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Ancient Byzantine Orthodox architectural gems decorated with international cultural heritage awards

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The beauty and timelessness of Byzantine architecture place it among the world’s greatest treasures and cultural inheritances. Its characteristic churches and monasteries, adorned with instantly recognizable domes and glorious iconography, have inspired hearts and minds for more than a millennium.

And now, they have won an award.

Conservation work on two outstanding gems of Byzantine Orthodox architecture, the ancient Church of St. Kyriaki in the South Aegean and a mosaic of the Transfiguration of Christ at Mt. Sinai’s world-renowned St. Catherine’s Monastery, has been awarded the 2018 European Union / Europa Nostra Prize for Cultural Heritage.

Europa Nostra Award is one of the highest honors in the field of European heritage.

The winners were “recognized for their impressive accomplishments in conservation, research, dedicated service, and education, training and awareness-raising.”

In a statement, renowned opera singer and Europa Nostra president Plácido Domingo stated:

“I warmly congratulate this year’s ‘heritage champions’… We are deeply impressed by the exceptional skills, creativity, commitment and generosity of so many heritage professionals, volunteers and supporters from all over Europe… Our Award winners are living proof that our cultural heritage is far more than the memory of our past; it is key to understanding our present and a resource for our future.”

Church of St. Kyriaki

Church of St. Kyriaki. Photo: www.europeanheritageawards.eu

St. Kyriaki’s is a true gem, featuring a unique set of wall paintings dating to the 8th or 9th century. The Church was embroiled in a battle against the heresy of Iconoclasm during those times that saw the destruction of countless precious icons.

Iconography plays such a central role in Orthodox spirituality and worship because the theology of the Orthodox Church, the religious home of 90% of the Greek population, has always held that as God took on a circumscribed nature in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, so He can be depicted, thus proclaiming faith in the God-Man.

The Iconoclasts rejected this foundational theology and wreaked great havoc in the Church and throughout the Byzantine Empire. The final defeat of this heresy in 843 AD and the restoration of icons to the Church is celebrated every first Sunday of Lent, known as the Triumph of Orthodoxy.

The secluded, single-domed Church of St. Kyriaki on the Greek island of Naxos was until recently accessible only by a footpath from the village of Apeiranthos. The church’s rural setting, while picturesque, led to years of neglect, and rainwater penetrating the roof inflicted severe damage on the structure of the walls and vaults and on the ancient wall paintings.

The well-preserved interior paintings, limited only to crosses, animals, and geometric and floral patterns, bear witness to their origin during the Iconoclastic controversy. Such paintings, representing aniconic art that eschews material representations of the natural and supernatural world, have been preserved in rare cases, and those of the Church of St. Kyriaki are the best preserved in the Cyclades islands.

The church caught the attention of the Swiss associations “J.-G. Eynard” of Geneva and “Amitiés gréco-suisses,” which began their conservation efforts in 1993. A voluntary association, with the sole purpose of saving the endangered house of God, was formed in 2004.

Thankfully, their efforts proved successful. “The conservation of Hagia Kyriaki succeeded in saving an endangered monument and its unique paintings, with meticulous effort to protect its authenticity and refrained from adding elements that would mask the passing of time and history,” according to Europa Nostra.

The video below offers an up-close look at the church’s unique paintings:

The St. Kyriaki project is being seen as a model for similar cases on Naxos Island, where dozens of ruined Byzantine churches demand such care and attention for their preservation.

Transfiguration mosaic at St. Catherine’s Monastery

Credit: europeanheritageawards.eu

St. Catherine’s Monastery was founded by Byzantine emperor St. Justinian and completed before 565 AD. The basilica church retains most of its ancient 6th-century decorations, including a wondrous mosaic of the Transfiguration of the Lord in the apse, deemed a “a masterpiece of Eastern Christian art” by Europa Nostra.

The monastery is one of the oldest working Christian monasteries in the world. It houses a world-famous collection of icons, and its library is the oldest continuously-operating collections in the world, and the second richest in the world, according to Aleteia.

The basilica at St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai suffered serious damage from an earthquake in 1995.

With funding provided by the then-Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and the Los Angeles-based Getty Conservation Institute, the monastery was able to cover the costs of the conservation work undertaken by the Rome-based Centro di Conservazione Archaeologica (CCA).

The monastery’s Athens-based Technical Bureau completed its restoration work on the apse walls in 2011, and the CCA completed its work on the mosaics in 2016, with support from the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. The official opening was held in 2017.

The jury highly commended “the European cooperation between the Italian conservation experts and the Greek Orthodox Monastery which was undertaken in close consultation with the Egyptian authorities and has resulted in high-quality conservation work on an element of such an outstanding World Heritage Site as the Monastery of Saint Catherine in Sinai. The documentation and quality of the work are exceptional.”

The conservators were able to identify the original materials and methods used in the construction of the mosaics, and in subsequent restorations, and thus were able to use materials compatible with the original mosaics. Each of the 20,000 replacement tiles were documented, with the information to be publicly posted online.

Europa Nostra also noted the unique scaffolding system, which allowed the conservation work to continue for years without interrupting the liturgical and spiritual life of the monastery. The judges praised “the strong scientific and religious collaboration in the most complex circumstances to create innovative technical solutions which made it possible to carry out conservation during religious services and in the most sacred part of the site.”

The video below offers a look at the beautiful territory of St. Catherine’s Monastery and a glimpse into the process of restoring the Transfiguration icon.

Winners of the Europa Nostra Awards will be honored at an award ceremony on June 22 in Berlin.

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Greek Opposition Leader Mitsotakis Coming To Moscow For High Level Talks

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Archons of Greek Orthodox Church issue toothless letter about abortion law

The good news is the Archons did say some good things in reaction to the New York abortion law. But there was no consequence.

Seraphim Hanisch

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In relation to our previously published piece about Governor Andrew Cuomo signing abortion into the New York State Constitution, we noted that at the time of the article’s writing, no entities within the Orthodox Church in any jurisdiction issued any kind of statement condemning this law. Of all fourteen universally acknowledged Local Churches, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Greek Orthodox Church was particularly of note, since their Archons awarded a humanitarian award known as the Athenogoras Award to extremely liberal, pro-abortion politicians, Andrew Cuomo being one of these.

Well, the Archons did issue a statement yesterday:

The Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Condemns New York’s New Abortion Law

The Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, strongly condemns the State of New York’s new Reproductive Health Act that was passed on January 22, 2019. This new law allows abortions up to the moment of birth and gives people who are not doctors the right to perform abortions.

The Order also deplores the celebratory atmosphere surrounding the new law, as One World Trade Center was lit pink to commemorate the passage of the law, as if it represented a great advance for the rights of women. The rights of no human being are ever advanced at the expense of another. The State of New York will not truly have respect for the rights of women until it once again restores legal protections for every human being, from his or her first moment of existence until natural death.

Hailed as progress, New York’s Reproductive Health Act is not actually an advance, but a regression, a return to a time of barbarism when the weak were at the mercy of the strong and had no protection from legal structures or governing authorities.

The Order implores New York’s legislators to reconsider this dangerous new law and reinstitute protections for all human life, no matter how weak and vulnerable. Only when such protections exist can any society truly prosper.

Rev. Alexander Karloutsos
Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate
Spiritual Advisor of the Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle

Is this enough?

It does not seem to be so. Governor Cuomo and his award, along with pro-abortion Roman Catholic Vice President Joe Biden, also received this award at the same time Governor Cuomo did.

What did not happen in this letter was that neither politician was named, nor were the four (out of five) Greek Orthodox politicians in the New York State Assembly that voted FOR this law.

Neither did the Archons move to rescind the Athenagoras Awards they gave to Mr. Cuomo and Mr. Biden. This move appears to be still far too politically calculated, and keeping with the tragic, curious and distressing behavior of the leadership within the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Monomachos.com is a popular blog site whose editor, George Michalopulos, is undoubtedly one of the giants among those Greek Orthodox who seriously uphold at the notion that the Church ought never compromise herself. Yet, he was very happy with the letter that is shown above because for him it represented a “180-degree turnabout” in terms of the history of the Archons’ behavior, which he noted elsewhere as smacking of “the feeling that their primary job is to raise money for Istanbul.”

He neglected to mention the lack of mention of the Awards, but perhaps understandably, his surprise at any sort of traditional statement by this group was leading to exuberance where perhaps it is not deserved.

The Greek Orthodox Church seems to have an overall alignment with very liberal figures, and it is unclear as to why. But this tendency of people that are considered good and faithful Greek Orthodox churchgoers to align with liberal politics in the United States is very different than the sharply conservative tendencies of Russian Orthodox churchgoers, or Greeks or Romanians in the US.

The other rather liberal church is the US is the Orthodox Church in America, but this group does tend to involve itself in social causes in the US – especially abortion – in a very conservative, if rather feeble, manner. They do make their presence known at the annual March for Life and this is of great value.

We wish to name all the Greek Orthodox elected New York assembly members here, with their votes regarding the state abortion measure:

Michael Gianaris             (D) (co-sponsor)   – Yes.
Andrew Gounardes         (D) (co-sponsor)   – Yes.
Nicole Malliotakis           (R)                            – No. (and she is a woman!!)
Aravella Simotas             (D)                            – Yes.
James Skoufis                  (D) (co-sponsor)   – Yes.

This measure enshrined abortion at any point in a woman’s pregnancy as a constitutional right. The law stipulates several following procedures are now “rights:”

  • The law allows non-physicians to perform abortions.
  • The law allows abortion through the third trimester.
  • and the law repeals protections for babies that survive abortions (this means that if the baby gets delivered alive, it will still be killed.)

This is a barbaric law, and a resounding victory for people aligned with some very dark ideas about life and death. It is a tragedy, and while the Archons’ letter condemning it is at least a token statement, it really wants a full-throated response from the Christian world.

In fact, even Muslims and religious Jewish people ought to be outraged as well. All the Abrahamic religions understand that only God is the author of life. In this viewpoint, people do not themselves create life. We only cooperate with God to bring it into existence, by his blessing.

But we can cause death, and this power is influenced by forces that are not interested in God, traditional values, family, children or anything of the sort.

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Greek MPs pass Prespes deal with 153 votes in 300-seat House

Opinion polls indicate that most Greeks oppose the settlement, a fact which may not bode well for Tsipras in an election year.

The Duran

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Via Ekathimerini


Greece’s parliament on Friday ratified a landmark accord that changes the name of neighbouring Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), ending a decades-old dispute and opening the way for the ex-Yugoslav republic to join the European Union and NATO.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who hammered out the deal with his FYROM counterpart last year, secured the parliamentary majority needed to get the accord approved with support from independent and opposition lawmakers.

“Today we are writing a new page for the Balkans. The hatred of nationalism and conflict is giving way to friendship, peace, and cooperation,” Tsipras wrote on his social media account.

FYROM has already ratified the deal, brokered last year, and its prime minister promptly sent a tweet hailing the Greek parliament’s vote.

The settlement seeks to end a 28-year old row between Athens and Skopje over the use of the term “Macedonia” by renaming the tiny Balkan state “Republic of North Macedonia” to differentiate it from Greece’s northern province of Macedonia.

Greece’s European Union allies welcomed the ratification.

“They had imagination, they took the risk, they were ready to sacrifice their own interests for the greater good,” European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted. “Mission impossible accomplished.”

Opinion polls indicate that most Greeks oppose the settlement, a fact which may not bode well for Tsipras in an election year. A general election is due by October, and his party is trailing the opposition New Democracy by up to 12 points.

The debate in the Greek parliament was heated, with voting almost interrupted on Friday when an MP for the right-wing Golden Dawn Party, asked to cast his vote, responded: “No to treason!”

Several MPs in favour of of the accord reported attempts to intimidate them.

Many Greeks fear the agreement could lead to territorial claims against Greece and say it constitutes an appropriation of their country’s ancient cultural heritage. Macedonia was the birthplace of Alexander the Great.

Protests against the deal have at times turned violent this week, and on Thursday evening police fired teargas to disperse crowds outside parliament. Smaller groups of people braved heavy rain on Friday to demonstrate outside the parliament.

New Democracy slammed the agreement.

“This deal should never have been signed or brought to parliament for ratification,” party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis told parliament. “It is a national defeat … a national blunder that is an affont to the truth and history of our country.”

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