The first stop was the island of Heybeliada, which the Greeks call Halki. The shot above is of the boat pulling out from the dock of the island after we had disembarked.
The Princes' Islands are a popular getaway for residents of the city and the fact that no automobiles are allowed on the island adds to the peacefulness and charm. The only taxis are horse and buggies, which we took up the hill to the famous Halki Theological School, which is also technically a monastery dedicated to the Holy Trinity.
Sadly, the fact is that it is now neither a functioning theological school nor a real monastery. The Turks have closed the school, and there are only a handful of monks there keeping the place open.
In the photo above, Fr. Panayiotis and a parishioner in our group, Andreas, are walking up the stairs into the theological school.
Here I am sitting at one of the desks, in which many saints and patriarchs have sat. The classrooms now sit unused.
In the middle of the C-shaped school complex sits the church dedicated to the Holy Trinity. In the photo above, one of the monks, who--it turned out--had gone to the private Orthodox school here in Panorama and knew Fr. Alexios and Fr. Panayiotis, was giving us a tour of the church and explaining some of the history.
The back of the church, with the graves of former patriarchs and headmasters.
Part of the school complex that wraps around the church.
The view from the church. The school sits at the top of the island's hill, with a great view over the ocean.
Here we are walking down the path back to the entrance. The flowers and gardens were quite colorful.
Since it was downhill, we walked back to the port, passing by some of the island's traditional houses, many of which were actually built by Greeks before they were chased out by the Turks during the middle of the last century.
Once we got back to the port, we had to wait for a bit for a boat to come by and ferry us over to Buyukada island, the largest of the nine islands.
From the port, we again took a horse and buggy taxi to the top of the island's hill, where the Monastery of St. George Koudounas sits perched.
The buggies come equipped with rearview mirrors. Here I captured Paris and Fr. Panayiotis in the mirror.
Paris looking at the traditional houses as we made our way up the hill in the buggy.
When we arrived, we went inside the church, which was (and always is) full of a stream of visitors (Orthodox and non-Orthodox), and venerated the wonder-working icon of St. George. St. George has worked countless icons for supplicants there. Be sure to click here for an amazing account of all the miracles worked for the Muslim Turks, who greatly venerate the saint!
After we venerated inside the church, we were invited by the monks to come visit with them for awhile. The monastery had been abandoned, but three years ago, the Ecumenical Patriarch invited an elder and two of his disciples from the Cell of St. Tryphon of the Holy Monastery of Xenophontos on Mt. Athos to come take over the monastery. The monks agreed, and now travel back and forth between this monastery and Mt. Athos. Unfortunately, they are only able to enter Turkey with visitors' visas, so they must leave every 90 days.
It was truly a blessing and a highlight of the trip to visit with these monks, who truly radiated Athonite spirituality, which is a real beacon of Orthodox light in an otherwise dark atmosphere. I hope to visit them in their cell on Mt. Athos some day.
The monastery is one of the most popular tourist attractions on the island, and there's a restaurant next to the monastery that offers traditional food and beautiful views from the highest point on the island. The restaurant is run by the Muslim family which, because of their great veneration for the saint, kept the church from falling into disrepair during the many years it was abandoned. This is the view from where we ate.
Here's where we ate lunch.
Finally, a photo of the hydrofoil boat that took us back to Constantinople after a full day with many blessings.
For more photos from the day, click here.