The Archbishop of Canterbury’s visit to the Archdiocese of Athens

Thursday 25 November
The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop
of Athens with delegations
Photo Source: +Maximos Parfilis
Just shortly after 1.00am, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, arrived at Athens airport and received the smaller of the official protocol welcome ceremonies that are accorded to state and religious leaders i.e. a small strip of red carpet. There was representation from the Greek Government and from the Church of Greece, the British Ambassador with awaiting cars alongside the plane. Later that morning, after a briefing on Greece given by the Ambassador and his staff, the Archbishop was formally received by His Beatitude Hieronymos, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, then swept on to a meeting with the President of the Republic, after which there was lunch with the Deputy Foreign Minister at the Foreign Office in a room that provided an excellent view of the Acropolis. Lunch completed, a half hour meeting took place with the Prime Minister, and then back to the Residence of the British Ambassador. That evening the Archbishop was due
The Archbishop of Canterbury with the president
of the Greek Republic.
Photo Source: Christos Bonis
to receive an Honorary Degree at the University buildings in Panepistimiou awarded by the Theological Faculty of the University of Athens. In return he was to give a lecture on ‘Intelligence and Desire in the Philokalia’. Totally unrelated to the Archbishop’s programme, a substantial and threatening group of students (anarchists) waving black flags had already gathered around the same university buildings showing every intent of wanting to lay siege to them. So the awarding ceremony had to be changed to midday on the morrow.

Friday 26 November
The Archbishop of Canterbury in the newly opened
headquarters of ‘Apostoli’ – the focus of the welfare
work and ministerial training of the Archdiocese of
Photo Source: +Maximos Parfilis
The day began with a visit to ‘Apostoli’, the newly opened centre for implementing the very impressive programme of social welfare and ministerial training of the parish clergy recently launched by His Beatitude Hieronymos. This programme includes extending the ‘Church in the Street’ initiative that assists migrants and the homeless; creating excellent accommodation for the elderly and the bedridden; providing for those who are mentally challenged such as those in the home for those with Down Syndrome and the building of a nursery for children with autism; the provision of a ‘Withdrawal Management Centre’ for persons with drug addictions; a hospice with the provision of home care; an ambulance service; a church-based youth programme; an Environment Centre with camping facilities on the side of Mt Parnes; a young persons’ ‘Enviromental Educational and Sensitisation Centre’ at Voulgiameni; a programme for restoration of Forest Land on Mt. Pentelicon; the provision of appropriate courses on bereavement care; the hearing of confessions; the delivery of the Liturgy, and working with children. The involvement of the Greater Athens Chaplaincy in three of these projects was acknowledged.
The Archbishop of Canterbury speaking with a blood
donor at the Church of Agios Demetrios
Photo Source: +Maximos Parfilis
There was anticipation of greater co-operation between the Church of England and the Church of Greece on welfare issues. The day continued with the awarding of the Honorary Degree to the Archbishop and then on to Monastery Pendeli for a lunch with representatives of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece and a three and a half hour symposium with clerics and lay people heading up particular projects for the Church of Greece through the Holy Synod. The Archbishop was then driven to the Ministry of Education in Marousi where he met for a little over half an hour with the Minister for Education and Religion. That completed and onto a formal Dinner generously hosted by the British Ambassador at which invited guests were present.

Saturday 27 November
The Archbishop entering St Paul's for the
Sung Eucharist
Photo Source:
Christopher Ambatzi Crecy
An early start with a quick visit to the Acropolis and the Areopagos where the story of St Paul’s visit to Athens was read and prayers said. Off to Vyrona to the impressive Bioethics centre of the Church of Greece where we heard of the methodology adopted by this centre so as to best contribute to the debate on ethical issues that face both Church and State. It seems to be one of the very few forums in Greece, if not the only one, where contrasting view points can be expressed by their legitimate representatives and difficult debates taken on to a higher level. Lunch was provided at Kokkori Residence, where the residents live with Down Syndrome. The Archbishop was warmly embraced by the residents and equally warmly he reciprocated the embrace. Afterwards a speedy dash was made to
Planting an olive tree in St Paul's garden
Photo Source: Christopher Ambatzi Crecy
the ‘Church in the Street’ programme where the Archbishop sat down and conversed in French with migrants from Morocco and Algeria. Later that afternoon the Archbishop celebrated the Sung Eucharist at St Paul’s in the presence of a large congregation from the Chaplaincy, two Orthodox Bishops and several Orthodox clergy as well as pastors from the Greek Evangelical Church, the German Evangelical Church and the Church of Sweden. During the service two songs from Africa were sung, with the Archbishop sharing in the clapping of hands and the swaying of the body that accompanies such songs. Afterwards he planted an olive tree in the church grounds. The day finished by visiting the parish of St Athanasios of Polidrosia which has a remarkable youth programme.

Sunday 28th November
The Archbishop seen
through the glass panel
of the front door of
St Paul's
Photo Source:
Christopher Ambatzi Crecy
Traveled out to the parish Church of Agios Demetrios in the municipality of Agios Demetrios, one of the poorer suburbs of Athens. An amazing 1200 people attended the service filling a two story building. This was not exceptional. It happens every Sunday. This is one of the most flourishing parishes of Athens with a weekly programme focused on all sections of the surrounding community – the youth, the sick and housebound, those of limited means – and which provides a soup kitchen, Christian teaching and formation for all ages, a choir for European Music and another for Byzantine Music, classes for icon painting and Greek dancing, regular blood donation from 520 donors which was in operation while we were there. A fine sit-down lunch was provided by the parishioners in a long hall
With members of the Chaplaincy congregation
Photo Source: Christopher Ambatzi Crecy
that resembled a monastic refractory with frescos in the apse and a rather baroque décor. The afternoon was given over to a newspaper interview and then to the airport for a full protocol departure – with the long red carpet this time, a military guard of honour, the Deputy Minister for Labour, the Ambassador and representatives of the Church of Greece. All concluded that it had been an excellent visit and there is much that can be shaped into an active ongoing programme between the two Churches.