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Reflections from St. Helen's Pilgrimage

Holy Cross Master of Divinity student Sotiri Michalatos shares some thoughts on his experiences thus far traveling through Italy and Greece on St. Helen's Pilgrimage. View more photos from the Pilgrimage here.

Rome, Italy

Visiting Rome has been such an incredible experience. Rain or shine, we visited places where Saints of our beloved Church once spoke and walked. There were two places that actually brought me to my knees. The first was the Catholic Church of St. John Lateran, where the busts of St. Peter and St. Paul are located above the altar and are believed to hold the skulls or parts of the skulls of both saints. I mean, they are two thousand years old! While I didn't get to venerate the relics (the Catholic Church views relics very differently from the Orthodox Church, and they were not kept in an accessible place), it was incredible just to be in their presence.

These statues hold the skulls of St. Peter and St. Paul. 

The second fascinating place was The Church of Saint Paul at the Three Fountains, the site of the martyrdom of Saint Paul. We saw the actual pillar where St. Paul was said to have been beheaded and the three fountains beside it. Legend has it that the monastery built the Church around and on top of the pillar and fountains. The whole group was very emotional at the sight of it!

Mount Athos

One of my favorite experiences from Mount Athos was hiking around the Holy Mountain - enjoying nature and stopping at monasteries. We spent four hours hiking with an awesome warm-hearted monk, Fr. Seraphim. Despite his being 40 years older than any of us, he took on the hills and hot humid weather with no problem! It was also beautiful to see the bonds and friendships budding from the group. 

We experienced many great things during those 4 days, including powerful services, attending an all-night vigil, and venerating many, many miracle working icons and relics. This is something I have wanted to do since I was a little boy. I got to venerate the hand of St. Mary Magdalen and the Icon of the Panagia Portaitissa! What was most heartfelt was the love we received from all of the monks and elders. Their love and friendship and words of spiritual wisdom gave us much encouragement to follow the path of salvation and the path to the priesthood. To truly live life with Christ, to live without fear! It has been so wonderful to see the group growing together. 

St. Helen's Pilgrimage is a mandatory study-abroad program for all Holy Cross Master of Divinity students, whether male or female, Greek Archdiocese or some other jurisdiction. It consists of a Part A including three weeks of Modern Greek language study in Thessaloniki, a week at the Phanar, and a week of further pilgrimage travel; and of a Part B, which is an optional further four weeks of intensive Modern Greek language instruction in Athens and on the island of Paros.

For more information, visit www.hchc.edu/academics/pilgrimage.