Trip Highlights:


12 Days/10 Nights

Optional Excursion to:

Halki Seminary while in Constantinople


Mount Athos

*Itinerary can be customized according to number of days and inclusions desired.

*Itinerary order and inclusions are subject to change

(Breakfast = B, Lunch = L, Dinner = D)

This afternoon you will depart for an unforgettable and fulfilling spiritual odyssey!

Arrive in Constantinople. Transfer to your hotel.

Welcome to Constantinople, the glittering jewel of Asia Minor and the gateway between two continents! It sits astride on the most historic water channel in the world, the Bosphorus. Constantinople has been host to three empires: The Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman. Invaded, besieged and conquered by countless armies, Constantinople today, remains a city of sparkling domes and minarets and beautiful palaces.

En route to the hotel, visit Zoodochos Peghe, at Baloukli Monastery, located outside the city walls to the west of the city. In 1833, with the Sultan’s permission, the Ecumenical Patriarch Constantius I renovated the Church. In addition to the Church, the compound consists of the Patriarchal graves of past Patriarchs such as Athenagoras, the former Archbishop of America. Descend to the underground Sacred Spring of Zoodochos Peghe, the Holy Spring with the fish, for Holy Water. Drink from its spiritually and physically therapeutic waters – throughout the centuries, countless miracles of restored health has been recorded. Down here, there is a tunnel connecting the Monastery with Agia Sophia. In case of an invasion, someone from the Monastery would traverse the tunnel and inform the Emperor of an army intending to invade. This is one of the most famous ancient shrines of Constantinople. Welcome dinner and overnight in the hotel. (B, D)

This morning, after breakfast, begin your day of historic Constantinople. Visit Agia Sophia, the Church of the Holy Wisdom, and often called the eighth wonder of the ancient world. It is one of the world’s greatest architectural and spiritual masterpieces and was the Cathedral of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople for more than one thousand years. Built by Emperor Justinian from 532 – 537 A.D, Agia Sophia was originally the largest church in the Christian world. Its immense dome rises 182 feet above the ground and its diameter spans 103 feet. You will be amazed at the size of its interior, magnificent dome and stunning mosaics most located in the upper part of the church. Until today, no one knows how this glorious dome was constructed. Many beautiful mosaics remain hidden from our site, covered with plaster; although it is well known and accepted that they exist. During the Ottoman period, Agia Sophia was turned into a mosque. Today, we still see these conversions in the church. Presently, Agia Sophia is considered a museum. Continue to the Underground Cistern, a magnificent old water reservoir built by Justinian in 532 A.D. and the Hippodrome, where chariot races were held. Time permitting, visit the Blue Mosque. None of the exterior is blue – the name “Blue Mosque” comes from the blue tiles inside. Inside, the high ceiling is lined with the 20,000 blue tiles that give the mosque its popular name. Fine examples of 16th-century Iznik design, the oldest tiles feature flowers, trees and abstract patterns and can be seen in the galleries and on the north wall above the main entrance.

After a short break for lunch, begin your tour of the famous Topkapi Palace, seat of the Ottoman Empire for four centuries. Located by the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara, it commands a spectacular and unforgettable view. In these opulent surroundings, the sultans and their court lived and governed. The many exhibitions include the cooking utensils and pots used to prepare the meals for the Sultans and his family, the clothing they wore, their arms, their jewels, their accessories and much more. The relics of St John the Baptist as well as the Prophet Mohammad and his artifacts can also be viewed.

The final stop is the Grand Bazaar for a shopping spree! The Bazaar is a maze of over 4,000 tiny shops selling gold, jewelry, leather goods and carpets. Dinner on your own. Overnight at the hotel. (B)

Drive to the Church of the Holy Savior of Chora, now called the Chora Museum. The Chora Museum is the second most important and interesting Byzantine Church in Istanbul as it is known for its magnificent mosaics and frescoes. They are by far the most important and extensive series of Byzantine paintings in the city representing scenes drawn from the life of the Virgin Mary and of Christ. There is also a small shopping area outside the church for souvenirs, time permitting.

Afterwards, drive to Panagia Blacherna Church, the most famous shrine of the Virgin Mary in Constantinople. Located at the Church is a holy natural spring where you can take Agiasmo. The faithful once venerated the sacred robe and mantel of the Virgin Mary here. The most important historical event in this Church occurred in 626 A.D. The Avars invaded Constantinople while Emperor Heraclius was fighting the Persians in Asia Minor. The son of the Emperor, the Ecumenical Patriarch Sergius, carried the icon of the Virgin Blachernitissa in battle. Everyone gathered in the Church, with the icon, in an all-night vigil standing and singing the Akathist Hymn in praise of the Virgin Mary. Constantinople was saved and this was attributed directly to the intervention of the Virgin Mary. Many Emperors attended services at the Church as well as carried an icon of the Panagia of Blachernae on their campaigns. The beautiful hymn, “Te Ypermacho”, sometimes called the national hymn of Greek Orthodoxy, will be sung by all the pilgrims in the exact place it was chanted over 1,400 years ago.

After go back to the hotel to freshen up and have lunch on your own.

The final stop is the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Enjoy a private audience with His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (subject to confirmation and his availability).

During the Byzantine era, the Ecumenical Patriarchate was a larger compound comprised of many more buildings and was adjacent to Agia Sophia. After the fall of Constantinople, it was forced to confine itself to the minimal space necessary to continue its existence. In 1941, the Patriarchate was burned down in a devastating fire and had to be rebuilt. On December 17, 1989 ecclesiastical and political dignitaries from all over the world gathered there to witness the consecration and dedication of the new Patriarchal buildings. The old architectural specifications were retained in the reconstruction.

The Patriarchal Compound is comprised of the Cathedral of St. George, the Residence and Offices of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Patriarchal Throne Room, The Holy Synod Chamber, the Patriarchal Library and administrative offices. From April 1821, the main entrance of the Patriarchate has remained sealed in memory of Ecumenical Patriarch Gregory V. There, he was hung for his role in the Greek Revolution. In the Cathedral of St. George, you will see the throne of the Ecumenical Patriarch, the column of Christ’s flogging, the relics of the three female Saints – Euphemia, Solomone and Theophano and the famous icon of the Theotokos from the Byzantine Church of Pammakaristos.

In addition, we will also see the Holy Relics of St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom restored back to Constantinople at the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George after being forcibly removed by the 4th Crusaders in 1204. On November 27, 2004, at the Vatican, His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew received from His Holiness Pope John Paul II the Holy Relics that had been held at St. Peter’s Basilica for 800 years. You will have the opportunity to venerate the actual relics of these two most profound saints in all of Christendom, St. Gregory the Theologian who presided over the 2nd Ecumenical Council that completed the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed and St. John Chrysostom the most articulate and prolific orator the Christian Faith has ever had; both Archbishops of Constantinople are direct predecessors of our beloved Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

Afterwards, a stop will also be made to the Spice Bazaar, also known as the Egyptian Bazar. Drive to the hotel for overnight. (B)

Early AM departure. Drive to the Turkish / Greek Border. The Greek bus will cross on to the Turkish side and pick up the group then cross the border where you will be met by your Greek guide and drive to Kavala. En route, visit Philippi, a town whose history extends over five millennia, the site where Saint Paul established the first Christian church in Europe. Visit sites ranging from the Hellenistic through the Roman and Christian periods. See the ruins of the cell where Saints Paul and Silas were imprisoned. Also visit fourth and fifth century Christian basilicas, and the Roman-era Theater. You will also visit the chapel of Saint Lydia, the first European Christian, and the site on the Zygaktes River where she was baptized. Drive past Amphipolis where Saint Paul continued his missionary activity and from which Alexander the Great began his regional conquests. Drive to Kavala (ancient Neapolis), the port where St. Paul first landed with Saints Timothy and Silas. Enjoy a tour of the city before checking into your hotel. Dinner and overnight at hotel in Kavala. (B, D)

After an early breakfast, depart the hotel from Kavala to Ouranoupolis. Drive past Amphipolis where St. Paul continued his missionary activity and from where Alexander the Great began his conquests. Arrive in Ouranoupolis and enjoy a private cruise around Mount Athos. You will see the beautiful monasteries on the Holy Mountain from afar. A special request will be made to the monks to meet the boat with relics for you to venerate. Afterwards, drive by motorcoach to Thessaloniki. En route stop at Agiou Ioannis Tou Theologou Monastery in Souroti. Dinner and overnight at the hotel. (B, D)

Enjoy breakfast this morning. Begin your private full day tour of Thessaloniki. Thessaloniki is a lively modern city. Large avenues, parks and squares, lines of trees that frame commercial streets with showy shop windows. Old houses, neoclassical buildings, stand side by side with modern dwellings which makes a walk through any section of the city an interesting journey. The past and present merge at old taverns, “ouzeries”, restaurants next to hotels and luxury bars, “bouzouki pubs” (Thessaloniki is the cradle of modern Greek popular song, “rembetika”), cinemas, theaters and sidewalk cafes. Small family run taverns and basement pastry shops offer a delicious variety of famous Macedonian specialties!  Thessaloniki has given Greece some of its greatest musicians, artists, poets and thinkers.

Thessaloniki is the capital of Macedonia and second largest city of Greece. It is here that the Apostle Paul first brought the message of Christianity (50 A.D.) and that Demetrius, a Roman officer died in martyrdom (303 A.D.), thus becoming the holy patron of the city. Thessaloniki was the second most important city of the Byzantine Empire, next to Constantinople, and is full of beautiful examples of Byzantine art and architecture. In the 15th century, it became a haven for Jews exiled from Spain. They became an important part of the city, both socially and economically, until the Nazi occupation in WW II when they were sent to concentration camps ending a period of four hundred years of Jewish influence. This period roughly corresponds with the occupation of Greece by the Ottoman Turks.

Your tour will take you to the main avenues and sections of this lively modern city. Large avenues, parks and squares, lines of trees that frame commercial streets with showy shop windows. Old houses, neoclassical buildings, stand side by side with modern dwellings. You will also see the Galerius Arch, the Rotonda, and White Tower. See the City Walls, from where you have a marvelous view of Thessaloniki and the famous seaside promenades on the outskirts of the city, lined with many cafes and restaurants.

We will visit Moni Vlatadon, the location of the Jewish synagogue where Saint Paul preached and the site of the house of Jason where he stayed. Visit the Church of Agiou Pavlou with relics of St Paul and then continue to the monastery of Osios David to see the remarkable fourth-century icon of the vision of Ezekiel. Return to the lower city and visit the Metropolitan Cathedral to venerate the relics of Saint Gregory Palamas. Visit the ancient historical churches of Agia Sophia and Acheiropoietos. Walk past the ruins of the Agora, and continue on to the Basilica of Saint Dimitrios, the patron saint of Thessaloniki, and venerate his relics. Also see the cell where he was imprisoned and the well where his body was hidden after his martyrdom. Dinner and overnight at the hotel (B, D)

After breakfast, depart for Kalambaka and the incredible Meteora Monasteries with a stop in Beria where St. Paul once preached. See the Byzantine mosaic commemorating the event. St. Paul retreated to Beria after he was accused in Thessaloniki of “turning the world upside down”. Paul did not stay long for his enemies were pursuing him. However, he left Timothy and Silas behind as Beria had a synagogue and a congregation of Jews. They were needed there to explain the Gospel to the converted Jews.

Continue driving to Kalambaka and the Meteora Monasteries. A rare geological phenomenon created these looming rocks which thrust skywards from the plain of Thessaly, as if striving to come closer to God. There, perched on top of these unusual and seemingly un-scalable rocks, you will discover the world famous Byzantine monasteries. Of the original twenty-four monasteries, only seven remain today. Your amazement at how these monasteries are positioned so high up is only matched by their magnificent splendors. A belief is that St. Athanasios (founder of the first monastery here) did not scale the rock, but was carried here by an eagle. Ascend the great granite rocks to visit the Byzantine monasteries built into the granite and perched way up high. They contain unique frescos, priceless icons, relics and many other religious treasures. Dinner and overnight at the hotel in Kalambaka (B, D)

Early this AM, Liturgy in one of the breathtaking monasteries of Meteora. Visit one other monastery and then depart for Athens. Drive by the heroic monument of Leonidas at Thermoplyae and Kamena Vourla.

Welcome to Athens, the cradle of Western civilization! Athens is the origin of drama, history and philosophy and the birthplace of democracy. Arrive at your hotel and check in. Enjoy a welcome dinner at a nearby restaurant. Overnight at the hotel (B, D)

After breakfast, meet your escort in the lobby of the hotel. Depart the hotel and transfer to the pier to take a hydrofoil to Aegina, the island of St Nectarios. Upon arrival, the tour of the island that will include the Holy Trinity Monastery to venerate the relics of St Nektarios, Afaia Temple and Agios Minas Monastery. Enjoy lunch on your own at the quaint fishing village of Perdika at one of the many fish tavernas on this picturesque little harbor. Aegina is also known for the pistachio nuts grown there so don’t forget to pick some up. Transfer to the pier for your hydrofoil back to Athens. Transfer to the hotel by motorcoach. Dinner on your own. Overnight at the hotel (B)

After breakfast, you will begin your half day orientation tour of Athens. Admire the striking contrast between breathtaking monuments of a glorious past and modern elegant structures of Athens. Drive by the major sites of the city including the Roman Temple of Olympic Zeus, the Panathinaikon Stadium (site of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896) and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of the Parliament House on Constitution Square. See views of government buildings and elegant structures of the 19th century. Drive along the main boulevards of the city such as Panepistimiou Avenue and see the Catholic Cathedral, the Academy, the University and the National Library.

The major sites you will be visiting are the Acropolis and its’ Museum. The Acropolis was the most important religious center of Athens. It dates back to the 5th century B.C. The monuments of the Acropolis date back from the prehistoric period to the end of Antiquity. The Propylaea is the glorious entrance to the Acropolis and was erected between 437 and 432 B.C. It was the work of the famous Athenian architect Mnesikles. The Temple of Athena Nike (Apeteros Nike) was erected to the south of the Propylaea, about 420 B.C. to commemorate the victories of the Greeks over the Persians. The architect of this temple was Kallikrates. This site is so unique and the temple has existed on this very spot since prehistoric times. On the left is the Erechtheion and straight ahead, the Parthenon. The Parthenon is one of the masterpieces of the world. The beauty, harmony, and grace of this monument leaves a lasting impression on everyone. You will notice that the columns of the Parthenon have a slight curve in the middle that gives the impression that they are bending slightly under the weight. The secret of its harmonious look is that none of its columns are absolutely straight. This temple was dedicated to the goddess Athena and was built of white marble from Penteli. Under the Parthenon of the classical times, there are the remains of the monumental Ur-Parthenon and the archaic temple dated in the late 6th century B.C. The architects of the Classical temple, constructed and decorated between 447 and 432 B.C. (the Golden Age of Perikles), were Iktinos and Kallikrates. The Parthenon housed the golden ivory statue of Athena, work of the famous sculptor Pheidas. This statue had as a final destination the Great Panathenaea procession, depicted on the frieze of the temple. The statue of Athena with the interior made of wood and the naked parts of ivory stood inside the Parthenon. The dress and the helmet were made of removable hammered plates of gold. This statue of Athena armed and holding a two-meter high ivory statue of Nike (Victory) in her right hand was lost during the first years of the Byzantine period. Our knowledge of its existence comes mostly from ancient sources. The Erechtheion was built in 420 – 406 B.C. on the most sacred part of the Acropolis – the place where the goddess Athena caused her most sacred emblem, the olive tree, to sprout. In later years, the invading Persians destroyed this tree. Legend has it that the tree miraculously grew again when the Persians were finally driven away. The Caryatids, the figures of maidens that supported the roof of the south porch of the temple, are copies. The Areios Pagos is the most ancient court of law. Here was the seat of the first aristocratic parliament of ancient Athens. It as from this spot, as we learned from the bronze tablet at the base of the rock, that Saint Paul delivered his first sermon to the Athenians, in 51 AD. The Pnyx was the gathering place for the citizens of ancient Athens. They gathered here in order to hear the famous orators.

In the New Acropolis Museum antiquity meets contemporary architecture. The building houses approximately 4,000 treasures – archeological finds related to the Acropolis as well as many beautiful marbles of classical Athens. Among the important pieces to see is the Moschoforos (the Calf Bearer), the Kores, the sculptures from the decoration of the Parthenon and the Caryatids. The museum is situated at the foot of the Acropolis in the heart of the city, right next to one of the most picturesque pedestrian paths in the world. The building was designed by Bernard Tschumi, Dean of the School of Architecture at Columbia University, in such a way as to present the antiquities which were found on the site during the excavation of the foundation and to incorporate the famous natural light of Greece. There is a feeling and sense of being outdoors reflecting the fact that most of the exhibits were outdoors during their ancient lives. Visitors also have a clear view of the Parthenon while viewing many of the exhibitions in the museum emphasizing the connection between the Parthenon and the museum.

This afternoon, depart for Corinth where St Paul visited. Drive along the seaside highway past the Scaramanga ship-building yards viewing the isles of the Saronic Gulf, to the Corinth Canal. Enjoy the breathtaking views of your drive. The Corinth Canal is a manmade canal built to join the Aegean with the Ionian seas. Continue to the ancient town of Corinth where St. Paul lived and preached for two years making the New Testament come alive. Corinth inspired many of Paul’s most letters. Visit the Temple of Apollo, which stands on a low hill overlooking the extensive remains of the Roman Agora. You will visit the Bema, the public platform where St. Paul had to plead his case when the Corinthians hauled him in from of the Roman governor, Gallo in A.D. 52. Stop at Cenchrea, the port of Corinth, where St. Paul had his hair cut because of a vow and then set sail from the harbor concluding his 18-month stay in Corinth. Return to Athens. Farewell dinner at a nearby restaurant at 7:30 p.m. and overnight at the hotel. (B, D)

DAY 12: June 18, Wednesday: ATHENS / USA
After breakfast depart for the Athens Airport for your flight home. (B)

Halki Option in Constantinople
Add another day in Constantinople to visit the Theological School of Halki: Morning transfer to the pier for a private ferry ride to the island of Halki, home of the renowned Halki Patriarchal School of Theology. St Photios the Great is believed to have founded the monastery in the late 19th century. In 1844, Patriarch Germanos IV established the Theological School for the purpose of pleasing God with a dwelling for teachers, theologians and theology students. The monastery houses a very impressive and important library. A horse and buggy will take you to the top of the hill where the Theological School is situated. A magnificent view awaits you. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and our beloved and late Archbishop Iakovos are among the visionary graduates of the School. The School remains closed although there are world-wide efforts to re-open this center of Orthodox learning. Tour the school and pray at the Holy Trinity Monastery. Enjoy lunch by a sea side taverna style restaurant. Return to Istanbul. (B, L)

Optional Excursion to Mt. Athos:

After breakfast, depart for Ouranoupolis. Dinner and overnight in Ouranoupolis at the hotel (D)

After breakfast, cruise around Mt. Athos. A monastery will send a boat with icons for the women to venerate and will pick up the men to take them to Mt. Athos for overnight. The women will return to Ouranoupolis for dinner and overnight at the hotel. Men will overnight on Mt. Athos. (B, D)

Women will visit the women’s Monastery at Ormylia and overnight in Ouranoupolis. Men will overnight on Mt. Athos. (B, D)

Men will return from Mt. Athos and meet the women in Ierrisos. Depart for Thessaloniki. Dinner and overnight at the hotel. (B, D)