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Turkey allowed Bartholomew to say Patriarchal Divine Liturgy in a monastery under its jurisdiction

16 August 2010 / 09:08:22  GRReporter
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Praised in songs and kept in the hearts of the Pontian Greeks is Panagia Sumela (Virgin Mary). Each year, at the Assumption, thousands of people go to the monastery of the same name on the slopes of Mount Vermio in north-western Greece, where the icon is stored and exposed to public worship.

This year, they literally swept mountain Mela, near the Turkish city of Trabzon. Yesterday Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said for the first time after 88 years Patriarchal Divine Liturgy in the original historic monastery, the name of which means “At Mela’s” (Is tou Mela - Su Mela). A flow of pilgrims climbed on the slopes of the mountain from very early morning, Pontian Greeks with lyres in their hands were singing songs.  

Bishop Pavlos of Drama of Pontian origin and Bishop Tikhon – a representative of the Moscow Patriarchate, attended the Patriarchal Liturgy, which took place in an atmosphere of spiritual humility and a strong emotion. In his speech after the liturgy, the Ecumenical Patriarch characterized the pilgrimage as “a great religious and historical event,” expressed hope that Virgin Mary will “ensure better days for the peoples of Greece and Turkey” and said a message in Turkish.

The liturgy was held under very strict security measures which the Turkish authorities have taken to avoid provocative actions. The liturgy was celebrated in the courtyard of the temple because of its limited capacity. But even so, only 500 people with special invitations have been able to enter the yard. Thousands of other pilgrims watched the liturgy on giant screens placed in many places. Half of the invitations were sent by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the rest - by Ivan Savidis. He is the president of the International Confederation of Pontian Greeks, Coordinator of the 5th district of the council of Greeks abroad and the Russian Duma deputy, who organized the travel of pilgrims from Russia.

The Turkish government approved the claim of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and gave permission to freely celebrating Christian liturgy in the monastery, which otherwise functions as a museum. There was huge response of Pontic people from Greece, Russia and former Soviet republics as well as from all over the world. According to local institutions all hotel rooms within a 150 km have been booked in recent weeks and in the words of the representatives of Pontian communities, the number of pilgrims was 5000-6000, and even 10,000 people. So far no one has committed to specific numbers. Some of the trippers had to stay in cities that are located hundreds of kilometers away from Trabzon. Many of them traveled from Istanbul to the monastery from early in the morning. Ertugrul Gench, the mayor of the nearest village to the monastery Machka, asked the residents to “open their doors and welcome Christian pilgrims in their houses.” A celebration dinner (iftar sofrasi) was scheduled on the evening of the celebration for the guests, among which were members of the Pontian Greek communities. In order to avoid the smallest gesture that could be adopted as a challenge to the religious sentiment of the local population, the Ecumenical Patriarchate for its part and the Pontian unions advised the pilgrims to avoid lunch in public as Ramadan – the holy fasting for the Muslims –  began a few days ago. Either way, traditionally, many local Muslims who believe in the miraculous properties of the spring that flows out of the granite rocks on which it is built visit the Monastery on August 15.  

The historic monastery Panagia Sumela was built at the end of the IV century by the Athenian monks Varnavas and Sofronios on the rocks of the mountain Mela, at a height of 1063 m. Church tradition claims that the Virgin Mary icon was painted by the evangelist Apostle Luke. In the first years of its creation it was known as “Atiniotisa” and the legend says it was carried by angels to the monastery and it was placed prominently in the corner, around which the temple was built. After the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923 the monastery was abandoned. Meanwhile, the governments of Eleftherios Venizelos and Ismet Inonu signed a historic friendship agreement between Greece and Turkey in 1930 in Ankara. After the visit of Inonu in Athens in 1931 it was allowed a former monk of the monastery in the mountains of Mela to visit it, accompanied by Turkish officers, and take the icon of the Virgin Mary together with other holy relics, which were hidden in the chapel of St. Barbara, a few kilometers from the monastery. The icon was brought to Greece in October 1931. It was kept for 20 years in the Byzantine Museum in Athens and after the construction of the monastery on the slopes of Mount Vermio in 1951-52 it was moved there.

Tags: SumelaEcumenical PatriarchBartholomewPoliticsHistory
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