On Tuesday, I was invited along on a road trip with our parish priests, Fr. Alexios and Fr. Panayiotis, and one of the members of the so-called "parish council" (although the whole concept of "parish council" in Greece is *radically* different from what we usually see in our parishes in the US, but that's another story). We set off at 9:00 AM, destination Alexandroupoli, one of Greece's bigger cities (after Athens and Thessaloniki), and just 27 miles from the border with Turkey. Up until just a year ago, this trip would have taken 7 hours. Now, thanks to a new, recently completed highway, we made it in a smooth 2.5 hours. (This, by the way, means Constantinople is just 5.5 hours from Thessaloniki by car.)
Our actual destination was not the city itself, but a fairly well-known women's monastery outside the city, the Holy Monastery of Panagia Evrou ("the Mother of God of Evros," the name of that region). The photo below is of us getting out of our parish's van, in front of the entrance to the monastery.
We went inside and venerated the icons in the church. A nun then took us to meet the monastery's elder, Elder Polykarpos, a very sweet old monk. You can see him in the photo above, as we stopped to look at the monastery's view of the sea. Unfortunately, the background didn't come out on the photo, but on clear days they can see Mt. Athos from there.
We sat and had coffee with Elder Polykarpos for about 30 minutes, and he then took us on a tour of the monastery's workshops. Wow! What that impressive! The sisters there are very busy!
First, we went to the icon workshop, where about five sisters were working. Then, we went next door to a small room where one sister works on hand-stitching iconography. She was working at a table with a magnifying glass on a beautiful circular piece only about 5 inches in diameter. She told me that that one piece takes countless hours to complete.
We then headed over to the mosaics workshop, where two sisters were working on mosaics. This was perhaps the most interesting part, and we spent quite a bit of time here. The sister in charge explained the whole process, including how they choose and import natural colored stones and marble from all over the world. Fr. Alexios wants to order a piece to go over the entrance to our parish, but the work is, understandably, quite expensive. An 8x10" design, for example, would run at least 1000 euro ($1300). The bottom photo is one such piece they had hanging in the workshop.
Finally, we wound our way to the vestments workshop, which was the real purpose of our visit. Here, they picked out the fabric for new sets of vestments and we had our measurements taken. Apparently, I will get to wear the beautiful new vestments (although they told me I couldn't take them back to the US with me!).