Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew led a liturgy at the historic Soumela Monastery in the Black Sea province of Trabzon on August 15.
Only 110 people were allowed to attend the service on the occasion of the Assumption of Mary due to the COVID-19 restrictions.
During the liturgy, the Ecumenical Patriarch once again expressed his appreciation to the authorities for returning the icons which had been stolen from historical local churches with a ceremony last week.
The Feast of the Panagia, which celebrates the Dormition, or the Falling Asleep, of the Virgin Mary, is the most important annual celebration of the descendants of the Pontian Greeks.
On Saturday, Bartholomew held a liturgy in the Saint Maria Catholic Church in Trabzon. The move is seen as another step towards the union of the Christian churches. The Catholic Church kindly provided the premises for the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch.
Soumela monastery a symbol of the history of Pontian Greeks
The Panagia Soumela Monastery, which their ancestors were forced to abandon, remains the symbol of their history in the region, which stretches back to time immemorial.
The holy icon of the Panagia Soumela, located in the eponymous Church in Vermio, northern Greece, is the symbol of Hellenism in Pontus and a poignant reminder of the Greek Genocide.
According to the tradition of the Orthodox Church, the icon is a work of the Apostle and Evangelist Luke.
Soumela monastery is carved out of the bedrock in a wooded area on the slopes of Mount Mela (Karadag in Turkish) in the Macka district, 300 meters (900 feet) above the Altındere Valley.
It was included in UNESCO’s Tentative List of World Heritage sites and was reopened for religious practice on Aug. 15, 2010, with the permission of the Culture and Tourism Ministry, following an 88-year hiatus. The country’s most important religious tourism center was closed in 2015 due to a risk of falling rocks from nearby Mount Mela.
It was reopened to visitors on July 1 after more than five years of restoration efforts.
Turkey deports Greek citizen
Meanwhile, the Greek government criticized Turkey for deporting a Greek citizen who had planned to attend the liturgy at Soumela monastery.
Turkish media reported that George Varythymiadis was on Turkey’s “persona non grata” list for his involvement in activities concerning land claims from Turkey. Varythymiadis is the head of the Greek Pontian Federation.
“The Greek citizen, who did not meet the necessary conditions of entry, was denied entry into our country and was sent back to his country following the completion of the process run in compliance with the rules of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and our laws. During the process, he was allowed to get in contact with his consulate,” Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgiç said in a statement.
At the instruction of Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, the Embassy in Ankara held an emergency protest at the Turkish Foreign Ministry regarding the abusive detention and deportation order against Varythymiadis on Friday.
“They cannot make us suffer, our ancestors had a much worse time,” Varythymiadis stated in a brief communication with Newsbomb.gr.