Monastic Pilgrimage to the Saint-bearing Imbros

“For this place, I always feel that there is something in it that cannot be conveyed, something profound, something very ancient, convincing, and touching. Unable to describe it, I just live it every time I come. It is something essential, experiential.”

– His All-Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

In the embrace of the shimmering Aegean waters, where the gentle touch of time meets the whispers of ancient legends, myths, and stories, lies the mystical and wondrous island of Imbros. Here, amid the azure expanse, echoes of history resonate, which weave a rich spiritual tapestry intermingling God’s beauty, the glow of antiquity, human wisdom, and Byzantine splendour. Imbros, as if a divine painting painted with vivid colours by the supreme Artist, is a treasure of antiquity and piety, where the footprints of past civilizations are still evident on the Earth. Through the mist of time, it bears witness to the rise, fall, and resurrection of a glorious civilization, the eternal aura of Romeyism. Once, a symphony of holiness, spirituality, art, and culture bloomed in its consecrated spaces, while the island still whispers tales about heroes of faith, warriors of piety, and athletes of Orthodoxy, enriching the world with their holiness and wisdom. In the Byzantine era, this precious gem of the Aegean reached the pinnacle of its significance. The golden light of Byzantium shimmered on its shores, casting an ethereal glow on the ancient stones of the island. Imbros became a haven for scholars and artists, a sanctuary for faith and enlightenment. Countless temples of God, monasteries perched on cliffs, the walls of which still echo the fervent prayers of monks, and their writings and sermons, illuminate the darkness of the world with the wisdom of the ages.

In this extraordinary and magical fusion of natural beauty and spiritual treasure, we, the brethren from Bigorski and the sisters from Rajcica and Prechista, bore witness, following the blessing of our holy archpastor, the Metropolitan of the God-fearing Debar-Kičevo Diocese, His Eminence Mr. Timothy, and guided by the paternal love of our beloved Elder, the Bishop of Antania Mr. Parthenius. We were honoured to venerate some of the sanctuaries of this wonderful island, which, among other things, is the homeland of His All-Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Imbros is the birthplace of numerous Christ’s hierarchs, monks, saints, and servants of God. The occasion for our pilgrimage to this saint-bearing island was the feast of our Father among the Saints, St. Cyril, the Bishop of Alexandria. His name is worthily borne now by the current shepherd of the sacred diocese of Imbros and Tenedos, His Eminence the Metropolitan Mr. Cyril, a great benefactor of the Most Holy Ohrid Archbishopric and a close friend of our holy Bigorski Monastery.

The holy Metropolitan of Imbros, welcomed with the greatest love and joy our monastic community led by our beloved Elder Mr. Partenij, and hosted us with abundant hospitality. He officially welcomed us at the Church of the Annunciation in Agriadia, where, during the festive ipodochi prepared for our Elder, he delivered a brief welcoming speech, expressing joy for his arrival here, along with the entire monastic synodia. Our Elder, in turn, heartily thanked the kind host for the warm hospitality, emphasizing his special joy, because our pilgrimage to Imbros began precisely from the Church of the Annunciation. Then he referred to the moment when the joyful news that His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate received our Most Holy Church into canonical and liturgical unity with the entire Orthodoxy on May 9 last year. Because it had found him precisely in the Holy Monastery of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos in Prechista.

After thanking the Queen Mother with hymns and troparia, led by our host, we headed to the village of Saint Theodori, the birthplace of His All-Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch. There we venerated and prayed in the Church of Saint George the Trophy Bearer, the church in which the Patriarch was baptized and tonsured. In addition, it is the church where, on Palm Sunday this year, several of our clergy were honoured with patriarchal officia by His All-Holiness. Then our brotherhood also gained two archimandrites of the Ecumenical Throne. In the graveyard, behind the church, is the tomb where the sister of the Ecumenical Patriarch, the blessedly reposed Zaharo, is byrried and since those days marked six months since her passing before the Lord, at the request of Metropolitan Mr. Cyril, our Elder made a trisagion for her remembrance.

In the evening, we all gathered for a joint prayer at the festive Vespers service in the magnificent metropolitan church of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos. Here with songs and hymns we celebrated the great athlete of the Orthodox faith and the fearless fighter for the proper veneration of the Most Holy Theotokos, our Holy Father St. Cyril of Alexandria. On this occasion, our esteemed host, Metropolitan Mr. Cyril, honoured our Elder to preside at the Vespers service. After its conclusion, the two hierarchs exchanged appropriate words, full of warmth and love, as befits the true servants of God.

In due order, His Eminence, the Metropolitan of Imbros and Tenedos, Mr. Cyril, moved by the love of the Elder and the monastic community, repeatedly expressed gratitude for our coming to Imbros:

“Your beloved Eminence, holy Bishop of Antania, and much-honoured brother Mr. Parthenius,

It is a great honour, and an even greater blessing that brings us special joy and emotion. You are a large group of monks and laity, your spiritual children. And after Palm Sunday, on which His Divine All-Holiness, our Ecumenical Patriarch bestowed officia from the Ecumenical Throne upon the clergy of the Ohrid Archbishopric. Both from the sacred Metropole to which the city of Ohrid belongs, headed by the Holy Debar-Kičevo, Metropolitan Mr. Timothy, from the sacred Metropole of Strumica, headed by Metropolitan Mr. Nahum, and from the sacred Metropole of Skopje headed by the respected Archbishop of Ohrid Mr. Stephen. Also from the holy and revered Monastery of Bigorski. Henceforth, you come for the first time with your entire venerable synodia, here in the historic and martyred Imbros. Amid the joy of the Holy Pentecost, we see you come here as an angel, a messenger sent from above. You come, God-loving Bishop, to highlight to everyone, especially from here, from the embrace of the Orthodox Church, the established canonicity of the Ohrid Archbishopric, which the venerable Ecumenical Patriarch bestowed about a year ago. You come to co-celebrate, to pray together, and rejoice together for the holy descent of the Most Holy Spirit. The fruit of that descent, Your Eminence, is holiness. Holiness with which the Holy Spirit cleanses the Church.

Celebrating the memory of our patron saint, Saint Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, we actually celebrate that very holiness in the Church. Recently, when His All-Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch entrusted me to engage more with the Ohrid Archbishopric, I received great blessing and joy, because of the opportunity to live with this Church, with the Archbishop, with the metropolitans, with the vicar bishops, but most of all with the monasteries around, especially with Bigorski and the two female monasteries to which you are the spiritual father.

Through your person, Eminence, we pay homage to the Archbishop Mr. Stephen, we honour the Ohrid Archbishopric, we honour, as I said earlier, all the clergy and monks. I had the exceptional blessing, at the invitation of the Metropolitan of Debar-Kichevo Mr. Timothy, to be in Struga on the feast of Saint George the Great Martyr, according to the old calendar, and to marvel greatly at the profound piety and love of the thousands of people who surround that glorious procession in the city celebrating Saint George. That really imprinted on my soul and will remain as a vivid mark in my memory for my whole life. Still, in my ears, I can hear the exclamation of the people, who when responding to the Paschal greeting of the children ‘Christ is risen’, their response ‘Indeed He is risen’ was stronger than thousands of cannons. And for almost two hours that the procession lasted, I was convinced of the truly great piety and faith of the people of the Ohrid Archbishopric. I thank you especially for the hospitality and consolation that you provided me with after the celebration when I came to the Monastery. To unite spiritually with the brothers, with the dear fathers Archimandrites of the Ecumenical Throne, and with the entire brotherhood, as well as with the two sisterhoods. I had the honour to preside at the first festive Doxology on the occasion of celebrating the anniversary of the recognition of the canonicity of the Ohrid Archbishopric by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Your visit and your presence are indeed a historic event. I believe that here, on our Imbros, never before in recent history have circulated so many monastic robes, monks, nuns, clergy, bishops. And I truly feel that you are an angel, a messenger from above, who comes to tell us that this canonicity opened a great embrace, to gather the Ohrid Archbishopric into the Orthodox Church. The difficult years have passed and now we walk again together, co-celebrate, commune in the Body and Blood of our Christ from the holy chalice and all rejoice together. Indeed, your visit and presence, Venerable Bishop, are historic.

I am sure that now, having acquainted yourself with the place that bore the Ecumenical Patriarch, but also our homeland, you and the fathers and sisters there will pray even more for us here who have a common path, a common destiny. You know, beloved Elder, the spiritual connection that developed between you, your brothers and sisters and me, I consider a special blessing for me. God honoured me to connect with all the fathers and with the sisters under your omophorion. I especially thank you all for turning and stopping here, on your journey to Constantinople, to kiss the honourable right hand of the Patriarch on the occasion of his name day; you came to honour my unworthiness for the feast of my patron saint, our Father among the saints Saint Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria the Great. I do not hide that I was very pleased, but what pleased me even more was that our people saw the entire spiritual expanse of monks and nuns, walking on the martyred cobblestones of Imbros, through our villages, while we commemorated the always remembered Zaharo, and prayed in the temples of the Most Holy Theotokos and Saint George – truly historic and blessed events and moments.

As His All-Holiness said, the process of granting the Tomos for autocephaly is on the right track. And we believe that Archbishop Stephen and the Holy Synod, but also you personally, will work to complete everything that needs to be done, so that we reach that blessed day when His All-Holiness will celebrate in the historic church of Saint Sophia in Ohrid, to deliver the Tomos for autocephaly to the Ohrid Archbishopric. Of course, this is a martyrdom, a bloodless, difficult struggle because there is the opposing side – the devil, who tries to seize the moment and create clouds and problems. But I am convinced that the ecclesiological consciousness of all who make up the Ohrid Archbishopric will lead things to where they need to be.

We were touched by the Archbishop the day before yesterday, on Monday of Holy Trinity, when at the end of the Holy Liturgy, addressing the Patriarch of Serbia, he thanked our Ecumenical Patriarch for ensuring canonicity and expressed hope for the granting of the Tomos for autocephaly. We would be especially joyful and boast about it, Your Eminence, because we are among the first with whom you co-celebrated and prayed together with us, here on Imbros, together with such a large church group from the Ohrid Church.

I thank you, Your Eminence, I thank the Venerable Archimandrites of the Ecumenical Throne, the other fathers from the Monastery of the Honourable Forerunner – Bigorski, the Abbess of the Annunciation Monastery and her synodia, and the sisters from the other Monastery in Rajcica. We pray for their Abbess, who had a small intervention today and therefore is not with us, to be well, not to have any serious problems. You should know that you gave us great joy, you brought peace to our souls with your presence here. We share with you that cross-resurrection path to the Kingdom of God. Welcome, Venerable Bishop!

Inspired by the spiritual beauties of Imbros and its Metropolitan, our Elder, the Bishop of Antania Mr. Parthenius, poured out the following words from his heart:

„Your Eminence, our beloved brother and co-celebrant, Mr. Cyril,

Your Eminence, Metropolitan of Moshonisic, Mr. Cyril,

Venerable fathers, brothers and sisters, monks and nuns,

Respected people of Imbros,

There is no greater honour and joy for me than to be here tonight in this hallowed place of spiritual struggle, on this glorious island that has given numerous saints, venerable ones, teachers, and benefactors to the Church of God. With all my heart, I thank my beloved and holy brother, His Eminence, the Metropolitan of Imbros and Tenedos, Mr. Kiril, for the dignity he bestowed upon me, to preside over the service in this sacred and magnificent church.

Your Eminence, we come here, bringing greetings, good wishes, and congratulations on your name day from our respected Metropolitan of Debar-Kichevo, Mr. Timothy, with whose blessing we ventured our pilgrimage.

I met the Holy Metropolitan of Imbros nearly four years ago, in the capital of the Romey civilization, in the unforgettable Constantinople. And when I got to know him up close, I firmly believed that he is, as he was presented to me, a true son in spirit of His All-Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Mr. Bartholomew. In Metropolitan Cyril, I saw, above all, a devoted monk of Christ, a beautiful, noble, kind soul in constant communication with God. I felt peace and joy inside from my communication with him. And I immediately understood why His All-Holiness appointed him as a Bishop, as a caring father with a vigilant eye in his native homeland, in the saint-bearing Imbros. Indeed, the deeds of His Eminence, his care for maintaining and reviving the spirit of Romeyism in these areas, the parental care for the Christian flock remaining here, and for all who, by his initiative and efforts, returned here, show that His All-Holiness made the right choice.

Since our acquaintance in Constantinople, the communion in Christ with the Holy Metropolitan of Imbros continued to deepen more and more. Twice we had the God-given blessing for him to reside in our Holy Bigorski Monastery, as well as in the Monasteries of Rajcica and Prechista, and to co-celebrate together before the Lord’s Table. Then, his Christ-like personality was recognized by all my brother monks and sister nuns, who also saw in him a man like them, with the alike aspirations towards the heavenly, a man who carries a monastic soul and is a true monk of Christ. Thus, Metropolitan Cyril was wholeheartedly accepted by our monastic community as an integral part of it. And today, at the request of all my brothers and sisters, we are all in his God-fearing diocese, to celebrate together with him the feast of his heavenly patron, Saint Cyril of Alexandria.

I would like to convey the first impression of the monks and nuns from their pilgrimage to this holy place. They all told me that they are fascinated by the holiness and piety felt in the air here, by the beauty of the holy temples, by the fact that this island is connected to monasticism with a navel string. The Christians of this place have been and are guided by venerable monks, and themselves as monastic-loving faithful have given numerous monks and servants of God. We are all truly touched and lack adequate words to express just how honoured we feel, standing on this mysterious piece of consecrated land, which has grown numerous saints and nurtured our beloved Ecumenical Patriarch Mr. Bartholomew. He is indeed a great and historic Patriarch, a true Father of the Orthodox, in whose loving embrace there is a place for all. Precisely he, together with the holy hierarchs of the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, on May 9 last year, embraced us, the children of the Ohrid Archbishopric from the state of North Macedonia, into ecclesiastic unity, healing with the oil of Christ’s love the multi-decade wound of our previous isolation. For this, we will remain eternally grateful and appreciative and will keep his name written in golden letters in our church history and in grateful memory.

Finally, from the depths of my being, I wish our today’s honouree, the beloved and loving brother, the Holy Metropolitan of Imbros Mr. Cyril, longevity, gracious strength, and good enlightenment, so that he could continue for many years his God-pleasing mission in the Church of God. Some of my brothers and sisters told me that they feel Metropolitan Cyril as a loving child of the Most Holy Theotokos. I responded that it is indeed so. After all, his patron, Saint Cyril of Alexandria, was one of the most fervent venerators of the Queen Mother and zealously defended the Orthodox doctrine about her, so it is logical for the Holy Metropolitan of Imbros to have inherited this spiritual legacy, radiating with love for the Pure Theotokos. May the prayers and blessing of Saint Cyril always be with him!

Many years to come, Your Eminence!”

Subsequently, at the request of our Elder, the Metropolitan Mr. Cyril gave his blessing for monastic life to the latest novice in Rajchica, Zora, the mother of monk Angelarios from our brotherhood, to the great joy of our entire monastic community.