Monday, April 30, 2007

Our First Greek Soccer Game

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On Sunday evening (a beautiful one, I might add), some of our Greek friends from the local gym invited us to go with them to a professional soccer game.

Now, unlike the US where almost no one cares about soccer, football here is by far the most popular sport. Thessaloniki alone has four professional teams, and the rivalries between them can be heated.

This Sunday evening was an inter-city rivalry between Aris and Kalamaria, at Aris’ stadium in Harilaou (not far from us here in Panorama). Our friends (who bought us the tickets) were Aris supporters, so we were too for the day.

Here they don’t say I’m an Aris fan, or an Aris supporter; they say, literally, I am Aris (or whatever team it happens to be).

When we arrived in Harilaou around 6:30 Sunday evening, it was chaos. The main street, which is normally very busy, was entirely closed down for the game. Yellow-clad fans milled around, waiting for the game to start.

Check out the video I made below. (Note that I learned how to edit clips together and even add a rudimentary narrative voice-over.)

Inside the stadium, the fans erupted when the players first took the field. We were in the cheap seats on the ends of the stadium, but the section on the other side seemed to be the die-hard fans. When they first saw the players, they set off flares and fireworks right from their seats! The field was flooded with toilet paper and ripped tickets.

The enthusiasm continued as Aris scored in the first 10 seconds, followed by a second goal only a minute later.

But Kalamaria climbed back by the half to even it 2-2, and it wasn’t until the second half that Aris got the winner, to end the game 3-2.

It was a good experience – I don’t know if we can say we really lived in Europe until we’ve been to a football game. ( ;

Thursday, April 26, 2007

My Greek Class

I'm really fascinated now by YouTube and how easy it is to have a video play right from this page, so I've been looking for chances to make other short videos around here.

I found an opportunity today in Greek class. I tried to record the video as surreptitiously as I could, but at least one classmate caught on (as you'll see him wave to the camera). My goal was to give you a glimpse of the majority of my life this year -- spent inside this little classroom with these classmates.

The video is only 71 seconds long, and the audio didn't come out that well. This is taken on my simple, relatively old digital camera that I use for everything else, so maybe it's just the camera. I'll have to experiment and see if the audio quality improves in other situations. Feel free to post some feedback...

Anyway, the video begins on one of our two teachers (they each teach half-time) and then pans around the classroom, ending finally on me. Then it rolls back to our teacher, Kyria Lina, who in true Greek fashion, is still searching through her unorganized pile of papers for something.

We were going over an exercise which (for some reason) was about the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gregarin. If you figure out what else we were talking about, let me know. ( ;

Monday, April 23, 2007

St George's Feast Day in Panorama

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Chronia Polla! Today is a big feast day in all of Greece, but especially here in Panorama, where our local parish temple is dedicated to St George the Great Martyr (click for more info on him).

Yesterday evening at 5:30, the town gathered to process an icon and relics of St George through our little town of Panorama.

The top photo is of the front of the procession as it is coming down Panorama’s main street, with Fr Gregory in the middle holding the saint’s relics.

The middle photo is from the middle of the pack, after we had circled around Panorama and were now heading back to the church.

The last photo is of the people passing underneath the bier holding St George’s icon, as they go up the stairs into his temple.

Finally, here's a short, 63-second video I took at the halfway point in the procession, right in the middle of Panorama.

For a few more photos, click here.

After the procession, the temple was packed for Festal Vespers. A few minutes past 6:30, our bishop, Metropolitan Anthimos of Thessaloniki, entered and the service began, with about 15 priests and several deacons. The service lasted a little over two hours.

We reconvened this morning at the church at 7:30 and finished the services for St George around 11.

Our neighbor, Ann Lillie, told us that several years ago, a fire was raging in Thessaloniki and was climbing the hill to Panorama. Our parish priests took the icon and relics of St George and processed all around the borders of Panorama, asking for the saint’s prayers in protecting our town – a documented tradition from the earliest Christian times. Our monastery, Kimisseos, did the same with their icon of the Panagia. Through their prayers, the fire completely missed the town, sweeping along the outside and then finally dying out.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Bright Friday Barbeque

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It’s been back to work since we returned from Patmos. Pelagia is doing some painting work next door at the Lillies, and we’re still working in the yard – currently on a joint vegetable patch with the Lillies.

Greek classes resume tomorrow, so on Friday we relaxed a little with a barbeque at our house. Our friends from downtown came up, as well as the Lillies, as I learned how to grill in Greece. (Warning: the charcoal here is VERY different!)

The weather was gorgeous – sunny with a high in the low 70s.

In the top photo, Brendan and Philip are supervising the grilling process.

The second photo is of everyone sitting around on the porch, with Rob playing the guitar on the left.

The third photo is of Marina, baby Emilia, and Pelagia.

And the bottom photo is of Marina and Brendan on the porch as the sunset over the Thessaloniki and the gulf. (Since we technically live in the ‘sub-basement,’ we don’t have a great view of the city and water, but you can see it when you stand on your tip-toes!)

If you're interested, more photos of our barbeque are available here.

Our Last Day on Patmos

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First, let me mention that Rob’s video of the Resurrection service at the Monastery of the Annunciation on Great Saturday night is now available here.

I also forgot to mention before that we were very blessed to venerate there the relics of the modern-day saint, Fr Amphilochios Makris (+1970), who founded the monastery. Although not technically a saint yet, his icon adorns the far right-hand side of the iconostasis and some of his relics are underneath it for veneration. In the minds of the nuns and the people of Patmos, therefore, he is a saint (much like Elder Paisios is here in northern Greece). A short version of his life is available in the great book “Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit,” by Herman Middleton, a former student here in Thessaloniki.

Anyway, back to Rob’s videos. They are all available here, along the right-hand side of the page. Videos for the rest of the trip (days 5 and 6) should be added there within the next couple days.

All our photos of the trip are available here and all Brendan's photos are available here.

On a technical note, is anyone having problems viewing the photos on some of the recent posts on here? For me, they seem to randomly disappear, leaving only these little placeholder boxes, and then reappear later. Please let me know if you’re noticing this as well, and especially let me know if you know why it’s doing that…

Finally, our Paschal Monday. Again, we had beautiful weather and we decided to soak up as much of the island as we could before our ferry headed out at 1:30 PM. First, we visited a little chapel near the Monastery of St John called Panagia E Diasozoussa (the One Who Rescues). In it, we venerated one of only five surviving icons of the Panagia painted by St Luke the Evangelist. I was even allowed to take a photo (without flash, of course, which made it a little blurry).

A monk at the monastery told us that most of the 70 icons painted by St Luke (of which, again, only 5 survive) were painted from memory. But this one of the Panagia was actually painted in person. However, because of his modesty and her great holiness, he painted it from her reflection in a pool of water.

Afterwards, we took one last ride on the moped and visited the little village of Petra, which features an enormous rock on the beach. We parked and climbed to the top, which had some magnificent views.

We then returned to the house, collected our things, and headed to the port with everyone. As usual with the Greeks, we had to herd ourselves into this small space and wait for the boat. Then, as soon as someone opened the gate, everyone tramples each other to be the first to get into the boat, where we then sit and wait for it to leave on its seven-hour ride.

One woman was so eager to get on to the boat first that she actually dropped her suitcase over the fence and then, when the port police weren’t looking, leapt over, grabbed her luggage, and bolted for the boat. She hopped on the vehicle ramp just as it was lowering to the ground. All this for a good seat!

As for us, we managed to push our way far enough front to grab a few seats shoehorned into a restaurant lounge. The boat was actually on time, so we had an opportunity to go into Athens and get a gyro before getting on the night train at 11:45 PM. This was my first experience with the night train and I have to say this is the way to go! Of course, it’s extremely crowded, but I think we all slept the whole way.

Someone is supposed to wake you up when you reach your destination, but of course they didn’t, so Rob woke up in a startle around 6 AM to find us in Thessaloniki and the train deserted (since people push and shove to get off, we were probably only there 10 minutes). As we got our things together, finally the conductor came by and told us he was pulling out in two minutes! We grabbed everything and hopped off. We finished putting on our shoes on the train platform and, voila, we were home! It was a wonderful, unforgettable trip!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Beaches of Patmos

We spent the next several hours driving around most of Patmos (there are only 50 km of paved roads), stopping at various picturesque beaches and little towns. It was almost warm enough to go swimming. I would have gone if someone would have joined me, but I couldn’t get any takers. I can only imagine how beautiful it is in the summer!

At 3 PM, we met up with everyone at the Cave for Agape Vespers. Afterwards, I went to pick up Patricia on the moped and we prepared a great Pascha feast at the house.

Pascha Sunday: Exploring the Island

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We woke up surprisingly early on Sunday morning and were ready to go have fun exploring the island. The weather was sunny and gorgeous, so we headed out.

Of course, Pelagia had to drive the scooter for a little while, so I tried to capture a photo of us by sticking my arm out (see top photo).

When it was my turn to drive again, she took a photo of us in the rearview mirrow (bottom photo).

The middle photo is of our first stop. Here, I am sitting inside the oldest Christian monument on the island – a baptistery which St John the Apostle used. It is hidden in a little valley, marked only by a tiny chapel which our landlord Mihalis pointed out to us.

The Resurrection at Evangelismos

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Before I get into the evening Resurrection service, let me give you the links to Rob’s latest videos, which are excellent!

Click here for Great Thursday and Friday combined. It switches from Thursday afternoon to Friday afternoon about halfway through because Rob didn’t take any video of the Reading of the 12 Passion Gospels on Thursday night and he slept late on Friday morning.

Click here for the first half of Great Saturday, including excellent footage inside the Cave of the Apocalypse.

Again, don't give up while the videos are loading. I'd say they're each about 5-8 minutes long and it takes a few minutes for each to load.

Also Brendan is scanning some of the 35mm black & white photos he took and posting them here, if you’re interested.

Ok, now for Great Saturday night. After much debate, we decided to go to the Convent of the Annunciation (Evangelismos) for the service. This was for a couple reasons. One, we hadn’t been there yet. Two, we heard the nuns were beautiful chanters. And three, we heard that ferries would be coming in loaded with pilgrims and tourists to flood the Cave and the Monastery of St John, and that Evangelismos would be relatively quiet.

This last part was definitely true. Of course, it was a great service, but all of us agreed afterward that it was certainly the most – well, somber is too strong a word but subdued is not quite strong enough – Resurrection service we’d ever been to.

Nevertheless, it was Pascha and of course it was beautiful. The service started at 11 PM and the highlight was, of course, the Holy Fire. On Patmos (as in all of Greece), the Holy Fire is flown directly from Jerusalem – so we had the real deal! Click here to see a video on YouTube of the actual Holy Fire in Jerusalem this year. For more information on the Holy Fire, click here.

Anyway, a few minutes before midnight we all processed out into the courtyard, where we all waited in silence for the Monastery of St John to ring its bells. Fireworks and guns went off all across the island. Interestingly, most of the Greeks left at this point to begin the celebration, while a relative few went back into the church for Liturgy, which ended about 1:30 or 2 AM.

There were many little differences in the service from what I had come to expect in America. One, for instance, was that the Greeks do not do the knocking on the door bit when they come back into the church after the procession. I can only assume that is Russian practice.

Anyway, after the service, we walked back to the house and broke the fast with sausage and cheese before heading to bed, exhausted, around 4 AM.

The photos here are of Evangelismos. We stopped back on Sunday during our bike ride to take photos.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Patmian Theological Biker Gang

In good Greek fashion, the ‘niceties’ of the law regarding scooters were quickly circumvented by us knowing the right Greek man. Our landlord Mihalis had a friend who owned a bike rental place, and we soon had two more mopeds.

(Of course, there is only one gas station on the whole island and we were given the bikes without gas, so our first order of business was to hope we could make it all the way to the gas station to fill up. After that, my bike broke down, and a little while after that, I was issued with a working bike, with gas, and we were ready to go.)

We spent the rest of the daylight hours exploring the island, under the beautiful sun, on the bikes. In Skala, we saw the ruins of a baptistery from the first century, where St John baptized some of the locals.

Incidentally, I should mention that I am reading right now a great book on Patmos called “A Place of Healing for the Soul” by the British convert and reporter Peter France. Don’t worry – it’s an easy, non-theological read – and it is absolutely hilarious and spot-on in its depiction of the cultural differences between the British (and other northern European cultures like the US) and the Greeks. Anyway, I highly recommend it – here it is on Amazon.

In the top photo, our gang stopped in Skala after we spotted Patricia walking along the streets.

The middle photo was taken from inside our house at sunset, and the bottom photo from the porch.

Great Saturday Morning

On Great Saturday morning, we went again to the Cave of the Apocalypse (which is a small church, surrounded by a monastery) with Rob. Afterwards, we kept walking down the old footpath to Skala to explore and get groceries.

The top photo is of me at the entrance to the cave.

The middle photo is just of a picturesque house that we passed on the edge of Skala.

In Skala, Rob rented a scooter (we were not able to – at the stores in Skala – because of the typically insane Greek bureaucracy). In good Patmian style, we then loaded up his scooter with food from the grocery store, while we hiked back up the hill.

A note on the scooters: Because many of the roads are so narrow, most people have scooters, and they are able to do amazing things with them. We frequently saw three people on a small scooter, or a dog riding on a scooter, or a grocery-delivery scooter with bags hanging from the handles and 20 big bottles of water between the legs.

Great Friday

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On Great Friday morning, we walked down to the Cave of the Apocalypse, which is about halfway between the port of Skala and the mountaintop town of Hora. Instead of the road, we walked down the old Byzantine foot/donkey path, which was very pleasant.

The top photo is a scene from along the path.

The middle photo is of the famous “triple-fissure” from inside the cave. The rock split here when St John received the Revelation. Of course, you can’t really see anything in the photo – we didn’t use the flash inasmuch as photography “is forbidden” inside the cave. Of course, in Greek, “forbidden” means only that maybe perhaps you should consider using some discretion in taking photos – I was a real literalist in interpreting that to mean “no flash.”

Rob has some video from inside the cave with me giving a little tour, which will be forthcoming. I will post the link as soon as he has it ready.

The bottom photo is of Pelagia and Patricia outside the cave, at the entrance to the old footpath.

That night, for the Lamentations, we went to the women's monastery of the Life-Receiving Spring in Hora.

As our neighbor and translator friend James Lillie told us, the name is actually Life-Receiving Spring, rather than Life-Giving. He’s not sure how this mistranslation lodged its way into permanent use among English-speakers, but he suspects that someone originally misread a manuscript, as there is only a one-letter difference between the two in the Greek.

(Another mistranslation that has stuck, he pointed out, is actually ‘Christ is risen!’ The Greek ‘anesti’ is clearly a present perfect verb – i.e. has risen. The verb form of ‘is risen,’ in English, if it means anything, would have to be taken as a passive verb – i.e. I am risen from sleep by my brother, or Christ is risen by…?

All that being said, Christ has risen! (Or Christ is risen! It doesn’t really matter, as I don’t think God will be judging us on grammar anyway.) ( :

Anyway, on the way back to our place from the Monastery of the Life-Receiving Spring, we ran into the procession held by the local parish in Hora. There are some grainy shots with all our photos here and Rob's video will also show more.

Our House in Patmos

After a lot of research, Brendan found us this great little house to rent on Patmos. In the top photo, we are sitting outside on the vine-covered porch, talking with the home’s owner, Mihalis.

The middle photo was taken from the same position at the house’s front door, but turned around looking inside.

The bottom photo was taken at sunset, from the gate to the porch.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Monastery of St John the Theologian

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As is often commented, the Monastery of St John the Theologian looks more like a fortress than a monastery. Given the reasons I just outlined in my previous post, this is completely understandable.

The monastery was founded in 1088 by the scholar-monk St Christodoulos Latrenus (whose relics are still in the monastery’s katholikon). In the monastery’s very impressive museum, you can see the long parchment scroll from 1088 in which the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus granted St Christodoulos the whole island of Patmos for a monastery in honor of St John.

(Incidentally, Patmos is only about 34 square km – about 17 km long and 2 km wide.)

As another side note, I was particularly impressed by another document in the monastery’s museum – the famous Purple Codex (Codex Purpureus, or simply coded ‘N’ to New Testament scholars), which is an early 6th century manuscript of the New Testament, on purple-dyed vellum with silver letters. It is one of the oldest and most important New Testament manuscripts in existence.

Anyway, in spite of the vast historic importance of the monastery, it is currently in a rebuilding period. There are only 7 permanent monks there now, with another 6 ‘on loan’ from other monasteries to help out. Famously, Bishop Kallistos Ware is a monk of this monastery, and he reportedly hopes to finish out his days there.

We attended the Great Thursday night service at this monastery, and had a very pleasant meeting with the abbot.

We arrived just a minute after it started, and there was a monk reading the psalms. There were one or two seats left along the side, near this monk, so I grabbed one. After he finished reading, I heard him say (in English): Excuse me, I’m sorry, but I was sitting there.” I looked up and saw that the monk was actually the abbot. “That’s ok,” he laughed, “you can be the abbot for today.” He talked to Brendan and me for a few minutes and was extremely friendly. We ended up talking with him several times over our visit, and he even offered to have some of us come back during the summer to help out at the monastery with Greek/English for pilgrims and tourists – with a free house and meals provided! (Tempting offer…)

All the photos here are from inside the monastery. The first one is looking up at the bells. The second one is of the exo-narthex of the katholikon. And the bottom one is of some of the bells, taken from the second story.

Getting Lost in Hora

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Traditional Greek Urban Planning is about what you would expect from Greeks. It has, let’s say, its own internal logic that is not immediately discernible to the rationalistic Western eye.

On the surface, the layout of a traditional island town looks something like this: houses built wherever and however with no space in between them, and alleys of constantly varying widths which zig, zag, and curve every which way.

But, as one local finally explained to us, there is a reason for this. Over the centuries, islands like Patmos were constantly attacked by pirates and foreign armies. Patmos’ recent history alone is dizzying: Patmos was one of the islands which rose up against the Turks in the 1821 Greek Revolution. They gained independence with Greece, but then fell again into Turkish hands in 1832. In 1912, Patmos (and the other islands of the Dodecanese) were ceded to the Italians, who kept them until 1947, when they gave them back to Greece.

Because of the constant and unpredictable attacks, then, island villages were built almost like fortresses. Houses were constructed side by side to form a kind of wall. Alleys were confusing on purpose – so that only locals would know where things were. And the narrowness of alleys made it possible for as little as one man to defend an entrance into the village.

In the bottom photo of me, you see the narrowness I’m talking about. In the top photo, you see Brendan, Philip, and Pelagia wandering around a typically-colored alley. In the middle photo, Patricia stopped to smell the flowers which were beginning to bloom.

Exploring Hora

If you’re really bored, we now have our friends’ photos and even a video for you to look at.

Brendan’s photos are available here.

And Rob is putting together videos in day-long segments. He’s finished Day One, Great Wednesday, which is available here.

Pelagia and I think he did a great job! I’ll post the links to the following days as he finishes them. The video may take a few minutes to load, so don’t give up on it. You’ll need Apple’s QuickTime movie program, which most people already have. But if you don't, it's available as a free download here.

Rob’s video reminded me of a story I forgot from our ferry ride. So we wandered around Athens for awhile and then headed down to the port of Piraeus to catch our ferry. We wanted to stop at a grocery store before we left, so that we could eat dinner for cheap on the ferry. We were right next to the port, with 40 minutes to spare, so Pelagia and I split off to go grocery shopping while the others went to find which boat was ours. So we got a few bags of heavy groceries (in addition to our heavy backpacks), and lumbered our way over to the boats.

On the way there, Rob called to tell us that our boat wasn’t in the main port, but in some distant ‘gate’ that required a shuttle ride. Of course, since this is Greece, none of this information was available anywhere, nor was there any sign as to where we would catch this mysterious shuttle. We asked some clerks for help and they told us: “You’ll have to take a taxi, but I don’t think you’ll make it.”

So we started running, with all these bags, trying vainly to find a taxi and at some points just running in the general direction of the gate, even though there was no realistic way we would make it by foot. Of course, there was tons of traffic, and no free taxis. I finally managed to stop one and ask for Gate 1, and he claimed he didn’t know what I was talking about and left. We kept running, until we finally stumbled on this little alley where three taxis were parked together and the drivers were chatting with one another. Out of breath, we said (in Greek): “Gate 1. Our boat is leaving. Very fast.”

It was like a scene from Mission: Impossible. The driver threw down his cigarette, and popped the trunk. He helped us throw our bags in there and then strode purposefully to the driver’s seat. It was like he had been waiting for this. In good Greek style, he cut across three lanes of traffic to make an illegal left-hand U-turn, on a red. He then weaved in and out of traffic until he reached the other port. There, he hit a straightaway along the water and floored it. We were going at least 80 or 90 mph along the port.

Finally, he saw our boat in the distance. “It’s still there,” he said. He drove us right up to the on-ramp; we hopped out, got our bags, and were greeted by the applause and smiles of our friends who were waiting on the ramp for us. (You’ll see a bit of this in Rob’s video.) Anyway, it was quite a memory!! ( :

As for the photos here:

In the top photo, you see Cristina (Brendan’s girlfriend from Romania, and also a PhD candidate in the Theology School) checking out the fresh octopus being grilled outside a little restaurant in Hora. (Since Patricia had never had fresh grilled octopus, we later had some with her at that restaurant.)

The middle photo is of the Monastery of St John the Theologian, from right underneath it in Hora.

The last photo is looking down from the entrance to the monastery (the highest point on the island). The weather was overcast with a few sprinkles of rain, as it had been in Athens on Wednesday. But by Thursday afternoon, the skies were clearing and the weather for the rest of our trip was absolutely perfect -- very sunny and around 70!