Sunday, January 30, 2011

Celebrating St. Sava with the Serbs in Thessaloniki

On Thursday morning, Jan. 27 (Jan. 14 OS), I went downtown to the little dependency (metohi) of Mt. Athos' Hilandar Monastery that is dedicated to St. Sava of Serbia to celebrate the saint's feast day with the Serbian community of Thessaloniki. The dependency is headed by my friend Hieromonk Justin, one of the monastery's eight priests. He is often in Thessaloniki as part of his theological studies at the university. Unlike two years ago, this time the celebration was more low-key; it was just the two of us serving. There was no bishop serving, but Bishop David of Stobi, who also studies at the university, stood in the altar with us.

In the photo above, Fr. Justin is giving Holy Communion. I'm off to the left handing out antidoron.

Here I am, in vestments borrowed from the metohi, reading the prayer behind the ambo. (What is the ambo?)

Above and below, the blessing of the kolach at the end of the Liturgy.

After the Liturgy, which I always enjoy there because of the wonderful chanting from the young Serbs (men and women), we went upstairs to the monastery's konaki for coffee and fellowship. The church and konaki are actually the lower floors of an apartment building right in the heart of downtown Thessaloniki. I believe the entire building is owned by Hilandar. Many such buildings, not only in Thessaloniki but also in downtown Athens, are owned by monasteries of Mt. Athos.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Parish Vasilopita

On Monday evening, the parish held its annual cutting of the Vasilopita, a Greek tradition which commemorates St. Basil the Great's care for the poor (although there are several slightly different versions of the founding story). This annual event is also an opportunity for the parish to hear a short report of what was accomplished, with God's help, in the previous year, and what challenges lie ahead. This year, Fr. Alexios (above), reported, among other things, that in the previous year, the parish had 14 marriages, 45 baptisms, and 45 funerals.

Fr. Alexios and the parish council also used the occasion as an opportunity to publicly acknowledge Fr. Panayiotis' 20 years in the priesthood, which he celebrated in the December. He has spent all 20 years at our parish in Panorama. They presented him with a beautiful special edition of the Philokalia, arranged in parallel columns of the original Greek with modern Greek translation.

The turnout for the event, which was hosted at a local hotel, was quite good (over 200), and the ticket sales raised some money for the parish's philanthropic work.

Above the priests gathered around the vasilopita (which was actually two, since there were so many people). A prayer is said over the bread, asking for God's blessings on those who are assembled in the new year. The priest or the head of the family uses the knife to cut a cross onto the top of the bread, and then cuts out pieces for all those present, after first setting aside pieces for Christ, the Mother of God, St. Basil, and the poor (or some variation thereof). Everyone then looks in their piece of bread to see if they got the coin (called the flouri) which is taken as a blessing for the new year. The winner also often gets a gift of some kind.

Here, Fr. Alexios is marking the sign of the cross in the bread.

Afterwards, a band, led by our parish's lampadarios (second chanter) and some of the other chanters, entertained the crowd with traditional Greek music, which is often similar in many ways to ecclesiastical Byzantine music. Above, Fr. Alexios took a turn singing.

Pretty soon, as is wont to happen with Greeks, the people started dancing to the music.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Two Sundays ago, our friend Michael Tishel came up to the house in the afternoon and brought along his guitar, so we decided to have a sing-along with an old song book Pelagia had from the EOC days.

Our Greek friend Paris came over, too, and seemed to like hearing some of our traditional American songs. Above and below, Michael is showing the babies the guitar. Paul seemed particularly interested.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Playing at Jumbo

On Monday, I finally had a chance to breathe again. The previous days had been long ones, full of services and house blessings.

We started Wednesday with the Royal Hours, followed by the Vesperal Liturgy of St. Basil, followed by the Blessing of the Waters. We then spent the rest of the day blessing houses here in Panorama. For the third year, I went door-to-door asking people if they wanted their houses blessed. 98% said yes, at which point I would burst through the door, throwing agiasmo (holy water), and singing the festal apolytikion (the hymn for the feast of Theophany). Can you imagine a man in a black dress doing that in the U.S.? I would be committed.

Thursday we had festal Orthros and Liturgy, followed again by the Blessing of the Waters. This is a major feast in Greece and a national holiday. The church was as packed as I'd ever seen it, close to the crowds we have for Pascha (Easter). After throwing the cross in Panorama's public swimming pool and having the kids go after it, we began again with blessing houses for the rest of the day. Since Panorama is located on a hill, my door-to-door activity is particularly exhausting.

Friday we began with Orthros and Liturgy for St. John the Baptist, followed again by a full day of house blessings, again until about 7:30 or 8:00 at night.

Saturday was one of the only Saturdays in the year where we didn't celebrate Orthros and Liturgy, but I did bless houses all day again for the last day.

After Liturgy on Sunday as normal, it was nice to take a little time on Monday to go out with Pelagia and the babies to play at a nice little playground at the big kids' store called Jumbo.

Here Pelagia is helping the babies climb up one of the four towers, which leads to a series of tunnels and a big slide.

Here's a view from below, looking up as Benjamin climbs along one of the elevated tunnels connecting the towers.

Here's Pelagia climbing in one of the elevated tunnels.

Here Pelagia hangs upside down to help Paul get back up the tower after he went down the slide.

Here you can see the blue of Benjamin's jacket as he climbs along the near tunnel. You can see Phoebe at the beginning of the mesh-covered walkway behind that.

And here's Pelagia pushing Phoebe on the swing, which is Phoebe's favorite activity.

Finally here they all are on a ride that has various jungle animals move and introduce themselves.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Visit to Kato Scholari

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Early last week, before Theophany (or what is colloquially known as "Ta Fota"), I had a brief lull in my schedule and we used the opportunity to go visit our friends Athanasis and Sophia in the village of Kato Scholari, about 30 minutes southeast of Thessaloniki in Halkidiki.

Athanasis is the brother of our beloved Gerontissa Efpraxia, the abbess of St. John the Forerunner Monastery in Goldendale, Washington. He still lives in the house they grew up in.

Sophia had some lego-type toys that the babies played with on the living room floor. Above, Paul is enjoying playing with a plastic bag over his head, which is always a sign of good parenting. (Don't worry, there was no danger of suffocation. I think he liked it because he had a safe bubble in which the other two couldn't steal his toys.)

Here's Paul with a flower pot as a helmet.

And here he is riding in a plastic bucket.

That afternoon, Phoebe and Benjamin were having trouble taking a nap in their beds, so they fell asleep with Pelagia in a chair in the living room.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

St. Basil's Day (Jan. 1)

Last week, we took the babies downtown to run some errands. We stopped by the Mt. Athos Pilgrims' Office, where the babies played around in the courtyard (see above).

The Christmas package from my parents also arrived last week. Perhaps because of the size, or just because of the additional Christmas traffic, it took quite awhile to get here. But it was worth the wait. Here the babies are playing with all their new Christmas toys. Although it was late for Christmas, it was in time for St. Basil's Day (Jan. 1), which is when the Greeks give presents, or at least traditionally that was the case. I've been told that this is starting to change in the last 10-15 years with the effects of globalization swallowing up local cultures.

On St. Basil's Day, after the Liturgy, we took the babies to a park near the church to play for awhile. Above, you can see Pelagia and the boys on the walkway and Phoebe going down the slide.

In the afternoon, we invited the Lillies to come over as we said the prayers for the cutting of the Vasilopita. It took us awhile to find the coin, but eventually Ann spotted in Benjamin's piece. In the photo above, we're showing the flouri to Benjamin. The stories about the original incident which this tradition commemorates vary, as you can see in the two links above, both of which differ from the version I usually hear here in Greece. But the basic theme is the same throughout them all.

Here's Phoebe hamming it up for the camera.

On Sunday afternoon, we took them to another Christmas village, which the Greeks call "St. Basil's village." Because of the various stories of St. Basil's generosity, the Greeks has always associated gift giving with St. Basil, not with St. Nicholas or Christmas Day itself. However, recently, kids, having learned about Santa Claus and the western tradition of gift-giving on Christmas Day, have gradually nagged their parents into giving them their presents a week earlier so that they can play with them during the week of vacation from school between Christmas and New Year's. In the photo above, we tried to get a picture of the babies with St. Basil, but they did NOT like it.

They did, however, like all the rides at St. Basil's village. Here they are on a mini-carousel.

And here are some shots (above and below) on a the big carousel.

On the carousel, we ran into our friend Anastasia Vassiliadou, her husband Arsenis, and their son Petros. Above, you can see our three and Petros (left) looking on admiringly at the train in the center of the village.

So Pelagia squeezed herself into a car with them and they all went on the train.

Afterwards, they found a mechanical horse, which turned out to be more like a bucking bronco. Above you can see Pelagia and Paul trying to hang on.

For a few more photos, click here.