Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Story Behind the Restoration of the Church of Saint Boukolos in Smyrna

Icon of St. Boukolos from his chapel in Mavromati Karditsa

Saint Boukolos was the first Bishop of Smyrna, ordained by the Holy Apostle John the Theologian, and is celebrated by the Church on February 6th. Today, the only church still standing of old Smyrna that survived the catastrophe of 1922, is the Church of Saint Boukolos, in which an official Divine Liturgy was celebrated for the first time since 1922 in 2014, after 92 years. How this came about is as follows.

The story begins with a man named Kostas Nasios from Mavromati Karditsa, which is located in Thessaly of Central Greece. One day, around the year 1996 or 1997, in a dream, he was at the Chapel of Saint Nicholas of Vounenis, and while there he saw an old man that looked between 75 and 80 years old, with the appearance, as he described it, of Saint Kosmas the Aitolos. The old man said to him, "Greetings", and Kostas responded, "Greetings."

Then the old man said, "I want you to come to my house."

Kostas asked, "Who are you?"

"I am Saint Boukolos," he said.

"Where are you from?"

"From the depths of Asia Minor, towards the East."

"Where exactly?"

"Come to Cappadocia, ask for me and you will find me."

Kostas then woke up, and it was a little past 5:00 AM. He had never heard of a Saint Boukolos, so he wrote down what he heard in his dream to ask his spiritual father. At around 8:00 AM he went to the church and found an icon of Saint Boukolos, and realized that things were serious. He then visited his spiritual father, who told him to go to Cappadocia and inquire about the matter when he had the opportunity.

Due to certain issues with his family, he was not able to go to Cappadocia for many years. Then he happened upon a man named George who was a Greek representative to Cappadocia who said he could go with him to Cappadocia. When he arrived in Cappadocia, he encountered some Greeks and asked if they knew of a Saint Boukolos. No one seemed familiar with him, except one who thought he knew of a Saint Boukolos associated with Smyrna. So this man called the Patriarchate in Constantinople, and found out there was indeed in Smyrna a church dedicated to Saint Boukolos. Because the distance to Smyrna was far and they were not able to make the trip at that time, they returned home.

Church of Saint Boukolos in Smyrna

A year later, in 2005, he went to Smyrna with a group of local pilgrims and a hieromonk from Karditsa, and found that night an Italian man who knew where the Church of Saint Boukolos was, but out of confusion took them to the Church of Saint Photini. Since it was late they returned to their hotel, and he and the hieromonk went early at 6:00 AM to the actual location of Saint Boukolos. There they found the church and knocked on the door, but no answer. Then they found a Greek man from Chios who confirmed that it was the church, but because it was early they went back to the hotel. Then they returned a little while later and knocked on the door, and the door was opened for them by two people who looked after the building. They went inside, having brought with them candles and incense, and found the church was in horrible condition. Nonetheless, they lit a few small candles, two big candles and censed the church. The two bg candles, which normally remained lit for 4 or 5 hours, they left lit in a secure place.

The next day, 25 hours later, Kostas and the hieromonk returned with the group and the Greek man from Chios, and miraculously found the two big candles still lit. As soon as the entire group saw the two big candles still lit, they immediately extinguished. When they went to observe the big candles, there was no trace of a candle left. After they chanted a few hymns to the Saint, they left and went to Ephesus.

Meanwhile, Kostas arranged a meeting with the Greek representative of Smyrna and told him about everything, and how the church was in need of repairs. He was a faithful man and agreed, advising him to go to the offices of UNESCO to see if a restoration could be done, and he would do what he could on his end. Two months later Kostas went to the local offices of UNESCO in his hometown, who informed him that they couldn't do anything, because then the Turks would request the restoration of a mosque in Trikala. Two months after that he got a call from the Greek representative in Smyrna, who happily informed him that he received permission to restore the church.

Kostas then went to Smyrna and saw the work being done. Twenty days later he returned with the hieromonk and a group and also brought with him everything necessary for a Divine Liturgy to take place. Therefore, when they arrived they took the time to celebrate a Divine Liturgy in the church for the first time since 1922, although this is not considered the first "official" Divine Liturgy which took place in 2014; this was a secret one that took place in 2009, where they covered all the windows so as not to be noticed by the locals since they had not received permission. Eventually Kostas got in trouble for this by the local police, but everything turned out well.

Chapel of Saint Boukolos in Mavromati Karditsa

Eventually the restoration was completed and Kostas found out to his great joy that the church began operating as a church, and not a museum, since he believed it was the will of the Saint for it to be a church. He also proceeded to build a chapel dedicated to Saint Boukolos on his property in Mavromati Karditsa, over the place where once cows were kept. He was also told by a priest from Santorini that a relic of Saint Boukolos exists, and he was able to bring a small portion back to his chapel.

One day Kostas went to Aegina and there he was talking about the miracle of Saint Boukolos, and a woman who heard him was moved. She ended up visiting the chapel in Mavromati Karditsa, and kneeling before the icon she wept much and prayed. A few hours later the woman arrived at her house and her son greeted her, saying that he felt better now just as he had before. He was suffering from some illness for some time. His mother informed him that she had just been praying for him in the Chapel of Saint Boukolos, so the son went there with his family and venerated the Saint in gratitude for his healing. Now this man is putting the money up for the publication of a book about Saint Boukolos that Kostas is writing.

Below is an interview with Kostas Nasios, in which he relates all this information from within the chapel he built in Mavromati Karditsa:

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