Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christmas in Zagora

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For Christmas, the bishop sent me to serve the parish of St. Paraskevi, which is temporarily without a permanent priest. It is one of four parishes in the ancient town ofZagora, which dates back until at least the 8th century BC.

We drove down to Zagora on Dec. 23 for Christmas Eve services. After the Liturgy on Christmas Eve, we drove over to a nearby ski center so that the babies could play in the snow. Above, Paul is holding my hand as we walk up the hill to the lodge.

Pelagia walking up the hill with Benjamin and Phoebe.

After the babies had a hot chocolate at the lodge to warm up, we rented a sled to back down the hill. All three piled on one sled and I ran down the hill with them.

As usual, the babies were quite a sight for people as they flew by!

Next, we drove over to the ancient port of Zagora, Horefto, which is 8 km down the mountain from Zagora. It is now a beautiful summer beach area rather than a major port as it once was.

This was the babies' first overnight trip and they didn't sleep all that well at night. So they took a good nap in the car.

On the way back up the mountain from the beach, we passed Zagora's old monastery, dedicated to St. John the Baptist. The mountains of Zagora were once full of hermits' caves and this monastery (or probably, technically, skete) served them until at least the 19th century, I believe.

Behind the monastery church lies one of Zagora's two cemeteries. Directly behind the altar is the grave of a local priest who reposed this year. This is a wonderful tradition that is still kept in the villages in Greece.

The cemetery with the monastery church above on the right, and a very old school building, which served as a "secret school" during the period of Ottoman occupation and hosted such famous students as the Greek revolutionary Rigas Feraios.

Another shot of the monastery church.

The parish put us up in a nice bed and breakfast in the heart of the old part of the village. Above, Pelagia and Phoebe are walking down the narrow street to our place, which is just on their left.

The old main square with several enormous old plane trees. Inside this one, the town erected a Nativity scene, which the babies enjoyed.

On Christmas Day, services started at 5:30 AM and went until about 9:00. It is the tradition in Greece to start Christmas services around 5:00 or so. In the mind of the Church (at least in ages past), the bigger the feast, the closer the Liturgy is celebrated to midnight. Hence, Pascha is celebrated right at midnight. Theophany services are also often begun early, around 5:00-6:00.

Above is a photo of the kids on Christmas day in their Christmas outfits. We had a coffee at this local place after the Liturgy and before heading back to Thessaloniki.

Heading back to our hotel from the other direction. On the right is Kivis, one of the parish's tireless helpers. He is also well-known for his traditional, handmade pasta, which is exported even to North America. On the left, Benjamin heads back, while you can make our Pelagia and Phoebe up ahead.

Above, the Metropolitan Church of St. George, in the old part of the village next to our hotel. Until perhaps 20 years ago or so, the Metropolis was called the Holy Metropolis of Demetriados and Zagoras, but was then changed to Demetriados and Almyrou, another area of the metropolis. The people of Zagora, however, still prefer the old title and use it in the bishop's phimi when he serves there.

The road from Volos to Zagora is very windy and the area is frequently hit by snow, making the roads a bit treacherous. But it is also quite picturesque as you pass through tunnels of snow, with deciduous trees hanging bending over the road, full of snow. We had to stop a few times to deal with car sickness, but thank God we made it home safe and sound.

Once we got home, the babies got to open a few presents!

For more photos, click here.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Skete of Veroia

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Last Tuesday, our American friend Trifon finished up his semester abroad at American College of Thessaloniki and moved out of his dorm and back in with us. To celebrate, so to speak, we took a trip to Veroia (spelled variously as Veria, or Berea or Beroea in the New Testament). Of course, this city was made famous by its apostolic visit there around AD 54, when it was visited by St. Paul himself, as well as Sts. Silas and Timothy (Acts 17:10-15 RSV):

"The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Beroe'a; and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessaloni'ca, for they received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. But when the Jews of Thessaloni'ca learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Beroe'a also, they came there too, stirring up and inciting the crowds. Then the brethren immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea, but Silas and Timothy remained there. Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed."

Our destination was the Skete of Veroia (also known as the Monastery of St. John the Forerunner) which dates to the 9th century, when the mountains and caves around Veroia were host to many monks. The Skete of Veroia developed as a place of common worship for Sundays and major feast days for the monks of these caves. Many saints spent time here, such as St. Clement of Ohrid and St. Dionysius of Olympus, but perhaps none more famous than St. Gregory Palamas.

Being located in the mountains, there are plenty of streams with clean, fresh water feeding the skete's springs. Above, Paul takes a drink from a fountain just outside the monastery's gates.

Above, Phoebe walking in the entrance to the monastery, which today is manned by just four male monks.

The monks keep some peacocks. Above, Paul was trying to get a view of them; some of them were perched on a small balcony in the top right of the photo.

At some point in the skete's history, the kitchen was tucked into this cave. This is not too far from what the kitchens look like in some of the sketes on Mt. Athos, such as Little St. Anne's. Above, Paul was checking out the great big pots.

Above, Paul inside the old kitchen.

When St. Gregory Palamas and his disciples came to the skete, they used this cave--which had served as the skete's refrigerator (i.e., cold storage for food)--as an ascetic cell. In the Greek mind, braving the elements (especially cold) is one of the most austere forms of asceticism. Now the cave is preserved as a sort of museum.

In the photo above, you can see the church in the foreground to the right and the entrance to the cave I just mentioned off to the left.

Another spring.

The view from the monastery down to the river.

Trif and Paul light a candle in the church.

The kids found some animals to play with. Phoebe particularly liked this dog.

Above, the outside of the monastery, with a sign in the foreground pointing the way to the cave St. Gregory Palamas used as his cell for 5 years, from 1326-1331.

We took a short hike through the woods, past waterfalls, to venerate inside St. Gregory's cave.

Above and below, Pelagia and Paul in the cave.

Above, Trif coming out of St. Gregory's cave.

Above, a view of the outside of the monastery as we hiked back.

One of the monks, a Greek-German, invited us all for a simple but pleasant lunch with him and a couple workers, and then we headed back to Thessaloniki.

For more photos from the trip, click here.

For Trif's photos from the trip, try to click here, although you may have to be friends with him or something like that.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Outings with the Triplets

One day in November, the triplets and I met our Serbian friend Danica at the Thessaloniki zoo, along with her friend Rejko, who was visiting Thessaloniki from Belgrade. Although it was a little cold, it was a nice day, and the colors of fall were beautiful. The zoo is a lovely escape from the concrete jungle of the city.

We took a snack break in a gazebo inside the zoo.

Rejko was trying to make sure the babies didn't fall as they scaled these rocks in the zoo.

Here we are feeding leaves to the animals.

The babies went with me one Sunday afternoon to Ormylia to pick up Mother Nina. After Vespers, the babies decided to play in the sisters' large cross-shaped baptismal font, which is designed for converting adults. (They don't do infant baptisms at the monastery.)

Catching up, finally, to the present, the photos above and below are from our trip downtown last week. The photo above was taken at the base of Aristotle Square, where they've set up a kind of Christmas fair. To the right, in the water, you can see a Christmas tree-inspired float. The Christmas tree is actually foreign to Greek Christianity, which traditionally has a decorated boat. For some reason (probably financial, given the crisis), they didn't bring the decorated boat this year, but instead opted for this simpler display. However, a strong wind came in just a couple days after we took this photo and sank the display.

We stopped by the Church of Agia Sophia, where the kids had fun jumping in the rain puddles in the courtyard.

For a few more photos, click here.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Catching Up

I've got a backlog of photos of the triplets from the last couple months, so here goes. First, we head back to October when my parents came to visit. One day, we went to Ikea, and above you can see a photo of my dad and Benjamin eating ice cream there.

One day, we took a trip with the parish out to the Monastery of St. Anastasia, founded in 888. The monks there have a small collection of deer just outside the monastery walls. The kids like feeding them, as you can see above.

After visiting the monastery, the bus headed to the nearby village of St. John the Forerunner, which is famous for its great meat. Above, my dad and Benjamin caught a quick nap on the bus.

Above, Paul got a chance to drive the bus for awhile. You can see below that the babies enjoyed riding on the bus.

One day, we headed down to the center of Thessaloniki to shop for gifts for my parents to take back to the US. Here's Paul enjoying an ice cream on Aristotle Square, near the bazaar.

One day, our friend Job and another friend from Syria (both theology students here in Thessaloniki) came up to our house for lunch. Above and below, you can see the kids playing with bubbles.

Above, my dad reading the truck book to the boys. Ever since they brought that truck book, Benjamin doesn't go anywhere without it.

At the beginning of November, after my parents left, Mother Nina of St. Nilus Skete in Alaska came to visit. She spent about 2 weeks at the monastery in Ormylia, but stayed with us briefly on either side of that visit. One Friday night, we went down to St. Dimitrios' to venerate the saint and attend the Friday night Liturgy in the crypt where the saint was martyred.

Above, the group of dedicated ladies who are devoted to serving the parish. One of the ladies treated the group and the priests to dinner in memory of her departed husband.

Above, a shot of Paul cuddling with the cat on the bed, in that brief instant before the cat freaks out and leaves.

For more photos from my parents' visit, click here.