Word that His Beatitude, Patriarch Petros VII of Alexandria and All Africa was one of seventeen persons killed in a helicopter crash en route to Mount Athos was received by the Chancery of the Orthodox Church in America here on Saturday, September 11, 2004.
The 55-year-old Patriarch was due to arrive on Mount Athos at 11:00 a.m. Saturday morning, marking his first official visit to the 1000-year-old monastic enclave. According to Greek Defense Ministry and various media reports, the helicopter was reported missing about two hours after it left Athens. Officials confirmed that bodies found by rescue crews some 20 miles off the Mount Athos coast in Chalkidiki were those of Patriarch Petros and his companions.
Reports coming out of Thessaloniki confirmed that, in addition to Patriarch Petros, those who perished included His Eminence, Metropolitan Ireneos of Pilousiou; His Eminence, Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Carthage; His Grace, Bishop Nektarios of Madagascar; Archimandrites Arsenios and Kallistratos [Economou]; and Deacon Nektarios Kontogiorgos. The Patriarch’s legal, technical, and press advisors were also among the dead, as were the Patriarch’s brother and personal guard. Five crew members lost their lives in the crash.
A Greek Army spokesman reported that visibility was good and that the downed Chinook helicopter was only about one-and-one-half years old.
According to tradition, the Patriarchate of Alexandria was established by Saint Mark the Evangelist in 42 A.D. Patriarch Petros, a native of Cyprus, was elected as the 115th Patriarch of Alexandria in 1997. His tenure was marked by renewed missionary efforts in Kenya, Uganda, Madagascar, Cameroon, and elsewhere across the African continent.
“Patriarch Petros was one of the first Primates of the sister Orthodox Churches to designate a representative, His Grace, Bishop Georgios of Nilopolis to participate in the September 2002 enthronement of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman as Primate of the Orthodox Church in America in Washington, DC,” said Protopresbyter Robert Kondratick, OCA Chancellor. “Relations between the OCA and the Alexandrian Patriarchate were extremely cordial, especially with regard to regular contacts between the Churches’ External Affairs and Communications departments.
“On behalf of Metropolitan Herman and the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops, we call upon the faithful of our Church to pray for Patriarch Petros and those who perished with him,” Father Kondratick added. “May their memory be eternal!