2005.08.06 Sacramento Bee:
Little Relic, Great Weight
By AMY WHITE
BEE STAFF WRITER
When Modesto native Christopher Flesoras returned from a trip to Greece
earlier this year, he brought back a unique memento. Wrapped in cotton and
placed in his pocket was a quarter-size piece of the skull of Jesus'
The bone fragment is known as a holy relic, part of the remains of a saint
or items that have come in contact with the sacred body of a saint.
Flesoras, a Greek Orthodox priest who leads St. Anna's Greek Orthodox
Church in Roseville, was given the yellowish-brown piece of skull by the
head of a monastery on Mount Athos in Greece.
"Carrying the relic back to America was overwhelming on many levels," said
Flesoras, 33, who was born and raised in Modesto. (He attended Modesto's
Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation and graduated from Davis High in
"Spiritually, thinking we are carrying the grandmother of Christ is a bit
overwhelming," he said. "Physically, where do you keep this on your person?
It's not necessarily something you claim at customs. ... We were trying to
be very respectful and thoughtful."
The bone fragment is the first relic of St. Anna to reach American soil and
will transform the Roseville church into a shrine to its patron saint.
According to tradition, Anna and her husband, Joachim, were childless for
50 years but conceived by the grace of God at an advanced age. Anna bore a
daughter, Mary, who, after Anna's death, gave birth to Jesus.
Holy relics of St. Anna were collected and venerated by early Christians.
Her relics became the possession of the Church of Jerusalem and later were
given to the Christian Patriarch of Antioch and the Holy Monastery of
Kykkos on the island of Cyprus, an early Christian community.
Today, her relics are venerated in the Orthodox patriarchal centers of
Jerusalem and Antioch, the Skete of St. Anna, a Catholic church in Germany,
and now in Roseville.
The bone fragment at St. Anna's, encased in an ornate silver box, exudes
the scent of myrrh and beads with myrrh-scented moisture, priests say.
"There is almost a scent of roses," said the Rev. Jon Magoulias, priest at
Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Modesto. "This is not uncommon
with relics. We think of death and we think of the stench of death, the
corruption of the body. But for the saints and those sanctified by God, for
the Christian believer, death is not the end. ... For many of these relics,
there is a beautiful aroma that comes from them that reminds us of the
beauty of the life beyond the grave."
Hundreds of faithful and curious gathered at the Roseville church late last
month to attend services and view the relic. Believers and clerics came
from all over Northern California, and as far away as Texas, to see the
"It's history," said 71-year-old Tina Karres of Folsom, who cried upon
seeing the relic. "If you really believe, it makes your hair stick up. It
gives you goose bumps."
Many described the experience as exciting, yet awe-inspiring and humbling.
Others felt tongue-tied and mesmerized.
"It was just an incredible feeling - something it's hard to describe," said
Dimitri Karnaookh, 44, of Rocklin. "It's something you really feel in your
heart if you understand the meaning behind it."
The veneration of saints plays an important role in the Greek Orthodox
faith. Believers honor them as examples of holiness and godliness, of the
way lives are meant to be led.
Flesoras brought the relic to Modesto in March so it could be venerated
during services at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, where he
was ordained a deacon in 1996, a year before he became a priest.
"To have (St. Anna's) relic here, the mother of the Virgin Mary, is
unique," Magoulias said. "It reminds us that the Virgin Mary was a real
person, that she gave herself to God and was obedient to his will and was
the vessel by which Christ was born."
Having the relic in Modesto was a special experience for his parish, which
is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Magoulias said. Local parishioners were
able to directly kiss and touch the relic.
"It reminds us of God's love and the continuation of his spirit working in
people," said Magoulias, who attended recent St. Anna's feast day services
in Roseville. The relic also visited parishes in Stockton, Sacramento and
Castro Valley - and Holy Cross church in Belmont, where Flesoras was
ordained a priest.
Now that the relic is back in Roseville, it is brought out for people to
show their respect and offer prayers during services, though it remains in
Flesoras has been deluged with phone calls and e-mails since he brought the
relic to the United States. More than 500 people attended one recent
service, and another attracted more than 200 people, most of them
Episcopalian and Catholic. His congregation has membership of 160 to 175
"(The relic) is part of this whole plan of salvation that unfolded,"
Flesoras said. "You have a direct link to Christ, (his) maternal
grandmother. Anyone that really pays homage to Jesus and has respect for
his mother should have respect for his grandmother. ... It's a physical
link to the person of Jesus."
An incredible journey
Though thousands of people from around the world visit the Mount Athos
peninsula in Greece for spiritual edification, it is unusual to be given a
holy relic as a gift, Flesoras said.
"It was just heaven-sent, the way it came about," Flesoras said. "There was
a divine hand working in this somewhere."
Flesoras first inquired about obtaining a relic for his church in December,
when he met the Very Rev. Father Archimandrite Cheroubim Apostolou,
superintendent of the Skete of St. Anna of the Monastery of Great Lavra on
Mount Athos, at a funeral in San Francisco.
At first, his chances looked grim: Apostolou warned that getting religious
authorities on Mount Athos to agree can be difficult.
But after a few weeks of e-mailing, Flesoras received the happy news that
the monastic authorities had deemed his church a worthy recipient of St.
Anna's bone. There is no other Greek Orthodox church in the United States
dedicated to Jesus' grandmother.
"It was an exciting e-mail," Flesoras said. Apostolou formally gifted it to
St. Anna's during a service in Roseville on July 24.
Flesoras, his father, Modesto barber Dean Flesoras, and his father-in-law,
Jim Kyriazis of Anaheim Hills, traveled to Greece to pick up the relic in
February. They were dropped off by boat at the base of the Skete of St.
Anna, the oldest and largest skete (a cloister or small settlement
affiliated with a monastery) on Mount Athos. Mount Athos is home to more
than 20 monasteries, mostly Greek Orthodox.
The skete is about 1,650 feet up, on the cliffs above the Aegean Sea. The
men climbed 2,000 snow-dusted stairs to get to the skete's main courtyard.
They stayed at the monastery six days.
"It was magnificent," Christopher Flesoras said. "The services were
beautiful. The hospitality of the monks was very kind and genuine." The
skete is home to more than 120 monks. Its library also houses about 100
manuscript Scriptures, holy relics of various saints, icons and liturgical
items, as well as what is believed to be the left foot of St. Anna, the
"Venerating this artifact of the mother of Mary, who was the mother of
Jesus, was spiritually, intellectually and emotionally overwhelming,"
Flesoras had been to the holy mountain once before. In 1995, he traveled to
the site on a pilgrimage with seminary schoolmates.
Returning to the "civilization" of Athens - and home - was an adjustment,
Flesoras said of the recent trip. "It was so incredibly peaceful and
tranquil," he said. "It was a quiet we are not normally used to."
While on the trip, the three men also visited a monastery built on the
place St. Paul preached to the Thessalonians, the Church of St. Demetrius,
which contains the relics of St. Demetrius, the patron saint of
Thessalonica, the cathedral in Athens and relatives.
Flesoras has a long family history tracing back to Greece. His mother was
born on the island of Crete. His paternal great-grandfather was the first
Greek Orthodox priest west of the Mississippi, serving at the cathedral in
San Francisco. His maternal grandfather, the Very Rev. Emmanuel Papageorge,
now 94, is pastor emeritus at Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation,
where he served from 1948 to 1964.
Flesoras often returns to Modesto, where his parents, Dean and Angie, live.
He hopes having the relic of St. Anna at his Roseville church will make it
a destination for faithful of all backgrounds. The trip to obtain the relic
and having it here was a spiritual and moving experience for all three men,
"Being entrusted with and gifted this relic was simply beyond belief,"
Flesoras said, "and most humbling."
Bee staff writer Amy White can be reached at 578-2318 or email@example.com
Sacramento Bee staff writer Kim Minugh contributed to this report. She can
be reached at 916-773-7359 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted on 08/06/05 00:00:00http://www.modbee.com/life/faithvalues/story/11045154p-11804469c.html