Friday, October 27, 2006

St Demetrios' Feast Day

On Thursday, we were blessed to celebrate the feast day of St. Demetrios at his cathedral in downtown Thessaloniki (see the 'file' photo). This is the largest church in Greece, and every square inch of it was full of people! Oh, the humanity!

There were 13 bishops celebrating, as well as about 25 priests and 4 deacons. We waited in what I will loosely call a 'line' to venerate St Demetrios' (fragrant) relics, which were placed in front of the royal doors. What an experience!

We arrived around 7 AM and the church was already full, by American standards (i.e. every seat was taken). By the end, there were at least 100 times more people. I couldn't even bring my arm up to make the sign of the cross!

St Demetrios is the patron of Thessaloniki, and the whole city shuts down for his feast day, which also commemorates the liberation of Thessaloniki from the Ottomans on Oct 26, 1912. We were truly blessed to be here for that day.

Some time in the next 2 weeks, we hear, there will be a service in which the saint's relics are taken out and wiped down with cotton. They then hand out the myrrh-soaked cotton to the faithful. I've heard that you can smell the myrrh for blocks around when they do this. We hope to go, if we can find out when the service is (obtaining reliable information on schedules here is a whole 'nother story).

On Thursday evening, we met our house guest, Constantine Zalalas, at the monastery here in Panorama. He had escorted there two American nuns from St. Paisios Serbian Orthodox Monastery in Arizona, including Abbess Mihaela. He's helping them do some purchasing of church supplies and staying with us until some time next week. He has translated a slew of Greek texts into English -- a listing is available here. (I now have 175 hours of talks to listen to!) ( ; Posted by Picasa

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Mt Olympus

To finish my story from our trip this weekend: After visiting Ancient Dion, we went to the town of Litohoro, which lies at the base of the famous Mt Olympus, the ancient home of the pagan Greek gods.

Mt Olympus was the modern state of Greece's first national park, and it offers some great hiking. For this trip, however, the group only walked about half an hour to a nice waterfall.

We hope to hike to the top of the mountain (about 9000-9500 ft) some time next spring or summer. You have to stay at a shelter on the mountain for at least one night to make it all the way. (Maybe Makrina would like to go!) Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 23, 2006

Ancient Dion -- addendum

Ah! I almost forgot! Dion's Roman baths and -- most importantly -- it's public toilets! Our tour guide was VERY excited to tell us about these. Dion's public toilets were built by the Emperor Vespasian (ca. 70 AD). The radiant floor heating for the public baths was converted back into water at an open well and flushed through the adjacent public toilets. The toilets (seen in photo) seated 16, apparently. When they first opened, they were free -- but no one would use them. So the Emperor consulted a wise man who told him he should charge for them. The next thing you know people were waiting in line for hours to use the bathroom (so our tour guide story went, anyway).

It sounds like it was quite the social event!

All our photos from the trip, by the way, are available herePosted by Picasa

Ancient Dion

This weekend, the School of Modern Greek arranged a trip to Ancient Dion and Mt Olympus for its students, so Pelagia and I went. The University has its own tour bus that we took there. It's about an hour west, still along the Thermaikos Gulf.

We had a very nice tour guide, who told us that she had written a couple books and produced nearly 50 TV documentaries on historical sites in Greece. I doubt she was lying -- this woman was a FOUNTAIN of information. The only complaint we all had was that had TOO much information. We first stopped at the museum for the ancient city of Dion, and she could have gone on for DAYS in there. Finally, she finished and we headed off to the archaelogical site of the ancient city of Dion, dating back to the 5th century BC. The museum was -- well, it was a museum -- but the site itself was very interesting. We were very fortunate, also, to have beautiful weather. It had been rainy in Thessaloniki for quite a few days, but it really cleared up for our trip.

The photos are all from the site of the ancient city. In the second photo, I'm standing along one side of the main road of the ancient city.

In the third photo, Pelagia is looking at the site of what is known as the Villa of Dionysus, which was the home of a very wealthy resident. You can still see some of the amazing mosaic floors. Also, in front of Pelagia, what you actually see is the 18" or so underneath the main floor. This was a radiant floor heating system, which they also used in the extensive public baths in the city (dating from the Roman period, ca. 150 BC).

The last photo is of the old church of St. Thekla, dating -- obviously -- from early Christian times. Our tour guide claimed that St. Thekla was martyred here, but the literature indicates she gave up her soul at the age of 90 in Seleucia.

This brings up a related point. Greeks will usually present things as 'facts,' but some discretion is needed here, we're learning. For example, our guide, in good Greek fashion, claimed to know the history of not only Greece, but France, Germany, etc. She would tell an episode from German history and then look to the students from Germany for approval. They would say, "Hmm...we've never heard of that before." Instead of saying, as perhaps an American would, "Oh maybe, I heard it wrong," she said, "You have to come to Greece for me to teach you the history of Germany?" Yes, I'm serious. These 'histories' would INVARIABLY involve tracing how every good human invention EVER was really first invented by the Greeks and then stolen by some other country. (And you thought the father in 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' was just a caricature? Ah, no!) Oh man! You wouldn't believe some of the stories!

Just for one: She was telling a story about (who else?) Alexander the Great and one of his great battle victories, and she mentioned how his soldiers would scream 'Aye ya ya!' as they attacked. She then mentioned how the American Indians (as seen in cowboy movies) stole this war chant from the Greeks. At this point, Pelagia said, "Ok, that's too much. We have to challenge her on this one." Alas, we let it pass. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Greece in the News

This is so Greek.

Guest Room, AFTER

The top photo is of the floor in progress, obviously. It looks SO much better now than the old, dirty, industrial carpet that was there before. Most importantly, it can now actually be cleaned. The vacuum cleaners here are almost completely useless -- they have about as much power as a AA battery.

The REALLY bizarre thing is that our Greek landlady loved the room, but wanted to know what we had done with the carpet, since it was 'new.' Evidently, she wanted to keep it for future use. Yikes.

The second photo is the finished room, and the bottom photo is of the shadows cast on the ceiling by the new light fixture (which is not actually new at all -- Pelagia found it buried in our storage and she cleaned it up).
 Posted by Picasa

Pelagia's Guest Room Project, BEFORE

Whew! Well, it has been a busy week. I finished up proofreading Fr. Peter's new book, and also had a very full week of Greek class.

Anyway, Pelagia finished up her guest room project right before Jean arrived, and I thought I'd post the before & after photos. Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 16, 2006

Our First Visitor

Well, we had our first visitor this weekend -- Jean Pond, our Greek teacher from Spokane, came up from Athens. She comes to Athens for about a month every year to work on her Modern Greek, and this was her first trip up to the "second city" of Greece.

I think I can safely say that she really liked it -- Jean, what do you say?

She arrived Saturday afternoon and we went to the Byzantine Museum on the way back to our place. Then we had dinner with our neighbors, the Lillies, and a new girl in town -- Emmanuelle, from France. Emmanuelle lives here in Panorama and, it turns outs, we're both in the exact same Greek class (which actually, finally, started today).

On Sunday, we gave Jean a whirlwind tour of Thessaloniki -- the White Tower, the Gulf, the Roman Agora, St Demetrios, Ano Poli, the Arch, Galerius Palace -- the whole deal. We also stopped at the Karcher's on Sunday evening for an American potluck and met the rest of the American theology students.

On Saturday evening, we also took Jean up to the roof of our building for an overview of Thessaloniki (see the top photo). The second photo is from Sunday, taken on Aristotle Square, at the waterfront. The third photo was taken when we came back and collapsed on Sunday night -- Momo (now the cat's name) liked Jean.

This morning, Jean headed to the train station and Pelagia and I both started our Greek classes. We were both very happy with them. Pelagia's may be a bit too slow for her, but she'll see if the pace picks up. My class has a really good group of students -- about 20 from all over the globe, including Sweden, Iraq and Palestine. I think the level is a good fit for me. Most of the other students are better with speaking and aural comprehension, but I feel more comfortable with reading and writing. Hopefully, I can catch up -- my teacher teaches 98% in Greek (using English for difficult words), so that should help me sink or swim. Well, I've got some work to do...check in later!

 Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Little Job

Well first Pelagia found a little job that was ideal for her, now I found one. I'm proofreading Fr. Peter Heers' newest book for Uncut Mountain Press: 'Patristic Theology, Lectures of Fr. John Romanides.' I get to read the book for free and before anyone else, PLUS I get paid something for it. What a deal! ( ;

In other news, my Greek class is now supposed to start tomorrow (Thursday). Pelagia's may start Monday.

We're having our first visitor this weekend -- our Greek teacher from Spokane, Jean Pond. She's studying Greek in Athens for a month and coming up this weekend to visit Thessaloniki for the first time.

It's starting to get busy here!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Constantinople, Part 11: The Ecumenical Patriarchate

Finally, our last stop was the Ecumenical Patriarchate for Divine Liturgy -- a fitting way to end the trip.

As with all the Christian sites we visited that morning, the Patriarchate was small and practically hidden. They are all located outside of the main part of town and you could walk right by them on the sidewalk and not notice them. The Turks have pushed these Christian reminders to the very fringe of the city's consciousness.

The top photo is of the entrance to the Patriarch's church.

Inside, I stood behind the right chanters' stand. I took the second photo from behind the right choir over to the left choir. (The Byzantine chant was absolutely beautiful, by the way.) On the very left of the photo, you can make out one of the two Catholic bishops who were attending the service. (They're probably thinking: Is this thing ever going to end?) The Patriarch celebrated and was joined in the altar by bishops from Serbia and Slovenia (I believe).

I took the third photo at the end of the Liturgy as the Patriarch was preparing to come out.

The fourth photo is of the recently returned relics of St. John Chyrsostom and St. Gregory the Theologian. They are located behind the left chanters' stand. Pope John Paul II returned them shortly before his death in a gesture of good will. (They were stolen during the disasterous Fourth Crusade which permanently crippled Byzantium.)

That was the end of our whirlwind trip. Well, actually, we then had a 12-hour bus ride back to Greece. The group actually broke into applause (us included!) when we crossed the border into Greece.

I was worn out and came down with a cold during the bus ride. And, of course, the tour group didn't provide us with a shuttle back to Panorama, so we were stuck trying to catch the last bus out of Thessaloniki at midnight. But we arrived home safe and sound. We took in a lot in a very short amount of time, but we're very glad we went.

Steven Runciman's book 'The Great Church in Captivity' is, by the way, one of the best books I've ever read. It does a fantastic job of explaining the later history of Byzantium and the period of Ottoman occupation, with particular reference to the Patriarchate. The history seems much more vivid to me now that we've been there and seen not only the sites but the ongoing oppression.

Well, that's all for this trip. I was supposed to start Greek classes today, but when I showed up this morning at 9, they said, "Oh yeah, by the way, we're not starting today. Maybe in a few days. Check back tomorrow." (It's an hour trip each way.) Err...

 Posted by Picasa

Constantinople, Part 10: Life-Giving Spring

After Panagia Vlahernon, we stopped at the Monastery of the Life-Giving Spring and drank of its water.

The top photo shows the group entering the property. In the middle are stairs leading down to the older church which contains the spring. Off to the left is a newer church built on top of the old church.

The second photo shows the group heading down the stairs to the old church.

The third photo is of the Life-Giving Spring itself.

For another good, concise explanation of the site, click here.
 Posted by Picasa

Constantinople, Part 9: Panagia Vlahernon

On Sunday morning, we checked out of the hotel and headed toward the Ecumenical Patriarchate for Liturgy. First, though, we stopped at the historic Panagia Vlahernon. This article does a great job of concisely explaining the importance of the site. In the bottom picture, you can see the iconostasis along the left and the holy fountain at the back. Above the fountain is an engraving with the words to "To Thee the Champion Leader."

Once the tour guide had us all in there, he began to sing the hymn and everyone joined in from memory. It was nice to see. Posted by Picasa

Constantinople, Part 8: The Grand Bazaar

After the Blue Mosque, Pelagia was eager to hit the famous Grand Bazaar. It was enormous and busy. We were getting quite tired by this point, so we stopped for tea at a little courtyard somewhere inside this sprawling complex. There, our waiter taught us how to play a couple different versions of backgammon, which is extremely popular both there and here in Greece. It was nice -- he didn't speak a word of English but we had a good time with him.

The top photo is at the entrance.

The second photo is inside.

The third photo is Pelagia in front of some lampadas she liked. They were only $6 each here. In Greece, they would be at least $30. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Constantinople, Part 7: The Blue Mosque

After the Cistern, we headed to the Blue Mosque, which was again just a few hundred meters away from Agia Sophia. (There's a lot to see in this little square!)

There was, somewhat surprisingly, no fee to go into the mosque -- we only had to remove our shoes. Fortunately, there was an enterprising local businessman there to greet us and try to make a buck. He introduced himself as 'not a licensed tour guide' (these, you see, are quite omnipresent and quite expensive), but he did tell us some interesting and helpful things about the mosque. (For example, as non-Muslims, we had to enter the mosque through a side door.) I couldn't tell if he was angling for a tip or what, but as we walked away he happened to mention that he had a carpet shop and that he would wait for us at the exit so that he could take us there, if we like. Being Americans, we of course couldn't be blunt and say no thanks but instead sort of half-committed to it. Not surprisingly, when we exited, there he was.

He led us down a covered ramp (at this point, I was getting somewhat nervous) which did, in fact, lead to a shop. But this wasn't his shop. His shop was the wholesaler further away, if we would like to come. At this point, I said 'enough,' thanked him for his time, told him (again) that we were poor students, and left.

Fortunately, he had led us to a neat little market on the side of the Blue Mosque where they had some very fine hand-made bowls, which Pelagia enjoyed browsing through. There, we found a local merchant who not only spoke excellent English but even had the audacity to price his items at their actual price. He told us he couldn't stand the normal Turkish system of bargaining down to half-price and hard-selling. Instead, he took his time and gave a very helpful, low-sell, explanation of the different grades of pottery. Pelagia didn't end up buying from him but instead she finally found a beautiful hand-made, hand-painted bowl at the shop next to his for only about $25. This was our souvenir from the trip. If you come to visit us, you'll likely have salad out of it!
 Posted by Picasa

Constantinople, Part 6: The Basilica Cistern

After Agia Sophia, we went underground in the nearby Basilica Cistern, which was VERY interesting. Of course, it was the Turkish standard 10 lira ($7) to enter something the Byzantines built, but it was worth it. The lighting was low, so not many photos came out, but it gave some of them a nice effect.

Typically, there was even a coffee shop set up in one dry corner of this underground cistern. How they love their coffees here! Posted by Picasa

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Constantinople, Part 5: Agia Sophia

After the boat trip, we headed downtown to Agia Sophia. (See the lower right hand part of the land on the map.) Of course, the Turks now call it 'a museum' and charge $7 for entrance.

Well, I don't know how to say this, but we actually left feeling quite sad. The Turks have just ruined the building. They have some cheap plywood and 2x4s making up these great big signs with words from the Koran. Because they say it's a 'museum,' they have this one gigantic piece of terrible German modern art right in the middle. Locals looking to make a buck hover over the place like parasites. The only icons that have survived were by accident, because the Ottomans whitewashed them and now they've uncovered a few (very few) pieces of the iconography underneath the whitewash.

Still, it was amazing to stand in the same place where the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council convened. The middle photo shows the marble doors that sealed off the synod chamber.

The top photo is of the entrance, and the bottom photo is of one of the few remaining pieces of iconography.

As a side note, Pelagia and I both felt that St. Savas in Belgrade, Serbia was more impressive in terms of the vastness. Although I guess it's technically smaller, the fact that it's treated with veneration and respect adds to its sense of the grandeur of God.
 Posted by Picasa