
traditional offerings, and with the aid of Fr Serafim’s interpreting,
expressed interest in us personally and in the rapprochement process
between the Russian Church Abroad and the Moscow Patriarchate.
Matins began at 3 o’clock in the morning, and right afterwards,
hours and Divine Liturgy, during which the pilgrims, with the blessing
of Bishop Peter, partook of the Holy Mysteries. Service ended at
9 am, after which we were quickly fed and sent to the port to catch
the boat which would take us to Iveron, that is, to the Monastery
of the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God.
Arriving at the monastery, we first venerated the Iveron “Gate-Keeper”
Icon of the Mother of God. Since we arrived fairly early, and rooms
were provided only at noon, we were allowed to rest in the reception
room, drink water and Greek coffee and wander about the monastery
grounds, and visit the icon- and bookstores.
After midday, we were given rooms and some of us went to rest. There
was a great deal of time remaining before evening services, and
we were brought to a spring on the seacoast where at one time St
Gabriel received the icon that traveled along the surface of the
sea towards the monastery.
Besides the Iveron Icon of the Mother of God, a great deal of relics
of various saints are kept there. After evening services in the
church, everyone goes to the room where these relics are kept and
the service continues there. Hours and Liturgy began at 4 am, after
which we proceeded to the pier to board a boat that would take us
around the peninsula to Daphne, where we would take another boat
to St Panteleimon Monastery. The weather was unpredictable, and
so as not to risk the second boat not arriving, we took a bus there
In Kariai, while awaiting the bus, we once again met Fr Joseph.
Since we had a good deal of time left, he offered to take us to
the Serbian podvorie (branch) where the Serbian holy man, St Savva
and his father once labored. There we were given the opportunity
to venerate the wonder-working icon of the Mother of God “the Milkgiver,”
and the staff of St Savva, which he had brought from Jerusalem.
Before boarding the bus, we once again venerated the icon “It is
We arrived in St Panteleimon Monastery on August 8, on the eve of
its feast day. It was noon, and there was a great gathering of other
pilgrims. While the other pilgrims registered for their rooms, we
remained on the docks, awaiting the guide we were promised. Metropolitan
Sergy of Voronezh and Lipetsk was already there, as were Bishop
Pavel (retired) from France and another three bishops from Russia.
After the trapeza, we were offered rooms in the large hotel. Vladyka
was given a separate room, as were the five other pilgrims in our
group. Before minor compline, a tour was arranged for all the pilgrims
with a guide telling of the history of the monastery and describing
its treasures. Various churches of the monastery were shown, and
many holy relics and miraculous icons. The pilgrims venerated the
head of Great Martyr Panteleimon and the relics of other saints.
Minor compline began at 6 pm and lasted some 30 minutes, after which
a trapeza was offered. All-night vigil began at 8 pm and lasted
until 4 am. This was a true all-night vigil. Four choirs sang, 2
in Slavonic and 2 in Greek. One of the visiting bishops served.
Divine Liturgy began at 6:30 am and lasted 3 hours. It was headed
by the Metropolitan along with other bishops and a great many clergymen.
Our Vladyka Peter did not serve, but stood on the kliros. During
these services, the head of Holy Great Martyr Panteleimon was taken
into the middle of the church, and the pilgrims were able to venerate
it. After Liturgy, there was a procession of the cross around the
church, after which everyone walked underneath an icon of the Great
Martyr as they reentered the church.
A festive trapeza was offered at the end of the services, at which
Metropolitan Sergii greeted the brethren and pilgrims, and read
the congratulatory message sent by Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk
and Kaliningrad. Due to the length of the celebrations, most of
the pilgrims headed right for the docks to board the ship. Our Vladyka
Peter and one of his subdeacons later disembarked to visit Hilendar
Monastery, while the others continued to Ouranoupolis, then to Thessaloniki
and finally home.
So ended our spiritually-saturated pilgrimage to Mount Athos.
Reader Paul Urtiev
From the Editors: The author of this article is a reader and
singer serving for many years at the Cathedral of the Mother of
God “Joy of All Who Sorrow” in San Francisco, where the uncorrupt
relics of St John (Maximovich, +1966) abide.