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General News

From the Devastation of the Earthquake Zone: A Message to TNH’s Readers

February 13, 2023

BOSTON – History is sometimes buried – like people and buildings after events like the devastating earthquake that just hit Turkey and Syria – and sometimes it is erased, in a sense, by name changes. Antakya is one of the many cities that were damaged last week, the name of one city out of many known to the world today through their Arabic and Turkish names that most Hellenes would skip over as they skimmed articles about the tragedy. Antakya, however, is none other than the great ancient Hellenic and Christian city of Antioch. It was at various times no less than the capital of one of the Successor States to Alexander the Great’s Empire, third largest metropolis in the Roman Empire, and one of the five original patriarchates of the Great Church of Christ, which later split into the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. The Patriarchate of Antioch was later moved to Damascus.

In a temporary kitchen Lakis Vigas helps to cook hot food for the people who were displaced by the earthquake and who lost everything. PHOTO COURTESY OF LAKIS VIKAS

Historic nostalgia is sometimes triggered by contemporary disasters, but the pain of current events overshadows musings and reminiscences, as is seen in the text messages below, which came to us via telephone at 2:23 AM one recent night. It was accompanied by photographs, and the sender was the prominent lay leader from Constantinople, a businessman and good friend of mine, Panteleimon Vigas. He sent it virtually through the rubble of the earthquake that just hit the city that was once the cradle of Orthodoxy and the principal center of Hellenism in the Near East, as well as the third Patriarchate in honor after the first, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, and the second, the Patriarchate of Alexandria.

Mr. Vigas’ message literally shocks and the photos are shattering. I am publishing both with his permission, because it was a personal communication between us and I had to obtain his consent to publish them.

A half-ruined church in Antioch where crosses can be discerned on the surrounding graves. PHOTO COURTESY OF LAKIS VIKAS

The text messages follow:

“I went to see the people I have known and connected with for 15 years!

“I walked around Antioch over the rubble, visited friends in the tents in the villages. I sat with them around the fire they lit to protect them from the cold of the night. I experienced the agony, the fear, the uncertainty, and the despair. It takes time, solidarity, love – and coordinated assistance!

“Things are difficult for all the inhabitants of the region, especially in Antioch. I am unable to prioritise my thoughts and feelings. As you can understand, we are experiencing mental turmoil, even those of us who did not experience this catastrophe of biblical proportions.

“It is imperative that we keep alive the presence of Romanity [Hellenism] in this historic cradle. Antioch and its culture are under threat.

“It should be noted that Antioch is about an hour and a half by plane from Constantinople.”

Lakis Vigas, with a look of grief and awe in his eyes when confronted with the aftermath of the catastrophic earthquake in Antioch. PHOTO COURTESY OF LAKIS VIKAS
The residents of historic city of Antioch grieve among the ruins the lives ended by the earthquake which cruely buried them before their time. PHOTO COURTESY OF LAKIS VIKAS


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