A box said to contain a 2,000-year-old relic of St. Andrew was stolen from the Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church in Lowell. (Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)
By Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / August 9, 2008
LOWELL - When the Rev. Demetri Costarakis returned to church last Monday afternoon, he was immediately drawn to the front of the chapel. Something was different, wrong, out of place. The garments that usually sit atop a small, gold-plated chalice were on a shelf. The chalice was gone. Then Costarakis's heart sank.
He immediately looked to the left, his eyes drawn to the mantel on a wooden shrine where a small, elaborately-decorated silver box containing a small piece of bone believed to be a 2,000-year-old fragment of the remains of St. Andrew, had sat on display.
"It was gone," Costarakis said yesterday, sitting in the small, wood-paneled chapel located inside the sprawling Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church. Behind him, two locksmiths applied locking hardware to the chapel's front doors.
"When anyone steals from another person or a place, they are not in the right state of mind," he said. "The paten can be replaced, and the silver box can be replaced. But what is irreplaceable are the relics of St. Andrew. What was beautiful for us here is what was inside that box."
Costarakis held up his hands, pinching the tip of his left pinkie to show the size of the box's contents. He said the box was stolen between Sunday services and when he returned late Monday. Lowell Police say they have leads, but declined to elaborate.
St. Andrew, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus of Nazareth, is the patron saint of Greece, Scotland, Russia, and Romania. Costarakis said the relic was passed from generation to generation and may have been transported from Greece a decade ago. The church acquired it about six years ago.
The church has not had a break-in since the 1980s, when a Eucharist was stolen. That item was eventually recovered after an anonymous caller directed the previous head of the church to the Eucharist.
"We'd hope that whoever took it would realize the importance of it and return it," Costarakis said to the locksmiths. One replied, "Well, I hope some ignorant person doesn't just look at it and toss it aside not knowing what it is."
Church officials also fear that whoever stole the relic may not realize its sacred significance and discard it. The relic of St. Andrew is a beacon for prayer, symbolizing the purity of life, Costarakis said.
"Maybe this is a sign of the times, but times have always been rough," he said. "It is unfortunate that we have to put in cameras and lock the doors, to take these measures."
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