August 18, 2014

First Divine Liturgy Since 1922 Takes Place in the Last Surviving Orthodox Church in Smyrna

Stratis Balaskas
August 18, 2014

A historic moment was experienced on Sunday morning in Smyrna (Izmir) for those who attended the first Divine Liturgy since 1922 in the renovated Church of Saint Boukolos (Ayavukla). This church is dedicated to the patron saint of Smyrna and is the only Orthodox Christian Church to not burn in the catastrophe of 1922. It is located in the district of Basmane and was recently renovated by the City of Izmir. From 1922 until the renovation it was used as a warehouse then as a classical music concert hall and opera house, and later initially as an archaeological museum and then as a repository of antiquities, until it was repaired.

The event was received with joy by the Greek Orthodox Community of Smyrna that hopes the final allocation of the church will be its permanent use as a Greek Orthodox church. It should be noted here that for years the Greek Orthodox Community of Smyrna was housed in a Protestant church granted by the Dutch of Smyrna.

The Divine Liturgy in the Church of Saint Boukolos was done by Archimandrite Cyril Sykis of the Ecumenical Throne and permanent Clerical Supervisor of Smyrna. He announced the coming of the Patriarch to Smyrna on 6 February 2015 as long Saint Boukolos is in operation. The same thing will take place on 10 February 2015, the day we remember Saint Haralambos, where the first Divine Liturgy since 1922 will be celebrated with the Ecumenical Patriarch in the Church of Saint Haralambos in Cesme. After the Divine Liturgy there followed a procession with the icon of the church in the surrounding streets.

At this historic Divine Liturgy in the Church of Saint Boukolos there were also in attendance the Mayor of Izmir, representatives of the Greek consulate in Izmir, representatives of the local Catholic community and of course Greek Orthodox living in Izmir and other Orthodox nationalities.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

Ceremony from the event of the first Divine Liturgy since 1922:

The Church of Saint Boukolos before the renovation:

Situated in the former Armenian district of Basmane, this church was for the followers of the Orthodox faith, the so called 'Hayhurum' (Hayk-Rum or Armeno-Romans).

The Greek inscription is difficult to decipher, however, the date 1887 appears in the middle of the bottom line, which suggests that it is a dedicatory inscription. It looks like it has simply been smeared with a thin coating of plaster, which could easily be removed.

"Some Orthodox men, driven by great reverence to God, put solid foundations for this church of the sacred Boukolos and that wise man called Polycarp, the patrons of Smyrna.

After other notorious men crowned [put a roof on] this church, they dedicated the majestic place when Basil, the emulator of the Holy Fathers and the protector of piety, ruled the flock of Christ.

But now, come all you faithful, and, after entering in with the right mind, pray in a pious way to the King of Kings, our God. In the year of our salvation 1887, September 24."

In a close-up of the church doorway, a Greek inscription is still visible, reading: "At the expense of the Association of Ladies". This suggests that the rather ornate door surrounding was paid for by a women's charitable organization based in the local parish.

According to the librarian at the Phanar Ecumenical Patriarchate, George Benlisoy, the building was built in 1866, named after Saint Boukolos, the first bishop of Smyrna, a student of Saint John the Evangelist, and the church was clearly built on the site of a classical period temple, as pagan images were exposed while excavating the foundations.