Saturday, October 27, 2007

Visiting Kato Scholari

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On Friday evening, we drove out to the village of Kato Scholari to visit the Kralli’s. Kato Scholari is a little village about 25 km east of us. Fr Luke Hartung and his family lived there for the last couple years of their stay in Greece. We went to visit the family of Gerontissa Efpraxia, the abbess of the Monastery of St John the Honorable Forerunner in Goldendale, WA. We first met her brother and sister-in-law, Athanasios and Sophia, when Gerontissa took us when we first arrived in Greece just over a year ago.

Since then, we’ve tried to keep in touch, but pretty unsuccessfully – until, that is, we got the car. It’s good for us to visit them for many reasons – not least of which is the opportunity to work on our Greek.

Last night, we took these photos, primarily for Gerontissa and Fr. Luke & family to see. ( :

In the top photo, we have the Kralli’s (with their daughter) and me. Gerontissa’s photo, hanging on the wall, is also in the picture.

The bottom photo is, obviously, of me, Pelagia, Athanasios, and Sophia.

Friday, October 26, 2007

St Demetrios

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Sorry for the lack of activity. It’s just work, work, work lately.

Tonight, however, we finally did something “blogworthy” – we went down to St Demetrios’ for the Vespers of his feast. (This church is built on the site where St Demetrios was martyred for Christ around 300 AD. He has been the unquestioned patron and protector of Thessaloniki for the last 1700 years.)

Last year, we went to the Liturgy on the feast day itself, and it was absolutely crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it. There must have been tens of thousands of people. Bus loads were coming from Russia, Romania, Serbia, dropping off hundreds of pilgrims at a time. You couldn’t move inside the church. As our friend Philip put it: “There were times when my feet weren’t on the ground.”

In an effort to avoid some of that excess (it’s like that every year, apparently), we decided to go to his church for Vespers rather than the Liturgy. There were still a lot of people, but nothing like it will be for the Liturgy. I counted at least 8 bishops. At the entrance, the procession included about 15-20 deacons and 40 priests.

During the service, we stood in line for about an hour to venerate his relics at the front of the church. I took some video, which you can see at the bottom here. From the video vantage points, the camera focuses on St Demetrios’ relics, and most of the visiting bishops are sitting opposite. At one point, I pan up to a mosaic on the wall. I can’t remember exactly, but I believe it dates from somewhere around the 5th century.

When I say we stood “in line” to venerate his relics, I should explain. “Lines” must be a Western invention, because they’re poorly understood here. A line here is more like a cattle herd. Personal space? Forget it. Again, as our friend Philip says, “Greeks abhor a vacuum.” If you leave an American-sized respectful distance between you and someone else, you can be sure that someone (or two, or three) will squeeze in front of you. To quote Philip yet again: “St John Chrysostom talks in one of his homilies about 5 people being trampled to death at a church service. After coming here, you can understand how that happened.”

In any event, going to the church and venerating St Demetrios on his feast day is an ascetical feat – it must be good for our souls!

The two photos were taken from outside the church as we approached it. It may not look it from those photos, but the church is enormous – the largest in all of Greece.

Chronia polla!

Friday, October 12, 2007

St Sava's and the Long Trip Home

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When we finally reached St Sava’s, it was still raining, so I couldn’t get one of those picturesque shots from the outside. The top photo was taken through the car window.

Inside, I could see progress from when I visited a year ago. It will be absolutely amazing when it’s done. It is the largest active Orthodox temple in the world (in other words, besides Hagia Sophia in Constantinople).

After that, we headed back to the apartment in New Belgrade. The main meal of the day in Serbia is around 3:30 or 4 (right after work), so we went back to join Nebojsa and Lepa for lunch.

After lunch, we went to visit Lepa’s older sister and her family for a little bit. Then, Nebojsa drove us downtown to meet with Bishop Maxim one last time before we left.

It was another wonderful meeting – we felt so blessed to get to know Bishop Maxim.

On Thursday morning, our car packed full of Lepa’s food, we headed back to Thessaloniki. Now that we knew the way, we did it all in one day – it’s about 8 hours.

The second photo is from a quick stop we made somewhere in southern Serbia. The last two photos are from another quick stop we made in FYROM.

The border crossings again were quick and easy, except for Greece. When we hit Greece, there was hardly anyone working, a long line, and total chaos. It was nice to be back in Greece! ( ;

Thank God, we arrived home around 7:00, safe and sound. The car performed magnificently!

The big news from the trip is that we will return to Belgrade in December. If God wills, Bishop Maxim will ordain me to the Holy Diaconate on Sunday morning, December 16 (December 3 OS), at St John’s Church in the Theology School. Please pray for us!

Now I am searching for the best deal for vestments. If anyone has any advice, please let me know. Also (and this is hard for me to say coming on the heels of our request for help with the car), but if anyone feels moved to donate something toward the cost of the vestments (about $900), it would be most appreciated!

Meanwhile, it’s back to work. Thank God, I keep getting translation work. Now I am working on a project for the Greek diocese in Volos. They have an Orthodox theological press (see here) and they are working on translating a good bit in to English. With the car, Pelagia has plenty of work also, thank God!

Liturgy and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

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On Tuesday morning, we drove with Natasa over to the Theology School for the Divine Liturgy. Afterwards, we met with Bishop Maxim again for about 1.5 hours.

In the afternoon, we caught up on some emails and I did some translation work. In the evening, we all went to Tempo, the Serbian Wal-mart. We stocked up on some things that are outrageously expensive in Greece.

On Wednesday, the day was rainy and overcast, but we had planned on going to see the Monument to the Unknown Hero of WWI on the outskirts of Belgrade, so we went anyway. It was about a half hour drive from the apartment in New Belgrade, but it was worthwhile. Once again, it was a beautifully maintained public park, with the Monument at the center.

The communications tower for public TV and radio is also located here. It was bombed by NATO in 1999, but they are rebuilding it now.

Ironically, in light of that last statement, the Monument to the Unknown Hero commemorates the millions of Serbs who died in WWI, fighting alongside the US and the Western powers. The Serbs lost about 30% of their entire population fighting that war.

The first photo is of the monument from the outside, the second from the inside.

After visiting there, we headed back to Belgrade. I wanted to stop at St Sava’s Cathedral and see the progress on the inside. The traffic in downtown Belgrade was absolutely horrendous!! And I thought Greece was bad! I hate driving in that kind of mayhem, so Pelagia drove and I took a picture from the backseat to commemorate the occasion (see bottom photo).

Monday in Belgrade

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On Monday, we had beautiful weather – a little cool, but sunny. So we headed out to see Belgrade. The first stop was the Patriarchate, then we wandered over to St Mark’s, an enormous church. In its shadow (literally) was a tiny little white, green, and blue church, under the Moscow Patriarchate (third photo).

Belgrade has lots of beautifully manicured public parks and gardens, as you can see in the first and last photos.

St Mark’s is in the second photo. In the last photo, St Mark’s is in the background.

On Monday night, Bishop Maxim was celebrating a Vigil for St John the Theologian and Evangelist’s feast day at the saint’s church in the Theology School (Sept 26 OS). Nebojsa and Lepa drove us over there – it was a beautiful service. We were surprised to find that this church used almost entirely Byzantine music – and absolutely beautiful Byzantine music, at that. Check out a short video clip of it below (you can't see much in the video, but at least you can hear the music).

Celije Monastery

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After Lelic, it was only a few kilometers over to the much older Celije monastery, which was built in the 14th century. It was here that St Nikolai Velimirovic studied as a young boy, and here that his spiritual child, St Justin Popovic, lived (and remains today).

Bishop Maxim had told us to send his greetings to the sisters there, so we did, and one of them told us that she remembered him coming there frequently as a young boy of 14, when she first became a nun.

The first photo is of Pelagia outside the monastery’s gates, looking at a railroad bridge along one of the mountains.

The second photo is of the grave of St Justin Popovic, which is located just behind the main church.

The third is from inside the courtyard of the monastery.

The last photo is, again, outside the gates – Pelagia with Nebojsa, Lepa and Natasa.

After that, we headed back to Belgrade.

Again, for all the photos from the trip, click here.

Lelic Monastery

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So our first stop on Sunday afternoon was Lelic Monastery, which St Nikolai Velimirovic built (in the 1920s, if I remember correctly) and where he now lies. It’s about 2 hours west of Belgrade.

The top photo is from inside the monastery’s church – St Nikolai is behind us. Our hosts, Nebojsa and Lepa, are standing on either side of us. At the end, beside Lepa, is her sister.

The second photo is taken from a small house which has been converted into a sort of museum to St Nikolai – the rest of the small monastery is in the background.

The third photo is of the church from upstairs in another building and the last photo is of the church from the small museum, with cross-shaped fountain in the foreground.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Driving to Serbia

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Thank God, we arrived back in Greece this evening (Thursday) after a safe and very pleasant road trip to Serbia this past week.

We left last Friday in our new car (thank you all again!) and drove north through the border with FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), through all of FYROM, across the border into Serbia, and up to Nis, Serbia’s major city in the south.

I planned the stay-over in Nis in order to break up the trip – and it’s a great excuse to see Nis, which was the birthplace of St Constantine the Great.

The trip went very smoothly. The car was great, and the border crossings were surprisingly easy. All in all, we were in Nis after only about 5 or 5.5 hours.

At our Serbian friends’ suggestion, I had made a reservation at a specific hotel, which was supposed to be well known. Unfortunately, almost none of the road signs had English translations (as they do in Greece in other EU countries), so we just sort of circled around the city for awhile. We tried to ask people but ended up just circling more. Finally, we saw a hotel in the downtown center that I had read about as being decent and reasonably priced, and just decided to stay there. It was getting dark and we were tired and hungry, so we were glad to get settled in.

(The first photo is from our hotel room window, looking down on Nis, just as we arrived.)

We asked someone at the hotel’s front desk for a good place to eat, and we were off. Of course, (our understanding of) the directions led us nowhere, so we just picked one. It was good Serbian food!

After eating, we walked around inside the old city fortress, which has been nicely utilized as an integral part of the modern city. An old mosque inside the fortress is an art gallery and an old steam bath is a restaurant.

Soon it was late and we decided to see more of the city in the morning before heading on to Belgrade.

In the morning, Friday’s beautiful, sunny weather disappeared and as soon as we checked out of the hotel to start sightseeing, a torrential downpour began. So we ran to the car and tried to drive to the birthplace of St Constantine, an old Roman imperial villa called Mediana, which is located on the edge of the city.
We asked around and finally pieced together directions.

“It’s down this road 2 kilometers.”

We were getting close. About 10 kilometers down the road later, eyes peeled, we still didn’t see any signs of anything looking remotely like Roman ruins, or even a sign for Mediana.

We stopped and asked for directions again.

“It’s back down that road on the right.”

Apparently, we had missed it. Well, we would try again. Eyes glued to the right, we drove back down the same street. Nothing.

Still pouring rain, we decided we would have to be satisfied with knowing that we must have at least driven over the spot where St Constantine was born, and headed on to Belgrade.

Three hours later, at about 12:30, we arrived, safe and sound. Since we were early, our hosts – Nebojsa, Lepa, and their daughter, Natasa, were away. So we walked over to the nearby Danube River and had a coffee (see middle photo). It was still a little rainy and overcast, but it was still very pleasant.

At 2:00, we headed over to the apartment to meet with our hosts. It was so nice. We spent the rest of the day catching up and being forced to “Eat! Eat! Eat!”

On Sunday morning, Nebojsa drove us over the other (east) side of Belgrade, where our bishop, Bishop Maxim, would be serving the Divine Liturgy. It was St John the Theologian’s Church, located inside the Theology School of the University of Belgrade (see the bottom photo, which is of the front of the Theology School).

It was a beautiful service, with some English and Greek. We met with the bishop at the end of the service and he insisted that we sit with him at his table for coffee afterwards.

We were very impressed by everything – the bishop and the Theology School. The church had been packed with young people, who seemed to form a nice community. Bishop Maxim was very approachable and generous with his time. We spoke with him for about an hour and a half before heading back to the apartment in New Belgrade. In the afternoon, our hosts and some of their friends decided to make a trip to visit two monasteries about two hours to the west of Belgrade, Lelic (where St Nikolai Velimirovic lies) and Celije (where St Justin Popovic lies).

Stay tuned for that story tomorrow...

All the photos from the trip can be seen here.