St. Helen's Pilgrimage Offers Transformative Experience for HCHC Students
Of the 300 million Orthodox Christians in the world, it is estimated that around three million – one percent – reside within the United States. As an eparchy of the First Throne of Orthodoxy, the Mother Church in Constantinople, our Greek Orthodox Archdiocese has long insisted that its future leaders, whether lay or ordained, male or female, undertake a pilgrimage to Constantinople, Greece, and related sites in Western Europe or the Balkans, in order to locate their ministries within the global context of Orthodox Christian life.
The St. Helen’s Pilgrimage has evolved over twenty-five years of experimentation and improvement in order to offer a transformative overseas experience to the seminarians of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.
Part A of the Pilgrimage is five weeks, and includes one week as the guests of His All Holiness at the Phanar and on the island of Halki, three weeks of intensive Modern Greek language study in the New Testamental city of Thessaloniki, and a week of excursions to cultural and spiritual sites in places like Albania, France, or Italy. One weekend, the men journey to the Holy Mountain, and the women to one of the renowned convents in Northern Greece.
The highlight of these first five weeks is certainly our annual audience with His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I. Every year His All Holiness sets aside time to receive the students officially, to listen to their reports on life at the School and in the United States, and to express his hopes and wishes for the progress of the Church in the Greek Archdiocese. Although His All Holiness is of course the spiritual leader of all Orthodox Christians, responsible for catalyzing the conciliar unity of the Church under Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, he so clearly cares for the spiritual growth and stability of each parish and person within his jurisdiction.
Part B of the Pilgrimage is organized by College Year in Athens, probably the single most respected and admired study abroad organization in Greece. It consists of four weeks of intensive Modern Greek Language study, with three cultural excursions per week. The first week of Part B is held in Athens, and the entire breadth of Greek and Orthodox history is touched upon, including visits to the New Acropolis Museum and the Greek Parliament. The final three weeks of Part B are spent on the island of Paros, where again there are four-six hours of Modern Greek study per day, and multiple cultural and spiritual excursions. This year students visited the oldest functioning Church in Greece, built by St. Helen upon her return from the Holy Land in the fourth century, the island of Aegina and St. Nektarios’ monastery, and the resting place of Elder Philotheos Zervakos.
The St. Helen’s Pilgrimage is an experience designed to complete what a student has learned and will learn at Holy Cross. It is demanding and tiring, but many participants feel that it forms an essential linchpin in their preparation for future ministry.