The Greek Orthodox Priest in Akko, Israel

Here’s my article in Israel21C. A story of inspiration, spiritual, faith and hope.

He calls himself Father Philotheos, meaning “a friend of God” in Greek.

As the priest of the Greek Orthodox St. George Church in the Old City of Acre (Akko) in northern Israel, he serves 600 Greek Orthodox residents of the city as well as 30,000 people in 14 surrounding villages in the Western Galilee.

Among his congregants are also a growing number of immigrants from Russia. And when Father Philotheos isn’t leading prayer services, blessing newborn infants or giving last rites to the dying, he is busy restoring the outside of the church himself, adding decorative mosaics, shells and designs in the ancient stone walls.

The Greek Orthodox priest who found his calling in Israel
Father Philotheos’s decorative shells in the church wall. Photo by Cathy Raff

St. George Church, probably the first Christian house of worship built in Akko, dates back to 1631. A physician from Marseilles who visited the church in 1666 declared it was the most beautiful church in the Middle East.

That is where Father Philotheos has served for the past five years. The story of his journey from the island of Crete, where he was born in 1962, to Israel is his own personal pilgrimage.

Heaven on earth

When he was a young boy, he said, a bishop came from Jerusalem to visit his family’s church in Crete. After the services, the bishop asked Philotheos if he wanted to come with him to Jerusalem.

“I immediately said yes,” Philotheos said, “but my father said, ‘How can you go alone?’ I was about 11 or 12. He wanted me to stay in Crete and marry, and carry on the family name. But I was stubborn and I left.”

Showing a book of Byzantine music. Photo by Cathy Raff.

For the rest of this uplifting story, read here.

About dianabletter

Diana Bletter is the author of several books, including The Invisible Thread: A Portrait of Jewish American Women (with photographs by Lori Grinker), shortlisted for a National Jewish Book Award. Her novel, A Remarkable Kindness, (HarperCollins) was published in 2015. She is the First Prize Winner of Moment Magazine's 2019 Fiction Contest. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, tabletmag, Glamour, The Forward, The North American Review, Times of Israel, and is a reporter for Israel21C, and many other publications. She is author of Big Up Yourself: It's About Time You Like Being You and The Mom Who Took off On Her Motorcycle, a memoir of her 10,000-mile motorcycle trip to Alaska and back to New York. She lives in a small beach village in Western Galilee, Israel, with her husband and family. She is a member of the local hevra kadisha, the burial circle, and a Muslim-Jewish-Christian-Druze women's group in the nearby town of Akko. And, she likes snowboarding and climbing trees.
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