June 5, 2024

From New Rome to Ancient Rome – St. Helen’s Pilgrimage 2024

Under the leadership of the Dean of Holy Cross, Fr. Eugen J. Pentiuc, and with the participation of Fr. Philip Zymaris and Fr. Bartholomew Mercado, the faculty and students participating in St. Helen’s Pilgrimage completed the first two stages of their pilgrimage to Constantinople and Rome.

In Constantinople, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew granted them an audience at which he greeted the pilgrims and extended his Patriarchal blessings upon them. Fr. Pentiuc notes, “In my private audience with His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, I conveyed the best wishes of His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America and President Dr. Demetrios Katos of Hellenic College Holy Cross. I also asked His Holiness’ blessing for the well-being of our Σχολή. Among other matters discussed were the ways by which our School of Theology and the Ecumenical Patriarchate may cooperate in the areas of theology. It has been a great blessing for me to feel the warmth of His All-Holiness and his genuine care and love for our school.”

Through the diligent and meticulous organization of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the pilgrims were able to visit a number of spiritually and culturally rich sites, including the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Agia Sophia, Halki Monastery and Theological School, the Chora Church, the Balukli Monastery, the Blachernae Church, and a number of active church communities in the Archdiocese of Constantinople.

Moreover, as the pilgrims traveled to different churches and communities throughout Constantinople, they were welcomed by the hierarchs administering those Archdiocesan districts of the City, who offered them hospitality and expressed words of encouragement as the students prepare to enter active ministry in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

On their last day in Constantinople, the pilgrims traveled to Nicaea, where the First and Seventh Ecumenical Councils were convened. They were able to visit the Agia Sophia Cathedral, in which the Seventh Ecumenical Council was held, as well as the ruins of the ancient palace where the First Ecumenical Council was convened. It was particularly moving for the pilgrims to visit the site of the First Ecumenical Council, as next year marks the 1,700th anniversary of the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea. Holy Cross has just begun preparations for an international conference (Fall 2025) commemorating this major event in the history of Christianity.

After departing from Constantinople, the pilgrims traveled to Rome, where on their first day, they were warmly welcomed in a meeting with His Eminence Cardinal Kurt Koch, the Cardinal Prefect for the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity. In this meeting, Cardinal Koch opened a discussion and exchange of ideas concerning a variety of topics of mutual interest between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. An exchange of gifts followed the meeting, and a picture was taken in front of an icon of St. Peter and St. Andrew that Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras gave to Pope Paul VI after their meeting in Jerusalem in 1964.

The pilgrims had the opportunity to visit a variety of sites in Rome of spiritual and historical significance, including St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums, Santa Maria Maggiore, the Colosseum, Santa Maria Antiqua, the Roman Forum, Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Saint Paul Outside the Walls, and other significant sites.

It was especially moving for the pilgrims to celebrate a Divine Liturgy in the catacombs of St. Domitilla, where numerous saints were laid to rest. On their last day in Rome, they were warmly welcomed at St. Theodore Greek Orthodox Church, where they celebrated the Divine Liturgy and had fellowship with the local Orthodox community.

We are deeply grateful to acknowledge that the Saint Helen’s Pilgrimage has been made possible over the years through the generous financial support of Mrs. Helen A. Carlos from Atlanta, GA. Her unwavering commitment and benevolence have been instrumental in sustaining and enriching this outstanding educational program, ensuring it continues to thrive in forming our future priests and lay ministers.