On Friday, April 28th, 2023, His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros presided over the Repatriation Ceremony of 16thand 17th century manuscripts from the Eikosifoinissa Monastery of the Most Holy Theotokos at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in New York City.


The three Greek-language manuscripts were looted in 1917 during World War I, when Bulgarian soldiers are claimed to have plundered nearly 900 items from the monastery, their spoils carted off on 24 mules. These manuscripts, which were eventually acquired by Swann Auction Galleries, were sold in 2008 to an antiquities dealer, who returned them two years later after determining they might have been looted. In reading through research notes that the antiquities dealer provided when returning the manuscripts, Swann’s experts confirmed that the writing within the manuscripts identified their source as Kosinitza.


The auction house contacted Mr. George A. Tsougarakis, General Counsel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, whose records verified that the rediscovered manuscripts were listed among the looted treasures from the Theotokos Eikosiphoinissa Patriarchal and Stavropegial Monastery, also known as Kosinitza, in northern Greece.


The repatriation process for the manuscripts, which are being returned to the monastery, was initiated with a repatriation ceremony at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine and National Shrine in Lower Manhattan. Following which, Archbishop Elpidophoros will travel to Constantinople to deliver the manuscripts to His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.


The program was opened by Dr. Stratos Safioleas, Office of Communications of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Thereafter, an introduction was offered by Mr. George A. Tsougarakis, General Counsel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Thereafter, Ms. Devon Eastland, Senior Specialist of Early Printed Books at Swann Auction Galleries, offered her remarks on the restitution process. The keynote speaker was Colonel Matthew Bogdanos, Assistant District Attorney for the City of New York and Head of Antiquities Trafficking Unit.


The closing remarks were offered by Archbishop Elpidophoros, who called the act of returning the artifacts to their rightful owner, the Eikosifoinissa Monastery, “an extraordinary example of honesty and responsibility” by Swann Auction Galleries. “The fact that the oldest continuously operating specialist auction house in New York has demonstrated such leadership in this regard speaks volumes of its integrity, and we thank them.


Among the many invited dignitaries and notable guests were Her Excellency Alexandra Papadopoulou, Ambassador of Greece to the United States of America, His Excellency Konstantinos Konstantinou, Consul General of the Hellenic Republic in New York City, His Grace Bishop Irinej of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Eastern America, and representatives of the Museum of the Bible, including Dr. Jeffrey Kloha, Chief Curatorial Officer, and Professor Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou, Board of Trustees.


Sources: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and Greek Reporter

Photo Credit: Dimitrios Panagos / Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

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