National President Aphrodite Skeadas Offers Reflections - An Orthodox Odyssey
By Aphrodite Skeadas
Unknown expectations, important concerns and meaningful dreams were the precursor to the historic Archon Pilgrimage to Cappadocia, Holy Land and Mount Sinai. What evolved were relevant understandings, exquisite natural beauty and enhanced relationships.
The National Commander of the Order of St. Andrew/Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America, Dr. Anthony Limberakis together with Dr. Maria Limberakis, expertly led a diversified family of 75 pilgrims on this epic journey. The pilgrims were from all parts of the United States (and from Greece), of various professions and of the most varying ages. There was, though, one common denominator. Each pilgrim was committed to reaffirming his or her relationship with God.
In Cappadocia, Kayseri, the pilgrim family was set amidst a landscape of camouflaged churches and underground cities which produced many of our great Saints and Holy Fathers and where they fortressed their foundation of religious freedom.
It was there in some of the remaining 4th century ruins of the Saints Constantine and Helen Church that we were blessed with the supreme honor of worshipping with our spiritual leader, His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, who concelebrated with His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel of Romania. It was in more ruins at St. Theodore Church again with His All Holiness and with His Beatitude that the pilgrim family celebrated the Divine Liturgy. It is certain that each pilgrim departed with emotional imprints and impressionable images evoking joy and sorrow in contemplation, in love and in faith of our Orthodoxy. No pilgrim will forget emanating from the dome of the church the sweet arias of the gliding sparrows or helidonia as which they were referred by His All Holiness, the flooding sunlight through the cross-shaped windows high above, the long faded iconography or the rusted link chains hanging from the destroyed ceilings and ending with no lighting.
Upon exiting the signless remains of the glorious St. Theodore Church, the most capable, protective and always visible Archon Sargeant-At-Arms Alexander Pritsos advised that we pilgrim defenders would next path downwards into earth eight or nine levels, as did our ancestors when seeking refuge, and witness the remains of courageous living, praying, nursing and sustaining in the underground city.
Leaving Cappadocia armed and strengthened, we entered with soaring anticipation the Holy Land. In Jerusalem and in Bethlehem we experienced holy and sacred sites, stepped in footprints of the holiest, wept and only imagined the sufferings, venerated icons and prayed for the ever present Jesus, Our Lord and Saviour. Clearly evident was the seriousness of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of His death and Resurrection, where the Lord sacrificed Himself for our salvation. The birthplace of the Holy Theotokos, the birthplace of the Lord, the prison of Christ, the place of crucifixion were all lessons in humility, piety and forgiveness. In this 4,000 year old Holy Land, we blessed pilgrims were afforded the exceptional honor of a private audience with His Beatitude Theofilos III in the majestic Throne Room of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Our pilgrimage arduously progressed through various uzi-armed checkpoints and passport controls en route to the Monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. The annotated commentary of Father Alex Karloutsos, spiritual advisor to the Archons, enlightened the weary travelers, especially those of us neighboring Father Alex in the back of Bus #2, the second of the two bus caravan.
The sixth century Orthodox monastic center where the Burning Bush flourishes with testimony and where housed is the most important library containing priceless manuscripts (second only to that of the Vatican) and the most impressive museum of icons (including what the NY Times most recently declared as the most beautiful depiction of Jesus anywhere) is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
It was in the St. Catherine Monastery dining room where His Eminence Archbishop Damianos, Abbot of the Monastery, invited and met with the pilgrim family, sharing his spiritual sphere of existence while demonstrating his persistence, patience and faith. During the hospitality session, His Eminence Archbishop Damianos expressed his affection and prayers for the women of Philoptochos.
I would truly be remiss if I did not declare a special expression of extreme gratitude to the Archon Commander Dr. Anthony Limberakis, proud Philoptochos member, Dr. Maria Limberakis, Archon Sargeant-at-Arms Alexander Pritsos and Archon Spiritual Advisor Reverend Father Alex Karloutsos, all who offered countless courtesies to the National Philoptochos President. Each presented unforgettable honors in the name of the Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society.
On the auspicious occasion of honoring His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew at the banquet in Cappadocia and upon invitation by the Archons, on behalf of Philoptochos I offered greetings. His All Holiness in his remarks expressed great satisfaction to the mission of Philoptochos, his warmest regards and blessings to the Philoptochos and his gratitude for support by Philoptochos.
In Jerusalem where His Beatitude Theofilos III was honored at the Banquet, again at the kind invitation by Commander Limberakis, on behalf of Philoptochos I offered the toast to His Beatitude. During the remarks by His Beatitude, Philoptochos was praised for their good deeds and their offering of love.
Our pilgrimage to these sacred and holy places was truly meaningful and significant for all Orthodox Christians. The attending members of Philoptochos fortified their bond with Our Lord and Saviour and renewed their commitment to His ministry demonstrating the philanthropic scope and mission of the Society by truly being doers of the Word.