Monday, December 31, 2007

Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware)

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Well, in my first week as a deacon, I got to serve with Bishop Atanasije (Jevtic). In the second week, I served with Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware)—in short, two of the most influential living theologians. What’s up for next week? ( :

As I’ve mentioned before, our beloved neighbors, the Lillies, moved here from England about 35 years ago. The priest who brought them into Orthodoxy at Oxford was (then) Archimandrite Kallistos (Ware). They’ve been friends ever since.

On Saturday, His Eminence came to visit Greece again, and because we have a car (thanks to you all!), I had the opportunity to offer him a service and pick him up at the airport. He then wanted to stop at a small exhibit in Thessaloniki featuring artists who have painted the Holy Mountain. The exhibit was deserted on Saturday afternoon, but there were some very nice pieces, including some by Kontoglou and Pentzikis.

Afterwards, we came back to Panorama. He stayed at a friend’s place here in Panorama, just about a block from our apartment. He had dinner with the Lillies, and then Pelagia and I joined them for coffee and desert. It was a delightful time—he was full of humorous stories about his early days as an Orthodox convert in Greece and the island of Patmos.

On Sunday morning, I drove His Eminence downtown to St Haralambos, which is a dependency (metohi) of the Holy Monastery of Simonas Petras on the Holy Mountain. This is a very popular church, especially among the international community. I was privileged to serve at the Liturgy there with him (see photo). I even did one litany in English.

After the Liturgy, he headed off to visit the women’s monastery of Ormylia and, after that, to Simonas Petras and the Holy Mountain.

On another note, here are some more photos from the ordination in Belgrade, taken by our friend Brendan who went with us. Most of the photos are from the ordination. A few are from the celebration that followed, and the last couple are from visiting with our friends around Belgrade the next day.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Christmas Day in Panorama

The first short video clip is from the Divine Liturgy on Christmas morning, at our local parish here in Panorama, St George’s. Pelagia took this video from the balcony of me doing a litany.

The bottom photo and video are from the Christmas party we hosted at our house on the evening of Christmas Day. We had friends—about 12 or 15 Americans and Greeks—over to our house for drinks, desserts, and a White Elephant gift exchange. One of our friends, Herman Middleton, organized a sing-along of Christmas songs. After we sang some American songs, we asked our Greek friends to sing some Greek Christmas carols. In the bottom video, our friend Nektarios, the son of a Byzantine music professor at the university here, sings one of these beautiful songs.

I have to comment here just briefly on how profound communal singing can be. We’ve noticed that it is an integral part of the culture both in Serbia and here. It has quite a unifying effect on the community. It’s a shame our American culture doesn’t do more of it!

Christmas Caroling

On Christmas Eve day, a Greek family (including brothers, sisters and cousins) goes around Panorama, to anyone who asks them, and sings Christmas carols. Our neighbors, the Lillies, always have them to their house, and we went next door to share in the festivity. I took this short video of one of their songs.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

From Herzegovina Back to Belgrade

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Back at the monastery, we stopped in the bookstore and picked up a few gifts, including as much wine and rakia as we thought we could get away with carrying on the plane.

Bishops Gregorije and Atanasije and most of the monks of the monastery were standing outside with Bishop Maxim as he prepared to leave. When we pulled in, Deacon Zoran’s wife commented that it looked like they might go play soccer!

I said, “Who?! The monks?” She said, smiling, “Oh yes. And guess who always has to win? Bishop Atanasije. They give him the ball and let him kick it into the goal.” The whole place was filled with this kind of simple joy. It was amazing.

Finally, we went to take the bishops’ blessings as we left, and they let me get a photograph with them (see top). In that photo, Bishop Atanasije had just given me a “beating”—he jokes that he’s infamous for beating deacons.

Then we were off. Again, we drove out of Bosnia & Herzegovina, and into Croatia. This time, we stopped at a lookout over the famous seaside city of Dubrovnik (see the second and third photos of Bishop Maxim and Pelagia taking in the beautiful view.)

Then it was back across the border into Montenegro, and the short ferry ride over to the airport in Tivat (see the last photo of Yulia as we waited for the ferry).

The plane was supposed to leave at 4:10 and we arrived at 4:05. By God’s grace, we made it! The plane from Belgrade was about 30 minutes late, so we actually were right on time.

When we got back in Belgrade, we had parked our car in the airport garage. Bishop Maxim was late for a meeting, so we offered to take him wherever he needed to go. He wanted to drive, though—wow, that was an adventure! ( :

We told him that if he hadn’t become a bishop, he would have made an excellent taxi driver! ( ;

Finally, we were back at Lepa and Nebojsa’s house, where we met up with Brendan and had a lovely dinner and conversation.

Early the next morning, Thursday, we headed back to Greece, all of us convinced that we must come back very soon. The drive was about 9 or 10 hours because of the holiday traffic once we hit Thessaloniki (normally it’s about 8 hours). After dropping Brendan off, we arrived home around 9 PM, exhausted. Our neighbors, the Lillies, had very kindly prepared us dinner to welcome us home.

The Whirlwind Tour of Trebinje

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After the Liturgy and the meal, we had a few hours before we had to begin the trip back to Belgrade. Deacon Zoran and his wife, a Serbian-American, kindly took us on a whirlwind tour of the area.

Even though Belgrade was very cold and snowy, the temperature in Herzegovina, near the cost, was completely different. It was sunny and (relatively) warm by comparison, and the landscape was beautiful.

Before we headed out from the monastery to visit the city of Trebinje, we first took a peak at the monastery’s winery operation, which was surprisingly extensive. (See the top photo.) They have modern top-of-the-line equipment from Italy and have a capacity of 350,000 bottles. They also make rakia (the standard Serbian hard alcohol).

Trebinje lies in a river valley with a small hill overlooking the town. A pious benefactor bought the hill and dedicated a church on top of it, with a beautiful view out across the city of Trebinje and the whole valley. The second photo is of the church and the third and fourth photos are of the view.

After that brief but pleasant excursion, we headed back to the monastery to get ready to go.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Monastery Tvrdos

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We finally arrived at Tvrdos Monastery around 6 PM, where Bishop Maxim was received by Bishop Atanasije (Jevtic), the retired bishop of Herzegovina, Bishop Gregorije, the current bishop of Herzegovina, and all the monastics of the area. Tvrdos, the men’s monastery, has about 10 monks. The foundations of the church are from the original 4th century church. Even today in the church, there are glass panels on some parts of the floor so that you can look down and see the remains of the original church. There are also two associated women’s monastery nearby, with nuns from all over the world. Most of them came there to be near Bishop Atanasije, who was a spiritual child of the Blessed Elder Justin Popovic and one of the greatest theologians today.

Almost immediately, we went in to celebrate the Vespers for St Nicholas of Myra. St Nicholas is an extremely popular saint in the Serbian tradition, and many Serbs have him as their slava (the patron saint of their family, which his passed down from generation to generation). St Nicholas is Bishop Atanasije’s slava, so it was a particularly big celebration at the monastery.

I was thrust right into service. Fortunately, the deacon who picked us up, Deacon Zoran, was very experienced and helpful, and Bishop Atanasije seemed to enjoy hearing the litanies in English. (He insisted on singing “Lord, have mercy” himself.)

Afterward, there was a big meal. In the Serbian tradition, the host—Bishop Atanasije—refused to sit and eat, and instead served all his guests. People ate, drank and sang songs—it was a very joyful atmosphere. One particularly memorable moment was when a little four-year-old girl gave Bishop Atanasije one of her blankets as a present for his celebration. He was SO excited about it. He kept holding it up to show everyone—and it had a big pink bunny on it. Here is one of the greatest theological minds of our time, but—at the same time—he always exhibited a child-like simplicity and joy. It was very refreshing and inspiring.

That night, Pelagia and Yulia went to the nearby women’s monastery of Sts Peter and Paul, and I had one of the monks’ cells, located next to Bishop Atanasije’s office. (The second photo is of his office, taken from the door of my room.)

The next morning, Wednesday, Dec 19 (Dec 6 OS), I served at my first full liturgy. See photos from Bishop Gregorije’s website here. It was an adventure, especially with three bishops! Bishop Atanasije kept taking my book from me, saying that I didn’t need it. Not that it helped that much with the Serbian anyway! ( :

After the service, we again had an even bigger, more wonderful and joyous meal together. Again, everyone sang songs—even the bishops.

The first and third photos were, again, taken from near my room. The first is of the landscape around the monastery, the third of the main church.

The final photo is of Yulia and a man named Milos, standing outside the front of the church.

Four Countries in One Afternoon

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Monday was a very relaxing day. We got a chance to meet with several of our Serbian friends and get to know Belgrade better. First, we met with Tijanna, a Serbian girl from Hungary (which has a significant Serbian minority). Her father is a priest in a Serbian Orthodox Church near Budapest. She is studying Greek at the University of Belgrade, and we met her here in Thessaloniki when she came to study Greek here for a few months this past spring. She’s sitting between Pelagia and Brendan in the top photo.

We were also joined by Branislav, a Serbian who completed his theological studies in Thessaloniki recently. He is now an assistant at the Patriarchal Cathedral in Belgrade. (He’s on the far right of the top photo.) In the second photo, he’s trying to teach Brendan some Serbian from our Serbian phrase book.

After having coffee and walking around Belgrade for a while, we decided to get some sushi for lunch. This may sound like a strange choice for Belgrade, but you don’t realize how hard it is to find “other” cuisines in Greece. Greek food is WONDERFUL, but there is ONLY Greek food here. Our friend Philip, when people ask him what he misses most about the US (he’s been in Greece about 5 years), says “Thai food.” ( ;

Well, for us, we miss sushi. So we took our Serbian friends for their first experience with sushi. They were very adventurous and tried everything. I wouldn’t say they were wild about it, but they didn’t dislike it either. Contrary to popular perception, there is a lot of sushi without any (raw) fish—so come on, what’s there to be scared of! ( :

After lunch, we met up with another Serbian friend, Ivana, who studies art history at the University of Belgrade. She arranged for us to visit an exhibit of reproductions of frescoes from Serbian monasteries. I don’t know how she did it, but we got in even though they are closed on Mondays. It was a very nice exhibit—unfortunately, I don’t have any photos.

On Tuesday, we drove to the airport to meet Bishop Maxim to go to Monastery Tvrdos in Bosnia & Herzegovina. We were joined by a very nice young woman, Yulia—a Serbian girl studying theology in Paris. We flew from Belgrade to Tivat in Montenegro (Country #2), where we were picked up Deacon Zoran. We took a short ferry ride with the car (photos 3 and 4 are from the ferry) and then crossed the border into the small strip of Croatia (Country #3) that borders Montenegro. We drove to Dubrovnik, and then crossed to border into Bosnia & Herzegovina (Country #4). Tvrdos Monastery is located just outside the town of Trebinje. (See the map below.)

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

After-Ordination Celebration

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After the ordination, we headed to the trapeza to celebrate. Inasmuch as it’s Serbia, it had to begin with a little hard alcohol—in this case, American whiskey, which was given to the bishop as a present. Bishop Maxim’s sister, who lives in Belgrade, also made a very nice cake for the occasion.

The top three photos are all from after the service.

After about an hour and half, we all went home. We rested for a little bit, and then our hosts—Nebojsa, Lepa, and Natasa—took us to their friends house out in a traditional village about 45 minutes outside Belgrade.

It was a great experience. Our hosts were hard-working, but by no means wealthy. Yet, in the Serbian custom, they gave us the best of everything they had. We drank mulled homemade raki, we ate, we played with the kids—it was wonderful. The bottom photo is from their house.

It was a long day, but full of joy, love, and grace.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Ordination to the Diaconate

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Sunday morning was the big day. It snowed during the night, so the first thing was to scrape the snow and ice off the windshield of the car to get to the ordination. ( ;

The service was wonderful. As usual, the church inside the Theology School was PACKED full of people, especially students. Aside from Bishop Maxim, there were 6 priests and a deacon.

The top photo is of Bishop Maxim at the altar, and me in front of the icon. My part was basically to wash the bishop’s hands twice and to stand in front of the icons and PRAY.

The second photo was during the Dance of Isaiah, when the candidate kisses each corner of the Holy Altar three times.

The third photo is of the actual ordination prayers, and the fourth photo is immediately after a brief homily that Bishop Maxim gave at the end of the service.

See our diocese’s official website here for more photos and Bp Maxim’s translation of the homily he gave.

For many more photos from my camera, click here. (One of the priests serving took the camera from Pelagia and took some very nice photos from inside the altar.)

For some photos from the camera of our hosts, Nebojsa and Lepa, click here.

Visiting Churches Around Belgrade

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The weather in Belgrade was COLD and snowy. On Saturday, we braved the elements and our hosts gave us a tour of a few churches in and around Belgrade.

The first stop was the interesting and new church to St Basil of Ostrog (top photo). Completed in 2002 or 2003, it features a very unique architectural design. The inside is completely covered in absolutely beautiful new iconography.

The second stop was the Vavedenye Monastery dedicated to the Presentation of the Mother of God (third photo). There was a good bit of traffic on the way there, and we therefore had the opportunity to get a glimpse of another side of life not just in Belgrade or in Serbia, but in all of Eastern Europe (at least) – the Gypsies or Roma. The second photo is of their village located near the river in downtown Belgrade, along a highway. Many of these shacks even have numbers spray-painted on them as permanent addresses. It’s an eye-opening scene. Of course, there are similar villages here in Thessaloniki. We also saw one when we were in Rome. The really interesting part is that in Serbia, for example (which is by no means a wealthy country), the government has constructed free housing for them in a suburb of Belgrade. They, however, will not take them. It’s a very different culture.

In any event, the last stop (last photo) was our host’s parish church in Zemun, a suburb of Belgrade adjacent to New Belgrade, where our hosts live.

That evening, I retired early and tried to prepare myself for the next morning.

Friday in Belgrade

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We returned last night from a wonderful, wonderful, whirlwind trip to Serbia. I'll start at the beginning.

Pelagia and I drove, along with our friend Brendan, to Belgrade last Thursday. We arrived around 5 PM Serbian time (which is 1 hour behind Greece) and had a wonderful meal prepared by our host, Lepa.

On Friday morning, we went to the Patriarchate to pick up my vestments. As it turns out, they needed to do some slight alterations, so we hung out in the center for most of the day, waiting for the vestments to be completed.

Most of that time we spent at Kalemegdon, the city’s old fortress which overlooks the confluence of the Danube and Sava Rivers. The top three photos are from walking along the old walls (or ramparts) of the fortress. The fourth photo of Brendan is from inside, near the Church and Spring of St Paraskevi, who is an extremely popular saint in Serbia.

Late in the afternoon, we met up with our bishop, Bishop Maxim, at the Patriarchate, where he was coming out of a meeting. He wanted us to meet him there so he could introduce us to several bishops, including Metropolitan Amphilohije, the acting Patriarch of Serbia; Bishop Atanasije (Yevtich), one of the greatest living theologians; Bishop Gregorije of Herzegovina and Bishop Luka of Western Europe (Paris).

Afterwards, Bishop Maxim took us to have tea and spent about an hour or an hour and a half with us.

For all my photos from the trip, click here. For some photos from the camera of our hosts, Nebojsa and Lepa, click here.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Our Friend's Chrismation at the Holy Metropolis of St Gregory Palamas

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Tonight we were blessed to attend the Chrismation of our good friend, Rob, into the Orthodox Church.

We’ve known Rob over a year, almost since we arrived here. He was taking a Modern Greek class, and he and Pelagia happened to meet in the school’s coffee shop one day. She asked him to our place for dinner, and we’ve been friends since.

He has a fascinating story. He came here as a sponsored Baptist missionary, doing some preparatory, information-gathering work for a later mission in the country specifically aimed at the “gypsy” or “Roma” population.

The long and short of it is that he became more and more interested in Orthodoxy, and eventually resigned his position and became a catechumen.

You may remember his name from my stories about our trip to Patmos at Pascha.

The only sad part is that he’s leaving to go back to the US in a few days. He is an incredibly talented musician, and he had hoped to do a PhD in the music school here, but for various bureaucratic reasons (surprise, surprise!), couldn’t get it to happen.

Nevertheless, what a blessing to learn about Orthodoxy and be received into the Church in Greece!

His catechist and spiritual father is Father Methodios, who serves at the Metropolis of Thessaloniki, which is dedicated to (and houses the complete relics of) Saint Gregory Palamas. The Chrismation took place, therefore, at the Metropolis.

Saint Gregory Palamas’ relics are housed in a side room off the Church. The top photo is of Pelagia coming out from the small room after venerating his relics.

The rest of the photos are from the service. As you can see, Rob had quite a crowd of friends attend—including most of the American group here.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Hiking with the Dog

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It’s been cold here, but today it was relatively sunny, so we decided to take the dog, Argo, for a hike this afternoon. We went to Platanakia, a natural area just outside Panorama (about 5 minutes from our house by car).
This was Argo’s first time off the leash. He had been beaten as a very small puppy and had a whole host of issues, including a tendency to run away. But Pelagia has been working with him very patiently, and he’s improved tremendously. We decided he was ready for a hike, off the leash, today.

He was pretty nervous about the new atmosphere, but quickly realized that he liked it a lot. (It was nice for us to get out, too!)

We hiked for just over an hour before heading back.

I think the photos pretty much explain themselves. The last one was taken along a stream, as we headed back to the car.

If you’re really bored and want to see more photos, click here.

As for what we’ve been up to—more of the same. I’ve been very busy translating and reading for my dissertation. Translating is going really well—I now have more work offers than I can do! What a nice problem to have!