Monday, April 27, 2009

Talk by the Greek Catholic Archbishop

On (Bright) Friday, I served the Liturgy in celebration of the Life-Receiving Spring at St. George's here in Panorama, and then on Sunday I co-celebrated here with the other fathers. Other than that, it's basically been a time of getting back to work.

This evening, Monday, my professor resumed his (semi-) weekly meetings for his graduate students. Today, we did something a bit different. He had us meet at Moni Lazariston, the site of a long-gone Catholic monastery and a seat of the Catholic archbishop of Northern Greece.

The talk was quite interesting on a number of levels. The archbishop began by telling us a little about the Roman Catholic church in Greece today. With immigration, there are now some 350,000 Catholics in Greece. There had been for some time small pockets of Greek Catholics, mainly in certain islands that were held for more of less time by the Venetians, but now the numbers are increasing. This bishop himself was a Greek Catholic, born on the island of Corfu. As Uniates, the Greek Catholics appear outwardly in many respects as Orthodox. In Greece, they even celebrate Pascha (Easter) on the same day as the Orthodox Church.

The main thrust of his talk, though, was on the ecumenical movement, specifically the dialogue between the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox. He also fielded questions from the students. He covered the usual hot topics, including the Filioque, Papal Primacy, and the status of the Uniates. On the Filioque, he repeated the now-standard Catholic explanation (admission) that it is not necessary, and the Catholics in Greece (like most Uniates) do not use it.

On Papal Primacy, he didn't really say anything definitive. Basically, we discussed the problem of the Orthodox Church's understanding of primacy, and whether there is a unified view of the role of the Ecumenical Patriarch, particularly between the Greek patriarchs and the Russians.

His response to one student's direct questions about the Uniates was the only time I saw him get animated. Basically, his point was: well, this is how it is. Now what?

I found particularly interesting his rather frank and open admission that, since the Catholics view Orthodox mysteries as perfectly valid (while the Orthodox do not share the same view), he (and other Catholic bishops) tell their faithful who do not live near a Catholic church to simply go to the Orthodox Church for communion, but NOT TO TELL the Orthodox priest. He said they have found that if the priest is not told, he will give them communion.

At the end of the talk, there were a few minutes of refreshments and chit-chat. I was sitting with my professor and some fellow students and he came over and sat next to me. Seizing the opportunity, I asked him a question that I hadn't asked him in the public forum: What about the theology of St. Gregory Palamas? Did he view it as a major obstacle in talks between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholics? I saw that he had written a book with a title involving the Blessed Augustine and St. Gregory Palamas, so I thought he would be a good person to ask for the Catholic view.

I really wasn't sure what he would say, but I kind of thought maybe he would say that it was a misunderstanding of language, etc. In fact, he quite readily admitted that there was a major difference between St. Gregory's thought and Catholic thought, but his answer was that it was simply not important. He explained that the difference was a matter of method (of approaching God) and theology, but NOT dogma, and therefore it was inconsequential to union.

Anyway, it was interesting, so I thought I'd "blog" it. I also snapped this picture, which has the archbishop in the background and my professor in the foreground.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Metropolitan Anthimos

I like the top photo, which was taken as we stood around the bishop's throne immediately before the beginning of the Liturgy -- it is Fr. Panayioti and Fr. Alexios, our parish priests here in Panorama, along with me.

The photo immediately above is taken from behind the altar and is of Metr. Anthimos speaking to the people immediately before communion.

There is a small controversy in Panorama these days regarding the Church and a land deal with the municipality of Panorama. The sensationalist Greek media has tried to make a big deal out of it, but it's really nothing. As I understand it, the municipality (or, more specifically, the mayor) gave the Metropolis of Thessaloniki a parcel of land on which to build a nursing home. Then a certain segment of the city council (those in the far-left party) objected and have tried to make it into a political thing, accusing the conservative party of being in some sort of conspiracy with the Church.

Anyway, Metr. Anthimos addressed this issue, among other things, in his talk.

The photo immediately below was taken after the Liturgy, as we headed out of the church and down to the parish hall for coffee and refreshments with the bishop.

I took the photo at the bottom as we stood to end the coffee hour, and the chanters sang to the Metropolitan. You can see that he saw me taking the photo. : )

To his right is Professor Dimitris Tselingidis, one of the most well-known theologians in Greece. To his left is retired Professor Georgios Mantzaridis, who is even better known. We are fortunate that both of these theologians live in Panorama and attend our parish.

When I spoke with the Metropolitan, I thanked him for allowing Bishop Maxim to come here to Thessaloniki to ordain me. This, along with the fact that Pelagia is pregnant with triplets, made us a conversation piece during coffee, and Fr. Alexios told him the story of Pelagia's family, the EOC, etc., and how we had become Orthodox and came to study in Greece. Metr. Anthimos seemed quite interested in all this, so I suppose I remain in his good graces. : )

The Feast of St. George

On Thursday morning, we again had 11 priests, although different ones -- this time it was 10 protopresbyters and only one lowly presbyter -- me. : )

We also had 2 deacons to concelebrate with His All-Holiness (yes, that's his title within Thessaloniki--a special prerogative given only the Archbishop of Thessaloniki) Metropolitan Anthimos.

Above and immediately below you can see Metr. Anthimos as he finishes vesting. In the one below, you can see me in the background.

At the very bottom, you can see me off to the side and the bishop in the foreground as Liturgy is about to begin.

Festal Vespers for St. George

On Wednesday evening, our home parish of St. George's here in Panorama had Festal Vespers for the feast of our patron saint, St. George the Great Martyr. We had eleven priests celebrating and one deacon, and the church was packed.

In the top photo, you can see our spiritual father, Fr. Spyridon, censing with the Paschal candle at the beginning of Vespers.

The second and third photos are of the entrance. I'm in the foreground to the left in the second, and in the back in the third.

Below is a photo from behind the altar of Fr. Panayioti, one of the parish priests here at St. George's, handing out artoklasia at the end of Vespers.

Below that is a photo of Fr. Panayioti speaking with Fr. Spyridon after the service.

Vespers was about 1.5-2 hours, and afterwards we went for a coffee (see bottom photo).

Sunday, April 19, 2009


From Wednesday afternoon when I arrived in Volos until Saturday afternoon, I was in the church almost continually.

On Friday afternoon, the one excursion I made was with Kyria Poppy to see her church of St. Andrew's, which is located just outside the city in a rural area. She and her husband started the church in 1984, and she's the dynamo behind it. This woman really has almost boundless energy. Like many dedicated parishioners in Greece, she went with little or no sleep on Holy Thursday night, after the reading of the 12 Passion Gospels, in order to prepare the bier (epitaphion).

On Friday, during the day, it is the custom in Greece for one to visit the church and venerate the epitaphion. In bigger churches, one may have to wait in line for some time.

The top photos are of the epitaphion at Poppy's little church. The photo immediately above is of the outside of the church.

Holy Thursday morning and Holy Saturday morning in Greece are the times when nearly everyone in Greece wants to take Holy Communion. So after helping with the exhausting service on Saturday morning, I had a blessing to go back to Thessaloniki so that I could celebrate the Resurrection with Pelagia here in Panorama.

At 11:00 PM, we gathered at the church to await the arrival of the Holy Light directly from Jerusalem. The miraculous Holy Light from the Holy Sepulchre itself in Jerusalem comes to the Patriarch of Jerusalem around 2:00 PM on Saturday, and then is immediately flown to the Archbishop of Greece in Athens, who then in turn distributes it throughout Greece. The municipality of Panorama sends an official delegation to the airport to receive it on Saturday night, and it is then brought back, with police escort, to Panorama. There, the mayor of Panorama hands it to the clergy just outside the church. Everyone then processes into the church, where Orthros begins immediately.

Shortly before midnight, the priests hand out the Holy Light and everyone processes outside. (See Pelagia's photo below.) On a stand near the church, the Gospel is read, and then, at midnight, the priests joyfully announce "Christ is risen!" Everyone processes back into the church, where Orthros is concluded and Liturgy begins.

Last night, we concluded around 2:30 AM, and then, joyful and exhausted, we headed home to rest. Now we're about to head over to our neighbors for a big lunch! : )

Tonight at 7:00 we'll have Agape Vespers -- I'll read the Gospel in English. : )

My parish of Sts. Peter and Paul

This is my first official parish assignment as a priest -- Sts. Peter and Paul in Nea Ionia, Greece. I'm the third priest, but the second priest was sent out to a village from Thursday to Sunday of Holy Week, so I was the main helper to Fr. Christos, who has served this parish for 33 years, practically since it was built in 1974.

The second photo shows some of the iconography adorning the inside of the church. The life of the Holy Apostle Paul runs along one side of the church, and St. Peter along the other. Here you see St. Paul being baptized and St. Paul preaching in the synagogue.

Below, you see the inside of the church before the service on Holy Thursday evening. The bottom photo is taken from the inside of the church out the main door.

Like most Greek churches, this parish is blessed with a small core of dedicated people. Together with Fr. Christos and Fr. Stephanos, they recently completed constuction of a separate parish building, where they can gather for the equivalent of the American "coffee hour," teach the kids, and where they also have a full kitchen, where they prepare meals and distribute them to the needy in the area.

Holy Week in Volos


Well, with Pelagia more and more immobile, I have less photos to work with these days, and thus less to put on the blog. But here's what's been happening with us.

We spent Lent here at our home parish in Panorama. On Palm Sunday, my spiritual father, Fr. Spyridon, asked me to come help down at his parish of Panagia Ahiropoiitos in the center (an enormous basilica church dating to 450). Unfortunately, Pelagia fell ill with a very bad cold (which turned into an infection during Holy Week, and which she probably caught from me), so I don't have any photos from Palm Sunday.

The beginning of Holy Week I was here in Panorama again. On Wednesday morning, I had the blessing to serve the last Presanctified Liturgy here in Panorama, and then I headed down to Volos on Wednesday afternoon. Technically, I'm a priest in the metropolis of Volos, but I have permission to live in Thessaloniki for my studies. But during Holy Week in Greece, it's "all hands on deck." There are SO MANY people in church.

So starting with the Service of Holy Unction on Wednesday evening, I was in Volos. Pelagia had hoped to come with me, but she was so ill that the doctor told her to stay home.

In Volos, I was hosted by a very devout Greek woman named Penelope (Poppy), who lives in a small apartment in the center of Volos. Volos is really in a beautiful location, nestled between a bay and Mt. Pelion.

The photo immediately below shows Kyria Poppy's apartment building. Her apartment is on the top floor. I don't know if you can tell, but the streets are actually lined with orange trees, which were dropping full, ripe oranges while I was there.

The two photos above are taken from the balcony of her apartment, and the photo at the very bottom is Kyria Poppy.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

A Little Chocolate and Pelagia's Lesson

Once again I hit a dry spell in the blogging. Unfortunately, I have been sick, which has hampered things, but I finally got out of the house today to enjoy our new-found beautiful weather for a few minutes.

Around 5:00 PM, we walked over to the cafe near our house, which has a patio with a beautiful view out over Thessaloniki and the water (see top photo). The weather was so nice that Pelagia and I decided to go over there -- the other motive was Pelagia had a craving for some rich gooey chocolate, and I remembered that this place had something that fit the bill -- see the photo above.

At 6:30, Pelagia had her lesson with the two little Greek girls she teaches here at the house. Normally, they meet at the girls' house down the road here in Panorama, but they decided to come here for a change of pace.

Pelagia teaches them English simply by hanging out with them, playing games, etc. Today she made a sort of silly putty concoction with them out on our balcony and read them Dr. Seuss stories. (See photos below.)