Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dormition in a Village

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On Saturday morning, I celebrated the Divine Liturgy here at St. George's in Panorama as usual, and then I headed out with Anastasia to Volos. I had been called to serve the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos for a small village in the mountains outside Volos. See the map above for its wonderful location.

The peninsula east of Volos is mountainous and remote and, even though it is not far, it takes over an hour to get to the little village of Xinovrysi from Volos. Xinovrysi has a year-round population of about 90. When the summer-only residents come, it rises to about 150. There is only one hotel, which is about halfway between the village and its beachfront outpost, Potistika. The village rented me a room in this hotel -- the photo above is the view from my room.

Before I got there, though, I dropped off Anastasia at the Monastery of Panagia Odigitria (Virgin Directress), a metochion (dependency) of Mt. Athos' Philotheou Monastery, and one of Elder Ephraim's three women's monasteries in Greece (see the previous blog post about our trip to Serres). This monastery is located in Portaria, again in the mountains, but more up to the north of Volos. See map below.

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So I arrived in Xinovrysi about 2:30 and was met by the two members of the parish council, who took me to the hotel and made sure I had some lunch. They told me that down in the city of Volos, it was the hottest day of the year -- 105 Fahrenheit. Up in the mountains where we were, though, it was a mild 100.

Fortunately, my room had an air conditioner and everyone hunkered down for the hottest part of the day, reemerging again around 7:00 to go to Vespers.

Through the hard work of a few dedicated people, the village had managed to restore its central church, which was dedicated to the Dormition of the Theotokos. Tonight we would mark the grand re-opening with an abbreviated service of Thyranoixia (Door Opening) before the Festal Vespers. Our metropolitan sent a senior priest from Volos, Fr. Theodoros, to perform the service on his behalf. An elderly retired priest named Fr. Philotheos from Athens also joined us. He had been born and raised in this little village and was happy to see the church where he was baptized reopened.

Amazingly, this little parish also has five beautiful chapels within its borders, which they had been using for services before this main parish church was restored. Unfortunately, they do not have their own priest, but the metropolis arranges rotating priests to serve them about twice a month.

We gathered outside the doors to the church and basically did a modified service of Agiasmo (Blessing of Water). We then asked Fr. Philotheos to do the honor of going in and blessing the church. We then all filed into the church to begin Vespers. The people of the village had done a wonderful job. Everything inside was beautiful and clean. It was clear that they had worked hard to pull this off and were proud of their church. The photo above is of the proskomidi (the Table of Oblation at the side of the sanctuary, where the gifts are prepared).

The iconostasis was all original from when the church was built in 1819 -- hand-carved and painted wood. The walls had been replastered and whitewashed. If there ever were icons on them, they had been destroyed, and are now the next phrase for this little village. The photo above is from inside the sanctuary, looking out the north deacon's door.

The original iconostasis and the new tile work on the floor.

After Vespers, we had a procession with the icon around the church, concluding in an Artoklasia with a huge amount of loaves. Every woman in the village must have baked bread for this. The parish council members estimated that we had at least 400 people for the service.

Afterward, everyone walked over to the adjacent village square, which was full of tables and chairs and the handful of restaurants were busy preparing food. Vendors had come to the village just for its feast and were selling their wares, mostly toys, games, and balloons for kids. After a while, the traditional Greek music started up. Fr. Theodoros and I stayed long enough to have a little bite to eat, and then we headed out around 10:30. As is the custom with these village feasts, the revelers stayed out until 5:00 AM, when the church bells were rung to signal that it was time to start wrapping things up, because church would be starting soon.

This is a photo I took of the back of the church (behind the apse) on Sunday morning. As is traditional, former village priests are buried directly behind the altar outside the church. You can see the bell tower in the background.

A photo of this 1819 stone church, typical of the period, taken from the southwest corner. Fr. Philotheos and I had a lovely Orthros and Liturgy, concluded with another Artoklasia with again a huge amount of loaves, ending around 11:30. We were invited next door to a Greek-American couple's house to break the fast with tyropita, coffee (with milk!), and cheese.

I left about 12:30 to go pick up Anastasia from the monastery in Portaria. As a dependency of an Athonite monastery, they had the option of using the Old Calendar or the New Calendar, and they chose the Old Calendar, so it was just the beginning of the fast for them. Nevertheless, in their love, they wanted to offer us lunch before we made the drive back to Thessaloniki, so we had the best fasting lunch they could provide.

Right after we left, we found a cafe with a lovely overview of Volos, so I stopped for a coffee before the drive. Above is Anastasia. The two of us played a game of backgammon (tavli in Greek) and enjoyed the breeze and view before heading out around 3:30.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Timiou Prodromou in Serres

On Thursday, we all piled in the car and headed north about an hour and a half to Serres, specifically to the Monastery of the Honorable Forerunner (Timiou Prodromou). It is one of the three women's monasteries in Greece directly connected to Elder Ephraim Philotheitis, who is now known for his work founding monasteries in America. (The other two monasteries in Greece are the Holy Archangel Michael on the island of Thasos, and Panagia Odigitria near Volos).

The monastery in Serres, besides being the closest of the three, is also the most beautiful, in my opinion. It was originally founded as a men's monastery in the 13th century and much of the original monastery survives, although it's being renovated by the industrious nuns. The monastery reached a low point in the middle of the 20th century and was then revitalized by Elder Ephraim, who turned it into a women's monastery. The monastery is now flourishing, with 29 nuns and counting.

In the photo above, Pelagia, Coreen, Anastasia, and the babies are standing at the entrance to the monastery.

Here Anastasia and her goddaughter Phoebe walk down the worn cobblestone pathway into the courtyard.

The courtyard is basically all on a hill which concludes, at the bottom, in the central church. In the photo above, the babies are playing near the well which adorns the center of the courtyard.

We especially enjoy seeing our fellow American, Sister Katherine, who has now been at the monastery about seven years. An American convert from Texas, we were first introduced to her by a mutual friend here in Thessaloniki, Moses Hawk. This was the babies' first trip to Serres, so Sister Katherine and all the nuns enjoyed seeing them for the first time. Before Vespers and Paraklesis started, Sister Katherine gave us a short tour, including a stop in the newly completed small museum. Here everyone is standing next to one of the enormous wine barrels that the monastery used to store its wine. The museum also has many of the instruments the monks used to produce olive oil.

The abbess of the monastery, Gerontissa Fevronia, kindly asked me to serve at the Vespers and Paraklesis, which was a great pleasure and blessing. Afterwards, Gerontissa and some of the other sisters made some trachana for the babies and helped feed them. I wish I had a photo of it! Phoebe was getting fussy after awhile, so I took her, Anastasia, and Coreen for a walk around the outside of the monastery. As you can see from the photo above, the enormous walls can be quite impressive.

The three girls standing on a bridge over the waterfall and stream that run alongside the monastery.

Another photo of the girls, with the characteristic precariously perched rooms at the top of the stone walls.

The babies got home to bed a little late, but I think everyone enjoyed the trip. Anastasia was invited to come spend a night with them next week; if we figure out the logistics, I think she'd like to go.

For a few more photos, click here.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Mt. Athos: Pantocrator

This photo was taken on the outer walls of the monastery as we walked into Pantocrator. We arrived there around 3:00 PM, and a monk came to greet us and show us to our rooms. Fortunately, it was *a bit* cooler on this side of the mountain, with a nice breeze from the sea, but it was still very, very hot. We tried to cool off in our rooms for awhile before Vespers at 6:00.

Pantocrator was the last of the 20 ruling monasteries to return to coenobitic life in 1992. At that time, the Patriarch asked Abbot Alexios from Xenophontos to send some of his brotherhood to take over Pantocrator, which he did. Thus the brotherhood here now consists of about 15 monks, spiritually related to Xenophontos (and thus to Simonopetra). As I mentioned in a previous post, the monastery is one of the smallest of the 20 ruling monasteries.

Here's a photo of the central church, taken from the balcony near my room.

At 6:00, we went to Vespers, followed immediately by the meal, followed again by Small Compline and the veneration of the relics, which included a piece of the True Cross and relics from the Apostle Andrew, St. John Chrysostom, Great Martyr Haralampos, St. Athanasios the Great, St. John the Almsgiver, and others I can't remember at the moment.

A photo of courtyard, showing the orange trees they have growing there.

After Compline, we walked just outside the entrance to the monastery, which has a little gazebo and a great view over to neighboring Stavronikita Monastery. It had also cooled down to a tolerable level, and there was a nice breeze.

The entrance to the monastery, taken from the gazebo that overlooks the water.

Inside the courtyard. The main church is straight ahead, and guest rooms are along the left-hand side. If you look closely, you can see Dimitri sitting in front of the church.

A look down from the monastery on to some of its fields and work buildings.

Here's a photo of me outside the monastery.

On Tuesday morning, Orthros for the feast of St. Panteleimon started at 4:30 and Liturgy concluded around 8:30, followed immediately by a meal, and then back into the church to conclude the service by repeating the apolytikia. The meal thus becomes explicitly part of the service.

Right after breakfast, we caught a minivan with a few other guys into Karyes. We had about 45 minutes there to explore Karyes before catching the bus down to the port in Dafni. Dimitri had some myrrh given to him by the iconophoros of the Panagia of Iviron icon in Hawaii, which he was supposed to deliver to Iviron. We went into the post office in Karyes and while we were waiting to talk to the employee, a very loud cell phone rang out, blaring some kind of obnoxious hip-hop music or something. Dimitri and I shared a laugh later because it was the phone of an elderly Athonite monk who was in the post office to mail some letters. He answered the phone and spoke on it, but it was clear that someone had given him the phone and he probably couldn't figure out how to change the ring tone.

Summer time means tourist time, even on Mt. Athos, so we had to fight (almost literally) to get on to the bus to head down to Dafni. As is the Greek (and Balkan) time-honored tradition, you do not simply wait your turn to do something, or--can you imagine?--let your fellow man go in front of you, but rather you push, shove, and elbow your way to the front of the line, regardless of what the line is for. Given all the above-mentioned summer tourists, there was even less respect for the holiness of the place than usual, and even monks and priests were getting elbowed out of the way to get on the bus. (Incidentally, when I told a Greek friend about this, he said: "Well, it is for the bus...", i.e. not something specifically Church-related.) Anyway, there weren't any serious injuries and finally the bus got underway, with 100% of the people having a ride, as always (thus making the whole exercise quite pointless).

We were very fortunate to catch a speedboat leaving just as we arrived in Dafni at 11:00, and we walked on to grab the last two seats as it pulled out. We were in Ouranoupoli in less than an hour. As we walked off the boat and headed toward our car, I noticed our friend and parishioner in Panorama, Professor George Gounaris, a wonderful man and professor (now emeritus) of theoretical physics at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

I had heard that Prof. Gounaris had been invited to give talks in the Theological School on the relationship between theoretical physics (the Big Bang theory, etc.) and the creation accounts in Genesis, and I was very interested to learn more about this. So I invited him to ride back with us to Panorama (his house is 1 minute from ours) and I asked him to please explain this to us. He's such a humble man, that it's difficult to get him to speak. But at my insistence, and the fact that we had a long two-hour car ride ahead of us, he agreed. So for the next hour or more, we were treated to a clear, concise, and interesting talk on this subject. It's too much to cover here. He pointed me to a published talk he had given in this subject here. Unfortunately for English readers, it's in Greek. I would absolutely love to translate it, but I would need someone to offer to fund the translation. If anyone's interested, the cost--off the top of my head--would be about 300 euro ($380).

Thus ends my ninth trip to the Holy Mountain. For all the photos, click here.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Mt. Athos: The Skete of the Prophet Elijah

After the Divine Liturgy and visit with Fr. Zosimas on Sunday morning, Dimitri and I headed down to the port to take the boat on to the Holy Mountain's port of Dafni. Justin, meanwhile, had to be at work on Monday morning, so he waited for the boat back to Ouranoupoli. Above is a photo of Xenophontos from the boat as we headed southeast to Dafni.

Here's Dimitri as we passed the Russian monastery of St. Panteleimon. There were quite a few pilgrims making their way there, as the feast of St. Panteleimon was Monday. We got off at Dafni and headed directly for the nearby bus going up to the Holy Mountain's capital, Karyes. Amazingly, the bus was lightly air conditioned, and I happened to get a seat just under a vent, which was a great relief. About 45 minutes later, we were in Karyes. We had a few minutes before our minivan headed out to our next destination, Pantocrator, so we went to venerate the famous Axion Estin icon inside the Protaton before heading out.

We actually ended up getting off a little before Pantocrator in order to stop first at the Skete of the Prophet Elijah, which Dimitri really wanted to visit. The bus let us off at the end of a road to the skete, which took us about 20 minutes or so to walk. The photo above was our first view of the skete and its impressive church, the largest on Mt. Athos, capable of holding 3000 people. The monastery currently has about 12 monks.

A view of Pantocrator monastery from the skete.

From inside the courtyard, looking back at the entrance.

When we arrived, we were greeted by Fr. Philemon, whom I vividly remember from my first visit to this skete four years ago because he is so full of joy. He was busy in the gift shop with some pilgrims, so he gave me the enormous iron key to the proportionally enormous church, and Dimitri and I went in and began to venerate the icons and the two boxes of relics. He then came in and told us some things about the skete, including the interesting note that the Russians formerly at the skete had actually built 3 floors underground, complete with an underground road to the sea, which is several kilometers away. What this was for is anyone's guess, although I could tell he had his suspicions about the Russians' motives. Of course, national politics are always a part of life in this region of the world, the Holy Mountain included.

The skete's history is interesting. Although equal in size to many of the Holy Mountain's 20 monasteries, it (or any other) cannot have the title of a monastery, because this number has been fixed at 20. These 20 ruling monasteries each have specific land boundaries on Mt. Athos, covering the whole of the Holy Mountain. Anything within one monastery's geographical boundaries comes under its supervision. In this case, the skete is under the jurisdiction of Pantocrator, even though it may actually be bigger than Pantocrator, which is one of the smaller Athonite monasteries.

Originally, the site was the location of a cell, which was given to St. Paisius Velichkovsky in 1575. Having gathered many Russian, Ukrainian, and Moldavian disciples around him at his previous cell dedicated to St. Constantine, St. Paisius decided to change the new cell into a coenibitic skete (which is basically the same as a coenibitic monastery, except for the name). The number of disciples continued to grow, and eventually he was given Simonopetra monastery. However, he soon found that the taxes demanded by the Ottomans for a full-fledged monastery were too overbearing, and he returned to the skete. After establishing the rhythm of life at the skete, St. Paisius left for Romanian Moldavia, where he continued renovating monasteries.

In the 19th century, the Russian Imperial family lavished money on the Holy Mountain, especially sites that were Russian. This was when the incredible, enormous church was built, the iconostasis of which is covered from top to bottom in gold, of course.

More recently, about 30 years ago, the skete was in decline and was taken over by some American monks from upstate NY that belonged to the ROCOR. It was during this time that my friend Dimitri became acquainted with the skete. Dimitri is of Russian descent, and somehow he began a spiritual correspondence with one of the elders and spiritual fathers of the skete, Fr. John. Fr. John must have reposed around 1990, i.e. before the American monks were kicked off Mt. Athos. It seems they, along with Esphigmenou, had stopped commemorating the Patriarch of Constantinople, and when, around 1992, the Patriarch demanded reform, they were asked to leave. It was then taken over by a Greek brotherhood.

Since Fr. John had reposed at the skete before the brotherhood was asked to leave, his bones are still kept there. Dimitri has great respect for the man, and asked if he could venerate his skull. Fr. Philemon gladly agreed and led us to a small house that contains all the bones of the skete's monks. In a room lined with skulls, he quickly located a basket with Fr. John's earthly remains. Fr. Philemon noted, as he picked up the basket, "This is man." He noted that the bones had a yellow hue, which is considered a sign of sanctity. In the photo above, Dimitri holds his elder's skull.

Fr. Philemon treated us to a cold coffee and some cold water, as well as the traditional loukoumi (Turkish delight), before we set out around 2:15 for Pantocrator. The walk was all downhill, fortunately, but it was a typical rustic path, winding along here, in the photo above, a small stream. The red sign on the tree points the way to Pantocrator.

The final part of the path, with Pantocrator straight ahead.

For all the photos of the trip, click here.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mt. Athos: Xenophontos

Here are Justin and Dimitri outside Docheiariou as we headed out to go to Xenophontos. As you can see from the background, the monastery is--and has been for quite some time, like most of the monasteries on Athos--in the process of renovating. For this reason, I've heard they don't host too many pilgrims there for the night.

The first signpost pointing the way to the path the Xenophontos. The hike was about 40 minutes on a rustic path. Unfortunately, it was then about 12:30 PM, and it had to be one of the hottest days of the year. Despite the fact that it's a mountain, Mt. Athos can be extremely hot and humid during the summer. For that reason (and the fact that it's "tourist season"), regulars tend to avoid going during this time.

Justin is leading the way around the massive wall of Xenophontos as we tried to find the entrance.

Once inside, we were greeted by the guestmaster, Fr. Theonas, who, it turns out, knows our parish here in Panorama quite well. He gave us something to eat and then we went to our rooms to rest. The rooms, however, were like ovens at this time and, of course, there aren't any fans or air conditioning. Justin and Dimitri wisely decided to forego the rest and sit outside in the shade and enjoy a bit of the breeze off the water.

During the summer, this monastery begins Vespers at 6:00. Around 5:30, I was well-done, so I pulled myself out of my oven and found Justin and Dimitri. The photos above and below are from the courtyard. Justin and Dimitri are in the one below.

Another shot of the courtyard. Behind me is the old katholikon (main church), dating the founding of the monastery in the 10th-11th centuries, which is quite small. That's why the new katholikon, straight ahead, was built around 1800.

Monastery tradition holds that a chapel dedicated to St. Dimitrios was built on this site in 520 by St. Xenophon, a wealthy senator, whose feast the monastery celebrates on January 26. The first extant historical reference to the monastery comes from 1083, in which it is mentioned tht the famous admiral of Emperor Nicephoros II, a man named Stephanos, became a monk at this monastery with the name Symeon. He later became the monastery's abbot and, through his imperial connections, helped build up the monastery.

A photo from the inside of the courtyard.

The exo-narthex of the new katholikon. At 6:00, we did the Ninth Hour and Vespers, and then headed to the refectory to eat. After eating, we headed back to the church for Small Compline and the veneration of the relics, which included a very large relic of St. George the Great Martyr, the Apostles Barnabus and Philip, St. Stephen, St. Theodore of Tyre, St. John Chrysostom, and a large relic of St. Marina.

After Compline, the monk gave us a short tour inside the church, showing us the wonder-working icons of the Panagia Odigitria (Who Leads the Way) and St. George. The icon of the Panagia miraculously appeared at the monastery in 1730 from the monastery of Vatopedi. It was returned to Vatopedi, only to return again to Xenophontos. It was then determined by both monasteries that the Panagia wanted her icon to remain at Xenophontos, where it has since worked many miracles.

An oil lamp and stained glass covering hanging over the entrance to the katholikon in the exo-narthex.

After Small Compline, it had started to cool down a bit, so we sat in the courtyard outside the church. The monastery's abbot, Alexios, came out of the church and we went to take his blessing. We had a very nice talk with him, and then he pointed us to one of the monastery's three Americans, Fr. Jeremias, a convert from Texas. Fr. Jeremias was talking with two young men visiting from Holy Cross in Brookline, MA. Fr. Jeremias converted to Orthodoxy, went to study at Holy Cross, and then became a monk at Xenophontos about 14 years ago. He said it was not originally his plan to be a monk on the Holy Mountain, but he was drawn to it when he came for a visit. He was helped in this by the fact that another American convert, Fr. Zosimas, had come to this monastery 2 or 3 years before him.

Abbot Alexios was an impressive figure. He and Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra are spiritual brothers, spiritual children of the renowned elder, Bishop Dionysios of Trikala. They were both at the Monastery of the Great Meteora. In 1976, Abbot Alexios was asked to revive Xenophontos; in 1983, Aimilianos was asked to go to Simonopetra.

Fr. Jeremias told us that Xenophontos hosted about 15,000 people last year; it is estimated that there were 120,000 visitors to Mt. Athos as a whole during the previous year. It is interesting to note here Abbot Alexios and the brotherhood were inspired by Elder Ephraim of Katounakia, who told them that a new form of asceticism for this age was the offering of hospitality, which they have taken to heart.

On Sunday, Orthros began at 4:30. In the middle of Orthros, Abbot Alexios paid me the great honor of asking me to liturgize with him and two other hieromonks from the monastery. They gave me a wonderfully cool silk set of vestments to wear. After Liturgy, we went immediately to the refectory, which is considered part of and a continuation of every service. There we had another good meal, finished off with, simply put, the BEST kolyva I have ever had.

After the meal, we returned to the church to sing the apolytikions, thus concluding the service. As we filed out of the church, I met the other American monk, Fr. Zosimas, who invited me to come have an iced tea with him. The pilgrims checked out the monastery's new, small museum, while Fr. Zosimas went to find a cool and shady place for us to talk. I also ran into Fr. Ezekiel, whom I had met just a month or so ago at St. George's Monastery on the Princes' Islands off Constantinople. He is a monk of the Cell of St. Tryphon, which belongs to Xenophontos. We lost Justin and Dimitri at the museum, so the three of us went by ourselves to a very cool spot to have an iced tea. Fr. Zosimas showed me his small kitchen, where, it turns out, he is responsible for making the kolyva. I exclaimed that it was the best kolyva I had ever had, so he gave me "the Xenophontos recipe" (every monastery has their own recipe or recipes). I am tempted to post it here, but I don't know if I have the monastery's blessing for that. I'll ask next time I go.

The three of us had a very interesting conversation. One thing I remember in particular was a discussion we had about the fate of some of the old books of the monasteries on Mt. Athos. During the 18th and 19th centuries, many old books ended up in the hands of British Hellenophiles. Fr. Zosimas was explaining that this likely happened for several reasons. For one, the monasteries were in a very bad shape at the time, being, as it was, near the end of the Ottoman occupation. Additionally, the monks, he said, did not appreciate the value of such old objects. It was here that Fr. Ezekiel, a Greek, interjected with an interesting point. It's one thing to appreciate the value of these old objects, but it's another thing to "museumify" (a Greek word coined, I believe, by Photios Kontoglou) such things. Their value, he said, is not in the fact that they are old, but the LIVING tradition and spirit that they contain. When they get old and can no longer be practically used in the services, etc., the monks have always simply made new ones. What's important is the living tradition that they help facilitate, not the things themselves. He pointed out that the traditional formula for making Holy Chrism at the Ecumenical Patriarchate included the grinding up of old icons.

For Western converts like me, this is a very different perspective, although undoubtedly the authentic Greek one. Frequently, when you ask Greeks, "How old is this church/icon/etc.?", they don't have any idea. It could be 100 years old or 2000 years old. For them, it's the same, because it's part of the LIVING tradition, which belongs not to the past, but which leads to the future, the Kingdom. Greeks, even on Mt. Athos, aren't recreating the past and trying to live inside a museum, but living TODAY the tradition handed to them. Thus, in the new katholikon and the renovated refectory, you can see brand new iconography alongside older iconography, which itself is divided into various time periods of the monastery's history -- it's beginnings in the 10th century, renovations in the 18th century, etc. -- all in accordance with the needs of the monastery for the living out of the tradition, through the Holy Spirit, today.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with our spiritual father last week. I was asking him if he remembered when St. Theodora of Thessaloniki lived (whose feast was recently celebrated). He said he didn't remember, but that also it didn't matter -- the point is that there are and can be saints in every time period, in every place, including here and now.

For more photos, click here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mt. Athos: Docheiariou

On Saturday, I set off with a full carload to Ouranopouli for my ninth trip to the Holy Mountain, and the first since last summer.

There were five of us squeezed into the little car -- three men bound for Mt. Athos, and two women slated for the boat tour around the Holy Mountain.

We set off about 6:15 Saturday morning and made good time to Ouranoupoli, arriving just two hours later.

We took care of all our paperwork and tickets and then enjoyed coffees and spanikopita while we waited for our boats.

The men's boat left at 9:45, so the women explored the small museum inside the Tower of Ouranoupoli until their boat left at 10:30. I took the photo of them above from the entrance to the Tower, which is next to the dock.

This is their tour boat, which runs a 3-hour tour up and down the southwest side of the Holy Mountain. The boat runs 500 meters off shore, which is the closest women are permitted to come. Click here for a map of the Holy Mountain. You can see Ouranoupoli in the upper left hand part of the map. The boat then runs all the way down the left-hand side to the Holy Monastery of Agiou Pavlou before turning back. Almost no boats sail around the tip of the Holy Mountain, because the waters are quite treacherous. About 400 B.C., the Persian navy was delayed three years in their attack on Greece because the navy could not sail around this part. They thus had to build a canal over land to move their ships.

Meanwhile, I and two fellow Americans were on board the ship heading directly to the Holy Mountain. Above, you can see Justin in the foreground and Dimitri in the background. Justin is from Texas but lives here in Thessaloniki now with his Greek wife, Kalliopi. Dimitri is also married to a Greek woman, but they live near Philadelphia. He and his family are in Greece visiting his wife's family in Athens and he made a trip up north to make his first trip to the Holy Mountain, something he's been dreaming of since he was six years old. We got to know each other through this blog, which he follows. One day, he wrote me and we started a correspondence. When he said he was coming to Greece, I suggested we go to the Holy Mountain.

In the photo above, you can see the two of them on the boat as we prepared to get off at the first monastery located on the water, Docheiariou.

Here we are, waiting to get off quickly, as the boat's ramp lowers and it pulls into the port of Docheiariou. You've got to be quick getting on and off the boat. In the background is Docheiariou.

Here we are walking up from the port to the monastery. According to tradition, the monastery took its name from its founder, St. Euthymios, who was the docheirares at the Great Lavra on Mt. Athos, i.e. he was in charge of the storeroom.

This is where the monastery first receives guests. On the right, you can see an orange cooler of cold water and a box of loukoumi (Turkish delight), which is traditionally given to visitors. The cool water was much appreciated, as it has been very hot recently, and Saturday was particularly bad. But more on that later.

The door in the foreground to the left in the photo above leads to the chapel with the famous icon of the Panagia "Quick to Hear." The monk who greeted us led us into this small chapel, where we venerated the large icon and he told us its story.

The icon is actually a large wall mural located in what was originally the corridor between the katholikon (main church) and the trapeza (refectory), which are traditionally located across from each other. The monks in charge of the refectory would frequently have to use a torch to make their way through the corridor during the pre-dawn services. The smoke from the torch, however, blackens the icons over time. One day, around 1600, the monk in charge of the trapeza walked by the mural with his torch on his way to his job. A voice then called out to him, "Don't pass this way again with your torch, because it is sullying my image." The monk thought it must be one of the brothers playing a joke on him and he ignored it, going again through the corridor a few days later with his torch. The voice complained again, and this time the monk was struck blind. He fell to his knees and beseeched the Panagia to forgive him and heal him. His sight was restored, and he then heard the voice a third time, telling him that his prayer had been heard and that he should go and tell all the other monks to flee to her in times of distress, because she would be quick to hear them.

The corridor was then sealed off and made into a chapel around this icon, which has become probably the second most famous on Mt. Athos after the Panagia Portaitissa at Iviron.

The main church is along the right-hand side here. The covered area in the courtyard to the left covers the well and water supply. As you can see from the photo below with Justin, it is covered with iconography.

After admiring the monastery for a few minutes, we then set off on foot to our main destination for the day, the neighboring Monastery of Xenophontos.