THESSALONIKI – The number of Russian pilgrims in Greece declined significantly in 2019, according to preliminary data from Russian travel agents.
The number of Russian pilgrims who have visited Greece has fallen by half this year, according to preliminary data from the Blagovest tourist office in Thessaloniki, which specializes in religious tourism . “Blagovest” is a subsidiary of the Russian tourist group “Ambotis Holidays”.
As Blagovest chief Olga Abaeva said, “a 50% decline was recorded this year. During the first half, there was a fairly large decrease, but the second half did better. I can’t say the exact numbers, the report is not done yet and the pilgrimage period is not over yet.”
In her view, it will be of great importance and will greatly influence the pilgrims what they will be offered by their parishes.
“There was a tendency to visit Veria, the site of the Apostle Paul’s sermon and the monasteries there. Today, however, a visit to Veria is banned. Necessarily, we remove all these areas from the programs. We do not want to embarrass pilgrims by proposing destinations that are not recommended by the Russian Orthodox Church,” he said.
According to Abaeva, pilgrims from Russia at this time are less likely to visit the Vatopedi Monastery, which supported Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in the decision to recognize Ukraine’s “new Church”.
“They want to visit the Monastery of Saint Panteleimon or the Russian Monastery, the Skete of Saint Andrew, but the Monastery of Vatopedi is not included in the program. They also visit the Pantokrator Monastery,” he said.
Regarding how much money pilgrims spend on a trip, he points out that these programs are not cheap.
“Initially, there is travel, these are air tickets, sailing tickets, not only to Italy, but also to many Greek islands. This is revenue that goes to Greece, and we should also mention the food. If it is a Greek airline, then the trip will cost about 1,000 euros,” he explained.
He also noted that the number of pilgrims will depend on “whether there will be a complete split in the Orthodox world.”
“I find that our pilgrimage programs, which last from one week to 10 days, offer many spiritual things. I think they are very interesting, not only for the pilgrims, but also for those who want to learn the history of Christianity and the history of Greece,” he concluded.