ATLANTA, GA – On September 29, over a thousand Greek Orthodox faithful, from as far as Florida’s cities of Miami and Tarpon Springs, formed a procession at the Diakonia Center of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Atlanta, in Salem, SC, to venerate the icon of Theotokos of Vimatarissa, which was brought to Atlanta the previous day by Elder Ephraim, Abbott of the Vatopaidi Monastery of Mt. Athos in Greece.
Accompanied by six Vatopaidi monks, Ephraim escorted the icon from Greece to New York to Atlanta by plane, the icon placed not in cargo, but in a passenger seat. Metropolitan Alexios, along with dozens of Greek-Americans, warmly greeted the procession; two of the monks were born and raised in Atlanta. Young children welcomed them with flowers.
Hundreds of non-Greek travelers in the airport stopped to look at the icon, asking Ephraim and the monks about their faith and the significance of icons in the Orthodox Church.
The icon was taken to the Atlanta Metropolis and placed in its permanent case, and then taken to the Annunciation Cathedral, also in Atlanta, a short distance from the Metropolis’ headquarters. Metropolitan Alexios headed the procession, which included 80 priests, 12 deacons, altar boys, cantors, and hundreds of faithful. A doxology was offered at the Cathedral thanking God for the icon’s safe arrival, followed by a Paraklisis Service.
Alexios fondly recalled his years as a young monk himself at Vatopaidi. He first entered Mt. Athos at age 16 and became a monk at 19. His primary assignment was to take care of the altar and the original Vimatarissa icon, which is permanently situated in the altar, called Vima, from which the icon’s name is derived. “It is a special blessing for the faithful of the Metropolis” to see the arrival of Panagia Vimatarissa, he said.
Ephraim spoke about the significance of holy icons and greeted each congregant, wishing them the blessings of God and Panagia the Vimatarissa.
One of the faithful was actor/musician Jonathan Jackson, who converted with his family to Orthodoxy a few years ago.
At the Diakonia Center, about 140 miles from Atlanta, a doxology was chanted and the icon was placed in its permanent location. Alexios thanked the Diakonia’s donors and great benefactors. The next day, September 30, Ephraim officiated the Divine Liturgy at Annunciation, which was filled to capacity from the Matins (Orthros) Service, and the Vatopaidi monks chanted the melodic hymns.
That evening, Ephraim traveled to Washington, DC, where he met with officials at the State Department and the White House about religion and religious freedom.
At press time, he was slated to travel to New York to visit the St. Nicholas National Shrine, Archbishop Demetrios, the St. Nicholas Cathedral in Flushing, where he will officiate at the Vespers Service, St. Demetrios of Astoria, and the Kimisis tis Theotokou church in Southampton, NY. He is scheduled to return to Greece on October 5.