Thursday, September 28, 2006


It's been a few days since I checked in. (Pelagia redesigned the blog -- what do you think?) Pelagia is now remodeling our extra bedroom (for you guests!) and I've been working on our paperwork (ugh).

The good news is that we're closer to getting our paperwork done. I did get my student ID and my student health book, which were major accomplishments. (The student health book enrolls me in the state's free medical care system. Pelagia's health insurance is another problem.)

In other good news, we (finally) received the first two boxes that we mailed to ourselves from the States -- and the most important ones, too -- my books! ( ;

Meanwhile, we're still wearing the same clothes that we brought over in our one suitcase each (which may explain why all our photos look like they were taken on the same 2 days). Of course, in the US, they told me shipping would take 4-6 weeks. What I didn't realize was that was in US time. In Greek time, that means 3-5 months. Sure enough, these boxes arrived 3 months after I mailed them. We're hoping our clothes will arrive in the next month or two, before it gets really cold!

The photo is of our cat, Morouli ('little baby'). We were pronouncing it Marouli, which apparently means 'lettuce.' In this photo, he somehow got under the blanket on top of the couch for a nap.

The other good news is that we're off to Constantinople tonight, returning Sunday. We found a GREAT deal for this trip -- $100 each -- which includes the bus, 2 nights at a 4-star hotel, breakfast, and tours. Although it's so cheap, it's still a stretch financially, but we figure that once school starts it will be more difficult to take these kind of trips. Plus, who knows what will happen? If our paperwork doesn't go through, we may have to leave -- who knows?

Of course, it means driving all night (12 hours) on the bus tonight and a '4-star' hotel in Turkey could mean ANYTHING. (I think it gets 4 stars if it has running water.) Our friend here Brendan loaned me Steven Runciman's books 'The Fall of Constantinople 1453' and the 'The Great Church in Captivity' which I will be reading on the 12-hour bus ride each way.

Among the highlights, on Saturday we will go to Agia Sophia -- standing since Justinian founded in 537 and the site where the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council restored icons. We will go to church on Sunday morning at the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and then head back.

Expect lots of photos next week! Check back then!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Pelagia's Project, Part 2

Here's the second classroom. The chair rail theme is just in these two rooms, I'm thinking that for the older kids' classrooms I'll do an accent wall behind the teacher.

That's it from me. :) Thanks for all your comments, phone calls and emails. We miss you all and appreciate everyone's prayerful (and financial) support. Love - Pelly

Pelagia's Project, Part 1

Hi - It's Pelagia on the blog for the first time! As most of you probably know, I'm really bad a communicating so I leave most of that up to Gregory. He finally convinced me to make a post though...actually, he kind of tricked me into it by asking for my help and then leaving. Hmm - pretty slick.

For the past couple weeks I've been painting at our neighbor's English School. So far, I've completed two of the four classrooms. Here are some before and after pictures.
The first picture is classroom 1 before, the second is the same room after I finished.

The close up shows the dark purple desks and the green students' chairs. The other colors I'm incorporating are coral and light cool blue. That's the theme for the whole school...just mixed and matched a bit different in each room.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Monastery in Veria

Yesterday I went with Frs. Alexios and Panagioti (our parish priests) to visit the new monastery near Veria. St. Paul came here after leaving Thessaloniki. See this brief but interesting wikipedia article on Veria.

The monastery, Agion Panton (All Saints), is not actually new. It was originally built in the 1500s I believe, but all that remains of that is the temple. Now, Fr. Pavlos (our host on Mt Athos) has taken up the project of restarting the monastery. They are building like crazy and already 6 nuns are there.

The top photo is of the temple. This outer facade is new. The bottom photo is taken from the doorway in the new exonarthex and shows the original (tiny) doorway into the old chapel. I didn't take any photos in there, but it was beautiful. Much of the original iconography remains (although many of the faces have been scratched out by invaders).

The second photo shows the guest house/trapeza on the left, with the temple just barely visible on the right.

I have more photos of the monastery here.

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

In so many ways, this photo typifies Greece.

Let me set the stage: It's Tuesday, 2 PM, in the middle of Thessaloniki. I've spent the whole day (and the whole next day) running around in paperwork circles, accomplishing nothing. As we (I and 2 other Americans helping me) are walking to and fro, we come across this car, double-parked on a major street, blocking the road.

When we walked by, we did a double-take. I don't know if you can tell, but this woman is fast asleep in the car (fortunately, she's the passenger).

Ah, Greece! ( ;

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Our New Cat

There seems to be a BIG problem in Greece with feral cats. You'll see cats everywhere (as in my photos from the ruins of the palace of Galerius) and you'll even see dogs wandering the streets. Apparently, it is not common for Greeks to keep dogs or cats (but especially cats) as indoor pets. They may feed them, but they seem to be generally considered public property (or a public nuissance, as the case may be).

Of course, Pelagia and I wanted to adopt all the stray cats who hang out at our apartment building. We made the mistake of leaving food out for them, and now we're practically besieged by these cats!

Anyway, Pelagia had tried to contact the Greek equivalent of a humane society, to ask if she could volunteer. It turns out they don't really have anything formalized like this. One local group formed about 10 years ago. At one time, they had enough donations to run a small shelter, but recently had to close. Now they use volunteer's homes to nurse wounded cats and small kittens until they can find adoptive homes for them.

Pelagia got in touch with the lady in charge of the local group, and we ended up adopting this little cat. The lady we got him from called him "Marouli," which means "Little Baby." So we call him this, or recently I started calling him "Manouli" because I forgot that it was actually "MaRouli." So this may end up being his name, as soon as we make sure this isn't a curse word in Greek or something.

Pelagia also volunteered with them one evening to try to catch a feral mother cat and get her spayed. These cats are pretty wily, and they weren't able to get it. Anyway, she may volunteer again some time, if she has time. We heard today that our neighbors, the Lillies, may have hooked Pelagia up with a Greek interior designer who might hire her part-time. Thanks be to God! What a great job!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The View From Our Roof

The other evening our neighbor, Ann, took us up to the roof of our apartment building to see the view. It's beautiful! It wasn't a particularly clear night and it was hard to get unblurred photos with my camera, but I got a couple.

The first photo is of Ann and Pelagia, with the bright lights of Thessaloniki in the background. Where the lights stop, that is the Gulf.

The bottom photo is to the left of the first -- it's the road that leads east to Halkidiki (and Mt Athos). The green lights (if you can make them out) are the airport.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Paperwork Blues

Well, we haven't done anything too exciting to report on. Pelagia is working VERY hard on her job painting our neighbor's English-tutoring school, and I've been working on getting our paperwork accepted for a residence permit.

Doing paperwork is a full-time job here, really. Keep in mind that I've been working on this same paperwork (to be able to stay in Greece legally) for almost a YEAR now -- literally HUNDREDS of hours. It's the same stuff -- they want to know you're healthy and that you have money, etc.

First, we filed all this paperwork with the Greek Embassy in the US, and it was finally accepted. Now they want the EXACT same information to basically extend this visa into a one-year residence permit. The problem is that no Greek government office will communicate with another. One might think: Why not just contact the Greek Embassy in the US and get that information? Perish the thought! The Greek office here (and its bureaucrats) are just as important as those bureaucrats, and -- as such -- they demand their own paperwork (and originals, too, thank you very much).

But instead of an AMERICAN doctor certifying that you're healthy, it has to be a GREEK doctor (apparently, some diseases are so mysterious that only a Greek doctor can detect them). Instead of an AMERICAN bank account with X number of dollars, it has be to be a GREEK bank account with X number of dollars, etc, etc.

Each time you speak with a bureaucrat, they will ADD a requirement, too. (The laws are so vaguely written that each bureaucrat "interprets" them as he/she sees fit.) They will refuse to write down what they tell you, because this would be evidence you could use against them later. No, they only tell you, so that they can then add one more paper when you come back.

Finally, on Tuesday, I thought I had all the papers we needed. We went down to Thessaloniki to turn them in. The bureaucrat seemed satisfied! But wait -- oh, it turns out that we live in Panorama, so we need to hand these in at the Panorama office. Ok.

So we go Wednesday morning to the Panorama office. Well, no self-respecting Greek bureaucrat could possibly accept the arbitrary interpretations of another bureaucrat -- only their (equally arbitrary) interpretation will do. So if Thessaloniki said I need A, B, and C, then she says that I certainly need D and E too.

Well, I finally snapped. I draw the line here. I am NOT running around in this circle any more. So I brought in the big guns. I complained to our priest Fr. Alexios. It was like complaining to the don. He said, "What's the name of the woman giving you a problem?" ( :

This morning, after the liturgy, he actually walked over to the office with us. When I saw all the bureaucrats stand up and kiss his hand, I thought: "This is probably going to help." Sure enough, suddenly everything was "Don't worry" and "No problem." After a few minutes, this lady was personally taking our applications down to the main office to ask about them. Now she SAYS she will call Fr. Alexi on Monday to tell him what they said. I'm quite sure there will be more to do, but at least we finally have some movement.

The scary part is that, in talking with other Americans, we've had it relatively EASY! I can't even begin to tell you some of the horror stories I've heard. For example, it's not unheard of for a bureaucrat here to make an American FLY BACK to the US, pick up a piece of paper, and then fly back to Greece. I really don't know how to accurately describe this aspect of the society -- it can only be lived (or maybe read about in a Kafka story).

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Call Greece for FREE!

Check out this website our neighbor just told us about. It's VOIP (Voice Over Internet) for FREE! It uses your regular phone -- you don't have to buy a special computer headset, etc. You just need high-speed internet -- DSL or cable. Just download the software, sign up for a free account, and start calling. You have to dial "00" for an international line, then the country code -- "30" for Greece or "1" for the US.

You enter your phone number and the number you're calling. Your normal phone will ring immediately; pick it up, and then it starts ringing the number you've called. I tried calling a few people and it works fine. Give it a try! Call us at 00-30-2310-341-410. Please check the time here before calling, though!

A Day in the Life

Pelagia just found this short 15-second video online at a neat website called We had been trying to think of a way to share this daily part of our life here in Greece with people. Check out the video.

Typically, these guys drive around in old, beat-up pick-up trucks, full of lemons and watermelons (karpuzi). They've managed to somehow rig up a loudspeaker system on the top of their trucks to announce this, and they then drive around residential neighborhoods terrifying people and disturbing the peace.

When we first heard this, and -- of course -- we didn't understand what they were saying, we thought they were going around spreading communist propaganda: "Capitalism is evil. Take back the means of production."

Hmm, come to think of it, I've never actually seen anyone buy anything off one of these trucks...

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Holy Mountain: The End

After visiting Elder Paisios' cell, we went to visit Fr. Alexios' friend, Fr. Moses, at his cell inside the Skete of St. Panteleimon. It turns out Fr. Moses is quite famous. He is the author of 45 books in Greek; 3 have been translated to English. He encouraged me to continue learning Greek so that maybe I could translate more of them. ( ;

When we left, he gave me the English translation of his book "The Blessed Elder George Karslides."

Anyway, we visited with him awhile on his balcony (from which I took the top picture). In the Athonite tradition, he served us coffee, a pastry, and -- of course -- ouzo. Whew!

The next morning we had Orthros and Liturgy back at the Cell of the Holy Trinity. After breakfast, Fr. Christodoulos drove us back to the port of Daphne to catch our boat. Of course, there was a mad throng of people trying to get onto the tiny boat, but -- fortunately -- Fr. Alexios had wisely made reservations for us.

It was quite a shock getting back to Ouranopolis and having people swarming around in skimpy bathing suits (men and women alike)!

It was a wonderful visit. I feel truly blessed to have been able to go. Our friend, Roger Michael, is coming from Spokane to visit us in December, and we hope to visit the Holy Mountain right before Christmas (weather permitting).

Well, that's the end of that adventure. Now we're working on finishing up our application for a residence permit. If that goes well, we hope to take a trip to Constantinople at the end of September -- after the first stage of Pelagia's job is done and before school starts on Oct. 10.

I found out this morning that I did not receive the "foreign student scholarship" I had applied for. It was a long shot, but still -- foolishly -- I was very hopeful I would get it. It amounts to 400 or so Euros a month, plus I would be enrolled in the state socialized medical program. Everyone tells me that it will work out and that I'll have a better shot at getting one next year, but still I'm a bit disappointed. Apparently, the key is having letters of recommendation from the highest (and most Greek) church officials you can find. Another American here, Brendan, told me today that he also was denied the first year (he only had a letter from his Bulgarian bishop in the US). So the next year he got a letter from Archbp. Demetrios of the Greek Church in America, PLUS he got a letter from the Patriarch of Bulgaria, signed by the whole synod! This did the trick. So -- if anyone has an "in" with a Patriarch somewhere, let me know...

The Holy Mountain, Pt 9: Elder Paisios

I'm nearing the end, I promise!

On Tuesday evening, we went to visit Panagoudas, Elder Paisios' cell. The Elder is HIGHLY venerated on the Mountain and in Thessaloniki. It seems certain that the Church will name him a saint.

The top photo is taken outside his cell. The entrance is right behind us. The middle photo is taken from that entrance. The Elder's small room is to the left, and his chapel is to the right. That's pretty much all that's there. The bottom photo is the Elder's chair in the chapel, with his coat still on the chair.

The Holy Mountain, Pt 8: Stavronikitas

Our last stop on the monastery tour was Stavronikitas (Victorious Cross). They have the smallest katholikon of any of the 20 monasteries, but -- of course -- it was beautiful and very old.

The top photo is our group just outside the monastery, stopping to look at their fish pond.

The second photo is taken from the grapevine-covered courtyard. Fr. Alexios and his son, Hristos, are looking out at the sea.

The Holy Mountain, Pt 7: Skete of Prophet Elias

Our next stop was the Skete of Prophet Elias (Elijah), a dependency of Pantokrator. Although it is technically a skete, it is enormous. Originally, it was a Russian skete, as you can probably tell from the photos. I didn't know this at the time, but our neighbor, James Lilly, told us there was some controversy at this skete back in 1992 -- some American monks (surprise, surprise!) were actually evicted.

Anyway, it is an absolutely beautiful katholikon. It is the second largest temple on the Holy Mountain, after only St. Panteleimon's (the Russian monastery). It can hold 2000 people; there are currently 10 Greek monks at the monastery.

The top photo is taken from the road. The middle photo is of Fr. Alexios as we walked into the monastery. The bottom photo is of the gigantic iconostasis.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Holy Mountain, Pt 6: Pantokrator

After Iveron, we went to the Monastery of the Pantokrator (again, see map here).

The top photo is above the entrance you walk through to enter the monastery.

The middle photo is of Panagia Gerontissa, the only full-body icon of the Theotokos and, of course, very old. Her eyes follow you wherever you walk in the room! See all my photos here for more on this and the whole trip in general.

The bottom photo is of murals inside the church where the monks usually pray.

The Holy Mountain, Pt 5: Iveron

On Tuesday, we had quite an adventure. We all packed back into the little pick-up truck (the younger guys, including me, in the back) and headed off to visit monasteries.

The first stop was Iveron (see the map back in the first post). The top photo is of us walking up to the entrance of the monastery. The bottom photo is the entrance.

I was not allowed to take any photos inside the church, which was magnificent. First, we saw the miraculous icon Panagia Portaitissa (Panagia Who Guards the Door). This icon is at least 1000 years old, as it was discovered -- miraculously -- at the founding of the monastery around 950.

The story goes that as the first monks were establishing the monastery, one monk saw a beam of light from heaven shining down to a specific point on the sea. It was highlighting this icon, which the monk then retrieved.

Of course, the monks set the icon up in their new church, but when they awoke the next morning, the icon was moved to a spot near the door of the monastery. Confused, they put the icon back in the church. The next morning -- again -- the icon was moved. They tried a third time and sure enough the same thing happened. After that, they left the icon near the door of the monastery, from whence it got its name.

Iveron also had a side chapel of the katholikon which was filled with relics. There were glass chests along every wall of this room, and each one was packed full of relics -- St. John Chrysostom, the Apostle Philip, etc. Amazing!

The Holy Mountain, Pt 4: Elder Gabriel

Back to the Holy Mountain (Agion Oros).

On Monday evening, we went to visit Elder Gabriel (in Greek, pronounced Gav-REEL), who has a cell not far from Elder Paisios' old cell. Among the Greeks, Elder Gabriel is considered Elder Paisios' successor, a living saint.

He is a wonderfully simple, joyous monk. He took us inside his cell and into his little chapel to show us his miraculous icon, which is well known in the churches in Greece. Amazingly, it's simply a paper icon of the Theotokos holding the Christ child, and it is wet with myrrh. I've never seen anything like it. He let us venerate it and I could feel that it was just paper soaked with myrrh. Incredible! He gave us each cottons soaked with myrrh to take with us.

To Fr. Alexios' delight, he also let us have a photograph with him, which is apparently quite rare. The top photo is of us walking down to his cell. The middle photo, from left to right, is: Kyr Niko, Kyr Panagioti, Hristos (in front), Fr. Christodoulos, Elder Gabriel, me, Fr. Alexios. At bottom is a photo of Fr. Alexios talking with the elder. I'm going to print it and try to get a frame for him.

Salonica: City of Ghosts

I just finished reading Mark Mazower's book "Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims, and Jews, 1430-1950."

The book is a history of the city of Thessaloniki (sometimes also called Salonica), with special attention on the period of Ottoman rule and the World Wars. In particular, Mazower is interested in the religious and ethnic communities that inhabited the city during this period.

First, I must say that it was VERY well researched and provides A LOT of interesting historical detail. (In fact, some may complain that it is a bit dry in parts.) In short, I think it's worth reading, especially if you are interested in the city of Thessaloniki. If you are planning to visit us (we hope!), it will give you some good background information.

That being said, I also have some complaints. First, I think Mazower shows too much of a bias. Clearly, he is writing based on a couple personal views. One, he believes the city reached it apex during Ottoman rule, thanks largely to the Jewish community. Two, he sees the rise of European nationalism in the 19th and 20th centuries as an unmitigated disaster, and he sees Greek nationalism as particularly pernicious.

While I'm inclined to sympathize with the dismay at ULTRA-Greek nationalism, he is too heavy-handed in his portrayal. For one, he keeps referring to Greek "rewriting" of history along ideological lines, but EVERYONE tells history as they see it, INCLUDING him.

Second, he spends not a little time detailing the pitfalls of Balkan nationalism, but COMPLETELY OVERLOOKS the very same nationalism (or what amounts to the same thing, ethno-centrism) of the Jewish community he praises so much. For example, he barely conceals his contempt for the Greek government's "hellenization" of the city after the fall of the Ottoman Empire -- the push for the Greek language, culture, etc. But when the Jewish community did THE VERY SAME THINGS -- refusing to be culturally assimilated during the whole 500-year Ottoman rule, insisting on their Judeo-Spanish language, etc. -- well, this is just to be expected, apparently. Jewish culture must, of course, be kept pure (it goes without saying), but for Greeks to insist on the same for their culture is tyrannical nationalism. I find that a very frustrating assumption. I don't care if he's in favor of cultural separatism or assimiliation, but don't be hypocritical about it. What's good for one is good for the other.

Besides that, the book is very well done. It is meticulously researched, including many personal letters, diary entries, etc. that are frequently humorous. If you are interested in learning more about Thessaloniki, it's a good source -- just NOT to be taken as the ONLY source. As always (it seems) in the Balkans, there are many sides to the story.

For example, a Greek friend of ours here vehemently disagreed with many of the book's assertions about the size and influence of the Jewish community during Ottoman rule. For the Greeks, the city is fundamentally Greek with only a few non-Greek hiccups along the way. Mazower seems to be writing precisely against this dominant position, going (too far, I think) in the opposite direction.

Anyway, that's just my take. I'd be curious to hear what others think. I believe Makrina read this book as well.

For those interested, it can be purchased on Amazon here, or (even cheaper) on here. (I've used many times and always been happy with them.)

Friday, September 08, 2006

Paperwork Intermission

I interrupt this account of my journey to Mt Athos to bring you an important paperwork update.

No, seriously, my ongoing story about the Holy Mountain was delayed today because we had an appointment at the hospital. We needed to get a certificate stating that we are free of contagious diseases so that we can finish our application for a residence permit. (Notice I said that we needed a certificate stating that we were free of contagious diseases. Whether or not we actually are free of such diseases seems to be secondary.)

So we set out today on the bus down to Thessaloniki around 8:30 for our 10:00 appointment (we were playing it safe because we weren't really sure where the hospital was). Well, in very typical fashion, we found several people who went out of their way to help us. I simply asked on the bus where the hospital was, and it actually turned into a pretty lively discussion among every one on the bus. Finally, one lady (who even spoke English) said she would actually walk us there (this sort of kindness is not unusual).

She took us right to the hospital (well out of her way) and even spoke to the receptionist to find out what we needed to do. (The receptionist inside the hospital was, of course, smoking. Pelagia and I determined this will make her trips to oncology more convenient.)

First we had to go to your typical clerk behind a window and pay a fee of 6 Euros. Then we walked around to an office door and waited there until someone came out to get us. This was apparently the doctor. We gave him our passports and told him what certificates we needed. He wrote our information down in a big book (which Pelagia estimated to be at least 70 years old) and then sent us back to the clerk to pay another fee. Here we paid 4.10 Euros and then went to get xrays of our lungs in another building. After this we returned to the doctor's office, with our xrays in hand (and of course our photo and a document with a lot of stamps attached to it). Here, the doctor again filled out a lot of forms and then looked at the xrays for about 5 seconds each. On the basis of this, he issued us certificates stating that we were free of all contagious diseases.

Now, I'm no doctor, but it seems hard to believe that he can make that determination just based on an xray of our lungs. Still, I can't complain: we were done in less than 2 hours and -- most importantly -- there was no stool sample required.

And the best part is that we get to keep these enormous xrays of our lungs (I'm holding mine in the photo). They're valid for the next 6 months, we were told. Pelagia is considering hanging them on our walls.

Speaking of Pelagia decorating, I came back from Mt Athos to learn that Pelagia has already found a paying job. Our neighbors, the Lillies, own a school to teach English, and Pelagia has been hired to do some interior decorating/fixing up. She really enjoys "budget designing" -- this may be the start of a career for her!

Anyway, after our hospital adventure, we stayed in Thessaloniki and visited two enormous churches -- Panagia Dexia and Agia Sophia. I tried to take some photos but they didn't come out because it was too dark inside. Suffice it to say, though, they are magnificent, old churches. The dome of Agia Sophia features a famous depiction of the Ascension from, I believe, the 10th century.

I hope to finish the Holy Mountain story tomorrow (if anyone is constantly checking back, waiting eagerly for it). ( ;

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Holy Mountain, Part 3: The Kellis (Cell) of the Holy Trinity

Frs. Pavlos and Christodoulos are the only monks at this cell, which is under the Monastery of Koutloumousiou. When they arrived, it had been abandoned for about 10 years and they completely renovated it. The centerpiece is the chapel, which dates to about 1700 (the bottom photo is of me in the chapel). The alternating red and blue colors are handmade pigments. The top photo is Kyr (Mr) Panagioti coming out the main entrance of the cell into the grapevine-covered courtyard.

The fathers were wonderful hosts, and before I left they said I could come visit "whenever I want." I don't know if they meant that literally, but I'm certainly taking it that way! ( :

As I mentioned before, there are many more photos here (with captions):

Let me know how you like the web album format...

The Holy Mountain, Part 2

The trip went like this: We left Panorama about 9:30 AM in the church's mini-van. It took about 2 hours to get to Ouranopolis. There we took a small boat to the port of Daphne, about a 30 min ride. Our hosts, Frs. Pavlos and Christodoulos, actually met us in Ouranapolis (I think they had come in to do some errands) and when we arrived in Daphne they had a quarter-ton Ford pick-up truck that we all squeezed into. Their cell, Holy Trinity, is located near (and a dependence of) the Monastery of Koutloumousiou (see map).

At first I was surprised at Daphne -- there were paved roads, cafes, cell phones ringing -- but then we soon hit the dirt roads. (It seems the only paved roads are in Daphne and Karyes.) Here are a couple photos I took from the back of the truck. I rode in the back of the truck a lot as went to visit the different monasteries -- it was better than walking, but it was VERY dusty! I felt like I was covered in dust.

The Holy Mountain, Part 1

Well, I'm back! What a wonderful trip! I don't know quite how to say this without sounding trite, but this visit really changed my understanding of Orthodoxy (for the better obviously). All I can say is that I was deeply impressed by the spirit of love, hospitality, and JOY that the monks exuded. I guess I sort of expected a stiff, super-correctness that I've come to associate with "traditional" or "pious" Orthodoxy, but this was not the case at all. It was a great experience. I only hope I can emulate THIS kind of Christianity.

The top photo is me holding my pass onto the autonomous state of the Holy Mountain. In the background you see the city of Ouranapolis, the main departure port in Greece to leave for the Holy Mountain. Below is a map.

I have 83 photos in all, too many to put all on this blog. I set them all up here (hit the slideshow button; you can then edit the length of time between slides -- I'd suggest 8-10 seconds -- and whether or not it displays the captions I wrote):

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Divine Liturgy at the Rotunda

We did make it to the Rotunda (St. George's) for Divine Liturgy this morning. It was amazing. This is a photo I took as we walked up to the church from the bus stop. The Arch of Galerius is on the left. The Rotunda was built around 297, originally as a mausoleum for Emperor Galerius (after he died, of course). It turns out he was not buried there, after all, and with the triumph of Christianity only a few years later, the building was used instead as a church.

Today, you can see only faded pieces of the original iconography, including parts of the Pantocrator on the ceiling and a fairly well preserved Ascension scene in the apse above the sanctuary. (It's quite interesting to note how prevalent the image of the Ascension was in the early churches here. It seems to be depicted either in the dome or in the apse above the sanctuary in almost every church.) Otherwise, the inside looks VERY archaic, with scaffolding erected against the walls for future restoration work.

The bottom photo here is of the entrance. Below the icon of St. George, there is an inscription in Turkish, from the building's days as a mosque (as you can see from the top photo, the minaret is still standing -- the only one I've seen in the city).

Our friend Philip happened to come to Liturgy here as well today, and afterwards we had some coffee and a bite to eat with him at an outdoor cafe right next to the Arch of Galerius. Then we all walked just a few blocks down Egnatia (the ancient Via Egnatia, the Roman road) and went to the Mt. Athos exhibit, featuring items from the Protaton (the central church of the Holy Mountain, located in the administrative capital of Karyes). Unfortunately, no photography was allowed.

Anyway, tomorrow morning I'm off to Mt. Athos until Wednesday evening. Photography is allowed there, I hear, at least in certain sections, so I will post some photos upon my return (God willing). Check back Thursday!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

What's Happening

Sorry I haven't posted in a couple days. The fact is that we haven't done anything too exciting -- errands, housework, paperwork, etc.

We went with our American friend Philip to see Pirates of the Caribbean 2 the other night. That was an interesting experience! At Greek movie theaters, you actually have to buy an assigned seat, like a real theater. I was really surprised at how organized the whole affair was, especially for Greece! (Oh, and yes, it's true -- you can buy beer at the movie theater.)

The movie was quite silly, but one unusual feature was that it just stopped in the middle of one scene. At first, we thought perhaps the projector had broken, but no -- this was an "intermission" so that people could go smoke. Philip just sighed and said, "Einai Ellada" (It's Greece).

This morning, our friend Dimitris took me to the Mt Athos Pilgrims' Office to (surprise, surprise) file some paperwork for my trip to the Holy Mountain on Monday. The office was tucked away in perhaps the most difficult-to-find spot in the city. I was glad Dimitris was available to take me -- I never would have found it. While in the office, I couldn't help but chuckle as I heard what I could immediately discern as an American convert (like myself) speaking on the phone from America with the official about getting permission to go to Mt. Athos. The official kept repeating himself: "It is not possible. It is impossible. Oh, in that case, yes, it's possible. But no, it's not possible. You must get the permission of the monastery and submit a document...." This conversation repeated itself at least 5 times. Ah, how I could relate. I wanted to get on the phone with him and be a cultural translator. I'm beginning to figure out that what this guy's problem was: He was trying to be too organized about the whole affair. Here I was turning in some document two days before I left (in person -- that's the key part -- and with a native Greek speaker), and he's faxing and calling from America trying to plan something months in advance. Poor guy.

Anyway, we saw that Divine Liturgy is being served tomorrow morning in the Rotunda -- Agios Georgios, the oldest church in Thessaloniki (although not originally constructed as a church -- it was built by the Emperor Galerius). We hear that the Metropolitan is usually at this kind of thing. We're thinking we'll go there tomorrow morning. I also saw that there's a nice exhibit of materials from Mt. Athos in the city, so maybe we can visit that as well after Liturgy. Hopefully, I'll have some photos and something interesting to post tomorrow evening then.

After that, I leave for Mt. Athos on Monday morning, returning (I think) Wednesday evening or Thursday.