Off the Beaten Trail: In Search of St. Nicholas in Russia

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Velikoretsky St. Nicholas icon, St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow



Santa Claus is not from the North Pole. He is based on Nicholas, the Greek Orthodox Bishop of Myra, Lycia. This Greek/Byzantine city today is called Demre, in the Antalya province of Turkey.

            I had the unique opportunity of visiting Russia in late September through early October 2015, seeing the Byzantine Orthodox civilization of the North.  I visited sites of  Byzantine civilization in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Novgorod, the birthplace of Russian Orthodox Christianity. At Christmas 2015, there is a worldwide travel alert to Russia for a possible risk of travel due to increased terrorist threat (November 23, 2015).1   I managed to get out of Russia in safety.

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The Tretyakov Gallery has a St. Nicholas icon from the 12th-early 13th century.

A whopping 72% of the  Russian adult population identified themselves as Orthodox Christians in 2008.Every Greek family has a member or friend called Nick. Russian iconography that stems back to the 10th century gave me a new perception of this ethnically Greek saint.

My search for St. Nicholas began at St. Basil’s Cathedral (Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat)  Museum in Red Square, Moscow.  St. Nicholas of Velikoretskoye was in an illuminated case. It is a 16th century tempera on wood icon It shows St. Nicholas with scenes of his life.  In 1555 the icon was brought from Vyatka to Moscow. The name Velikoretsky  means “of the big rivers”.  St. Basils Cathedral is divided into ten inner churches. The southern church was consecrated in honor of  the Velikoretsky  St. Nicholas  icon.

St. Nicholas of Zaraisk, Tretyakov Gallery

We did not have the time to visit St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral in St. Petersburg. It is associated with the Russian Navy and has two churches. The lower St. Nicholas church is located on the first floor. The main shrine has a 17th century Greek icon of St. Nicholas with a relic.8  The Church of the Saviour on the Spilt Blood has an 1890’s St. Nicholas the Wonder worker icon. Our main focus in St. Petersburg was the Hermitage, Peterhof Gardens and Catherine the Great’s Palace.

The Tretyakov Gallery has a St. Nicholas icon from the 12th-early 13th century, Tempera on Wood. This is the earliest surviving Russian icon. This is the Novgorod icon painting style, when Christianity was beginning. St. Nicholas of Zaraisk with scenes of his life is of the Rostov-Suzdal School of the late 13th-early 14th centuries. The only full length fresco of St. Nicholas with an open gospel, 1108-1113 A. D.  is displayed in the Tretyakov Gallery.

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Only full length fresco of St. Nicholas with open gospel, 1108-1113 A. D., Tretyakov Gallery.

On a visit to the “Decorated Icon Exhibit” at Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Moscow, and jeweled St. Nicholas icon was exhibited at the Fine Arts Center. The Cathedral is the largest Orthodox Church in the world. There is a side chapel of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker with a prominent wall icon. “It is located in the south part of the gallery, for the country where St. Nicholas lived. Christianity came to Russia from the south, so the paintings in St. Nicholas’ side chapel illustrate the history of Christianity from the 3rd to the 9th centuries AD, before Russia’s’ conversion to it. It is here that one can see…..the theme of the Seven ecumenical Councils. St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra, an ardent defender of Orthodox Christian doctrines, took part in the first Ecumenical council. That’s why these subjects are to be found next to those concerned with his pious life and Christian virtues in his chapel.”3         

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A jeweled St. Nicholas icon, Fine Arts Center, Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Moscow.

  The art of the Moscow goldsmiths in the 16th century is displayed in the Armory, Moscow Kremlin Museum. The art of fine enameling with large uncut stones is displayed in icons. “The folding icon of St. Nicholas the Miracle-Worker…is silver, but its cover is gold decorated with gems and pearls.”4

                We did not have the time to visit St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral in St. Petersburg. It is associated with the Russian Navy and has two churches. The lower St. Nicholas church is located on the first floor. The main shrine has a 17th century Greek icon of St. Nicholas with a relic.5  The Church of the Saviour on the Spilt Blood has an 1890’s St. Nicholas the Wonder worker icon. Our main focus in St. Petersburg was the Hermitage, Peterho  Gardens and Catherine the Great’s Palace.

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Side chapel of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Moscow.

            An eight hour round trip from St. Petersburg took us to Novgorod, near the Swedish border. “The Novgorod State Museum’s collection of early Russian painting is unquestionably one of the finest in the world…Highlights from the earliest period (11th to 13th centuries) include ..St. Nicolas of Myra in Lycia (St. Nicholas of Lipno). These are prototypical images of the 14th and 15th centuries. ‘St. Nicholas of Lipno’ icon painted by Aleksa Petrov in 1294 is the earliest dated Russian icon. The fact that it bears the artists’s signature gives it unique historical significance.” 6  A circular icon of St. Nicholas that is dated 13th-14th century? possibly 16th century is the first icon that came into view when we entered the icon section.The site shows St. Nicholas icons from the middle 13th to end of 16th century.

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Folding St. Nicholas icon, 16th century, Armory, Moscow

            Early Russian painting was one of the most significant achievement of this civilization. Byzantium with its capital in Constantinople had a unique splendor of artistic Christian art that impressed the Slavic tribes. The early Russians believed that they “knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth for surely there is no such splendor or beauty anywhere on earth. We know not how to describe to you. The only thing we are certain about if that God makes His dwelling among the people there and their service is better than in any other country. We can not forget the beauty.”7 The Russian icon for centuries has been striving to reflect the ideal beauty of the heavenly world. 8

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Circular icon of St. Nicholas that is dated 13th-14th century, possibly 16th century, Novgorod State Museum.

Nicolas, Bishop of Myra, has always been the most admired saint, according to the book, “The Russian Icon” by the editorial Board of the Russian Orthodox Church. He prays for all Christians, helps people in misfortunes, protects travelers and quickly defends those to whom injustice has been made. His veneration in Early Russia was almost as great as that of Christ and Mary. Numerous churches were dedicated to St. Nicholas. A large quantity of icons were created in his memory. Russian proverbs show a deep faith in his power.9 Our roots are in Greece, a country plundered by conquests. My 2015 Russian trip showed me that our Byzantine inheritance lived on after the fall of Constantinople with, as the next generation of my family says, “with the Greeks of the North”.


  3. “Cathedral Of Christ The Savior (Ivan Fiodorov Printing Company: Russia, 2005), pp. 25-9.
  4. S. Goncharenko and V.I. Narozhnaya, “THE ARMORY: A guide” (Red Square Publishers:Moscow, 2012), PP.36-9.
  6. N, Grinev, “NOVGOROD THE GREAT” (Ivan Fiodorov Art Publishers: St. Petersburg,2004), pp. 48-50.
  7. Editorial Board of the Russian Orthodox Church, “Russian Icon” (P-2 Art Publishers: St. Petersburg,, 2011) p. 1,
  8. “Russian Icon”, pp. 2-3.
  9. “Russian Icon” p. 9.

Links: Tretyakov gallery

Mytilene Before the Refugee Crisis

A One-Day Adventure in Mytilene

by Catherine Tsounis

“You will take the ferry to Mytilene from Chios City at a budget price,” said Argyro and Eleni of Sunrise Tours to tourists Despina Siolas and Susan Atzchiger. “It is a two hour tour ride. Enjoy the Mediterranean Sea.” The height of the tourist season was after August 15th. “I went to two tourist agencies at the harbor asking them in Greek for a day tour,” explained Despina. “They both told me to go to Samiotis Tours.”

John Samiotis, the owner of Samiotis Tours, greeted them with a smile. A magical day excursion unfolded. Yanni, the tour guide kept them entertained in Greek with his colorful personality, aided by his wife Varvara (Barbara). Tour 2 left at 10 a.m. and returned at 7 p.m. for the price of 30 euros. Their itinerary was Agiasos, Panagia Agiasou, Karini, Plomari, Agios Isidoros, Perama Bay of Geras. Susan, with the help of Despina’s Greek translation, enjoyed the warmth of the Greek people.

Mytilene harbor (HCS staff)

Mytilene’s Statue of Liberty welcomes all at the harbor entrance. Fishing boats, cars and motorcycles dotted the picturesque coastline. “Mytilene is a great sophisticated island with many olive trees,” said Susan. Tour guide Yanni explained that “there are over ten million olive trees. We are the #1 producer of olives, more than Cyprus. Mytilene is the third largest island in Greece. Crete is three times larger and has ten million olive trees.” Studies show that olives and olive oil lower levels of bad cholesterol. The Mediterranean diet is well known

Plomari, the major ouzo producer of Greece, was their first stop on the way to the beach resort of Agios Isidoros. They saw the old and modern distillation mechanisms for ouzo. “Five generations of the Barbayannis family produce ouzo,” said Susan. According to the Barbyannis website, “the picturesque settlement of Plomari, Lesvos technology harmoniously co-exists with history and tradition.” The tourists were amazed by the century old black and white framed photos. Some photos included: “Popular Festival at the Country side of Plomarion in the end of the 19th century”; “A cafenio customers at Plomari in the 1900’s”, “Ouzo Barbayanni: The Tresure of Plomari” and others. “Barbayanni ouzo began in 1860,” explained Despina. “The best ouzo is Aphrodite. I was impressed with the front page of the newspaper “Laikos Agon” that was framed. The headline was ‘Long Live the Liberation of Mytilene’. The second headline is ‘Long Live Venizelos, November 10, 1912. Long live the Planter of Hellenism, Eleftherios Venizelos.’ They just love Venizelos on this island.” It is now one hundred years since the liberation of Mytilene from the Ottoman Empire during the Balkan Wars. The 1912 wars brought the northern Aegean islands into Greece.

1912 Liberation of Mytilene newspaper. Photos by Susan Atzchiger and Despina Siolas, Md./Ph.D.

Agios Isidoros Beach

Wood chandelier, Panagia Agiassos

Along the road, they saw posters of the Eleni Paparizou Concert in Mytilene Fortress. “All over our destination, singers such as Alexiou, Glykeria, Plutarchos and others were having major concerts,” said the tourists. A visit to Agios Isidoros was their next destination. The famous beaches of Mytilene with hotels dot the coastline. “The beach has pebbles like our beach in Mattituck, Long Island,” observed Despina. Many have compared the North Fork of New York’s Long Island to the coast of the Aegean islands. Susan, a fourth generation American, marveled that “there is no sand on the beaches. But, there is a lifeguard. The sea is blue.” Everyone has their own perception of Greece’s beaches. Agios Isidoros Beach has a “Good Behavior Code” poster. “The Blue Flag has been awarded to our beach, because it follows the conditions of the European Program,” said a beach poster. “Clean Sea. Clear. Care for the environment.” Islanders are modern in their ideas. The Bay of Geras is known for its fishing with the village of Perama on the coastline.

They stopped at an Agiasos Taverna advertising traditional foods with homemade yogurt and rice pudding. They enjoyed kolokithakia (small stuffed zucchinis), mpourekakia (fried ham with cheese) and Mytilene kolokithoanthi (stuffed zucchini flowers A wide array of traditional vegetable and cheese dishes were offered at reasonable prices. The taverna looked like a postcard: square tables with white tablecloths, blue country chairs, and canopy of grape vines surrounded by Mediterranean vegetation. A shaggy dog gave them a thoughtful glance.

“Agiasos is known for its wood carvings, ceramics and Church of Panagia Agiasos,” said Despina. “The church is known for its wood carved chandeliers and intricate woodwork. A wall inscription describes the role of emperor Valerios in the creation of Panagia Agiotisa.” In 1170, Constantinos Valerios granted the monks of Karya permission to erect the Church of Panayia on the elevation where the holy relics of the monk Agathon lay. The monk brought the icon of Panayia (Our Lady) that was painted by Luke the Evangelist, from Jerusalem. The Church was rebuilt three times. The tourists visited ceramics and wood carvings shops. They enjoyed seeing a cheese shop selling ladotyri. It is a unique cheese product made only in the island of Lesvos. The cheese is preserved in olive oil and produced since ancient times.

Ceramics, Agiassos (above), ladotyri (left)
Matt Barrett in his Lesvos guide at historical made observations not commonly known. “Like other great cities, Mytilene is built upon seven hills and is full of history,” he said. “Mytilene is in fact one of the most culturally enlightened cities in Greece perhaps due to its proximity to the coast of Asia Minor where the ancient Greeks flourished until 1922 when they were forcefully evicted by the Turks. Many of these Greeks had property in Mytilene and many Mytilenians had businesses in Asia Minor. For this reason the museums are full of interesting remnants of the last three thousand years of history and the town itself contains monuments, houses, churches, schools and other buildings from the various historical periods.”

“We stopped by the home of Theophilos Chatzimichael in Karini,” explained both tourists. “Theophilos lived in the cave of a giant tree. His paintings are on the walls of the local taverna. A picturesque fountain, bridge and ducks are nearby.” Theophilos drew the themes for his paintings from the traditional life, mythology and folklore. He painted in coffee shops, houses, churches for a plate of food. He died in extreme poverty of food poisoning. Theophilos was honoured for his work after death. A museum of his works is in Varia, a suburb of Mytilene. They enjoyed frappes and ravani at the local taverna with Theophilos’ paintings. A nature trail was nearby.

Theophilos cave

Tourists visit Wood shop, Agiassos

Sunrise Tours of Chios gave them excellent advice, leading them to this magical day in Mytilene at a budget price. Mr. John Samiotis welcomed the American tourists with warmth and genuine friendship. “Despina, give your mother this book on Mytilene,” he said. “The book ‘Lesvos, Nature, Traditions, culture and People’, published by the Nomarchia (Province) of Lesvos, will give her an insight in our island. This is the reality of travel in Greece. When one wants to escape and gain a positive outlook, go too Greece, the land that welcomes all travellers.

Links: Samiotis Tours – Barbayannis ouzo factory. – Matt Barrett’s Lesvos Guide

(Posting date 17 September 2013. Photos furnished by author, except Mytilene harbor.)

HCS encourages readers to view other articles and releases in our permanent, extensive archives at the URL

Off the Beaten Track: Russian Bells of Moscow Kremlin and Novgorod


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Tsars Bell, Moscow

Only in Russia did I see an intense love for Bells. They are special to Russians. Bells play an important part in their Orthodox service. They invite people to church, for birth and funerals. They are an important part of the Russians’ daily life. They ring for sorrow, joy and major events.1

The Tsar’s Bell in the Kremlin is imposing to the tourist. The bell is decorated with relief images of baroque angels, plants, oval medallions with saints, and nearly life-size images of Empress Anna and Tsar Alexey, who was reigning at the time the previous Tsar Bell was cast. The bell was broken during metal casting. The broken piece is on display. It has never been rung. It is the largest bell in the world. The Czar’s Bell was restored in 1979-1980.2

Momenium Bell

While visiting Novgorod, the birthplace of Eastern Orthodoxy in Russia, we saw the bells of St. Sofia Cathedral and other Novgorod religious sanctuaries. They are on display at the St. Sophia Cathedral Bell tower in the Novgorod Kremlin. The bells shaped Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff’s music. The bells are on the ground now and do not play. During WWII, the Nazis removed and tried to steal them. They were saved and placed on the ground in the Kremlin. We all wanted photos of these beautiful creations.3

Russian History, Momenium Bell

At the foot of the tower there are five ancient monumental bells and the belfry itself houses bells of modern casting. It is the chimes of the bells of this belfry that appeared to be one of the brightest childhood memories for Sergei Rachmaninov, a great Russian composer born in the Novgorod region. Now the belfry houses the exhibition “Ancient Bells of Veliky Novgorod”. The largest bell exhibited weighs over about 705 pounds, or 320 kg, and the smallest one is over 1.5 about 53 pounds, or 24 kg. The viewing point provides a picturesque panorama of Veliky Novgorod. In summer time it is open daily, except Tuesday.

This grandiose construction stands over the Kremlin in the wall with five spans form in the upper part. This type of construction was invented during the reign of Novgorod Archbishop Euphemius II and then was duplicated only twice in Russia. There are five ancient monumental bells at the foot of the bell tower; the bells of modern casting hang above. Every day the sound of the bells is spread far away above the city.

The first mention of the preserved building of the bell tower refers to 1437, when the spring flood of the river Volkhov brought down this construction. Two years later Archbishop Euphemius II built a new bell tower on the old place. It was rebuilt many times, and only the architectural and archeological research and the images on the ancient icons give the opportunity to picture its original shape. But such reconstructions didn’t change the essence of this construction as the “main bells” of Novgorod.”4

The Millennium of Russia bronze bell monument in the Novgorod Kremlin, that celebrated the beginning of the Russian nation, is in the shape of a bell crowned by a cross symbolizing the Tsar’s power unifying church and state. We viewed The Monument to the Millennium of Russia, built in 1862 to commemorate 1,000 years of Russian history with astonishment. I was impressed with the large Byzantine crosses and the adoption of Christianity by Prince/Saint Vladimir 988 A.D. on top of the monument. The base of the monument has a frieze with the apostles to the Slavs, SS. Cyril and Methodius, the Russian history chronicler Nestor, an 11th century Greek monk, Russian translator Maksim the Greek, a 16th century monk.

Ironically, now that Russia is no longer an atheistic, communist state, but a nation embracing capitalism and its Eastern Orthodox past, the U.S.- Russian relations portrayed by the Media is poor. Greece, a poor country, never had the funds to embark on a grand bell building project. She was and is still fighting for its freedom.

Bells at the St. Sophia Cathedral Bell tower in the Novgorod Kremlin.

I conclude this article with a quote from the Novgorod writer Piotr Zolin. “Behold Theophane’s God whose eyes make clear that beauty, modest and austere, defines this city’s heart and soul. Then hear the choir in Novgorod: dome and tower resound with St. Sophia’s power to keep old Russia young and whole. Novgorod is justifiably famous for its remarkable historical interest. People quite rightly refer to it as a museum town. No other Old Russian town has managed to hold on to such a wealth of architecture and so many works of both fine and applied art. Its incomparable past has secured a special place for Novgorod in the history of the country. Long may they endure, the resolute images of Novgorod’s icons and the austere dignity of its churches: they are potent emblems of the distinctive beauty that has been and always can be, created on our land by our people.”5

  1. Olga Dmitriyeva, “The Moscow Kremlin: Inside the Kremlin’s Treasures” (ART-Courier: Moscow, 2012). p. 67.
  2. Dmitriyeva, p. 69.



On the Road in Greece: Vlychada Cave of Diros


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Visiting the Vlychada Cave of Diros has been my plan during a Greece trip. The Diros caves were closed or under construction each time I was in the Peloponnese. Local persons discouraged me by saying the trip takes hours with poor roads. Diros is in Mani, and is difficult to travel. In off season time, he/she must hire a taxi to travel to Mesa Mani (Deep Mani) through the Kakovounia mountains or “the Bad Mountains”.

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writer in Diros cave

I went in June 2016 oleanders along the roads we travelled. Going up the mountain cliffs, the tourist sees spectacular crystal clear beaches. The Diros cave system is one of the finest in the world.

The day we went there were no lines. I embarked on punts (boats) of ten persons driven by a ferry guide. I imagined I was traveling to Hades, the land of the Dead of ancient Greek Mythology, through the caverns of stalactites and stalagmites. The cave’s walls were spectacular. The punt passengers disembarked and walked out of the cave on top of a cliff. The view of blue beaches in the backdrop of cliffs was as spectacular as the caves. Slowly walking down, the cliff, I kept viewing beaches with boats and felt I was close to nature.

The Vlychada cave of Diros Mani was known from 1900. Vlychada is a Maniat word that means “fresh water spring”. Yiannis and Anna Petrocheilou, founders of the Hellenic Speleological Society, explored it in 1949. Underwater exploration with cave diving continues to the present time. The caves formed hundreds of thousand years ago. The stalactites and stalagmites were formed when the sea level was lower than it is today. Fossilized bones of panthers, lions and hippopotami were found1.Visiting the Diros caves is an experience a person must see. A future cave will be open for the public in the future.



  1. “Vlychada cave Diros Mani” pamphlet, Public Properties Company S.A. – album









Off the Beaten Trail: The State Tretyakov Gallery of Moscow and the George Costakis Collection

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Ivan Kramskoi, Portrait of an Unknown Woman (1883)- the face of Anna Karenina.


A haunting building from another period houses masterpieces of world art that span a thousand years. The appearance of the State Tretyakov Gallery has the appearance of a Russian fairy tale style. A statue of Moscow merchant Pavel Mikhailovich dominates the courtyard. A beautiful rose standing alone in the courtyard symbolizes the love of the Russian people for their art history. The dedicated mission of Greek George Costakis to save modern avant-garde art during the communist era is on display. Wherever Greeks immigrate, they build businesses and civilization. George Costakis was born in Moscow of affluent Greek parents. He was not an artist, but a businessman who never went to university. After WWII, he rediscovered the revolutionary art of 1917 which would have been lost. The Russian art of the 20th century to contemporary artist is on display at the Tretyakov Gallery at 10 Krymsky Val.

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”The Princess of the Dream” by Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel is haunting.
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Rose blooming in front of The State Tretyakov Gallery of Moscow.

Our guide Irina Chetina made the portraits of Catherine The Great come alive. Her narrations showed us how the average Russian treasures their history. The building was designed by Viktor Vasnetsov between 1900-05. The gallery started as the private collection of 19th century industrial brothers Tretyakov. Pavel was a patron of the Peredvizhniki (Wanderers), a group of 19th century painters who broke away from the conservative Academy of Arts. They began depicting common people and social problems. Nowadays they are among Russia’s most celebrated painters. The collection contains more than 130,000 exhibits, ranging from Theotokos of Vladimir and Andrei Rublev‘s Trinity to the monumental Composition VII by Vassily Kandinsky and the Black Square by Kazimir Malevich. In 1977, the Gallery kept a significant part of the George Costakis collection.1

“Look carefully at this painting by Ilya RepinReligious Procession in Kursk Province (1880–83),” said our guide. “The artist shows the hypocrisy of society. The ‘Religious Procession in Kursk Province’ painting tells us a lot about life. It is an Easter procession. The rich and powerful were following the icon while the poor, a cripple were pushed aside, as if they did not count.” This oil painting by Ilya Repin (1844–1930) showed how the rich and church establishment came first, and the poor were pushed aside. This was Russia that led to the overthrow of the Tsar, abolishment of a church state replaced by a communist religion.  After seeing this painting, I understand the Russian Revolution in 1917.

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“Two horsemen with a slain barbarian” stone icon

The face of Anna Karenina has been modeled after the Ivan KramskoiPortrait of an Unknown Woman (1883). She is a woman of strength.” The Princess of the Dream” by Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel is haunting. It is based on a medieval fairy tale of a dying prince singing to his Dream princess who appears. It is oversized and dominates the hall. I saw the portrait of my heroine, Catherine the Great, adored by my family because she freed Tseme from Turkey for a few years. Irina stood in front of the painting to make history become alive. The stone Russian icon “Two horsemen with a slain barbarian” was impressive. The Raised relief carved from red slate is from Kiev, approximately AD 1062. It is in the Byzantine style, that we see in Greek Orthodox churches. The horsemen are Nestor and Demetrios, the saints of Thessaloniki. The Apotheosis of War,[2] dedicated “to all conquerors, past, present and to come,” by Vasily Vasilyevich Vereshchagin, makes his point. He was one of the most famous Russian war artists and one of the first Russian artists to be widely recognized abroad. The graphic nature of his realist scenes led many of them to never be printed or exhibited.2  Siege of Pskov by Polish King Stefan Batoriy (Istvan Bathory) in 1581” reminded me of similar paintings of the Greek Revolution in 1821.

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Siege of Pskov by Polish King Stefan Batoriy (Istvan Bathory) in 1581
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“The Apotheosis of War”, dedicated “to all conquerors, past, present and to come,”

I was intrigued with the George Costakis Collection. George Costakis was a collector of Russian art whose collection became the most representative body of Modern Russian avant-garde art anywhere. In the years surrounding the 1917 revolution, artists in Russia produced the first non-figurative art, which was to become the defining art of the 20th century. Costakis by chance discovered some constructivist paintings in a Moscow studio in 1946, and he went on to search for the revolutionary art which might otherwise have been lost to the world. Born in Moscow of affluent Greek parents, George Costakis had no artistic education but developed an interest in art during his adolescence and as soon as he was able to, he began buying art.

At first, he worked as a driver for the Greek Embassy until 1939, when relationships between Russia and Greece broke down due to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. After that he took up work as Head of Personnel for the Canadian Embassy. His work at the Canadian Embassy brought him into contact with many visiting diplomats and he would show them around the Moscow art galleries and antique shops…

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Modern art, George Costakis Collection.

By the 1960 the apartment of George Costakis in Moscow had become a meeting place for international art collectors and art lovers in general: Russia’s unofficial Museum of Modern Art. The ‘détente’ period following the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973 opened up Russia once again to international cultural exchanges the first of which was the showing of the Costakis Collection in Düsseldorf in 1977. The same year Costakis, with his family, left the Soviet Union and moved to Greece, but there was an agreement that he should leave 50 per cent of his collection in the State Tretyakov Gallery of Moscow. In 1997 the Greek State bought the remaining 1275 works. They are now a part of the permanent collection of the State Museum of Contemporary Art, in Thessaloniki, Greece.3 Visiting Russia was an experience, in a more positive, political climate.







Links:  religious procession Vrubel, Mikhail Aleksandrovich – album



Photo1 – Ilya RepinReligious Procession in Kursk Province (1880–83)

Photo 2- Ivan KramskoiPortrait of an Unknown Woman (1883)- the face of Anna Karenina.

Photo3- The State Tretyakov Gallery of Moscow

Photo 4- Rose blooming in front of The State Tretyakov Gallery of Moscow.

Photo5 – ”The Princess of the Dream” by Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel is haunting.

Photo6- Guide Irina showing us Catherine the Great, adored by my family because she freed Tseme from Turkey for a few years.

Photo 7 -“Two horsemen with a slain barbarian” stone icon

Photo 8- “The Apotheosis of War”, dedicated “to all conquerors, past, present and to come,”

Photo9- Siege of Pskov by Polish King Stefan Batoriy (Istvan Bathory) in 1581

Photo 10- Modern art, George Costakis Collection.







Russian Bells Are Part of Russian Soul


The Tsar Bell is located between the Ivan the Great Bell Tower and the Kremlin Wall.The bell was broken during metal casting. The broken piece is on display. It has never been rung. It is the largest bell in the world. Bells are special to Russians.Bells play an important part in their Orthodox service. They invite people to church, for birth and funerals. The Tsar’s Bell in the Kremlin is imposing to the tourist.IMG_1991 (753x1024).jpg

Novgorod Bells

Bells of Novgorod Kremlin

Only in Russia did I see an intense love for Bells. The bells of St. Sofia Cathedral and other Novgorod religious sanctuaries are on display in the Kremlin. The bells shaped Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff’s music. The bells are on the ground now and do not play. During WWII, the Nazis removed and tried to steal them. They were saved and placed on the ground in the Kremlin. We all wanted photos of these beautiful creations. Bells are part of the civilization of Russia, calling all believers to church, birth, funeral events and major historical events.

Millennium Monument of Novgorod


The Millennium of Russia bronze monument in the Kremlin, that celebrated the beginning of the Russian nation, is in the shape of a bell crowned by a cross symbolizing the Tsar’s power unifying church and state.


On the Road in Greece: A Passing Visit to Arachova


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The conclusion of our Delphi excursion was visiting Arachova with guide George Rostandis, a Marathon runner and guide Mentor. Excursion guides are the goodwill ambassadors of Greece. This central Greek village is famous for its rugs. Arachova is a mountain town and a former municipality in the western part of BoeotiaGreece. Its name is of South Slavic origin and denotes a place with walnut trees. It is a tourist destination due to its location in the mountains, its traditions and its proximity to Delphi.1

It is the most cosmopolitan winter destination in Greece, a great favorite for passionate ski lovers and celebrities, or just first-time visitors who wish to relax in a dreamy mountainous setting with modern tourism facilities.

Its modern ski resort, its close proximity to Athens, and its breathtaking mountainous landscape are the strongest reason why. Apart from the mountain activities and horses. Arachova is also famous for its bustling nightlife and as the favorite mountain resort of Athenians.2

Giannis Syros, owner of “The Horse of Arachova”, showed us his rugs and crafts. Colorful embroidered pillow covers, folk blouses and t-shirts were viewed at the entrance. The tourists were focused on embroidered scarfs and table cloths. And woven Greek rugs in traditional patterns were everywhere. A traditional loom was displayed, showing how rugs were created. For more information, call Giannis at +30 2267 032096.

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Guide George Rostandis (right) and driver.



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Geros Tou Morea Astoria Club Held Popular Social

  1. IMG_2744 (500x262)


An outdoor barbecue of souvlakia and baby lambs was held on Sunday, May 7th at the Geros Tou Morea chapter of the Pan Arcadian Federation of America celebration on Sunday, May 7th. The event took place at an NYPD closed street in front of the clubhouse at 27-02 39th Ave., Astoria. With cars looking to cut into 27th St. and 39th Ave, the NYPD police presence was needed.IMG_2751 (500x272)

Lambs were barbecued for authentic Greek cuisine by Apostolos Lagos, Chairman, and his staff.  He supervises the barbecues of the summer picnics. “I enjoy helping,” he said. “I have been at the clubhouse all week preparing for this social. Mr. Demetrios Tsiavos of Broadway Meat Market on 21 St. and 21 Ave. donated his services in marinating the lambs and souvlakia. Tina Vournas is in charge of the youth group. IMG_2758 (500x355) (400x284)

Demetri Valkanas grew up down the street from the cultural center. “My father wanted us to be close to people from his village,” he said. “My father, George, who passed away suddenly a four years ago, taught me to love Greece and be fluent in the language. My grandfather, Demetri, and his three brothers fought in WWII on the Albanian front. Only my grandfather survived. My grandfather’s three brothers, Andreas, Panagiotis and George, were German prisoners of war. They were executed in Tripoli, for missing a curfew.  My father was a member of Geros Tou Morea when he immigrated in around 1957.” He is chairman of the Education Committee and Dance Group.

“One interesting aspect of ancient Greek history is the story of the Arcadians, whom during their survival with constant struggle, retained an indefatigable belief in their principles. Their historical image is one of courage, military virtue and endurance of the hardships of life. Their military strength was so great that the Spartans, despite their constant drive for expansion and military preparedness, were unable to conquer hem or expel them from their homeland….


Polybius of Megalopolis relates the character of the Arcadians to the nature of the terrain and climate of the region, by which it was influenced. Their barren land, poverty and their military prowess obliged them to emigrate or to serve as highly sought after mercenaries in the armies of the ancient world. According to the testimony of ancient authors, the Arcadian character was distinguished by competitiveness, frugality, an aversion to luxury, piety towards the gods, obedience to the laws and a sense of altruism and hospitality.”1

Author Maria Vlassopoulou Karydi proves that “the arrival of the Greeks in the form of a mass influx of migrants, which was conveniently dated initially to 2100 B.C.…may in fact never have taken place. According to the evidence of Linear B, all the Greek dialects of historical times were the result of the differentiation from Southern Greek (Arcadian-Cypriot) and Northern Greek (Doric). Ionic and Aeolian made their appearance after 1200 B.C.
In ancient history, the term Arcadia refers not to a geographical unit, but to a specific ethnic group that formed a branch of the Greek nation. In Greek mythology, especially in the myths relating to the birth of the gods, Arcadia is represented as the birthplace of many deities. The activities of mythical heroes such as Hercules, Atlas and even Prometheus are located with its borders.
Despite the theories that have been advanced on the origins of the Arcadians, on the conscience of the ancient Greek world, they were autochthonous and older than the moon. That is, they settled in their land before there was a moon. According to the ancient Greek literary sources (Herodotus, Strabo, Dionysius of Alikarnassos and Pausanias), the Arcadian colonization spread over a wide radius in the Mediterranean. The populous tribe of Arcadians, especially vital and warlike, could not be confined to its barren homeland, but was obliged constantly to seek a better life in other territories or to make its armies available or strengthen the military forces of ancient times with mercenaries.”2
The 2017 Executive Board includes: Chris N. Vournas, president; Apostolos Lagos, 1st vice president; Demetrios A. Filios, 2nd vice president; Evangelia Sarfoglou, general secretary and Demetris Boregioukos, treasurer. Founders were Tom Angelopoulos, Mike Bakopoulos and Alexander Sioris.


  1. Karydi, Maria Vlassopoulou, Athens: Ismini Karidy, 2010. Print
  2. Karydi, Arcadians.Links: Demetris Tsiavos



Viewpoint: The Thyranixia of Two Eastern Long Island Greek Orthodox Churches

(Posting date 21 September 2013)

Viewpoint: The Thyranixia of Two Eastern Long Island Greek Orthodox Churches

by Catherine Tsounis


“My children,” cried Papa Fotis “it is here…that with God’s aid we shall take root….It is the soul of Greece, our soul!…Virgin Mother, ..Our Lady, look down on our village, give its women patience and love…Give to the men the strength to work and never despair, that dying they may leave behind them a yard filled with children and grandchildren! Give, our Lady, a peaceful and Christian end to the old men and women! Here is thy Gate, Our Lady of the Gate: enter!” This paragraph is taken from Nikos Kazantzakis chapter on “the Planting of a Village”, from his masterpiece,The Greek Passion.

On the Dormition of the Virgin Mary (Kimisis tis Theotokou) Feast Day, persons from the East End of Long Island and tri-state area experienced a rarely seen event in history: the Thyranixia or “The Opening of the Doors” of the new Dormition of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church of the Hamptons. A Vespers service August 14th, began the two day religious Feast Day. Five hundred persons attended the unique service on August 15th.

Transfiguration Church First Prize Thyranixia.
Photo by Tom Tsounis
My memory retreated thirty-seven years ago. On Sunday, August 8, 1976, the Transfiguration of Christ Church in Mattituck Long Island held its Thyranixia and Consecration by His Eminence, Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America. “You will never see an event like this again in your lifetime,” said a parishioner. The event coincided with the Bicentennial of the United States. The East End was mesmerized by the photograph of His Eminence, dressed in black with a Byzantine cross, accepting with sincere emotion, flowers from two young girls, Penelope Lichas and Joanne Korakis. It was submitted to the Southold Rotary-sponsored Bicentennial Photography contest. This photograph by Tom Tsounis won first prize in the Bicentennial category, Black and White division (January 27, 1977, Suffolk Times). 1976 saw the Transfiguration of Christ Church of Mattituck as putting the first roots of the Greek Orthodox faith in Eastern Long Island.

Rev. John Codis with clergy at Vespers.
Photo by Stavroula Raia.
Persons, who remain in 2013, remember the Consecration and Thyranixia Byzantine chants through the farm fields, by His Eminence, Presbyter Rev. Timotheos Tenedios and clergy. They encircled the church three times with a container of Holy Relics. His Eminence dramatically reentered the Church by knocking on the doors three times with his gold staff. The honor of being the first layman to enter was bestowed upon Yanni and EliasKulukundis, the sponsor of the church.

Every aspect of the Consecrationrite, which included the exposition of the Holy Relics, the washing of the altar table and anointment of the church, was described by His Eminence in terms of its rich Byzantine tradition. This was derived from the practices of the early Christians. The conclusion of the ceremony came with the offering of oil to the vigil lamp, accompanied by a donation from the sponsor. Mr. Kulukundis donated one thousand dollars and pledged seventy-five thousand for a community center. (August, 19, 1976, Hellenic Times, August 18, 1976, Orthodox Observer, August 12, 1976, Suffolk Times). Father Constantine Makrinos, the present presbyter, explained “a sleepless light is over the relics of Sts. Theona, Iakovos the Monk and Anastasia sealed in the Holy Altar Table.” Friendships were cemented that day that lasted a lifetime. 
Thirty-seven years later, the East End had the opportunity of seeing a second Thyranixia (The Opening of the Doors) in a church with a church that has features of Agia Sophia in Constantinople (Istanbul). Vespers on Tuesday evening, August 14th, were held in the Johnides Cultural Center. The priests who participated in the liturgy included: Rev. Vlahos; Rev. Moraitis; Rev. Strouzas; Rev. Joseph Fester;Archpriest Sergei Glagolev; Rev. John Codis; Rev. Alexander Karloutsos; Rev. Constantine Lazerakis and the Sisters of the All Saints Monastery.

The Archbishop blessing. Photo by Stavroula Raia.

“It is my privilege and blessing to deliver the Vespers sermon,” explained Rev. John Codis. “Heartaches, lawsuits and prayers brought us closer to God and this moment. I had a choice. The faithful in the parish helped me become what I am. Kimisis Church guided me to make decisions.” Rev. Alexander Karloutsos added “Father John Codis is a great son of the church and of Rosemary Codis.” Father John Codis was raised in the parish, in addition to Rev. Demetrios Kehagias, son of the first priest Rev. Nektarios Kehagias and Presvitera Despina. Father Codis’ grandparents, Rita and Nick Codis, had friends at the Transfiguration Church on the North Fork. Refreshments were served by the Philoptohos under the great tent.The Thyranixia began August 15th morning with a Doxastikon of the Lauds in the Johnides Cultural Center. His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios of America was the celebrant. Assisting clergy were the following: Father Basil Summer, Archpriest; Father Alexander Karloutsos, Protopresbyter; Father Constantine Lazarakis, Oikonomos; Father John Codis, Efimerios; Archdeacon Panteleimon Papadopoulos and Deacon Eleftherios Constantine. At the conclusion of the Doxastikon of the lauds, a procession began from the Johnides Cultural Center to the outer doors of the new church.

“We give thanks to You on this auspicious day gathering us here to celebrate the sacred “Door Opening of this venerable church….,” said His Eminence. “We ask you to send forth Your abundant blessings on those here present and upon this new church, the works of our hands. …May it be a haven and shelter for those in distress, a refuge for those in turmoil and a source of edification and sanctification for all your people. May our prayers be acceptable to You through the intercessions of our most holy Lady, the Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary.” The Archbishop blessed and hit the doors with his episcopal staff. He opened the closed doors with Mrs. Daisy Moraitis entering first, assisted by founders Pericles and Toula Bakas, Coula Johnides, Bob Gianos, Greta Nikiteas along with Presvitera Xanthi Karloutsos in spirit. Mrs. Daisy gave her “blessings to all and good health.”

His Eminence preparing entry into church.
Photo by Stavroula Raia.

Mrs. Daisy Moraitis entering first, assisted by founders
Pericles and Toula Bakas and Coula Johnides. Photo
by Stavroula Raia.
The doors opened a unique Byzantine church with a dome. Never did I expect to see in rural America a church meticulous in detail to a Byzantine design. I noticed several green columns, such as those in Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. Sitting with us wereKarineBakhoum, PascalRiffaud and their daughter Isabelle, with son Jean Baptiste serving in the altar. “This new structure and Cathedral is so beautiful it takes our breath away,” said Ms. Bakhoum, a Coptic Christian and immigrant from Egypt. “I look forward to many special moments here to express our faith and to see my children married here someday.” Countless prominent persons in society attended. For more information, visit Many from Europe have never seen a Thyranixia because the churches are one thousand to fifteen hundred years old. The community presented His Eminence with a sculpture in the frame of an icon created by Paul Maus. His Eminence gave the community the gift of an Epitafios of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary. A Luncheon followed at Nammos, hosted by Tom Makkos and Family.Parish Council President Peter Nikiteas gave a moving speech at the conclusion of the Luncheon. “All of this would not have been possible without the vision and persistence of the original founders. They took many difficult steps. Our leaders had the vision to take it even further. Now, you and many others have taken this dream and turned it into a new reality. This new sanctuary will serve our children and their children’s children.”

President Nikiteas explained “we are a family..We work together. We argue with one another. But in the end, we make things happen with the help and guidance Fr. Alex and Fr. Constantine. I feel as blessed as should you. We have come this far. But there is much more to do. I know we can achieve our goals if we work together and reach deep down inside ourselves to do our best. I thank you for being my family. Most of all I want to thank God for guiding us to this special day.”

Liturgy in new church. Photo by Stavroula Raia.

The community presented His Eminence with a
sculpture in the frame of an icon created by Paul
Maus. Photo by Stavroula Raia.

Dr. Peter Michalos said “we know how hard Dimitrios Hatgistavrou worked behind the scenes.” Dimitrios Hatgistavrou tenure as Parish Council President lasted from 2006-2011. He oversaw the building project of the new ecclesiastical complex with real dedication. He is the second generation of the Hatgistavrou family to serve Kimisis church. His pleasant personality made all guests welcome in the community. He is a self-made man with a strong work ethic. Self-sacrifice, thinking of others first and himself second, are the cornerstones of his beliefs. President Hatgistavrou’s family is from Macedonia, of Asia Minor roots. His late father Angelo established his family as one of the first fifty families to initiate the movement to build Kimisis Church in Southampton. Maria Melemenis Hatgistavrou is one of the major forces in the life of the Philoptohos. Most Greek-American businessmen are the backbone of our Greek Orthodox Churches, Greek language schools and regional organizations. This is part of the legacy of Dimitrios Hatgistavrou: remembering his roots. The new church will have his personality imprinted on it. The many parishioners who helped are listed in the church book, Thyranixia. For more information on this historic book, contact
I grew up on the East End when there were only potato fields in 1961. The creation of the Southampton Greek Orthodox complex is the result of a combined effort of clergy, community, Archons and others. The bottom line is this: Rev. Alexander Karloutsos is the prime mover. It is his Legacy. No one had this grand vision of a Cathedral, near the former train tracks of Southampton. Greek Orthodox and Orthodox parishioners are scattered through the South Fork. A middle class neighborhood walking distance to the church does not exist. Rev. Karloutsos created a Herculanean accomplishment with Presvitera Xanthi Karloutsos.

His Eminence gave the community the gift of an
Epitafios of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary. Photo
by Stavroula Raia.
This historic moment made me think of a religious leader who changed my life: Rev. Michael Karloutsos, the father of Father Alex. He was a tough, down to the point priest who faced reality head on. Father Michael was my husband’s youthful mentor, who was at my wedding and baptism of my daughter. He would be proud that his son accomplished a dream. Rev. Alexander Karloutsos’ Legacy can be traced to his traditional Greek Orthodox upbringing, learning from his unique religious mentors, during the turbulent 1960’s and 1970’s (Vietnam War era). Rev. Michael Karloutsos’ granddaughter’s husband, Presbyter Rev. Constantine Lazarakis, is continuing this Legacy. “Cooperation is important for all churches,” said Rev. Lazarakis. “There is a unique cooperation between the five churches on the East End, serving our people.”

Links: John Mindala

(Posting date 21 September 2013

HCS encourages readers to view other fine articles ( ) penned by Dr. Catherine Tsounis and press releases about the Modern Greek Studies program at St. John’s University, where she is an adjunct professor. For more information about Dr. Tsounis, see her biographical sketch at

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