By Kostas Onisenko
The Greeks of Ukraine commemorate today St. Metropolitan Ignatius. Metropolitan Ignatius, hierarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, a monk of Mount Athos, had organised and spearheaded the displacement of Crimean Greeks to the Donbas region during the Russo-Turkish War.
The displacement of thousands of Greeks and Christians of other nationalities took place between 1779 and 1780 with the guidance of Ignatius and with the permission of the Empress of Russia Catherine II.
The areas by the Black Sea were inhabited by Greeks from ancient times. The first of them arrived there and created the ancient colonies (6th century BC) while most of them – the ancestors of today’s Greeks of Ukraine – settled there during the Byzantine Empire. Many of them were persecuted during Iconoclasm.
The whole area where the Greeks lived belonged to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Following the dissolution of the Byzantine Empire, the Ecumenical Patriarchate continued to maintain spiritual ties with the region and for this very reason, when the Christians of the region were in danger, it sent Metropolitan Ignatius to organise their displacement.
Metropolitan Ignatius – who later became a Saint of our Church – us also known as Iakovos Kozadinos and was born in 1716 in Kythnos. He was a descendant of the well-known family of Kozadins (Gozadins), who immigrated to Kythnos in the 12th century. When he was a young man he decided to go to Mount Athos and to become a monk in the Holy Monastery of Vatopedi, where he was given the name Ignatius.
In 1771, the Patriarch of Constantinople elected him Metropolitan of Gothia and Kafa in the Crimea, where he made efforts for the spiritual rebirth of the Greeks and the preservation of their national identity and the Orthodox Christian faith.
During the period of migration of the Greeks from the Crimea to the Azov, Ignatius founded the city of Mariupol and some dozens of villages, in which more than 100,000 Greeks of Ukraine live to this very day.