From November 7 to 23, 2016, Abbot Damascene and Monk Ignaty of the St. Herman Monastery made a pilgrimage to Greece, including the Holy Mountain of Athos. They first visited holy places in and around Thessaloniki, including the churches of St. Demetrios and St. Gregory Palamas, and the Monastery of St. John the Theologian in Souroti, where they prayed at the grave of St. Paisios the Athonite.
On Mount Athos, they stayed first at the Serbian Monastery of Hilandar, where Fr. Damascene concelebrated the Sunday morning Liturgy. They then traveled to nearby Vatopaidi Monastery, where Fr. Damascene concelebrated the Liturgy in the cell of Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi (+2009), and served a Paraklesis twice in front of the miracle-working Paramythia Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos in the chapel dedicated to the icon. They venerated many holy relics, including the Belt (Girdle) of the Most Holy Theotokos and the skulls of Sts. John Chrystostom and Gregory the Theologian. They had profitable conversations with several of the monks, visiting them at their obediences in the icon studio, bakery, etc.
From Vatopaidi they went to Nea Skiti, where they stayed at the Kellion of St. John the Theologian with Monk Paisios and two monks who live under his spiritual direction. Fr. Paisios translated the last two volumes of the Life of Fr. Seraphim Rose into Greek, and has much love for Fr. Seraphim and our monastery, which he visited several years ago. Fr. Damascene served the Liturgy at the kellion, and he and Fr. Ignaty participated in the daily cycle of services. During the visit, Fr. Paisios told the Platina fathers how, in 1988, he was miraculously brought back to the Faith by St. Paisios the Athonite when he visited him at his kellion (Panagouda) on Mount Athos. At that time, St. Paisios prophesied that Fr. Paisios would become a monk and take his name. (This account is included the biography of St. Paisios by Fr. Isaac.)
From Nea Skiti the Platina fathers visited Dionysiou Monastery, where they were shown the church, prayed before the Akathtist Icon painted by the Apostle and Evangelist Luke, and saw the magnificent outdoor wall-paintings of the Apocalypse. They visited with some of the monks, including a British iconographer who had just finished an icon of St. Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia.
They then went to Gregoriou Monastery, where they attended the Saturday-night services and Fr. Damascene concelebrated the Sunday morning Liturgy. They had two edifying talks with the monastery’s abbot, Fr. Christophoros, with an American monk serving as translator; and they spent time with other fathers of the monastery, sharing about life in their respective monasteries. They venerated the monastery’s relics — including the skull of St. Photini the Samaritan woman, part of the skull of St. Dionysios the Areopagite, the forehead of St. Panteleimon, two large relics of St. Anastasia of Rome, and the hand of St. Makrina. They also prayed at the grave of the monastery’s former abbot, the renowned spiritual writer and theologian Archimandrite George of Gregoriou (+2014).
The pilgrims then went to Simonopetra Monastery, where they attended a spiritually invigorating all-night Vigil for the Feast of the Holy Archangels. The next morning, a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy was served, with a visiting Metropolitan, Christodoulos, as the main celebrant. Concelebrating were the monastery’s abbot, Elisaios, together with other priest-monks of the monastery, Fr. Damascene, and another visiting priest. After the communal meal with a talk by the Metropolitan, Fr. Damascene spoke with Hieromonk Makarios, whom he had known from his pilgrimage to Athos ten years earlier. Fr. Makarios has done a great service to the Orthodox Church worldwide through the publication of his “Synaxarion” in several languages.
Soon the time came for the Platina fathers to depart. They were accompanied on the boat to Ouranoupolis by two monks and two pilgrims from Simonopetra. By the time they reached the port in Ouranoupolis, they were already missing the Holy Mountain. As Fr. Seraphim Rose of the St. Herman Monastery in California once said, however, we have to keep Mount Athos in our hearts, and we have to build it in America …
(Special thanks to the monks of Vatopaidi for supplying many of the photos taken at their monastery.)