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.

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