West Milford, NJ – A bell rung over and over again in the courtyard adjacent to the Panagia Soumela chapel. Pontians marched a somber path, circling the church and carrying the icon of the Virgin Mary. Led by Greek Orthodox clergy and Pontian club members in traditional folk attire, it signaled the beginning of weekend services – Κοίμηση της Θεοτόκου, Dormition of the Mother of God.

Greeks from all over North America flock to these tranquil hills in West Milford, New Jersey annually. This was the 33rd time in history the community had gathered. Just an hour from NYC, is the home of the Holy Institution of Panagia Soumela. It is open for liturgy services and weekend retreats just a few times a year.

Hundreds, sometimes thousands make the trip to this semi-remote location to celebrate Greek Orthodoxy and Pontian culture. Following liturgy services on Saturday night, music, dancing, and the Pontian language united this community late into the night.

Dimitris Molohides, Former Pan-Pontian President of USA and Canada spoke about the current affairs of the Pontian community. “Although Panagia Soumela Monastery in Pontos was recently closed by the Turkish government, we Pontians, here in North America will not forget and will keep the bells ringing and our traditions alive”.

On Sunday morning, dignitaries and attendees filled the church hall for Δεκαπενταύγουστος services. At the conclusion, the icon of the Virgin Mary was paraded around the church again. A traditional sweet bread was handed out and pilgrims venerated the icon before retreating to the church grounds for an afternoon picnic and several speeches.

Newly elected AHEPA Supreme President, Andrew C. Zachariades was in attendance and spoke out against the Turkish government’s recent closing of the Greek Orthodox monastery-Panagia Soumela in Trabzon, Turkey.

It was the first time ever that an AHEPA President had attended Δεκαπενταύγουστο services at Panagia Soumela. Zachariades pledged AHEPA support and promised to push to reopen the monastery as soon as possible.

Moments later, he was joined on camera by AHEPA Supreme Council George Horiatis and AHEPA Supreme council Elias Tsekerides, who shared their thoughts on the issue.

For now, Pontians will have to wait to pray at the historic Greek Orthodox Monastery in Turkey. They can contemplate the day the doors will open again, while strolling the sanctuary grounds of the Holy Institution of Panagia Soumela, in the new world.