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Church

Holy Mount Athos Has Come to Boston and the United States

September 17, 2022

BOSTON – A celebratory inauguration of the exhibit ‘Mount Athos: The Ark of Orthodoxy’ took place on September 13 at the Maliotis Cultural Center of Hellenic College – Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology (HCHC) at Brookline, MA in the presence of Archbishop Elpidophoros of America. The exhibit will be at the Maliotis Center the next two months and it is expected to travel to other states and cities if the Archdiocese’s hierarchs and priests show interest. It was organized by Mount Athos Foundations of America and Mount Athos Center of Thessaloniki Greece.

The exhibit features one panel for each of the 20 Athonite monasteries tracing their history and traditions, plus additional panels pertaining to life on the Holy Mountain and intends to evoke for American viewers the sense of a virtual pilgrimage to the monasteries of the Holy Mountain.

From the Mount Athos exhibit at the Maliotis Cultural Center of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. Shown are Monasteries of Mount Athos. (Photo by TNH/Theodore Kalmoukos)

The ceremony began with a prayer offered by Archbishop Elpidophoros. Present were the new consul general of Greece Symeon Tegos, Metropolitan Savvas of Pittsburgh, Bishop Athenagoras of Nazianzos, chief secretary of the Eparchial Synod of the Archdiocese of America and also Director of Religious Education and spiritual advisor of the National Philoptochos, Bishop Joakim of Amisos, director of Archbishop Iakovos Library of HC/HC, George Cantonis, president of HC/HC, and protopresbyter John Magoulias, vice chairman of the HC/HC Board of Trustees. Also present were priest-monk Lukas the iconographer of the Xenofontos Monastery who represented the Monastic Community of Mount Athos, who presently is doing the iconography of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox church and National Shrine in Manhattan, Anastasios Ntouros, director of the Mount Athos Center of Thessaloniki Greece, Robert Allison, president of Mount Athos Foundations of America, clergy and lay professors of the Theological School, Chrysoula Kouskounti, executive director of the Maliotis Cultural Center, Anna Merkel, mother of an Athonite monk, as well as priests and laymen from Boston and other cities and states of the United States.

Archbishop Elpidophoros in his greetings said among other things that “Mount Athos – το Περιβόλι της Παναγίας [the Garden of the Virgin Mary] – is a unique manifestation of the Church in the world. For over one thousand years, the fathers of the Holy Mountain have labored in the deepest ways to connect with God, as well as with one another. And although they have left the world, they are bound with it as its most fervent intercessors.”

Anastasios Ntouros, director of Mount Athos Center of Thessaloniki Greece, presents Archbishop Elpidophoros with his portrait, which was made in Thessaloniki. Shown are Robert Allison and Chris Mellen. (Photo by TNH/Theodore Kalmoukos)

In another instance he said that, “this magnificent peninsula, crowned by the summit of the mountain, embodies the living and fragrant tradition of the Holy Spirit that first blossomed in the deserts of Skete, Palestine, and Cappadocia. The Holy Mountain’s unbroken history of more than a millennium is a sign from God that the essential teachings and doctrines of our Church are as unchanging as the life of the holy brethren who inhabit this Garden of the Panagia.”

The Archbishop continued, “so often, in our everyday world, we pour out praise and adulation for those explorers of our physical world, especially for astronauts who venture to outer space. But we must not forget those who explore the spiritual world, the inner space of the human heart and soul. As such, I would name the fathers of the Holy Mountain to be ‘psychonauts’, or navigators of the soul.”

The Archbishop made reference to Fr. Lukas as the iconographer at St. Nicholas after noting that, “the wisdom and experience of the Holy Mountain can be brought into the world by such exhibitions as this, and by inviting these monastic traditions into our hearts and minds by reading the great spiritual texts that are preserved there, and by cultivating the arts of Athos in the new world.” He emphasized tha, “this is precisely what Father Loukas is doing at Ground Zero in the adornment of the Saint Nicholas National Shrine.”

From the event of marking the inauguration of the Mount Athos exhibit at the Maliotis Cultural Center. (Photo by TNH/Theodore Kalmoukos)

Robert Allison said, “The Mount Athos Foundation of America (MAFA) was originally conceived of and founded by American members of FoMA to facilitate tax-exempt contributions by Americans.

All of us who participated in bringing this foundation into existence have felt blessed, in our many different ways, by our experiences of pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain. For all of us, creating this Foundation was a way of ‘giving back’ – an expression of thankfulness for those blessings so freely given by the fathers of the Holy Mountain and that had meant so much to us.”

He noted that, “our vision began to come to fruition first when we were incorporated in 2016 and 2 years later in 2018 when we achieved our 501(c)(3) status. So splitting the difference, this is approximately our 5th anniversary celebration. Our concept of giving back is expressed in MAFA’s 2-part mission:

To be a steady and reliable source of aid to the Holy Mountain when it is needed. Although the Holy Mountain is a World Heritage Site and does receive support from the Greek Government and the European Union, those important resources can’t provide quick emergency aid to help with things like sudden leaks in roofs that endanger centuries-old wall paintings, or give aid to the smaller historic cells on Mount Athos.”

Chris Mellen, secretary of The Mount Athos Foundation of America told TNH that, “I went to Mount Athos in 2014. I tasted the hospitality there. I wanted to make a donation but it was very difficult. I communicated with The Friends of Mount Athos and this is how the Foundations started.”

Speaking to TNH, Ntouros said, “we are very happy with today’s inaugural event. I consider our effort to be very successful. This is the first time that that Mount Athos comes to America through this exbibit. We want to give a first taste to the Greek-Americans and Americans of what Holy Mount is.”

When asked him of Mount Athos is “a place, a way, both – or a utopia,” he said, “Mount Athos is something that you cannot describe with words.”

The Mount Athos Center of Thessaloniki presented a gift to Archbishop Elpidophoros, his portrait which was created in Thessaloniki.

Elias Morest, a Holy Cross School of Theology student, spoke about his experience of a pilgrimage to Mount Athos last summer, while Anastasia Merkel spoke how her son went to Mount Athos and became a monk.

Fr. Lukas is delivering his keynote address at the inaugural ceremony of the Mount Athos exhibit. (Photo by TNH/Theodore Kalmoukos)

The keynote speaker for the event was Fr. Lukas, who, among other things, said in his speech that, “the monastic state of Mount Athos, the Holy Mountain, is a transcendent place. No one is ever born there, but whoever wishes to follow the God-man Jesus Christ in his sacrificial journey is reborn. A journey where sacrifice, risk, departure from the easy path, is at the same time an opening to beauty. Perhaps this is why monasteries are interwoven with beauty, as an attempt – arising from the love of beauty (Philokalia) and art – to experience a humble foretaste of immortality. It is no coincidence that the monasteries are places where all the arts have flourished, indeed I would say more in the monasteries than anywhere else… here, all the classical texts were copied [in manuscripts] and later the works of patristic literature, which were on the verge of loss from deterioration, and they were embellished with famous miniatures and made into a visual wonder. Here the chants were perfected and preserved. Here the conduct of the services remained unaltered, demonstrating for us the negation of decay and death, and hinting at the perpetuity of the heavenly Hierarchy.

Here the relationship between place and time takes on other dimensions. The past, the present and the future all embrace each other, the place is sanctified and converses with the sky – ‘what is above celebrates with that which is below, what is below converses with that which is above,’”

Fr. Lukas concluded by saying, “and this is not only the sense and realization of spiritually accomplished monks. Even the unsuspecting laymen, when they embark on the boat from Ouranoupoli, leave the world behind them and open themselves to the mystery that begins at that moment.”

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