Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Anaphora

The ordination over, the liturgy now resumes where it left off. In the photo above, Fr. Joseph and I are exchanging the kiss of peace. In the photo below, the presbyters waive the aer during the Creed as the bishop prays, preparing to offer the gifts.

After the consecration of the Eucharist, the bishop hands it to the newly ordained presbyter, saying: "Receive this Divine Trust, and guard it until the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, at which time He will demand It from you." The new priest then stands at the west side of the altar and holds the Eucharist (see above) until called again by the bishop.

Finally, you see in this bottom photo the bishop giving the dismissal at the end of the liturgy.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Vesting

After rising, my deacon's vestments were immediately taken off and new priest's vestments were blessed, piece by piece, by the bishop, and put on. Below, you can see Pelagia in the front row (taking the video you see below). To the right is our good friend and neighbor, Ann Lillie, and, to the right again, is our neighbor and landlady, Kyria Maria.

The final photo was taken after the vesting, when the new priest assumes the first position among priests, first to the right of the bishop.

The Ordination

After the speech, Fr. Spyridon and Fr. Alexios took me to venerate the icons on the iconostasis (see above), before going into the altar. There I was led around the table three times, venerating each corner of the altar and the bishop's hand (see below).

I then knelt at the altar as Bishop Maxim read the ordination prayers (see below).

The Candidate's Speech

Bishop Maxim did the the censing after the Great Entrance, with the deacons standing opposite him as he censed (see above). Then I was led to a microphone in the center of the church, facing the bishop, where I delivered the candidate's speech, which Fr. Alexios had helped me prepare (the Greek was quite elevated). (See photo below.) In short, I expressed gratitude to God for this day and briefly reviewed my history -- how I became Orthodox and came to study in Greece -- for the benefit of the people in the parish. Then I thanked Bishop Maxim and promised to be an obedient son. Finally, I thanked the other priests present--particularly Fr. Joseph, Fr. Alexios, and Fr. Spyridon (our spiritual father)--and, of course, Pelagia.

I then took Bishop Maxim's blessing (see above), and he gave a short speech on the occasion, about the significance and duties of the priesthood (see below).

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Liturgy of the Word

I believe the Liturgy began around 9:00. Above, we you see the Little Entrance with the Gospel. Below, you can see me standing next to Bishop Maxim in front of the altar after his entrance.

Here each of the three deacons came out to say "God save the pious." The Liturgy of the Word ended and the Liturgy of the Faithful began, through the Great Entrance (see photo below), before the service paused for the ordination.

Censing and Vesting

Here we are in Orthros. In the above two photos, we are doing the great censing. Then the bishop descended his throne and went to the middle of the church to be vested. In the photo immediately below we are taking the Kairon, or reading the prayers in preparation for the Liturgy. In the last photo, Fr. Alexios and Fr. Panayiotis (our two parish priests) are helping Bishop Maxim vest.

The Reception of the Bishop

Well, the day finally came. Fr. Alexios, a parish council member, and I picked up Bishop Maxim at the airport rather late on Saturday evening. Orthros began at 7:00 the next morning, with the bishop arriving around 7:45 for the Katavasiae.

Above, Fr. Joseph and I are waiting to go out the greet the bishop. Below, all the clergy are gathering outside the entrance to the church, waiting for the car bringing Bishop Maxim.

As is traditional, Bishop Maxim was given candles to light as he entered the church (see above). He was then given the bishop's cloak, and processed into the church, blessed the people (see below), and ascended the bishop's throne.

For more photos taken by our friend Job, click here.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Heading Home

There was, though, another issue looming over us. Everyone was telling us that the weather was due to get very bad the next day, Thursday, and the boat might not leave the mountain. This condition could, just possibly, last two or more days. I asked Elder Gregory for advice, and he strongly suggested that we play it safe and leave on the late afternoon boat.

Not wanting to miss the ordination on Sunday (!!) or leave Pelagia for too long, we decided to play it safe, and headed back to Karyes, from which we could catch a ride down to the port of Daphne.

We don't remember walking that far from Karyes, but apparently we did, as it was an almost exclusively up-hill climb for about 1.5 hours back to Daphne. The photo above is of one cell we passed, where the monk kindly gave us directions for a shortcut. The two photos below are as we wound our way through the paths back to Karyes.

Finally, we reached Karyes again, but I was not at all sure how the system worked for a late-afternoon departure (the usual method is to take the boat leaving at noon). I went and asked, and the only option was a taxi service, which was quite expensive. Just then, a monk approached Fr. Joseph out of nowhere and said, "Daphne?" I came over to translate and the monks kindly offered to give us a ride in their truck.

We waited about 30-45 minutes for the monks to finish their errands in Daphne, and then rode down with them to the port. As it turned out, they were from a cell near the Great Lavra which was composed of 8 monks from Moravia, the country sandwiched between Romania and Russia.

We arrived just in time to catch the speed boat back to the mainland, having heard that there was a bus that connected right away. Unfortunately, there was no bus, so we waited in Ouranoupolis for 2-2.5 hours until the slower boat arrived and the final bus of the day headed back to Thessaloniki. We were fortunate, though, to get to spend that time speaking with Fr. Vasili, one of the monks who drove us, who was also coming to Thessaloniki to take care of some paperwork for his cell.

We learned a lot about their life in the cell. Perhaps some day I will get to visit him there! Anyway, we finally arrived back in Thessaloniki around 8:15, exhausted. It was a short trip, but we had lots of blessings to be able to see and speak to as many elders as we did in such a short time.

For all the photos from the trip, click here.

Visiting the Holy Elders

My main hope for this, my seventh visit to the Holy Mountain, was to visit some of the Holy Mountain's living treasures, its holy elders, many of whom live in little cells in between Koutloumousiou and Iviron. Here, you get a different taste of the Holy Mountain from what you see in the major monasteries.

So, armed with directions, we headed off. Of course, at the first turn, we were lost. Nevertheless, we plowed ahead and soon enough we ran into someone to ask. We then ran into a monk, who told us he was heading past Elder Gabriel's cell and would take us there. We followed him, past a handmade sign pointing the way to this well-known holy elder (see photo above), and on to this cell (see photo below).

Elder Gabriel's cell is located right next to Elder Paisios' last cell, Panagouda, and is widely considered his "successor," as it were, as of one the Holy Mountain's saintly elders. I visited him once before with Fr. Alexios, our parish priest, on my first visit to the Holy Mountain 2.5 years ago. At that time, I had just come to Greece and knew no Greek. I remember Fr. Alexios asked him at that time to give me a blessing to learn the language.

This time, we knocked at his door and found him talking to another pilgrim, who was just leaving. So we had the blessing to have him all to ourselves. He took us into his tiny chapel to venerate his little paper icon of the Panagia, which has been streaming myrrh for some years now. Then we went and sat with him in his sun room.

It was a great blessing to know the little Greek I now know, because now I had this treasure of spiritual experience available to me. We spoke about a few matters, and then three priests from Thessaloniki came. We had a lively discussion then about ecumenism and ecclesiology and finally the elder, tired, signaled for us to leave. He gave us all some cotton with myrrh from his icon, and we went on our way.

We followed the three priests over to nearby Panagouda (see bottom photo), which was where Elder Paisios spent his last years, and where one of his disciples, Fr. Arsenios now lives. We went inside and venerated inside the chapel. Then I had some questions for Fr. Arsenios about the cell from the time when the elder was there--I was clarifying some points for this long-awaited English translation of the definitive book on the elder's life, which I've had the blessing to help with. Fr. Arsenios was quite helpful, and we finally moved on to another nearby cell, that of Fr. Gregory, another well-known elder and author.

His cell is pictured immediately below. He treated us to Turkish delight and some water to refresh us from all our travels, and I asked him some questions, as I had Elder Gabriel, about preparing for the mystery of ordination to the priesthood. He was quite helpful and gave us some books he had written as a blessing when we left.

St. Andrew's Skete

Wednesday started at 3:00 AM with Orthros, which lasted until about 5:30. Then everyone headed back to their rooms to rest. We rested for awhile, and then decided to head out. We walked back to Karyes and had a spinach pita to sustain us for a long day of walking.

First, we headed over to St. Andrew's Skete, an enormous complex equal in size to many of the monasteries. Founded by the Russian czars in the 19th century, it reached its apex on the eve WWI, when it had some 700 monks. It has only been repopulated in the last few years, and now 20 monks face the daunting task of preserving and rebuilding it.

These two photos were taken around the courtyard as we explored the monastery.

As you can see in this last photo, the central church, in good Russian style, is enormous, and it is in fact the largest church on Athos. We were not able to go in, unfortunately, because it is undergoing renovations.

Finally, we went into the "small" chapel (by Russian standards) which the monks are currently using as their main church. Here we were blessed to venerate the skull of St. Andrew the First-Called.

We then headed back toward Koutloumousiou, through which we had to pass on our way to the Holy Monastery of Iviron, where we were scheduled to spend our second night.


In this photo, Fr. Joseph is exploring the courtyard on the south side of the main church. To the right are guest rooms and straight ahead are cells.

This photo shows, on the right, the west entrance to the church. Straight ahead is the entrance to the monastery. To the left is the trapeza (refectory). (See photo below.) However, we didn't go in there. I assume it's being renovated. We thus ate in a different room.

Here Fr. Joseph is looking out over the landscape. You can see the monastery in the background to the left.

So once we did all this exploring, it was time for Vespers at 3:00. The service was relatively short by Athonite standards, and we finished by 3:50. We ate at 4:00 and then returned to the church for Small Compline and the veneration of the church's relics, as is the normal practice. We were blessed to venerate a large piece of the true cross, the skull of St. Paraskevi, the left arm of St. Gregory the Theologian, and a leg bone of St. Anna (the mother of the Theotokos), which was discovered in Jerusalem by St. Helen (the mother of St. Constantine) in the early 4th century.

Fr. Joseph was exhausted--he still hadn't recovered from the 10-hour time change to Greece, and now he had shifted times once again -- to Byzantine time, with its 3:00 AM wake-up call. So he went to our room to rest, and I headed back to Karyes (only about 10 minutes away) to try again to find Fr. Nikodemos at the cell of St. Sava (see previous post).

This time, he was in, although I suspect that I, like so many of the pilgrims, had interrupted him from his prayer. Nevertheless, he brought me into the chapel to venerate the icon of the Mother of God the Milk-Giver, and he showed me the original room where St. Sava lived. It was a dark tiny cave-like room, perhaps 4 feet in width and 10 or 12 feet in length. Here the saint had spent 7 years in ascetic struggle.

After a few minutes there, I left Fr. Nikodemos to resume his prayers and headed back to Koutloumousiou for the evening.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

To the Holy Mountain

Very early Tuesday morning, Fr. Joseph and I set out for the Holy Mountain. We were blessed with great weather. Of course, it was cold with highs in the mid-40s, but it was very sunny and no wind.

We took the normal 9:45 boat from Ouranoupoulis (the mainland port) to Daphne (the port of Mt. Athos). In the top photo, you can see Fr. Joseph looking out from the boat as we passed by monasteries such as the beautiful St. Panteleimon's (the Russian monastery), seen in the photo.

When we arrived in Daphne, we hopped on the bus up to Karyes, the capital of the Holy Mountain. We arrived there around 12:30 and went inside the Protaton, the main church of the Holy Mountain, where all the monasteries meet. Inside, we venerated the Axion Estin (It is Truly Meet) icon.

Then I had the idea to try to see a certain Fr. Nikodemos, a Serbian monk whom I had heard a lot about. He lives in the cell St. Sava of Serbia built and lived in from 1200-1207. There he wrote the Karyes typikon, which is inscribed in marble in the cell. Fr. Nikodemos, who lives there alone, faithfully keeps that typikon (schedule of life and prayer), which is regarded as one of the most rigorous programs. The cell also houses a wonderworking icon of the Mother of God the Milk-Giver, which depicts the Panagia nursing the Christ child.

In the second photo, you can see Fr. Joseph standing outside the door of St. Sava's cell. We rang the bell and called for Fr. Nikodemos, but he wasn't in or wasn't answering, so we headed on to the Holy Monastery of Koutloumousiou, one of the 20 monasteries of the Holy Mountain, and the closest to Karyes.

We were received, had the traditonal strong raki, water, Turkish Delight, and Greek coffee, and then shown to our room around 2:00. We wandered around and explored the monastery until Vespers began at 3:00.

The third photo is of the main church, located in the center of the square fortification of the monastery.

The final photo is of the west entrance to the church. In the background to the left is the entrance to the monastery itself.

Downtown Thessaloniki with Fr. Joseph

On Monday, I took Fr. Joseph downtown to see some things in the city and to look at vestment material for his parish.

First, we stopped at Panagia Dexia to venerate the wonderworking icon of the same name. Then we headed on to our spiritual father's parish, Panagia Ahiropoiitou, an enormous basilica church dating to 450.

In the top photo, you can see Fr. Spyridon telling Fr. Joseph about some of the church's history.

Next we headed over down to Agia Sophia, a 7th century church and formerly the cathedral of Thessaloniki. (See photo below.) It was here that our Archbishop, St. Gregory Palamas, preached his sermons on the uncreated energies of God.

Next we kept heading down to the water and ended up at today's cathedral of St. Gregory Palamas. There we venerated the relics of the saint and admired the wall-to-wall iconography in the relatively new church.

Finally, we got down to business and checked out several vestment shops before heading back home to eat and to prepare for our early morning departure to Mt. Athos the next day.

Monday, February 16, 2009

All Saints Monastery in Vergina

Pelagia's father arrived in Thessaloniki very late on Saturday evening and he hasn't had much time to rest since then! :)

On Sunday morning, we had Liturgy at our local parish of St. George's. Afterward, our parish priest, Fr. Alexios, arranged for a small gathering in the parish center for coffee. He put Fr. Joseph on the spot as everyone was eager to ask him about Orthodoxy in America. One well-known professor of theology from the university, who happens to go to our parish, Prof. Dimitris Tselingidis, also came and made it a lively discussion.

After a brief break for lunch, we then resumed the activities when Fr. Alexios invited us to make a trip out to All Saints Monastery near Vergina, a little over an hour west of Thessaloniki. We took the parish's van and went with one of my best friends, Paris, and Fr. Alexios' spiritual father, Fr. Asterios, his wife, and her twin sister (who is also a presvytera).

The monastery was founded only in 2006, and is built on the site of an old men's monastery, which itself was built on the site of an old chapel from the 11th century. Indeed, that old chapel serves as the monastery's main church. In the top photo, you can see the (new) outside of the church.

In the second photo, you can see the refectory directly opposite the church.

In the third photo, you see the inside of the church. The iconography along the sides dates back to the original chapel (11th century), while the roof and the iconography on it is new.

The final photo is of the Dormition, located just above the entrance to the church. This is part of the original iconography, dating to the 11th century.

The nuns were extremely hospitable to us. There are six nuns and four novices. All of them are quite young, including the abbess, and full of joy and life. Among their other jobs, they make and sell deserts, so we were treated to a beautiful and tasty selection of deserts and coffee.

Afterward, they showed us their workshops. First, was the iconography studio; second was a leather shop, where they specialized in making book covers. I'd never seen this before and their work was quite good. Fr. Joseph left a tiny pocket prayer book of his, that was falling apart, for the sisters to fix. Finally we went to the vestments shop, where Fr. Alexios admired some of the beautiful fabrics (he's quite an afficionado).

As we were leaving, Fr. Paul and Fr. Christodoulos of Mt. Athos arrived. Fr. Paul is the monastery's spiritual father and has devoted countless hours to helping build the monastery, brick by brick. The two of them live by themselves in a cell near Koutloumousiou on Mt. Athos. I was blessed to stay with them when I went the Holy Mountain the first time with Fr. Alexios.

Fr. Alexios told them Fr. Paul that, God willing, I was being ordained a presbyter next Sunday, and he and the sisters made me the very, very generous gift of a beautiful epitrachelion that the sisters had made themselves.

After giving us all jars of their homemade sweets and liquers, we finally managed to leave and head back home. We arrived back around 9:30 or 10:00, where Pelagia and our neighbors, the Lillies, were waiting to have dinner with us. We had a very nice meal and then finally went to bed, exhausted.

Stay tuned...there will be much more in the coming days. For more photos from the monastery click here.