September 12, 2019

A Relic of Saint Polycarp Returns to Nafpaktos (Update on the 2013 Theft)

The relic of the right hand of Saint Polycarp of Smyrna adorned for the last over 500 years the Monastery of the Dormition of the Theotokos - Saint Polycarp in Ambelakiotissa outside Nafpaktos, where the faithful would go to receive his blessing, and many miracles took place through the grace of the sacred relic.

In 2010 I wrote an online post here at the Mystagogy Resource Center about the relic of the right hand of Saint Polycarp, and many people who read about it informed me that it was the first time that they ever heard of a relic of Saint Polycarp that still existed.

A year later, in 2011, I read reports of this relic of Saint Polycarp being brought to Romania, accompanied by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, where over a million faithful Romanians gathered to venerate it. It was probably the largest gathering of people to venerate a relic of a Saint in the history of the Church. Soon after this event was completed, I received an email from someone in Romania who organized this event, who wanted to thank me for writing the post on the relic a year before and informing him of its existence. It was because of this post that he sent an invitation to Metropolitan Hierotheos to bring it to Romania.

I felt honored to have been part of such a huge event unwittingly. But there is often also a dark side to fame. This relic of Saint Polycarp became so famous, that it became desired by relic thieves, who knew that such a relic was very valuable on the black market. For this reason, to the great disappointment of Metropolitan Hierotheos, the Monastery in Ambelakiotissa, the people of Nafpaktos, and Orthodox everywhere, it was stolen in March 2013, launching a high priority police investigation.

In November of the same year the thief was identified, but the relic remained lost, lost perhaps forever in the black hole of the black market. Hope however remains for its recovery.

Though the right arm of Saint Polycarp remains missing, in June of 2019 Metropolitan Hierotheos wrote the following encyclical which informed the people of the return to Nafpaktos of a relic of Saint Polycarp. The encyclical reads as follows:

Pastoral Encyclical (88th) of our Metropolitan


Bishop and Metropolitan by God's mercy

of the God-protected Sacred Metropolis of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

To the clergy, monastics and laity of our Sacred Metropolis

Beloved children of the Lord,

As is known, in March of the year 2013, six years ago, the sacred relic of Saint Polycarp was stolen from the Sacred Monastery of Ambelakiotissa, which was kept at the Sacred Monastery for six centuries, from the year 1475. This relic was a great treasure not only for the Sacred Monastery, but for our Metropolis, and the entire Orthodox Church in general.

The theft of the sacred relic filled us all with great sorrow, especially the Abbot and the monks of the Sacred Monastery and those who dwell especially in Oreini Nafpaktos and Ambelakiotissa. At that time we visited the Sacred Monastery, celebrated the Divine Liturgy, directed a special prayer for the finding of the relic of Saint Polycarp, and in all the churches a sacred Apolytikion was chanted, composed by His Eminence Metropolitan Joel of Edessa, Pella and Almopia for the finding and recovery of the sacred relic to the Monastery.

Proper authorities of the State did what was needed and found those who stole the sacred relic and the case is under judicial investigation, to find out who they worked with, and primarily to find the sacred relic.

However, Saint Polycarp has not left us orphans. He continued to protect the Sacred Monastery of the Dormition of the Theotokos in Ambelakiotissa, increasing and affirming the Brotherhood of the Sacred Monastery, giving us signs of his presence and his blessing.

Nevertheless, we have been sad for six years, and now Saint Polycarp has sent us a mighty comfort, as a consolation and forerunner of the return of the sacred relic of his hand.

Specifically, Saint Polycarp, after my intense desire, prayer and exhortation to search for fragments of the sacred relic wherever they can be found, enlightened Archimandrite Fr. Polycarp Theophanis, a brother of the Sacred Monastery of the Dormition of the Theotokos in Ambelakiotissa, to search for and find a fragment of the sacred relic of the hand of the Saint, which was found among the remains of the blessed Archimandrite Fr. Gregory Bouloukis, who had served as Abbot of the Sacred Monastery of Ambelakiotissa (1979-1985), and who upon leaving the Sacred Monastery received a fragment of the hand of the Saint, which is now being returned to the Sacred Monastery.

I glorify God for this consolation and thank Saint Polycarp for responding to our prayers, in anticipation of the great joy when the stolen sacred relic of his hand returns.

We will celebrate this event on the evening of Sunday 14 July at the Sacred Monastery of the Dormition of the Theotokos in Ambelakiotissa with a doxology. A relative announcement will be made by the Sacred Monastery of Ambelakiotissa. Pious Christians are kindly requested to respond to this important event to receive a blessing from our great Saint, who is the patron of our entire Sacred Metropolis.

With fervent prayers,

The Metropolitan

+ HIEROTHEOS of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

Below are photos from the joyous event in July 2019.