Bishop 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 Roudenko.

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 Panteleimon Monastery.

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 God.

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 instead.

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 Truly Meet.”

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.