On Friday, August 4, 2023 at the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Phanar in Constantinople, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew received the five young adults participating in the national Archon Pilgrimage of Discovery (POD) Pilot Program. These young adults had a profoundly moving experience as His All-Holiness generously spent over an hour and a half with them. The time spent included questions from the young adults, dialogue, and His All-Holiness’ praise for the Archons’ initiative. At the conclusion of their time together, His All-Holiness and the POD participants together attended Paraklesis.

Each of the POD participants brought His All-Holiness personal, meaningful gifts that described their parish or the area from which they came. His All-Holiness enjoyed the uniqueness of the gifts and the delegation agreed that His All-Holiness “appeared very pleased.”

Funded by the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, this inaugural Pilgrimage of Discovery was a pilot program conducted through the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Metropolis of Chicago from July 31 to August 7, 2023. It granted five young adults ages 23-28 from the Metropolis an all-expenses-paid round-trip journey to Constantinople to meet with His All-Holiness and travel to ancient holy sites of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, included the forcibly closed Halki School of Theology. Participants went through a thoughtful and thorough selection process, including a comprehensive application, recommendations submitted by their parish priests and upstanding faithful of the Metropolis of Chicago, and a thorough vetting procedure. The latter was conducted by the Selection Committee, which was headed by Archon Dr. John Fotopoulos and comprised of Archons from other Metropolises.

The five young adults who participated in this inaugural POD program were Cally Kobza of Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Wauwatosa, WI; Deanna Kolas of St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church in Minneapolis, MN; Christen Massouras of Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in Chicago, IL; Dr. Demetri Maroutsos of All Saints Greek Orthodox Church in Peoria, IL; and George Valcarcel of St. George Greek Orthodox Church, also in Chicago. The five young adults praised the program and recounted their experience, which be shared with other young people. Participant George commented after the visit to the Theological School of Halki that he now feels “responsible for the well-being and future of Halki and the Mother Church.”

The Pilgrimage of Discovery (POD) Pilot Program was organized by the National Youth Participation Activity (YPA) Engagement Committee of the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Chicago, who conducted this year’s pilot program. The mission of the program is to bolster the future of the Orthodox Church by educating and inspiring future leaders through fostering a lifelong connection to the Mother Church of Constantinople. National Commander Dr. Limberakis enthusiastically praised the Youth Participation Engagement Committee chaired by Archon Nick Tranto with Vice Chairs Archons Perry C. Siatis, Esq., Hon. Jeff Chrones and Mrs. Hellena Chrones, National Secretary Kosmas (Gus) Pablecas, Regional Commander Nick Terezis, Regional Commander John G. Manos, Regional Commander Hon. Steven G. Counelis, Prof. John Fotopoulos, Prof. Elizabeth Prodromou, Prof. Alexandros Kyrou and a number of volunteers including the pro bono work of Attorney Joan Berg and the public relations efforts of Tina Manikas. “One of the goals of the YPA is to nurture our young adults to lead a Christ-centered life in service to the Holy and Great Mother Church of Constantinople, the Ecumenical Patriarchate… With the POD initiative, that aspiration is coming to fruition,” commented the National Commander.