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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 11 October 2014
14 SATURDAY 11 OCTOBER 2014 Historic pilgrimage to Constantinople A small group of Greek Australians recently made a pilgrimage to Panagia Soumela in Trapezounda, to attend a historic liturgy. The experience was mind blowing PETER DALAMBIRAS In a journey that coincided with the third historic liturgy at Panagia Soumela in Trapezounda by the Ecumenical Patriarch, members of Melbourne's Greek Australian community recently made a pilgrimage to Constantinople (modern day Istanbul, Turkey). Bishop Ezekiel of Dervis concelebrated with Patriarch Bartholomew and made the visit with accompanying members - Father Emmanuel from Perth, Father Stavros from Nunawading, Father Eustathios from Brunswick, and Melbourne's Greek community members Stelios Koukouvitakis and Eugenia and Dennis Vandoros. The journey, which took place from 9 to 22 of August, began in Constantinople. The group visited the Ecumenical Patriarchate and His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, engaging in a conversation about his life in Constantinople. Mr Koukouvitakis says he remembers vividly the Patriarch's last visit to Australia 10 years ago. "Instead of welcoming him they threw lemons at him. Some newspapers called him the Turk Patriarch. He lives under captivity, he is more Greek than me or you," Mr Koukouvitakis says. "Think about what it would be like to be in some place where everybody is watching what you are doing. His life is not the best possible, but we are lucky because the Turkish government can't touch him." The Patriarch has over 30 churches under his responsibility which he must keep open. If that's not the case, the Turkish government will take control over them. Today, there are only a handful of Greek Orthodox Christians left in Turkey and most are elderly. "He has to stay there. He would never agree to leave the place where he and his grandparents were born." Mr Koukouvitakis believes he is very lucky to have met the Patriarch. He describes him as a simple man, who talks to everybody. He also hopes that the Greeks of Melbourne will see the Patriarch again in the future. In Constantinople, the group of Australian pilgrims visited Hagia Sophia, once a church and a mosque and today - a museum. Mr Koukouvitakis was disappointed to see the damage that had been done to the icons. "I was proud as a Greek to see what our fathers built there, this great building and museum. However, I was annoyed when I went inside to see that they had turned the church into a mosque." The journey took them to Panagia Vlahernon, a church in the middle of Constantinople. For the pilgrims, it was an exciting experience, as they met with many other visitors from Greece who all sang Upermaho (O, invincible champion) in Greek. For Mr Koukouvitakis it was a humbling experience. From there, they visited the Theological School of Halki which has been closed down to this day by the Turkish government. As The breathtaking scenery of Cappadocia. Mosaics from the church of Hagia Sophia.
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