Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Roman Agora and Coffee

After St. Demetrios, we headed a few blocks south to the ancient Roman Agora, which was originally built around 275 BC, and was opened for public use some time in the first century AD (possibly when St. Paul was in the city).

I took the top photo of Pelagia and RM from inside the public amphitheater, which was part of the agora. They are standing at the current street level.

RM took the middle photo 'on the sly' of an interesting and typical street scene.

After the agora, we headed to a neat-looking Turkish-themed cafe called the Taj Mahal. RM took the bottom photo of the wonderful interior design before he was told they didn't allow photographs, for some reason. (Sshh!)

Tomorrow, we're off to Sofia, Bulgaria for a trip with our friend Brendan, who is under the Bulgarian Patriarchate in the US. His bishop may be in Sofia now, so we might get to meet him. We plan on returning Sunday evening, shortly before the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve. Look for photos on Monday!

St. Demetrios

On Tuesday, we all headed downtown to walk around. The first stop was St. Demetrios.


I was surprised and blessed at the number of churches locally. They range in size from chapel to cathedral. I was in awe of the size and feel of St. Demetrios. (Gregory: St. Demetrios is the largest church in Greece.)

From the grandeur of the timber-roofed basilica style to the veneration of the relics, I was overwhelmed. It was my first experience of actual myrrh from a saint, and I left the church in a state of repentance.

Being so western and so unaccustomed to such spiritual realities, I declined going to another church because I was a bit overwhelmed. I can only process so much in one day!

Thank God, RM has enough time here with us to really get a feel for Greece and the Church here, and not just a whirlwind tour.

The top photo is of RM outside St. Demetrios.

The second photo is inside St. Demetrios, from the back.

The third photo is again from inside the cathedral.

The last photo is of RM at the relics of St. Demetrios.

We also went down into the crypt to see the original church and the spot of the saint's martyrdom.

The church also boasts the relics of the virgin-martyr Anysia of Thessaloniki, who was martyred here in 298 for refusing to renounce Christ. Her feast day is celebrated December 30.

Christmas Feast

At 2 PM on Christmas Day, we had a magnificent feast (cooked by our neighbor James Lillie), including turkey and wild boar (see the top photo). Ann Lillie's mother (who lives on the other side of them) came, as well as our American friends. (See middle photo -- clockwise from far left -- Brendan, John, Baby Emilia, Marina, and Ann Lillie.) RM took the bottom photo as we sat around talking after dinner. We ate, talked and played games until 8 or 9 in the evening.

RM says:
Although Gregory and Pelagia are far from home, they're not far from friends. James and Ann next door are wonderful people with lots of love to share. The fellow American students are quickly becoming close friends. Friendships made here will last a lifetime.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Kala Hristogenna!

As our guest blogger today, I recruited RM to describe what we did for Christmas:

On Christmas Eve, we went to church three times. In the morning, we went to the Liturgy at the monastery here in Panorama. Then in the afternoon we went to St. George’s in Panorama for Vespers. Finally, at night, we went to Vigil at St. Haralambos downtown.

Something that struck me as a difference between attending church here and in the States is that people here act the same way in church as they do everywhere else in their lives. They seem very attentive, but at the same time they are very close together and very energetic. At times, even a fight breaks out (that is, we would call it a fight, but they would call it a conversation about where to stand or where to sit). But then it’s resolved and everything’s back to normal.

At St. Haralambos, as I found myself in the back of the church, streams of people were passing me and I was wondering where they were fitting – because there was room for no one! The size of the church is about the same as Christ the Savior in Spokane (or maybe even smaller), and I think I counted about 400 people in there. And they just kept coming! So apparently there’s no such thing here as ‘maximum capacity.’ Brendan and Gregory have a theory that there’s a hole at the front of the church that people disappear into.

After the vigil, we broke the fast with some friends at around 2 or 3 AM. Then we came home and got some rest before our big Christmas feast the next day.

As for the photos: The top photo is of the dome at St. George's in Panorama. The middle photo is of me preparing to chant (a little) for Vespers. The third photo is of Fr. Gregory at the end of Vespers.

Also, we're posting all our photos on the Picasa site here if you want to see more of what we're up to.

We'll try to continue with more tomorrow. On Friday, we've just arranged a spontaneous trip to Bulgaria with our friend Brendan, at his suggestion (we're not that spontaneous!). We'll be there in Sofia just for a day or two. Brendan knows his way around there quite well, so it's a great opportunity! Look for more photos...

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Leaving Mt Athos

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After breakfast/lunch, we got ready to leave.

RM wanted to speak with a monk, and just before we left we were blessed to meet with Fr. Makarios, a French convert to Orthodoxy who's been a monk at Simonos Petras for 27 years. He has written many articles and does some translating (he translated the Synaxarion into French). He is friends with the family of our French friend here in Panorama, Emmanuelle (my Greek classmate).

Anyway, RM was very glad to get to talk with him. Here's what he had to say:

Finding a monk that spoke English was difficult, especially for me. On the last day I was blessed to speak with Fr Makarios, who gave some great advice. The monastic life is to be experienced, but kept separate from the parish life. Go to the monastery and experience the love and then go back to the parish and love everyone.

We didn't get to speak very long with Fr Makarios, as the van was leaving to take all the pilgrims to the port of Dafni. He invited us to come visit him again though, which is great!

Anyway, as for the photos: the top one was taken from just outside the main church. The bottom two photos are of Dafni, taken out of the van as we rode there.

HM Simonos Petras

At Simonos Petras, we again had Vespers at 3 PM, followed by dinner around 4 PM, and then Compline. Again, one of the priests brought out the monastery's relics for veneration -- they included St. Demetrios the Great Martyr and St. Anna, the mother of the Theotokos.

The weather took a decided turn for the cold and the wind was whipping. We retired to our rooms and I read "Mother Gavrilia -- Ascetic of Love" for quite awhile. What a book! As usual, the English translation is pretty rough, but the material is wonderful! I HIGHLY recommend this book.

Anyway, their schedule here was slightly different. As the Greek expression goes: "Every monastery has its own typikon." We had Orthros and Liturgy from 3 AM until about 7:00, followed by coffee and loukoumia. We rested for a bit, and then went to Hours from 9:00-9:30. Afterwards, we had breakfast (they called it lunch).

Here was RM's comment:

It struck me that daily monastery life is organized around the apostolic admonition to ‘pray without ceasing’. That’s why everything is salted with prayer – labor, eating, everything. It’s a life of prayer – prayer for the whole world, prayer for the rest of us. You can see it in their eyes – they are praying without ceasing.

As for the photos, the top one was taken on our walk up to the monastery. The middle one is of one of the bells just outside the katholikon (main church), which is at the very top of the monastery. The bottom one is of some of the outbuildings of the monastery.

Click here for some historical information on the monastery.

Also, we're only picking a handful of the photos. All of them are available here.

Climbing to Simonos Petras

“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected, but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” Philippians 3:12

This is what came to RM when remembering this climb. It was a doozy. We caught the boat from Dionysiou at 10:30 and got off the boat around 11 AM (see top photo). The top looked a LONG way off. Eventually, near the top, we passed an elderly monk coming part way down for something (perhaps to tend to the gardens) and he seemed a bit surprised to see us. (We later learned that most people take the bus to Simonos Petras -- wimps!)

All in all, we made it to the top in a little under an hour. It was raining slightly, and the wind began to whip as we neared the top. Finally, we got to the monastery and were looking for a place to collapse. But we couldn't find where we were supposed to go! The monasteries are like mazes and -- defying logic and physics -- the monastery just seemed to keep going up and up and up. The last photo is of us climbing through a tunnel (which we later learned connected the guest house with the church).

Finally, we found a monk who pointed us in the right direction. We were very happy to make it to the archondariki (guest house) and get the traditional shot of ouzo and loukoumia (Turkish Delight).

HM Dionysiou

The top photo is the incredible view from our room at the Holy Monastery of Dionysiou.

RM took the middle photo from near our room at the 'top' of the monastery and looks down on the grounds and outbuildings of the monastery.

The bottom photo was taken at sunset (which was also bedtime).

After we arrived, they had Vespers at 3 PM, followed by dinner at around 4 PM. After dinner we went back to the church for Small Compline. While the monks read the prayers, one of the priests brought out the relics for the pilgrims to venerate. They had quite a collection! Their treasure, of course, was the arm of St. John the Baptist.

After that, we retired for the evening. Orthros was from 1-4 AM. There was then a short rest before Liturgy at 6 AM. Breakfast followed.

After one of the services, RM wrote this in his journal:

It is a hidden life fully exposed to God – becoming unrecognizable to be revealed to God, losing what you think you are to be what you were made to be, made in the image of God.

Mt Athos: Arriving at Dionysiou

Since we were visiting the Holy Mountain in winter, there was some concern about the weather preventing the trip. Fortunately, the weather here has been pretty mild. It's just now beginning to turn cold. On the day we arrived there was a fog covering the mountain, which gave us this beautiful view of the Russian monastery of Panteleimonos from the boat -- the top photo. Again, see the map.

Finally, after switching boats at Dafni, we arrived at Dionysiou around 1:30 PM. The bottom photo is of RM walking up the steps to Dionysiou from the shore.

Dionysiou was founded in the 14th century by the Emperors Alexios II and III Comnenos of Trebizond. See this short encyclopedia article on the history of Dionysiou.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Our Trip to Mount Athos

Well, Roger Michael and I just returned from our trip to the Holy Mountain. Over the next couple days, we'll post our photos. We left Panorama about 5 AM on Wednesday and took a cab to the bus station. From there, it was about 2.5 hours to Ouranopoli. Then we caught the 'slow boat' to Dafni, which took another 2.5 hours. There, we switched to another boat which took us down to our first stop, the Holy Monastery of Dionysiou.

These photos are of the beginning of our trip. The first is of the sunrise at Ouranopoli, the departure point for Mt Athos.

The second is of Roger Michael (RM) looking out the window of the boat as we began passing some of the monasteries.

The third is of RM looking off the back of the boat, with Mt Athos along the right.

Click here for a map of Mt Athos.

Click here to see all our photos in a slideshow.

RM also will add some 'guest blogging,' as I'm sure you all could use a break from me. Here's what he had to say on the beginning of the trip:

"The sun is risen on a long anticipated day. Our trip to Mt. Athos. I cannot imagine what awaits us. I have all the preconceived notions as to what a monastery is and I am sure I am probably wrong. I have come all the way to Greece for my first trip to a men’s monastery and I am glad Greg is with me to guide me along the way."

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Roger Michael Arrives

Well, our friend Roger Michael arrived Saturday night/Sunday morning after quite an adventure in the skies (the Italian airline he was flying went on a 24-hour strike right in the middle of his trip). Anyway, he's been recovering from the trip and Sunday night we had a get-together to introduce him to some of our friends.

He's been taking some great photos -- here's one I really like of Pelagia and our friend Marina Harper from the dinner on Sunday night.

The top photo is of the two of us on the campus of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki today. Tomorrow, very early, we're off to Mt. Athos. Look for a lot more photos, etc. next week!

Monday, December 11, 2006

My Greek Class

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The top photo is the classroom I spend 3.5 hours in every weekday. I took this photo during our break. Standing in the middle is our friend Alexandros, a German of Greek descent who moved to Greece temporarily to connect with his roots.

The bottom photo is of most of my classmates crowding around a couple cameras, trying to look at the class photos just taken. Today we had sort of a Christmas party so people brought their cameras.

We had a big, mid-term test on Friday so today was a bit looser (much needed). All of us are desperately ready for the Christmas break.

The bottom photo was taken just outside the front door of the School of Modern Greek.

The School of Modern Greek

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The School of Modern Greek is sandwiched between the Old and New Philosophy Buildings. (The top photo and in the background of the bottom photo are of the Old Philosophy Building.)

They are located on the westernmost side of the campus, and the campus stretches from about the center of the city off to the east. That means that my classroom (and the Theology School, which is nearby) are conveniently close the center, particularly the famous Kamara (Arch of Galerius).

Photos from the University

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My dad suggested I take a few photos of the university. I had hesitated previously because parts of it are not the most beautiful. The top photo, for instance, is of the back of the School of Modern Greek. The bottom photo, however, is the front, which makes for a much nicer view.

Part (or all) of the problem stems from a strange Greek law which makes it illegal for police to step foot on university soil. This law was passed in reaction to a tragedy which occurred in the early 70s (I believe), in which student protesters were killed by riot police. It was meant to prevent this tragedy from reoccurring. What it means practically is that the university is an 'OPEN FOR BUSINESS' sign for every sort of criminal one can imagine.

Other students have reported seeing very open drug transactions going on outside their classroom windows. If you look a little too hard in the grass, you can find discarded syringes (yes, heroin is a problem here -- although generally, it seems to me that drugs are less of a problem here than in the US).

On top of all this, students decide every few months to protest something or other (just a couple months ago there were violent demonstrations in response to some of the soccer team's player trades), and they go ahead and burn a building. Just this past Friday they torched the post office located on campus.

In spite of all this, the campus actually feels surprisingly safe and calm, at least when I'm there during the day. I guess all the shenanigans happen at night after the students hit Thessaloniki's famous night scene.

Trip to Mount Athos

Well, our friend Roger Michael Basaraba is coming to visit this Saturday, and we can hardly wait! We're planning a trip to Mount Athos from Wednesday, December 20 through Saturday, December 23, and we've had several great blessings so far.

First, my Greek teacher introduced me to a former student of hers, a Romanian monk who is now on Mount Athos. He is in the Romanian skete near the Great Lavra (Megistis Lavra), and said we could stay one night at the monastery and one night at his skete, if we wanted. (Visitors are generally limited to one night in each location.) See a map here.

When I called around to some of the other monasteries, I was also able to get a hold of someone at Dionysiou, who said we could stay there one night.

Finally, in a long shot, I faxed a request to Simonos Petras and -- against all odds -- we were accepted! (The photo is our 'acceptance' letter.) Since I don't have a fax machine (I can't get the stupid Microsoft Windows Fax to work), I asked Fr. Alexios to send it from the church here in Panorama. He was giving me a hard time about it because he said it was nearly impossible to stay there -- he and Fr. Panoyioti have been trying for a long time and haven't gotten in!

So after talking with a few people about the best ways to get around, the tentative plan is to spend the first night at Dionysiou, the second night at Simonos Petras and the last night at Megistis Lavra before heading back. It should be a great trip, if the weather holds out...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Indonesian Food in Greece

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After that, we met our friend Philip for dinner at -- of all places -- an Indonesian restaurant, opened recently by Gregory, a former theology student himself and a cousin of Indonesia's Fr. Daniel Byantoro.

An international restaurant like this is not particularly common here. Philip joked: "People here don't understand when I tell them that one of the things I miss most about the States is Thai food."

It's particularly nice during fasting times, as the Greek cuisine loves meat, feta, and did I mention meat? (Think of the scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding when the aunt, upon learning that the fiance is a vegetarian, says, "Oh, that's ok -- I'll make lamb.")

Anyway, we had a good time, and Gregory took this photo of us. He is printing some new menus, and we offered to help with the English translations. Pelagia is using her restaurant experience to come up with some very fancy sounding descriptions (unlike the current "with glutinous rice.")

There are a couple websites out there with photos of some hilarious English mistakes. We've seen our share on menus here. The Greeks have a C/G confusion when translating, so we had a chance this summer to have some "fried god" at a fish restaurant in Halkidiki.

Anyway, that was about it. We're scheduled to play some mah-jong with the neighbors in 15 minutes (a regular Sunday evening event), so I'm off.

Christmas in Thessaloniki

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After Vespers on Saturday, we met our friend Brendan and went over to Aristotle Square to see the Christmas display.

I took the top photo from the top of the square, at Egnatia, pointing down to the Christmas tree, which is close to the gulf.

The second photo is, well, me, posing awkwardly at the Christmas tree.

The bottom photo is a decorated boat, next to the Christmas tree. Before the Western 'Santa Claus and Christmas trees' influence came in, Greeks traditionally decorated their boats for Christmas.