Last March, I brought a group of my Seton Hall University students to visit the Monastery of Mother of God of Grottaferrata. The monastery was founded by St. Νεῖλος/Neilos/Nilus, or as the Italians call him, St. Nilo the Younger of Rossano (Calabria). St. Neilos died in 1004, the year the monastery was founded, and exactly fifty years before the schism between East and West.
Grottaferrata is a monastic community, originally of Greek monks from Magna Graecia (Great Greece) of the West – Calabria and Sicily. Plus Italo-Albanian monks – ethnic Albanians who left Albania and Greece in the fifteenth century under Ottoman persecution, Ukrainians, and Roman Catholic Italians. Grottaferrata, located on the outskirts of Rome, was the perfect location for fleeing Byzantine monks, conveniently near the Eternal City. When St. Neilos arrived in Rome, his native Calabria, similar to other parts of Calabria and Sicily, was under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople. The liturgical tradition he and his monks brought to Rome was Greek-Byzantine.
This was probably the first time my students set foot in a church significantly different from what they knew: the reverence paid to icons; the mystical iconostasis, which hides the sanctuary from the faithful; the priest who celebrated facing the Lord – ad orientem; Italian and Greek for the liturgical languages; the abundant incense; the reverence in receiving Communion and singing.
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