Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Cell of St. Nicholas, in Karyes

We reached Karyes around 7:45 AM on Saturday and had a cheese bougatsa (basically filo dough and feta cheese) and bad Greek coffee.

Around 8:30, I tried again to get a hold of my friend Fr. Amilianos, since we had heard he was staying somewhere in Karyes, and we had to wait until 10:30 before the next bus left for the port of Dafni.

Fortunately, I got a hold of him, and he invited us to come visit the Cell of St. Nicholas, where he’s currently staying with Elder Joachim.

The top photo is of the cell.

I took the second photo from the upstairs balcony of the cell, overlooking Karyes.

Frs Joachim and Amilianos were very happy to meet us – they fed us every kind of pita and pastry they had and we had a VERY interesting discussion with the Elder about some contemporary issues in the church, particularly the latest so-called ‘controversy’ regarding the Athonite community and the Ecumenical Patriarch.

At 10:30, we caught the bus to Dafni, where we had a short wait before the boat returned to Ouranopoli. There was quite a bit of bad weather, and we weren’t at all certain the boat would leave. For awhile, it looked as if the boat’s captain wouldn’t be able to dock it. In the end, he did and we had a safe, uneventful trip home. (The third photo was taken on the boat back home – that’s my walking stick in the foreground!)

That’s all for this adventure.

Now I have a bunch of photos to through from this past Sunday, the Sunday of Orthodoxy, including our afternoon trip to the women’s monastery in Ormilia. Stay tuned…and post some comments for goodness’ sake! ( :

Megistis (Great) Lavra

Around noon on Friday, we left the Romanian Skete and made the 40-minute hike back to the Great Lavra. It really is enormous! It’s the oldest and largest monastery on Mt Athos, and currently houses the most monks – 300 I heard. They even have their own helicopter pad! For more information, click here.

When we arrived, we had the traditional ouzo and Turkish delight and were then shown to our room. We wandered around for a little bit before Vespers, which was at 3 PM.

I took the top photo at the entrance to the monastery.

The second photo is taken from one of the narrow pathways between the many buildings inside the monastery.

I took the third photo from the seafront side of the monastery, looking back up the hill.

After Vespers, we had a meal in an enormous trapeza. We sat in groups of about 10 around these gigantic one-piece marble tables that look like they’ve been there since the monastery was founded in the 900s. Whenever they were put there, I’m quite sure they haven’t been moved since!

After the meal, we went back to the katholikon for Small Compline and veneration of the monastery’s impressive collection of relics. By then, we were very ready to retire for the evening.

Orthros wasn’t until 4 AM the next morning, so we even got to sleep in! ( ;

Unfortunately, the only mini-bus of the day left at 6:45, so we had to leave the service at that point to catch the ride back to Karyes.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Cave of St Athanasios the Athonite

I have too many photos I want you to see! I have to restrain myself on the blog here and just say again that all the photos can be seen here.

Anyway, we headed down to the very southeast face of the Holy Mountain, a sheer cliff. This part of the Holy Mountain is known as the most rigorous. The sea facing out to the open Aegean is rough, and the wind whips through the high mountains there.

This is precisely where St. Athanasios (the founder of the Great Lavra and one of the first monks on Athos) chose to have his cave. For more information on St. Athanasios, see here.

The top photo is of John as we climbed along the narrow path to get to the cave.

The second photo is of the cave (in the middle). A modern cell was built along the outside of the cave, so that a monk could stay there and take care of the site.

The third photo was taken straight down from the site of the cave.

Again, check out the map here. Look for Timiou Prodromou on the southeast corner.

Morning with the Romanians

When day broke on Friday, the monks were kind enough to give us a little breakfast (they themselves took only one meal that day). The top photo is of the trapeza where we ate. The little nook you see at the front is actually where the monk reads from during the meals. The Romanians must be an incredibly small people!

The middle photo is of the main doors to the narthex of the katholikon. I’m pretty sure they’re gold.

After breakfast, the monk Fr. Gabriel (who spoke very good English) gave us a tour around the monastery, including the cemetery, where the bones of all the Skete’s former monks rest. The bottom photo is of the main floor of the cemetery building, where the skulls are lined up along the wall. Downstairs, the bones are organized by type.

The skull you see with some writing says (in Romanian): “Where I am, you will be. Where you are, I was.”

He then pointed us in the direction of the cave of St. Athanasios

(Stay tuned for the next installment) ( :

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Romanian Skete of Timiou Prodromou

The mini-bus took us to the Great Lavra, and from there it was just a 40-minute hike down to the Romanian Skete of the Honorable Forerunner (Timiou Prodromou). I got a really cool walking stick at Dafni which proved to be very handy. ( :

The top photo is of the Skete as we first saw it from the road.

The middle photo is of the katholikon, taken from just inside the main gates.

The bottom photo is of the courtyard which connects the main part of the Skete with some outbuildings which serve as workshops.

We were somewhat surprised to discover that many of the Romanian monks only knew a few words of Greek (even less than me!). Even here on the Holy Mountain, English is the international language. A couple monks spoke Greek, and a couple spoke English, so we were able to get by.

We tried to find my friend, Fr. Amilianos, who is a monk there, but language added to the complication. People kept telling us he was there, but we never saw him. Finally, the next day, we learned that they were talking about another Fr. Amilianos and that the one we were looking for was caring for a sick monk at a cell in Karyes. My Greek teacher (who had him also for a student 6 years ago) had sent me with a box of sweets for him (a traditional greeting), so I just left them for the guests. (I didn’t think we would see him, but – as it turns out – we had a very memorable visit with him in Karyes as we left, but I’m getting ahead of myself.)

Anyway, Vespers was at 3, followed by the meal, then Small Compline. During Small Compline, as is the usual custom, they brought out their relics for veneration.

After that, it was off to bed – around 7 PM! We were up the next morning at 2 for Orthros.

Heading for Athos

Hi all! Sorry again for the long delay. It’s been very busy here. Pelagia’s friend, Elise Writer, from Yakima, came to visit this week. I hope to have some pictures of us all at some point.

I just now finished going through all my photos from last week’s trip to the Holy Mountain. You can view them all here.

My friend, John Harper (another American studying here) and I intended to leave for Athos on Wednesday, but we suspected that there would be bad weather which would prevent the boat from ferrying pilgrims over. It turns out it was a good guess, because the boat did not go. So, we left very early Thursday morning and the boat went as scheduled. Of course, there were two days’ worth of pilgrims going, so it was a bit crowded.

The top photo is of John, just as the boat set sail from Ouranopoli. The seagulls follow the boat while people hold out little morsels of bread for them.

The middle photo is taken from the front of the boat, as it heads toward Dafni. The tall peak in the right distance is the actual Mt. Athos, the tallest point on the peninsula (in the southeast corner, where we ended up going). See the map again here.

The bottom photo is of the Holy Monastery of Xenofondos as the ship passed on the way to Dafni.

We arrived in Dafni and then caught the bus to Karyes, the capital. There, they have several 14-passenger mini-buses which go to different monasteries. We hopped on the one to Megistis Lavra, the furthest monastery. (See the map again.)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Clean Monday

Hi all! Sorry for the long delay in posting something. My trip to the Holy Mountain was very nice. I took about 250 photos, so it’s taking me some time to go through them all. Look for posts on it in the coming days.

More recently, Pelagia returned here on Sunday, and Monday was, of course, Clean Monday. In Greece, this is a big holiday. It is traditional to be outside, eat fasting foods with your family, and fly kites. For a short wikipedia explanation, see here.

Each municipality puts on a public gathering on this day, so we went to the one here in Panorama. In the town’s public park, children were flying kites, they were giving out free fasting snacks (such as a special bread they make), and they had traditional Greek music and dancing.

Pelagia experimented with the video feature on our camera to capture some of the dancing, which was amazing. Now we’ve posted it to YouTube, where you can watch it here for free. We weren’t really sure what we were doing, so the video is short and sort of starts and stops at random places, but now we’re learning. Hopefully, we’ll have more short videos in the future!

For those coming from the Russian tradition (and therefore most American converts, it seems), all this may seem a bit scandalous for the first day of Lent. Yet it works here, and it’s been the tradition since Byzantine times. The ethos of the Orthodox faith here is different than I’ve ever experienced. I can’t explain how much I’ve learning just by being here.

Anyway, look for photos from Mt Athos in the next day or so!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

My Third Trip to Mt Athos!

God willing, I will be heading to Mt Athos for the third time next Wednesday, Feb. 14 with two other Americans here.

We will spend the first night at the Romanian Skete of the Honorable Forerunner (see the bottom right corner of the map -- it is unmarked, but located on Cape Timiou Prodros).

The second night we will be at the Great Lavra (Megistis Lavra, also in the bottom right of the map). The Great Lavra is the oldest and largest of the Athonite monasteries, and first in the hierarchical order.

We haven't secured a reservation for the third night yet, but we're hoping for Iviron or Karakalou (see just north of Megistis Lavra).

For those interested in more history, wikipedia has a good article on Mt Athos here.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Greek Driving

Whoops! I came across this scene on Friday morning, as Emmanuelle and I drove around trying to find a parking place near the University.

In a country where traffic signs are 'optional' and there is NO police enforcement, things like this should not come as a surprise. Here, it looks like the driver tried to take a shortcut by going straight rather than following the curve off to the right.

Emmanuelle and I both felt I had to get a photo of this, but the driver was standing right next to the car. I tried to be slick about taking it so as not to make him feel so bad, but he saw me anyway. Fortunately, he laughed!

One of these days, I'm going to take some pictures for a post entitled 'Greek Parking'...oh boy!