By Catherine Tsounis
January 1st, 2016 Greece celebrates Agios Vasilios or Saint Basil’s Day. In Greek tradition, he brings gifts to children every January 1st. “We would travel to Tripoli to attend services at the Cathedral of Agios Vasilios in Agios Vasilios Square, Tripoli” explained Dr. John Siolas. “A special day to remember the pioneers of the Greek revolution.” Agios Vasilios Cathedral in 2016 perpetuates Orthodoxy and Hellenism in action and writings. Theodoros Kolokotronis, the George Washington of Greece who came from Arcadia, is part of the living memory of freedom from the Ottoman Turkish Empire.
I met with Charalambos Gerou, a member of the parish council and retired philologist/educator Pitsa Gerou Macarouni recently. They showed me the new chapel mosaics. “I sponsored the mosaics of the Panagia with Child and St. Charalambos in memory of my family,” said Mr. Gerou. “I served in the parish council for twelve years from 1995 to 1997, assisting the Metropolitan.” The mosaics are impressive.
The Byzantine Choir of the women’s division created a melodious CD of the “Salutations of the Panagia, first group” under the direction of choirmaster Vasilios Georgaras. The religious zeal of the singers is experienced by the listener. Reverend Archpriest Ioannis Sourlingas with fellow clergy, parish council member and sexton Christos Mpitas met us for an interview. “Through the efforts of His Eminence, MetropolitanAlexander of Mantineia and Kynouria, we have a website. You can listen to our church services on the web. We are reaching out to all who work overseas, and live outside of Greece through the internet.”
The St. Vasilios Cathedral community’s intense patriotism is reflected in a memorial card dedicated to the memory of Theodoros Kolokotronis. The 172nd Anniversary of his Death on February 3, 1843 was commemorated in a service on February 1st, 2015. A portrait of the late leader is on the memorial card. The inscription reads “In everlasting memory of the Liberator of the Greek Nation.”
Their web site lists Holy Relics. They include the following relics: the New Martyr St. Demetrios (1803), Patron of Tripolis; their namesake, St. Basil the Great, Archbishop of Cappadocia; the Great Martyr St. Minas; Holy Martyr St. Minas; Holy Martyr St. Charalambos; and St. Thomas the Apostle. In addition, they have icons, epitafios (sepulchral icon), banners and other sacred items.
The Cathedral history is described online in detail, stemming from the Venetian and Turkish occupation. After the 1821 Liberation, Theodoros Kolokotronis and revolutionary leaders worshiped there. The city was recaptured by Turkish forces in 1825. During the Turkish retreat, the city was in ruins. In 1855, the Municipality of Tripoli began a church reconstruction project. Theodore Rigopoulos, former secretary of Theodoros Kolokotronis, kept historical records on the Cathedral. The reconstruction project followed with the addition of Bell towers, marble and iconography. From 1924-1930, patrons from overseas donated funds. Arcadian benefactors of all economic classes have continued to add and renovate St. Vasilios Cathedral.
In 1995, a fire caused extensive damage. Very Rev. Ioannis Sourlingas has an ongoing renovation project since 2011. He has been aided by His Excellency, Metropolitan Alexander of Mantineas and Kynouria and benefactors. In 2005, St. Vasilios celebrated his 150th Anniversary. Today, St. Vasilios Cathedral is a lantern of intellectual activity, as well as a historical and artistic monument. The life of the Municipality of Tripoli revolves around the ecclesiastical center. The church of St. Vasilios is the refuge of our souls and St. Basil the Directing Leader of our lives.1
I was given the booklet written by His Eminence, Metropolitan Alexander of Mantineia and Kynouria. His writings presented the traditional viewpoint of the Clergy’s role in the 1821 Greek Revolution. “The Clergy was instrumental in the resurrection of our nation and our ancient glory,” he explained. “During the four hundred years of slavery, the Clergy in the mountains and the islands kept the Greek glory alive in the hearts of our people. They celebrated the nation’s rebirth. The clergy kept the light of the Revolution alive, enlightening and educating the Modern Greek spirit. Their inspiration enabled all to leave slavery and become free men. The unification of the priestly clerical robe with soldier’s foustanela (uniform) precipitated victory. A free Greece would not have taken place if the clergy did not sacrifice themselves in blood for freedom.”2
What is my conclusion after spending time in the Peloponnese during the years? The heartland of the Peloponnese continues to keep patriotism alive. Each generation tells stories of their ancestors who fought with heroism in every Greek war. St. Vasilios Cathedral of Tripoli is a link to the past that the present generation wants to keep alive.
- Mantineas and Kynourias Metropolitan Alexander, “H Ekklisia Protoporoc Cton Agona tou 1821” (The Church Leadership in the 1821 Struggle), (Cultural Center of the City of Tripolis: Tripolis, 2007), pp.31-33.
Memorial card in memory of Theodoros Kolokotronis. Charalambos Gerou by the St. Charalambos mosaic. Interior of St. Vasilios Cathedral.