St. Helen’s Pilgrimage has come to an end. After nine weeks together the 21 of us had forged bonds stronger than those developed over three years of seminary. My passport is branded with new stamps, while London, Essex, Canterbury, Venice, Rome, Vatican City, Ravenna, Thessaloniki, Mount Athos, Meteora, Kavala, Phillipoi, Aegina, Athens, and Paros are branded in my mind. The enormous religious significance of all these sites was even more awe-inspiring than the historical. Everywhere we went, it was as if we walked in St. Paul’s footsteps. From his preaching in Athens on the rock to his martyrdom in Rome, it felt as if he was guiding us all.
We finished our first program of travel and began the second portion of immersion in the Greek language and Hellenism. Our Greek professors became our friends and we learned more than grammar rules in their classes. With patience and kindness, they taught us the Greek way of life. Every single student got something out of it; personally I attained more confidence in my skills to speak Greek with locals.
Our fearless leaders, Dr. Timothy Patsitsas and Dr .Phillip Mamalakis, showed us that their great professorial gifts extend far beyond the classroom. From Dr. Mamalakis taking Greek class with the advanced students to Dr. Tim roughing it on every six-hour bus ride with us, they were not only professors but great role models.
The depth of the true love formed on this trip is truly indescribable. Some of us left behind wives, fiancées, girlfriends, and other loved ones and learned to lean on each other. We all helped our friends, Serpahim and Olenka, travel with a baby, a feat no one else on the trip could imagine. Baby Ivanna was six months old when we left Boston. Over nine weeks her rapid growth became a metaphor for our own–we too had our own swift development spiritually and mentally.
This opportunity taught me gratitude in the highest sense. Through all of the hardships and beautiful moments, we felt God’s presence and the intercessions of St. Helen through every second of this journey. We each have different stories but all had an unforgettable experience.
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.