Friday, February 29, 2008

Tsikno Pempti (Grilling Thursday)

Last night (Thursday), we went down to the center with our friends and neighbors, the Harpers (John, Marina and baby Emilia), and a new couple we met -- an American man who teaches at a local American-style university and his Greek wife and just recently became our car insurance agent.

Anyway, Thursday was Tsikno Pempti, which is the last Thursday (and one of the last days) to eat meat before Lent. This Sunday is Meatfare Sunday, which is the last day for meat. The following Sunday is Cheesefare Sunday, which is the last day before the beginning of Lent proper.

Psito Pempti has sort of a Carnivale atmosphere. The tradition is to dress up (Arab sheik seemed to be a popular costume) and party. Individuals and businesses set up grills out on the sidewalk and roast meat which they sell or even give away. In Aristotle Square, the main pedestrian area in Thessaloniki, they usually have a concert. Last year, the Scorpions played. This year, though (at least while we were there), it was a performance via video.

The weather has been very spring-like the past few days, so we found a little restaurant tucked away in an alley and sat outside, eating meat and Greek salad. Afterwards, we walked around the chaos in Aristotle Square briefly. It's quite an experience. I think once in a lifetime will probably be enough for me. :)

In addition to Arab sheiks, Orthodox monk/clergyman was also a popular costume. We could tell that some people were trying to figure out if I just had a really good costume! One reveller even asked me.

Anyway, the top photo has St. Sophia in the background. This is a landmark right in the middle of Thessaloniki, and it is where St Gregory Palamas preached his famous sermons on the uncreated energies of God. Nothing quite like that was happening last night. In this photo, some sort of band was parading by.

The second photo is of Pelagia, Marina and baby Emilia eating cotton candy in Aristotle Square. Our Greek friend, Fotinie, insisted that they wear the jester's hats. She tried to convince me to wear a cowboy hat or a zorro hat, but I demurred.

The third photo is of our group (including our friend Philip) in Aristotle Square. The final photo is of one of the many people grilling outside.

For a few more photos, click here.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Zizioulas in Volos

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On Saturday afternoon, I drove down to Volos (about 2.5 hours south, in between Thessaloniki and Athens) with some friends to attend a lecture by Metropolitan of Pergamon John (Zizioulas), one of the most famous living Orthodox theologians. It was the second in a series of open lectures sponsored by the Academy for Theological Studies of the Metropolis in Volos on the theme of "Eucharist, Church, and the World." I work for the Academy doing some English translations—one of the Academy’s goals is to make theology more accessible to the laity. Metropolitan John’s talk was entitled “Eucharist and the World.” He was followed by another paper by a French Catholic priest, Fr. Herve Legrand, who is involved in the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue with Metropolitan John. I was able to briefly introduce myself to Metropolitan John and deliver a present from my bishop, Bishop Maxim.

The talks and the discussion went from about 6:30 PM on Saturday evening until 10:00 or 10:30. Afterwards, I was invited to dinner (yes, this is quite a normal time for dinner in Greece!) with Fr. Legrand, my professor, Dr. Petros Vassileiadis, and others, including many of the people I work with (mainly via the internet) in Volos. I finally got to bed at 1:00 AM! They put me up in a nice hotel right on the waterfront in Volos.

Early the next morning, I walked over to the Metropolitan Cathedral for the Divine Liturgy with Metropolitan Ignatios, the bishop of Volos. He is a very humble, loving and pastoral bishop—I have been very impressed with him. Afterwards, we had “coffee hour” with the bishop and then I went on a walk along the waterfront with some people from the Academy. The weather was absolutely beautiful – sunny and warm. It was a taste of spring, and everyone was out walking or riding their bikes. I worked with the director of the Academy on a book I’m translating for them for about an hour at an outdoor cafĂ©.

Afterwards, we all drove up to a little village called Makrinitsa at the top of the mountain, Mt. Pileo, which overlooks Volos. There, we met Metropolitan Ignatios who treated us to lunch at a little traditional Greek restaurant.

Here, I was fortunate to be able to sit next to my professor and pick his brain about my research during lunch. He is VERY busy, so getting this amount of time with him is a blessing.

All of the photos are from that little village of Makrinitsa. In the top photo, from left to right, we have my professor, Dr. Petros Vassileiadis; me; Dr Vassileiadis’ daughter Anastasia, who works at the Academy in Volos; Fr Legrand; and my Serbian friend Sasha, who is also a student here in Thessaloniki. Behind us, and in the third photograph, is the village’s old church. The second photo is a view of a typical restaurant, like the one we ate at, which has a view of Volos and the bay (see also the bottom photo).

After lunch, we went somewhere else for coffee—this is practically required in Greece. ( ;

Finally, at around 5:30 or 6:00, Sasha and I headed back to Thessaloniki. It was an exhausting weekend, especially as I am still recovering from a bad cold and laryngitis which I have had since returning from Serbia, but it was also very rewarding and productive.

There are a few more photos from Makrinitsa here.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


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Sorry for the long lapse in blogging! Not much exciting has been happening, plus even with the things that are slightly “blog-worthy” I haven’t managed to get a photo.

I’ll give an update since the last post, then. On Friday, January 25, I celebrated my saint’s day by serving at a Liturgy downtown at Panagia Ahiropoiitos (actually, in the side chapel) with our spiritual father, Fr. Spyridon.

On Sunday, January 27, we went to the only Serbian church in Thessaloniki, a little dependency of Hilandar (the Serbian monastery on Mt Athos). January 27 was the feast of St Sava (O.S.), the founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Obviously, this is a major feast in the Serbian Church. So we celebrated the feast with the local Serbian community here in Thessaloniki, which was very nice.

On Wednesday, January 30, I celebrated my saint again with the feast of the Three Hierarchs. This time, I served at the Liturgy here in Panorama.

Fast forward until Saturday, February 9, when we left for Belgrade, Serbia, to visit with our bishop, His Grace Bishop Maxim of Western America.

Most of the day Saturday was spent driving. The trip was very smooth—in fact, we made it in about 7 hours flat (as opposed to about 8 in the past, when we were more worried about getting pulled over and asked for bribes in Skopje).

Again we stayed with Darko’s family—Nebojsa, Lepa, and Natasa. Of course, Lepa prepared an extravagant Serbian feast for us when we arrived Saturday evening.

Sunday morning went to the Theology School (where I was ordained) and I served the Liturgy with Bishop Maxim, Abbot Sava (from Tvrdos Monastery in Herzegovina), several other priests and two other deacons. (Unfortunately, we didn’t get any good photos.)

Afterwards, we had trapeza (coffee hour) and got to visit with Bishop Maxim and others.

On Sunday afternoon, we met with some Serbian friends, Darko and Gina, for coffee and, later, traditional Serbian boiled wine (see top photo).

On Monday, Gina helped us do some shopping, as we stocked up on items which are cheaper in Serbia. She also showed us a wonderful little Church store, which carries all sorts of products that are produced by the Serbian monasteries. We stocked up on Serbian monastery raki (traditional hard alcohol), which make great presents and also supports the monasteries.

We met Gina at the local parish in New Belgrade, St. Dimitrios (see second photo). It’s a new church which is not quite finished, but I think it’s a lovely Byzantine-style architecture.

On Tuesday, we met Bishop Maxim for the feast of the Three Hierarchs (O.S.) at the little Moscow Patriarchate church which is in the shadow of the enormous St. Mark’s cathedral. See the third photo down in this old post for a photo of this pretty little church. Watch the video at the bottom of this post for a sample of the Russian style music at the Liturgy. Afterwards, we had trapeza (coffee hour) with Bishop Maxim and the Russian priests and deacon, as well as the church’s choir director, a professor of Church Music at the university.

Our friend Ivana met us at the Liturgy, and afterwards we went out into Belgrade with her. We are interested in spending more time in Belgrade to learn some Serbian, so she took us to the university to make some inquiries about the Serbian language classes for foreigners. The woman in the office was VERY surprised and thrilled that two Americans would convert to Orthodoxy and then come to Belgrade and want to learn Serbian.

On Tuesday evening, we met again with Gina, another Serbian friend Tijana, and Fr. Dimitrios, a Greek priest who lives and serves in Serbia. Fr. Dimitrios took us to see the progress at the enormous St Sava Cathedral, and then took us to a traditional Serbian taverna.

On Wednesday morning, we packed up and met the bishop one more time at the Theology School (see third photo). We talked for about an hour and then made the trip back to Thessaloniki. Again, we had a smooth trip and made it in just over 7 hours.

Now it’s back to work!