On the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14), one of the ladies of our parish prepared, as she always does, a beautiful flower arrangement around an heirloom piece, a 200-year-old hand cross that was one of the few material possessions brought here by the Greek refugees during the Asia Minor Catastrophe.
Two days later, on September 16, I went with Fr. Alexios and a small group from the parish to the small monastery dedicated to the Transfiguration of the Savior (August 6), which was founded by Elder Ioannikios from Mt. Athos and his small brotherhood. The monastery is located just outside the village of Sohos, about one hour from Thessaloniki. Elder Ioannikios is a well-known spiritual writer, most famous for his series of books focusing on particular themes in the Philokalia. We went there to ask him to come speak to our parish, which he kindly agreed to do. He will give a talk on Monday evening, October 11. (In Greece, it is common for spiritual talks to be held in the evenings during the week.) Below is a photo of the entrance to the monastery. Above is a close-up of the mosaic of St. John the Baptist located there.
As it so happens, there is another monastery practically next door to Elder Ioannikios' monastery. This one, by contrast, is huge, and is a women's monastery dedicated to the Nativity of the Mother of God (September 8). It is a dependency of the Monastery of Dochiariou on Mt. Athos. As you can see from the photo above, it is relatively new and still under a great deal of construction. We stopped there briefly to venerate inside the large katholikon (central church), which very much resembles a traditional Athonite katholikon.
It is traditional in Greece, at the start of the ecclesiastical and academic years, to have a prayer service for the Blessing of the Waters (Agiasmo), which asks God's blessing on our various human endeavors. Inasmuch as this is still Greece, which is not (yet) completely secularized, this tradition extends to the public sphere. So on Monday, for example, we had three such services -- one for the blessing of the Panorama police force's new vehicle, one for the beginning of the year for the state-run day care facility, and one for the start of the season for the municipality's youth soccer program.
On Monday, I was fortunate that my friend Ivan, a great Byzantine chanter, came from Serbia on his way to Mt. Athos, so I had him to help me during the service in the evening up at the soccer field near my house. In the photo above, Ivan and I are speaking with the president of the soccer club before the start of the service.
Below you see the team of the youngest kids along with the mayor during the service.