Monday, April 28, 2008

Pascha in Volos

On Holy Saturday morning, we celebrated the Vesperal Liturgy of St Basil -- or what the Greeks call "the First Resurrection." It was really remarkable to us that the Greeks take every possible chance to look forward to that glorious moment at midnight when we proclaim "Christ is risen!" Anyway, the church was packed and communion took quite a long time.

After the service, as we waited for the service to begin at 11 PM, Pelagia and I took a drive up the mountain which overshadows Volos. Near the top there is a picturesque little town called Makrinitsa. All the photos are from there, looking down on Volos and the sea. In the third photo, you see a man bringing in a lamb, ready to be roasted for the big feast on Sunday afternoon.

Finally, the hour came. The parish was packed like you wouldn't believe. The whole area surrounding the church was packed. Shortly before midnight, we had to fight our way outside to the little platform erected for reading the Gospel and announcing "Christ is risen!"

Of course, it was a pretty wild affair. Some yahoos couldn't wait any longer and at 10-15 minutes before midnight started setting off their fireworks nearby.

After midnight, we went back into the church for the Liturgy. As is typical in Greece, about half of the crowd disappeared right after midnight, so the church was much more manageable for the Liturgy. (It seems to me that in the average Greek mind, this Liturgy is not an integral part of the Pascha celebration. Most people commune on Thursday and Saturday mornings, and are then ready to break the fast at 12:01.)

The Liturgy, which is usually performed quickly in Greece, ended about 1:30. We then met up with the dean of the metropolis and went to Metropolitan Ignatios' house to break the fast. It was really pleasant -- it was just the bishop, his dean, his protodeacon, the woman who helps him around the house -- and us! We felt very honored to be included.

On Sunday we headed back to Thessaloniki. In the afternoon, we met up with our friends Justin and Kalliopi (whose wedding we attended here back in January) and had a typical Greek feast (complete with roasted lamb!) with their family and friends.

Today, Monday, was the feast of St George, who is the patron of our parish here in Panorama. The Metropolitan of Thessaloniki, Anthimos, came to celebrate, along with 2 other deacons and about 10 priests. The Liturgy was broadcast on TV -- the Church has its own TV station, which actually many people watch. In fact, a friend of mine wrote me later in the day to say that she had seen me serving on TV!

I talked with the Metropolitan for a few minutes after the service, and Fr. Alexios (the rector of the parish) told him how Pelagia and I were from America; we were converts; her family was part of a large group of Protestants who converted (i.e. the EOC movement). Like many Greeks, he seemed really fascinated and thrilled by this.

It was interesting for me to note a couple things about the bishop's arrival: first, the actual license plate of his car is a totally different plate, and it reads in big letters "M. Th." (i.e. Metropolitan of Thessaloniki). I can't IMAGINE any Greek cop pulling him over with a plate like that! Second, speaking of cops, Fr. Alexios somehow got some cops from our station in Panorama to go meet the bishop's car somewhere along the way and give him a police escort to the church. All the clergy waited outside for his arrival, and as soon as his car was spotted in the distance, the bells were rung.

Anyway, tomorrow is the feast of Sts. Raphael, Nicholas, and Irene -- a major celebration in Greece. It never ends! ( :

Holy Week

I arrived back in Thessaloniki on Tuesday. I served at our local parish here in Panorama, St. George's, on Great Wednesday and Great Thursday morning. My time back home, though, was brief, as my bishop here in Greece, Metropolitan Ignatios of Volos, called me to come down to Volos (about 2.5 hours south of here, on the central-eastern coast) to help with the Holy Week services. Pelagia and I left for Volos on Thursday afternoon.

The Metropolis put us up at a little hotel in the central square of Nea Ionia (a city which borders Volos), next to the Church of the Annunciation (see top photo). I, however, was assigned to a parish about a mile away, St. Spyridon's. We were there for the remainder of the services, starting on Holy Thursday evening, with the reading of the 12 Gospels.

The rector of the parish, Fr. Demetrios, is a sweet, saintly old priest. That parish has two younger priests assigned to it, but they were farmed out to distant villages without regular priests for the Holy Week services.

On Thursday night, after the service, the tradition in Greece is for everyone to stay and decorate the bier until very, very late -- sometimes even all night. The second photo is of the gorgeous bier from the Church of the Annunciation. Here, indeed, one woman had stayed up all night working on it. The bottom photo is of the bier at St. Spyridon's.

On Friday morning, of course, we had the Royal Hours combined with the Taking Down from the Cross, which lasted about 4 hours.

Pelagia took a 7.5-minute video (below) of some of the service from Holy Friday evening, the Lamentations service.

When we took the bier in procession outside, we went around what seemed like most of the city. I would say it was at least a mile! Everything and everyone in the city was stopped, waiting to see the bier pass by.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Palm Sunday in Providence

On Sunday morning, my friend Razvan (a friend from my days at Brown) picked me up in Boston and we drove down to St. Mary's together. My homecoming in Providence (Pawtucket to be exact) was complete. Palm Sunday is perhaps the most well-attended service of the year in many ethnic Arab parishes, so I saw everyone from my old parish on Sunday.

As you'll notice from the photos, I had to wear my dark vestments since that was all that I had. The top photo is from one of the petitions at the beginning of the Liturgy. The second photo is from the Great Entrance. The third and fourth photos are from the procession at the end of the Liturgy. As you can tell, we were blessed with gorgeous weather. (In fact, the weather during my whole 12-day trip in the US was beautiful.) It was the absolute best of New England weather (a rarity!).

After the Liturgy, Fr. Isaac's wife, Kh. Dolly, prepared a delicious fish meal for many of the OCF students. It was a great blessing to see everyone again.

On Monday, I headed back to Boston to catch the plane back to Greece -- to celebrate Holy Week and Pascha.

Conference at Holy Cross in Boston

After nearly a week visiting family, I set off to New England for the real aim of my visit -- a Patristics conference at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Boston. Sponsored by the Pappas Patristic Institute located at the school, the conference funds graduate students to present papers at this annual conference. I was fortunate enough to be one of the participants again (and thus my trip was paid for!).

On Wednesday, April 16, I took a Southwest flight in Providence, RI -- my old stomping grounds. The priest who received me into Orthodoxy while I was a student at Brown, Fr. Isaac Crow, picked me up at the airport and we then went to an OCF meeting at Brown. Pelagia and I helped restart the OCF (the Orthodox college campus ministry) while we were there, so I was very happy to return and see all its progress. The group is still small, but it is alive and well. They now sponsor an annual lecture at Brown University and have hosted two Byzantine music performances.

Anyway, we spent about an hour or an hour and a half with the OCF group. We had a discussion about life in Greece and I showed some photos. It was very nice. (See the top photo.)

After that, Fr. Isaac and I went to my old parish, St. Mary's Antiochian Orthodox Church of Pawtucket, RI, to celebrate the Presanctified Liturgy. It was a real homecoming.

I spent that evening with Fr. Isaac. In the morning, I went back to Brown to visit with my godmother, Dr. Susan Harvey, who teaches there at Brown. I then took the bus up to Boston for the conference at Holy Cross, which started on Thursday evening.

Friday was an incredibly full day, with nearly 12 hours of papers. I delivered mine (which was a comparison of early Christian martyrdom accounts with contemporary Jewish ones) in the afternoon, and a very good discussion followed. (The second photo is of me on the campus at Holy Cross.)

On Saturday morning, Lazarus Saturday, a few of us managed to go over to Holy Resurrection Bulgarian Orthodox Church, where there were two baptisms followed by the Liturgy. I wasn't planning on serving, but the priest, Fr. Patrick, insisted, and loaned me some vestments. It was a great honor.

After the Liturgy, we scurried back to Holy Cross to spend the rest of the day in the conference. On Saturday night, two friends from the OCF at Florida State (who now live in Boston) picked me up from the conference and we went to St. George's Antiochian Church in Norwood for Vespers. It was very sparsely attended, so we chanted with the presvytera. It was lovely to hear everything in English.

Afterwards, we went to dinner and to visit at my friend's apartment. The third photo is of Ashley (in the foreground) and Kailen. Ashley was a student in one of my "Introduction to the New Testament" classes at Florida State. She is now continuing her study of Christianity at Harvard Divinity School!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Adventures in America

During my visit with my parents, I think I saw nearly all of my family, including both grandmothers (whom I hadn't seen in 4-5 years). We also got a chance to visit the beach in nearby Lewes, Delaware (see top photo). The weather was gorgeous during my entire visit in the US -- both in the Maryland/Delaware area and in New England.

On the fifth Sunday of Lent, I went with my parents, aunt, and uncle to the closest Orthodox church -- an OCA mission in Delmarva, Delaware. I was privileged to serve with the rector, Fr. John Parsells. It was a bit of an adventure coordinating OCA/Russian practice with the Greek practice that I've learned, but we managed. As one Orthodox bishop in America has reportedly joked: "We are one faith divided by a common liturgy." ( ;

Thursday, April 10, 2008

"Edwards in Greece" Goes to the US

I made the VERY long trip back to the US starting on Wednesday morning. About 20 hours later, I landed in Philadelphia. We arrived back at my parents' house in Maryland about 9 PM Wednesday night (4 AM my time). This is my first time back in the US since leaving for Greece nearly 2 years ago. The culture is a little bit different -- I'm certainly getting some curious looks about wearing cassock!

A couple things struck me as I was waiting in the Washington DC airport for my connection to Philadelphia. First, I sat next to a guy who was using his super duper cell phone with hands-free and his laptop computer. As I sat down, I heard him say: "Understood. So should we schedule a sit-down to put some meat on this concept?"

I thought: "Do people really speak this way?"

Later, I sat across from a young guy. He was about 27 years old, neatly groomed and dressed, looking very professional. He was clearly on some sort of business trip. It then struck me that he was wearing a wedding ring and somehow it seemed odd to me. I started thinking why that should have struck me as odd. It was because he was a young man in his 20s who was married and had a job! That's why I noticed -- because this would be almost unthinkable in Greece! This guy probably even had his own place to live! And all this before the age of 40! Inconceivable in Greece! ( :

Anyway, my parents live and work on the campus of a very small private school, with about 130 students from 9-12. This morning, I had been scheduled to give a short talk to the religion class about Orthodoxy. It turned into quite an event, with the whole school (including faculty) being invited to attend. In the end, it was about 30 people. Interestingly, one girl is a foreign student from Moldava (Russian Orthodox), and I think she was very happy that someone was trying to explain her religion.

I showed some photos from my trips to Mt Athos and Serbia, and gave a historical timeline for the Church. In the bottom photo, I'm passing around a piece of cotton soaked with the myrrh from a wonderworking icon of the Panagia on the island of Andros.