Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sunday of the Cross

This Sunday morning, for a change of pace, we went down to St. Demetrios' church in the center. This is, I believe, the oldest AND the largest church in Greece. It also sits atop the old Roman bath house in which St. Demetrios was martyred and, of course, it holds the saint's relics. After the service, we got a chance to visit with the priests and I hope to go back and serve in the liturgy which they hold every Friday night (outside of Lent) in the crypt underneath the church (the exact place where St Demetrios was martyred and where Christians have been praying for the last 1700+ years).

Afterwards, we met up with our friends Moses and Maria and visited with them for awhile. Moses is an American convert who has been studying theology here in Greece for about 4 years. He is now married to a Greek girl and they have a small baby.

After that, we stopped home briefly before heading over to Angela's house. Angela and her son Alexander (see previous post) were kind enough to help with some difficult spots in my Greek translation work for about an hour. We then headed over to St. Photios' church (top photo), where the hand of St. Mary Magdalene was out for veneration. It had been brought from Simonopetra Monastery on the Holy Mountain. The line, however, was several hours long and we were exhausted. I was fortunate enough to venerate it when I was visited the monastery, so we headed home.

On the way, we drove past a guy we've seen at church here in Panorama -- both at the monastery and at St. George's. He was waiting for the bus, which runs a reduced schedule on Sundays, so we went back to see if he wanted a ride.

He lives in another part of Panorama (the "nomos") which has its own church, St. Panteleimon's. We'd never been there, so we drove by there to go visit. It was closed, but I snapped this photo anyway. Anyway, all this is not that exciting, but it's our life! ( :

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Well, on Sunday, Pelagia and I went downtown to Panagia Ahiropiitos (the enormous basilica church built around 450 AD) for the Liturgy, where I was able to serve with my spiritual father, Fr. Spyridon, and a deacon friend of mine from Romania.

After the service, we met up with the Montagues (another American family here), who had run into an American pilgrim. We all went together down to the Metropolis to venerate the relics of St. Gregory Palamas, who was celebrated on Sunday. We stopped on the way at St. Sophia's, an enormous church which served as St. Gregory's cathedral when he was archbishop of the city. It was here that he delivered his famous sermons on the uncreated energies of God.

On Tuesday, we celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation (which is also Greek Independence Day) here in Panorama at our local parish of St. George's. In the afternoon, for the misimeri meal, we were invited to our friend Angela's for fresh fish, baked in the oven, Greek-style. It was delicious. Our friend Philip also met us there.

In the photo, from left to right, is Philip, Angela's son Alexander, and Angela.

Angela is originally from Scotland, where she converted to Orthodoxy back in the early 80s. She then moved to Thessaloniki to study theology and hasn't left. She has been a great friend to us!

Friday, March 21, 2008

How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity

"The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
and the calf and the lion and the fatling together..." (Is 11:6)

We couldn't believe what we witnessed yesterday afternoon.

We've had our dog, Argo, since about August, and in these 7 or 8 months, his only purpose in life seems to be to put the cat in his mouth. The cat, suffice it to say, strains his every nerve just to tolerate the dog. He spends most of the day running away from him and sitting above him, swatting his nose.

This is what made yesterday's scene so amazing. Perhaps they finally realized their kinship as fellow Greeks. ( :

On another note, the bottom photo is of my new vestments, as I mentioned in the last post. Pelagia took this picture this morning after the Presanctified Liturgy.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

First Presanctified Liturgy

Well, I don't know that this is very "blog-worthy," but here's a very short video (22 seconds) from the Presanctified Liturgy that we just celebrated here in Panorama. It was inside our main parish of St. George's, but in the small side chapel dedicated to St. Nektarios.

I asked Pelagia to take the video because I wanted to be able to show the new dark-colored vestments I finally got yesterday (my Metropolis in Volos was kind enough to provide them for my use during Lent). Unfortunately, you can't seem them very well in this video. Maybe we'll get a good photo next time!

So, with dark vestments in hand, tonight was the first time I served in a Presanctified Liturgy.

At the end, Fr. Alexios brought out a small relic of St. Sava the Sanctified for veneration, in commemoration of the Church's celebration tomorrow, March 20 NS, of the monastics who were martyred at the St. Sava's monastery in Palestine.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Icon Workshop

About a month and a half ago, Pelagia and I went to the small Serbian church in downtown Thessaloniki to celebrate the feast of St. Sava. Among the many wonderful people there, we met one Serbian iconographer who has his own workshop in Thessaloniki. My Serbian friends have been telling me ever since to go by and visit, so I finally did today while I was in town for Ancient Greek class.

The iconographer, Zlatko, is considered a 'master.' I don't know anything about iconography other than what I like, and I *really* like his work. I only stopped in for a quick visit and to get some pricing information in order to possibly order an icon for someone in the US, but--with typical Serbian hospitality--he insisted on stopping everything he was doing and giving me a tour of his workshop. He then sat me down with the customary slivovitz (Serbian plum-flavored hard alcohol) and told me some stories about miracle-working icons, places to be sure to visit on the Holy Mountain, etc.

The first and third photos show the icon he is working on right now. He explained this is a new style that he had been experimenting with for 10 years, but it's only been in the last year that he feels he has enough of a handle on it to actually produce icons for the Church.

The second photo shows some icons that his students are preparing, and the bottom photo is taken from the top of the steps (the workshop is in the basement).

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Clean Monday

Monday was the beginning of Lent, which is celebrated in Greece (and elsewhere) as a public holiday, full of ancient customs coming down to us from at least Byzantine times.

In Greece, Clean Monday is traditionally a day to gather with family and community and go outside to fly kites. Here in our little town of Panorama, everyone gathers at the town park to listen to traditional Pontian music (Panorama was settled, in recent times, by Pontian refugees). The municipality also offers some free fasting foods (beans, bread, fish roe salad, etc).

It was a beautiful day (as it has been lately) as you can see from the photos, but there wasn't much wind for all the people trying to get their kites up in the air.

As this article observes, the festive atmosphere may seem somewhat at odds with the penitential nature of Lent. It certainly seemed so to me last year. But, again as this article succinctly notes, it is a fulfillment of Christ's command, which is (not coincidentally) read the day before:

“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly."

In the top photo, you can see the little band playing on the left, and people doing traditional Greek dancing on the right, behind the woman selling balloons for the kids.

The second photo is of a little corner of the park that we found to gather with some of our friends.

The third photo is of a little girl from town trying to get her kite up in the air, as many people were doing.

Finally, on completely different note, Pelagia has been hard at work. About a week ago she finished a large, two-week project of completely repainting an apartment in our building. Then she moved on to repainting (or, more accurately, completely re-designing) our bedroom. The bottom photo shows her at work.

Friday, March 14, 2008

King Milutin's Tower

Saturday morning’s service, which included Divine Liturgy, went from 2 until 7 AM. Breakfast followed, and then a short rest. It was the most beautiful day yet, so we took another walk toward the eastern shoreline. After about 25 minutes, we arrived at an incredibly tall, imposing tower, which was built by Serbian King Stefan Milutin around 1300. (See top photo.)

The tower is currently undergoing some repairs, and it was not safe to climb up to the very top, but we did climb up about 2/3 of the way to enjoy the spectacular view (see second photo).

The third photo is of our friend Aimilios looking out at the view. I was inside the tower.

Finally, we headed back to the monastery and I gathered my things to make the trip back to Thessaloniki. Before getting on the bus to go to the little port of Jovanica, I stopped in the monastery’s bookstore and stocked up on some little gifts for people. The monk also gave me a bottle of the monastery’s wine, and I bought a bottle of their raki.

The bus left the monastery at 12:20 and took us to the western shore. I got a photo there with a very sweet old priest-monk, who liked trying to speak with me in Greek and English. (He particularly liked the phrase “God Bless America!”) In our photo, you can see the boat approaching in the background. We got on and were back in Ouranpoli before 2 PM. I caught the bus to Thessaloniki at 2:15 and was home by 5 PM.

That's it for this trip! You can see all 107 photos here.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


There was no liturgy on Friday morning, so the service ended around 5:30 AM. We had breakfast immediately afterwards, and then went back to bed for a couple hours.

When we woke up, it was another beautiful day, so we decided to walk over to the nearest monastery, Esphigmenou, which is only about 40 minutes away, on the northeastern coast.

Sadly, Esphigmenou has been the locus of some controversy in recent years. Nevertheless, it is a beautiful and burgeoning monastery, with over 100 monks (it is the second largest brotherhood, after only Vatopedi).

When we arrived, the monks offered us some lunch, so we sat and ate. Afterwards, a monk opened the church for us.

About an hour and a half after we arrived, we set off again, but not before checking out the monastery from the water’s edge. It is in a truly spectacular location.

We hoofed it back to Hilandar and rested briefly before heading to Vespers again at 3 PM. Dinner and Small Compline followed as usual.

After Small Compline, one monk led a tour into the monastery’s museum, which houses some beautiful icons and other ecclesiastical treasures, dating from as early as 1200. Interestingly, we were even able to venerate them, as thousands of others had been doing for the last 800 years.

After that, it was off to an early bed again. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Vine of St Simeon

After Small Compline ended around 5:30, we spent the next couple hours walking around the monastery grounds with some of the other pilgrims. We spent most of the time talking to two Buddhist visitors from Japan. One is doing a PhD in Japan on Byzantine art and the other is a professor of Byzantine history in Japan. Interestingly, the former’s dissertation advisor in Japan converted to Orthodoxy and was baptized some years ago at Hilandar. Anyway, it was very interesting to talk with them and hear their impressions of their visit to the Holy Mountain.

In the top photo, you can see the famous Vine of St Simeon, which has grown out of the side of the church (where St Simeon's former resting place is) and born fruit for the last 800 years. In the words of one Serbian website:

"A vine sprouted from St. Simeon's (Stefan Nemanja's) tomb. It still yields fruit after 800 years. Barren women become mothers after they have tasted the grapes from the vine. This miraculous vine has brought luck to many childless married couples who now have their posterity. One can become acquainted with the contents of a great number of letters sent to the monastery by the thankful parents who consumed grapes from Nemanja's vine."

The monks also make wine using a few of the grapes from the vine and give the wine as a blessing to visitors, especially those who have experienced a miracle through St Simeon's intercessions. My Serbian friend related a story I knew to one of the monks, and the monk acted as if he heard 10 of these stories a day. He actually chastised my Serbian friend for not knowing that there is a specific word in Serbian which means something to the effect of "helped to have a child through St Simeon's intercessions."

The second photo features a well in the foreground. You can see the church along the right side, and a pyramid-shaped wood frame which holds St. Simeon's vine.

We also walked outside the monastery and over to the eastern shore of the Holy Mountain, which is only about 25 minutes away. The third photo shows a skete of Hilandar which is located on this shore.

The bottom photo is of Hilandar as we were walking back toward the monastery.

After a long day, we went to bed around 9 PM, in order to get up for Orthros, which begins at 2 AM.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Inside the Church

At 3 PM, we headed to the church for Vespers. In the top photo, you can see Milenko as we come through the monastery's front gates and emerge into the main courtyard. Note that there is still quite a bit of reconstruction, in the aftermath of the 2004 fire.

The second photo is of some iconography on the ceiling of the exo-narthex, the first section of the church entered.

The third photo is from their much-revered, wonder-working icon of the Panagia.

In the words of one Serbian website:

"Miracles of various kinds occur in Hilandar. One of them is "the uppermost sanctity", the icon of Bogorodica Trojerucica (The Three-handed Mother of God). The legend says that John of Damascus, theologian, was punished with amputation of his hand. As he had been praying devotedly before the icon of Mother of God his cut off hand eventually healed by her grace. In gratitude for what had happened to him he added to the icon the third hand, made of silver. Since then many miraculous cures and magical powers have been assigned to the icon. Although it is not supposed to be taken out of the monastery, Trojerucica was in Thessalonica in 1993 when 1.5 million believers saw it exhibited."

The icon arrived at Hilandar in a miraculous fashion. When the Ottoman Turks took over Serbia, the people, afraid that the icon would be destroyed, strapped it to a mule and prayed for God to lead it to safety. Monks from Hilandar then found the mule wandering just outside their monastery.

The monks said a canon in front of this icon every night during Small Compline.

The bottom photo is a bit blurry due to lack of lighting, but it shows the iconostasis and the front of the church interior.

Also inside the church (but not visible in any of my photographs) is the tomb of St Simeon the Myrrh-Gusher, the Serbian king who abdicated his throne to become a monk, along with his son, St Sava, at Vatopaidi monastery on Mt Athos in the late 12th century. The father and son saints founded Hilandar in 1198. St Simeon reposed in the Lord the following year, and his relics were kept there for some time, until St Sava eventually transferred them back to Serbia. The tomb in which they were kept is still inside the church and venerated daily by the monks and pilgrims. It is located along one wall of the church and, famously, a vine grows out of the tomb and climbs alongside the outside of the monastery. More on this later.

Vespers finished around 4 PM, and we went straight into the trapeza (refectory) for dinner. Immediately after dinner, we went back into the church for Small Compline. As is the custom on Mt Athos, we were then able to venerate some of the monastery’s 250 relics, including a piece of the True Cross.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Trip to Hilandar Monastery on the Holy Mountain

Very early Thursday morning, I headed off to the Serbian monastery of Hilandar on the Holy Mountain with two friends from here in Thessaloniki. One, Milenko, is a Bosnian Serb and the other, Aimilios, a Greek Cypriot. I met both of them about a month ago at the small Serbian church in Thessaloniki, St. Sava’s.

The trip was a last-minute thing. We were fortunate, though, that Hilandar provided us with special passes.

I left Panorama about 5:30 AM and went to the bus station. At 6:15, the bus left for Ouranapoli, the primary departure point for Mt Athos. We arrived there about 8:45, did our paperwork, and had a coffee with Fr. Barnabus, an American priest-monk who has been at Karakallou (another monastery on the Holy Mountain) for the last 10 years. At 9:45, the boat left.

Although it was raining in Thessaloniki during this trip, the weather on Mt Athos was beautiful the entire time. The top photograph is of Fr. Barnabus and me on the top deck of the boat, enjoying the sun.

As you can see from the map here, Hilandar (spelled on the map as Chilandariou) monastery is the northernmost monasteries, so getting there is rather easy. Instead of the full, two-hour boat ride to Dafni, we got off at the first stop about 30 minutes into the ride.

We got off at the first stop, Jovanica, along with a group of about 15 Serbs from Belgrade. They had driven in a bus from Belgrade straight through the night—12 hours—to come for this visit to Hilandar.

When we got off, a bus from Hilandar picked us up and drove us about 25 minutes over to the monastery. We finally arrived around 10:30-11:00. So it took about 5 hours in total to get from my house to the monastery.

Hilandar suffered a very serious fire a few years ago which destroyed about 50% of the monastery, including the arhondariki, or guest house. This, unfortunately, made it difficult for them accept visitors for some years. Recently, though, the new guest house was completed, which is very nice. When we arrived, we had coffee and Turkish delight, and then settled into our room.

The second photo show the new guest house, which is located just outside and below the monastery walls.

Afterwards, we decided to walk around the monastery for awhile. The third and fourth photos are of the entrance of the monastery (the fourth being the ceiling of the entrance).

Look for more posts about the trip in the coming days. For all 107 photos, click here.