Nobody likes a cancelled flight. But as it so happened, a Turkish Airlines
flight to Istanbul on Saturday, March 13 was cancelled due to a storm and
fierce winds. A small group of Orthodox
college students and their leaders were shorted a day after having been delayed
five hours. A few phone calls later, the
group found themselves in a hotel for the night about a half hour from
JFK. Sunday would bring hope of a
Morning came with two taxis to bring the group back to the
airport. The group hurried through security, and settled in front of the
gate. The weather was calm, nothing at
all like the previous day. Everyone was
anxious to hear the slight crackle of the speakers. Soon enough, everyone rejoiced when the words
"The flight is now boarding" sounded throughout the gate.
Father Mark Leondis, Alexia Chamberas, Michael Maryon, Greg
Coogan, Corey Keggeris, Katrina Roseland, Angelus Kocoshis, Katia Christakis,
Mike Stefanatos, Katie Mavrivotis, Nikol Haralampopoulos, Xanthi and Socrates
Tsamutalis, Ali Apruzzese, Andrew Jayson, and I settled in our seats for a ten
hour flight. Sarah Ventura flew in from
Several movies, books, songs, and games later, Real Break
Constantinople was standing on Turkish soil.
Ten hours later, they were six hours ahead of New York time. Most eyes were plagued by red lightning, as
it was 5:00 AM when they arrived. The
group only had a few hours of rest before they were to set to work.
The mission was simple.
Graveyard cleaning in the Scouteri region within the holy Metropolis of
Chalcedon. When they arrived at around
9:00 AM, they were met by years of weed overgrowth, waste, broken graves,
abandoned bones throughout the grounds. Hoes, shovels, and shears were the available
Shovels attacked dirt.
Shears slashed weeds. Hoes tilled
the earth. Father Mark went from grave
to grave. Alexia, another trip leader
and our resident photographer, weaved in and out with her camera. Some hired
hands led by a man named Besat helped the group immensely. The group worked up quite a sweat when they
learned that they would have an audience with His All Holiness Ecumenical
Patriarch Bartholomew a few hours later.
With a new change of clothes, the group sat in the Throne Room
as His All Holiness spent over an hour with them in lively discussion about the
Ecumenical Patriarchate and the students.
They sat in reverence of his knowledge and wisdom. Sleep called to them, but it did little to
hinder their undivided attention. Soon
enough, though, the day ended and the group enjoyed a full night's sleep.
The next day brought with it more restoration in the same
cemetery. Everybody pressed on with
their tools in hand. As seconds passed
into minutes passed into hours with every dig of the shovel, dignity was
restored to each grave. They began to
look the way graves should. The group's
time at Scouteri ended with Father Mark leading a small service in honor of the
dead that they helped. Heads lowered
with spirits high, they left the cemetery with a sense of accomplishment.
The following days were spent in more cemetery work and a
bit of sight-seeing. The location was drastically smaller than the previous two
days, as it was on the side of a church.
The group split into two units with the same tools. The graves progressed to a state of normalcy
much quicker than those of Monday and Tuesday.
The group finished their work and later, were dressed in their "Sunday's
best" at the finest fish restaurant on the Bosporus with His All Holiness and
the Holy and Great Synod.
On Friday, the students visited St. Mary of the Mongols, the
only remaining church in all of Turkey (pre-fall) that was not converted to a
mosque. The group felt the power of the
Byzantine icons that pervaded the space.
Vlacherna was the next stop, and the group arrived in the middle of a
service led by Metropolitan Andreas of Crete.
Father Mark decided that they would stay for the entirety of the service
which proved to be a great experience.
The group then journeyed to the Baloukli Monastery. A nun gave a history of the monastery in
Following her introduction, the group walked into a small
courtyard that housed the graves of previous patriarchs. Marble encasements stood next to each
other. Sun doused them with a brilliant
light as a cool breeze blew through the open space. The graves spanned centuries, and everyone
felt the power of them.
Back at the hotel, the group rested before dinner. Two minutes away at the Ecumenical
Patriarchate, the Akathist Hymn was in full swing. The photographer in me was raving about that
opportunity, and like my grandfather Costa Hayden, I went and took photographs
of the Patriarch and other religious officials.
The final dinner came and went. The group settled in and met
with Father Mark and Alexia in the dining area of the hotel. Words poured out everyone about the shared
experience of having spent the week in of the most culturally and historically
rich cities in the entire world.
Everyone shared a high and low point of the trip. Father Mark finished by asking everyone to
close their eyes and raise their hand if they felt they became closer to
God. "That's it. Right there.
That's my high," said Father Mark.
There was a profound sense of warmth and love as everyone shuffled to
bed for the last batch of sleep before the departing flight.
The group left the hotel behind as they ventured to the
airport. The flight lasted ten
hours. The plane touched American soil
at around 3:00 PM. After making it through
customs, everyone found themselves in the arms of their loved ones. As for us,
we didn't say goodbye to each other outright.
It was more of a "See you later."
Because we knew that we'd see each other again.
Julius Motal is a Sophomore
at Adelphi University, studying English with a concentration in Creative
Writing and Japanese. He is the President of Adelphi's radio station as well as
the photo editor of the school's newspaper. His grandfather, Costa Hayden, was
the photographer for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America for nearly 30