Athens, June 3, 2013
On June 2, his Holiness Patriarch Kirill and His Beatitude Archbishop Ieronymos II visited the Panagia Sumela Church in the town of Acharnon. They were accompanied by the members of the official delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church.
On his arrival to Acharnon, the Patriarch was met with applause by more than 10,000 citizens. Welcomed by an orchestra, applause, greetings, and shouts, the heads of two local Churches with the reliquary with a portion of relics of St. Seraphim of Sarov proceeded to the square near the Panagia Soumela Church under construction. An assembly of hierarchs of the Church of Greece were waiting for them there. Representatives of local authorities as well as the extraordinary and plenipotentiary ambassador of the Russian Federation to Greece V.I. Chkhikvishvili also were present on the square.
Greeting his Holiness Patriarch Kirill, Metropolitan Athenagoras of Ilion, Archanon and Petroupoli said: "At this blessed, joyful period of celebration of the Lord's Resurrection, the presence of your Holiness in the Church of the Sumela Mother of God in the blessed town of Acharnon is something more significant, important and exciting for us than just an official visit, because in its importance it goes far beyond the town's history." As the Hierarch noted, there is yet one more reason for excitement and rejoicing for the clergy and people of the Metropoli—this is the portion of relics of St. Seraphim of Sarov, which is a priceless gift and a source of sanctification for the faithful, brought from the Holy Russian land. "The greatest blessing that is overfilling not only the place where we have gathered today but also our hearts, is the fulfillment of the desire of many years, and a holy dream," said Metropolitan Athenagoras.
He stressed that joy is rising manifold by the fact that the relics to the Orthodox Church in Acharnon was given by the Head of the Russian Orthodox Church himself, who is now making a visit to the Church of Greece.
In his speech to those present, his Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia noted that he was visiting the town and its Church under construction with great joy. "This Church is dedicated to the Mother of God in memory of Her mercy that was revealed through the foremost sacred icon of the Pontus—the Soumela Icon of the Mother of God, which derived its name due to its location in the monastery with the same name, near Trabzon. Through the zeal of donors and through your contribution, with active support from the authorities, this magnificent church is being adorned. By the wise pastoral decision of the supreme authority of the Church of Greece, it will be (and already is) a center for those Orthodox believers who speak Russian. The existence of such a parish, in a region where several thousand natives from those countries whose peoples are under the care of the Russian Orthodox Church, is not only a pastoral necessity, but also a symbol of the Church of Christ, where the Name of God is glorified, regardless of language and custom, with one heart and one mouth," said the Patriarch.
As Patriarch Kirill noted, this church must unite Pontian Greeks—a people with a very difficult history: "Those who are standing today on this square, as well as their parents and grandparents, were forcibly moved throughout the 20th century from one place to another. We know of tragic exodus of Pontian Greeks from Asia Minor, and know how difficult it was to settle in a new place of residence in Russia. Finally, a whole series of circumstances led to your coming here, to this land, where you had to start many things from nothing. Having arrived to the town, having seen your houses, I realized that you have great inner strength, and you have not been overcome by these historical circumstances. Starting your life from nothing, you have created this wonderful town, distinguished by the beauty of its buildings; and this is a testimony that Pontians can labor, that they are hard-working, pious and steadfast people. Today you are facing new difficulties—a hard economic crisis that has seized Europe and especially Greece. But it is not the first crisis in your history. You overcame all troubles in the past. I believe that with the Orthodox faith, helping each other, upholding your solidarity, you will overcome these economic trials as well."
Patriarch Kirill then said that with great joy he was fulfilling the order of his predecessor, the ever-memorable Patriarch Alexiy II who, knowing the labors and ardent faith of local residents, decided to give to the church in Acharnon the holy and precious relics of St. Seraphim of Sarov.
His Holiness noted the special spiritual power that St Seraphim possessed: "Many of you know the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov well. He was a physically weak man, of a small stature and disabled. Nothing in his personality showed strength. He was much weaker than the robbers who attacked and crippled him. But we don't know the names of great men of that epoch; we have forgotten political figures and wealthy people whom all Russia then knew. But we do remember the name of this saint. We remember him because he possessed huge spiritual strength, and it is just such strength of spirit that saves a man. It is impossible to gain victory in life when you are weak inwardly, even if you are rich outwardly. There is yet another example of weakness: St Matrona of Moscow—a woman blind from birth, a sufferer. It may seem that such person would be unhappy. What suffering can be greater: she is lying in bed, cannot move and has never seen the light of day? But thousands upon thousands of people flocked to her when she was alive, and still come today to her holy relics. This is happening because she possessed and possesses great spiritual strength. Isn't this an example of the presence of God's power in human life? I would like for this relic to be present here, among people who need spiritual strength in order to remain and strengthen their faith, to make their lives and lives of their children happier. Come to these holy relics, pray before them with a pure heart, and your prayers will be heard".
His Holiness called for Pontian Greeks to keep their love for Russia, and for the other countries they have come from, in their hearts. "You are a true, living bridge that unites our peoples. You are bearers of Greek and Slavic cultures. That is a great treasure and a great blessing".
As a token of gratitude for the cordial reception and in memory of his visit to Acharnon, Patriarch Kirill presented Metropolitan Athenagoras with a Panagia, the pectoral icon worn by the higher clergy, which had been made on occasion his Holiness’s enthronement.
Patriarch Kirill also adressed the Rector of the Church under construction, Archpriest Gregory Pigalov, noting: "I am glad, dear Father Gregory, to see these people gathered around you and their love to you. May the Lord help you to work further, strengthening this Greek Pontian community, in keeping faith, peace, piety and love." As a blessing to the Rector and the parish, his Holiness Patriarch Kirill gave them an icon of Great-Martyr George the Victory-Bearer.
Another icon of this saint was given to the mayor of Acharnon, Satirios Duros. In his speech the mayor stressed: "In this historical period, when Greece is experience difficult times, your visit to us is a source of strength; it inspires us to labor, and gives us hope." He said that the municipal council had unanimously decided to declare his Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia to be an honorary citizen of the historical town of Acharnon, and he gave him a symbolic key of the town. The festive ceremony ended with the performance on the square of Greek national dance. Then the heads of the Russian and Greek Churches brought the reliquary with the relics of St. Seraphim to the lower Church of Panagia Soumela.
The parish community of this church was formed in 1994. The reason for its establishment was the active migration of Pontian Greeks from the former Soviet Union. The supreme authority of the Church of Greece decided to found a parish where services could be celebrated in the old style, and partly in Slavonic. To celebrate these services, the small church of St. Fanourios was assigned, which is situated in the crypt of the St. Panteleimon Cathedral, whose dean was Archimandrite Procopios (Petridis)—a priest who helped the young community greatly.
With the increase in number of parishioners, the need arose to build a more spacious church for the community. In 2002, the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece blessed to begin construction of the Church of the Panagia Soumela Icon in the Acharne district of the northern part of Athens. In 2003, construction of the church began on a parcel of land granted by the town hall. Regular services have been celebrated in the lower Church of St. John the Russian since 2006. The parish conducts extensive catechetical, missionary, social, and charity work that includes, for example, distribution of food and clothes, free medical aid to children and the elderly, donation of blood, arranging of hot meals for the needy, education of the young, care of the sick, and funds for public services and treatment of the destitute. Special attention is devoted to school age children: festive events on Church themes with contests and prizes are held for them regularly.
The permanent Church community consists of around 1200 families living in Athens.