Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Panorama Cemetery

Our daily routine with the babies these days is to take a walk around Panorama with them around 4:00 PM. One walk we like to take is past Panorama's cemetery, which is basically on the other side of the town from where we live. Like most of aptly-named Panorama, it has a great view over Thessaloniki and the water.

Above is a photo of Rebecca with the babies at sunset today. You can't see much of the view, but you get the idea.

On Saturdays, our parish sends a priest to the cemetery for one hour in the afternoons to be available to read Trisagion prayers for the departed. The prayer is relatively short; it takes no more than 5 minutes to sing and read, but it is full of lovely prayers on behalf of the departed. The Greek people have a wonderful connection to their family, which, due to their Christian consciousness, extends beyond physical death. At the cemetery I always see people coming to lovingly tend to their family's grave site and to offer prayers on behalf of their loved ones. Most people have these prayers read at least once a year on the anniversary of the loved ones' repose, but I know some people who come literally every week, for years and years, continually praying for their departed loved ones. How beautiful.

I go about one Saturday a month to do this, and today I was there when Pelagia, Rebecca, and the babies came by. You can see me in the distance in the photo below reading a Trisagion for a family for their departed father.

And while I'm posting, here are a couple good photos of the babies taken about two days ago. They are loving the Johnny Jump-Up seat, especially Benjamin. Below, Benjamin is jumping around in the seat, while Phoebe and Paul look on.

Below, now it's Phoebe's turn. Pelagia is holding Benjamin and Paul is hanging out on the floor in the background.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Babies Go to the Waterfront

The weather has been just beautiful for the last week or so -- sunny with highs around 65. Not bad for the end of November!

Today was another such day, so we decided to take the babies out for a walk along the waterfront in Thessaloniki. The city has done a really nice job making it into a wide pedestrian area, with playgrounds, a rose garden, etc.

Paul's godfather, Paris, also went with us, so we piled into two cars around 3:30 this afternoon and headed down to the Thessaloniki waterfront.

Benjamin, as you can see above, was tired from his Johnny Jump Up adventure, so he fell asleep almost as soon as the car started rolling and had a nice 20 minute nap on the ride down there. That, apparently, was enough for him, as all the babies had a great time during our 1.5 hour walk.

Here Paris is pushing the two boys. Rebecca and Pelagia are walking up ahead, with Phoebe in her favorite position on Pelagia's back.

Everyone really enjoyed the stop at the playground. Here, Paris and Paul, and Rebecca and Benjamin, are having their turns on the swings.

Paul grabbed on to the swing chain himself. He'll be swinging himself in no time.

Godfather with godson at the playground.

Pelagia took Phoebe (on her back) down a long slide.

Here Rebecca and Benjamin are see-sawing with Pelagia and Phoebe.

Now both Paul and Phoebe are on Pelagia's side.

We found a set of chimes to play. The babies seemed really enthralled with all the sounds as we tried to play different tunes.

Here we are walking back to the car as the sun makes one of its usual beautiful settings over Thessaloniki's water.

For more photos, click here.

Babies Update

Here's Phoebe trying out a stylish new hat.

Last Friday, our friend from Paris (with whom we stayed when we went last year) came to visit and see the babies for the first time. Speaking of fashion, she brought the babies some clothes from Paris. Now the babies, at only 5 months old, have the latest fashions from Paris. :)

Above Marie-Jeanne is with Paul. Below she is with Benjamin, and Rebecca is with Phoebe.

Last Saturday evening, the last day before the fast, Fr. Alexios took a few of us out to a great restaurant up in the mountains above Thessaloniki. Pictured above is what we ate -- lamb and pork, some of the best I've ever had.

Here the babies are all hanging out together on the couch -- from left to right, Paul, Benjamin, and Phoebe.

This morning, Pelagia broke out a toy called a Johnny Jump Up that Kh. Makrina brought us back in September. Benjamin was the first to try it out, and he really loved it.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Monastic Tonsure in Ptolemaida

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On Friday evening, I went with Fr. Alexios, Fr. Panayiotis, and three parishioners to the village of Ptolemaida, about 2 hours west of Thessaloniki, for the monastic tonsure of one of Fr. Alexios' spiritual children, and a friend of mine, Theodoros.

I had never been to that region of Greece, and it is really quite scenic, with lots of mountains.

We arrived about 5:30 at the monastery (see two photos above). Although technically a monastery, it is not one in the traditional sense. Rather, it serves as a home for the metropolis' celibate clergy, who have parish assignments throughout the metropolis. Each metropolis has such a place, and this one, dedicated to St. Cosmas Aitolos, belongs to the Metropolis of Florina.

Here is a small chapel on the grounds of the monastery.

Metropolitan Theoklitos of Florina arrived around 6:00 and we went into one of the small chapels inside the monastery and had an agiasmo (blessing of the waters, see above). We then began Vespers (see below).

Toward the end of Vespers, the candidate, Theodoros, was led into the chapel where he made prostrations to the bishop, all four sides of the room (i.e. to everyone present), and then to each of his parents, kissing their hands as a sign of taking their blessing to become a monk. The bishop then tonsured him, giving him the new name of Fr. Chrysostomos (see above and below).

Here is the new monk after having each part of his new attire blessed and put on -- the cassock, and the exoraso, the hat, the veil, the belt, and finally a cross with a prayer rope. The service ended, and the tradition is for everyone present to greet the new monk and ask him "How are you called?" (i.e., what is your new name?), to which he responds, "Chrysostomos, monk."

After the service, Fr. Alexios showed Nikos (left), one of our parish council members, the Gospel from the Altar. The whole thing was written by hand by the monastery's abbot on parchment.

After visiting for a while with all those who had gathered for the service, we then left and had dinner at a local restaurant before making a late return to Panorama.

On Sunday, Fr. Chrysostomos was ordained to the diaconate and today, on the Feast of St. Nektarios, he was ordained to the priesthood. Axios!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Feast of the Translation of St George's Relics

Yesterday (Tuesday) morning, we celebrated the feast of the translation of St. George's relics with Bishop Panteleimon, 9 priests, and 1 deacon. Above is the bishop's entrance into the church during Orthros.

Here we are gathered around the throne just before the start of the Liturgy.

Here we are around the altar during the Liturgy.

While Rebecca watched the boys, Pelagia brought Phoebe for the Liturgy, and here she is taking Holy Communion from Fr. Panayiotis. For more photos from the Liturgy, click here. Photos, by the way, were courtesy of Fr. Dn. Ephraim Rivers, an American from an OCA parish in Alabama visiting Greece on business.

In the evening, Fr. Ephraim took me and my friend Philip Navarro (another American studying here) out to dinner in the city--at an Indonesian restaurant owned by Fr. Daniel Byantoro's cousin, who is also an Orthodox convert.

The Relics of Sts Raphael, Nicholas, and Irene

On Monday night, in honor of our parish's feast for the translation of St. George's relics, Fr. Alexios arranged for the relics of Sts Raphael, Nicholas, and Irene to come to our parish.

At 5:30 yesterday evening, then, we gathered in the town's square and awaited the arrival of the relics, which were accompanied by a police escort.

As Fr. David got out of the car with the relics, the priests venerated them, and then we all processed into the church.

We then went outside to await the arrival of Bishop Panteleimon of Theoupolis, a retired bishop of the Ecumenical Patriarchate who lives in Thessaloniki.

When the bishop arrived, we all went into the church to begin Festal Vespers for the secondary feast of our patron saint, St George. In the photo above, the bishop is venerating the relics of Sts Raphael, Nicholas, and Irene as he entered the church.

Here we are in a procession during the Liti--of 15 priests and 1 deacon--with the relics and an icon of St George.

And finally here we are blessing the loaves during the artoklasia. For more photos from the evening, click here.

Benjamin and Phoebe

This photo is from Sunday. Pelagia read Benjamin a book, and he seemed to really enjoy it -- he was looking at the pictures.

Here's Benjamin taking a nap in the swing yesterday.

Here's Phoebe laughing yesterday.

And here's Phoebe trying to hold her bottle while she looks at the camera.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Parish Trip to Alexandroupolis

On Thursday, I took Rebecca on a day trip with our parish to Alexandroupolis, a relatively large city near the border with Turkey.

We headed off at 7:30 AM with nearly 60 pilgrims from our parish (mostly retired people) and, with one stop, arrived at the Monastery of Panagia Evrou in Nea Makri (just outside the city of Alexandroupolis) around noon.

Above is a photo of everyone going through the entrance to the monastery.

The nun responsible for sounding the semantron gave Rebecca (and the rest of us) an ear-ringing demonstration of how it works. Here Rebecca is pretending to give it a try.

After venerating inside the church, especially the wonder-working icon of Panagia Evrou, the nuns took us on a tour of their work facilities, including the studios in which they make mosaics, icons, and finally vestments.

The photo above is of the mosaic currently in progress. As you can see, they are actually made from the back and then turned over when complete. All the colors are from naturally occurring minerals, which is part of the reason (along with the intensive labor) that they are so expensive. A 2' by 4' mosaic, for example, would probably cost around $20,000.

The group slowly made its way back out of the monastery and toward the bus.

Before we left, though, Sister Maria showed Fr. Alexios and me the huge new church that is being built just outside the monastery walls. Like many monasteries in Greece, faithful lay people flock to them on Sundays and feast days, and this church will be able to serve them better while marking out a separate space for the monastery. The nuns at Elder Paisios' monastery in Souroti have done the same thing.

After the monastery, the bus headed into the center of Alexandroupolis, where everyone was free to spend a few hours having lunch and walking through the city. Rebecca and I went with Fr. Alexios and George, a chanter from our church, to a great little restaurant with traditional Greek food (and lots of oil!). Here, all the food can be seen in buffet style pans behind glass and you point at what you want. I even got Rebecca to try to the local dish which featured bits of lamb liver inside (see above). Of course, I neglected to tell her what it was until after she had tasted it. :)

After a big lunch, one of the ladies from the parish insisted on buying us sweets and the local sweet shop. Above you can see Fr. Alexios, Rebecca, and George with their sweets, and Alexandroupolis' landmark lighthouse in the background.

After the big lunch, we took a long walk along the waterfront.

Rebecca and I then split off and walked around the city for about 1.5 hours. We stopped at the Metropolis (above), and were fortunate to run into someone just as they were reopening it for the evening. It is an absolutely enormous church, and I was deeply impressed at studying their weekly calendar of activities, which includes daily liturgies, confession times, classes, etc.

We left the city around 6 and arrived home around 10, tired but having enjoyed a nice outing with the parish.

For more photos from the day, click here.