Monday, February 28, 2011

Petrokerasa and Goumenissa

On Friday, we went with Pelagia and the babies to visit Fr. Peter and his family in the mountain village of Petrokerasa (population 100), about an hour outside of Thessaloniki. Above is a photo of the village church, dedicated to the Prophet Elijah.

Paul and Benjamin are taking turns as the bishop in this photo here inside the church. We had a nice meal and visit with Fr. Peter and his family and visited one of the parish's chapels out in the woods.

On Saturday, our group returned to Goumenissa for Part Two of John's family reunion. As it happened, the family was commemorating the repose of two loved ones with memorials at the church -- one on Saturday and one on Sunday -- so many family members who live outside Goumenissa were in town. It was thus a perfect opportunity for a bigger family reunion. There must have been about 30 family members gathered together to meet John for lunch at a restaurant in the central square of Goumenissa (see photo above).

Before lunch, we went to visit a dependency (metochi) of Simonopetra dedicated to St. Nikodemos in the hills outside Goumenissa. Interestingly, of the 25 monks there, one is an American convert with the name Fr. Simon or Fr. Symeon; he is also an iconographer. We weren't able to stay long at the monastery, so we didn't have time to meet him. I suspect he may have been hiding from visitors; one doesn't usually become a monk in a small Greek mountain village halfway across the world in order to hang out with other American converts.

After lunch, we went to Vespers at the church attached to the Metropolitan headquarters, a historic monastery dedicated to the Dormition located in the middle of Goumenissa. It also houses the wonderworking Panagia of Goumenissa icon.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

St. Andrew's Skete and Back to the World

From the Protaton and Karyes, we finally made our way to St. Andrew's Skete (Serrai) just before 1:00 PM. As you may be able to tell from the photos, this "skete" is enormous; much bigger, in fact, than many of the 20 ruling monasteries. Above is a view of the entrance.

Once inside the complex, we found our way to the guesthouse, where a monk dutifully recorded all of our personal information into the typical large registry book. Interestingly, he did this all in Greek, with me translating; I later found out, though, that he was one of two British converts in the small brotherhood of about 14. We also met a Fr. Joseph who was from Finland.

Above is the view from the guesthouse toward the central church.

The skete held its meal at 4:00, followed by Vespers and Small Compline together at 5:00. The meal was served in a church located in the basement of the enormous main church. The abbot, Fr. Ephraim (not the elder, who is now in Arizona, but a disciple of his), who served briefly as abbot of Philotheou before coming to St. Andrew's in 2000, gave a talk at the conclusion of the meal on the topic of the feast of the Presentation. He spoke about the importance of keeping the traditions, such as that of the 40 days after birth, just as the Panagia had done.

Above and below, our group next to the enormous Russian bells in the courtyard just outside the main church.

In the morning, Orthros and Liturgy was from about 4:00-8:00 AM, followed by a very rich breakfast with lots of dairy products (in view of the upcoming fast). After breakfast, the Finnish Fr. Joseph very kindly gave us a tour of the katholikon, which was only reopened for us 1.5 years ago, after my last visit here. It's an enormous cathedral, capable of holding several thousand people. As Fr. Dn. Nathaniel remarked, just the altar area was as big as their church in Yakima.

Afterwards, we walked back into Karyes in search of coffee (only to find instant Nescafe), and then walked behind the Protaton to visit the Cell of St. Sava the Serbian. Here, a single Serbian monk has kept the Typikon of St. Sava, the most rigorous on all Mt. Athos, continually since the great Serbian saint's repose in the 13th century. The monk answered the door for us with hardly a word and led us into the chapel with him where he was in the middle (not surprisingly) of prayers. We joined him for a few minutes and then quietly exited, stopping to venerate the original tiny cell of St. Sava, which is still preserved. Above is a view of the front of the cell today. Below is a view from the cell down toward the Protaton.

This was an especially meaningful visit for Sava, above, who is here talking with Fr. Joseph. We then caught the bus down to Daphni and waited for the boat back to the world.

Once in Ouranoupolis, we got in the car and headed back toward Thessaloniki, stopping at the small village of Agios Prodromos for an excellent lunch featuring their famous souvlaki and other meats. We then also stopped at the Monastery of St. Anastasia the Healer from Potions, where we caught the last part of Vespers and venerated the saint's skull. Above is a photo of Fr. Joseph and Fr. Dn. Nathaniel at the monastery.

We then finally made it home in time to spend a couple hours with the babies before they went to bed. Here are all three of them climbing up the ladder in the living room to their loft.

I didn't take nearly as many photos during these adventures as I was busy translating, etc. I hope to link at some point to the photos the guys took, which should be interesting.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Visiting the Elders' Cells

On the way from Karakallou to Karyes, we convinced the driver to make a brief stop on the way at Iveron Monastery, so that we could venerate the famous wonderworking icon Panagia Portaitissa. He agreed on the condition that we stay only 15 minutes, but the monk there was very kind and allowed us to venerate the icon, then inside the katholikon, then the room lined with cases of relics. The next thing we knew, the driver was searching for us and muttering to himself about "15 minutes." Above is a shot I took of Iveron as we were running back to the van before he left without us.

As we approached Karyes, I asked the driver to let us off near Panagouda, the cell of Elder Paisios. He gave me directions how to walk to the secluded cell, but I either misunderstood them or he was still angry about us being late back to the van, because we got lost hiking around in the woods for awhile before we finally found our way. We first recognized the Cell of St. John the Theologian, where Hieromonk Gregorios resides with his four disciples. Hieromonk Gregorios is the author of several very well-regarded catechetical style books in Greece. His book on the Divine Liturgy has recently been published in an excellent translation. Ironically, though, he had just left for his first trip to the United States, primarily to visit some of the monasteries of Elder Ephraim there. We, however, were warmly received by his disciple, Fr. Ioannis, and we had a very interesting conversation about the role of prophecies in Greece today, specifically the prophecies coming from modern-day elders of Mount Athos.

We then made our way "next door," so to speak, to the Elder Paisios's cell. There, we were welcomed by one of the two monks living there now, who were both disciples of Elder Paisios. Above is a photo of the yard outside the small, ramshackle little house, where Elder Paisios served the people with such pain of heart for so many years. Below is a photo of one of the signs pointing the way to his cell.

We then headed up the hill in the general direction of Karyes in order to visit Elder Gabriel in his cell. Here's a photo of our group making the hike.

Here's a photo of a sign pointing the way to Elder Gabriel, who is one of the most famous elders on the Holy Mountain today.

We had a very blessed meeting with him. He started off by wishing God's blessing on us and our families, praying that our children be kept free from the snares of drugs, etc. One of our group, Sava, asked him how long he had been on the Holy Mountain, and he responded (if I remember correctly), that he had been there since 1974. This led him to reflect on his long friendship with Elder Paisios, and he began telling us about the elder's incredible sense of humor.

One story he told was about how the elder was inundated with visitors. He perceived that some of them were simply curiosity seekers, so, in order to get some peace and quiet, he would take the Psalter and find a hiding spot out in the woods. He left on the door of his cell a sign that read "The Zoo is Closed. The Monkey is Away."

The elder concluded our visit by letting us venerate his small chapel, and his myrrh-streaming paper icon of the Panagia, from which he gave each of us a cotton.

We then continued our hike up the hill (everywhere we went seemed like it was uphill) to Karyes. Here we are taking a break near Koutloumousiou. A dog came over and made friends with Fr. Joseph.

We walked through Koutoumousiou Monastery and venerated inside the church (see above).

Here is a photo of Fr. Joseph sitting next to a fountain at the entrance to Koutloumousiou.

This is a photo of the iconography above the central door to the katholikon. The iconography dates to 1744, as you can see from the inscription.

We then continued on into Karyes, where we were just in time to venerate the famous Axion Estin icon of the Panagia. This was the first time I'd seen the Protaton without the enormous metal superstructure covering it (see above).

We then headed on to the nearby Skete of St. Andrew. More on that in the next post.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Philotheou and Karakalou

On Tuesday morning, we left Simonopetra by van and returned to Dafni, from which we got a taxi van, with two Greeks, to Philotheou, the spiritual home of Elder Ephraim and his many spiritual children in North America. Above, Fr. Joseph is admiring the outside of the monastery as we arrive.

Above, the view of the katholikon (main church) from inside the arhontariki (the guest quarters), where we were welcomed and treated to the traditional Athonite loukoumi (Turkish delight) and tsipouro (a hard alcohol).

A view of the main church from inside the courtyard. We met an American monk, Fr. Prokopios, who has been there for 5 years. Before that, he spent 6 years at St. Anthony's Monastery in Arizona. Many of our group remembered him from that time, so they were quite happy to see a familiar American face in such a remote location.

We were able to see some of the monastery and venerate the famous wonderworking icon of the Panagia Glykophilousa inside the main church before setting off for our destination for the night, neighboring Karakalou.

The walk took about 45 minutes. Above, Fr. Joseph takes a look at the monastery as it comes into view.

One of the many, typical fountains on the Holy Mountain.

Here we are signing the guest book, another Athonite tradition.

At Karakalou, I was able to visit the grave of our reposed friend, Fr. Barnabas, an American hieromonk of Karakalou, and read a Trisagion prayer for him.

Then we had Vespers and a meal, followed by Small Compline and veneration of some of the monastery's relics, including a piece of the Cross and relics of St. John the Baptist, Sts. Peter and Paul, St. Theodore the General, St. Haralambos, St. Efstathios, and the skull of St. Bartholomew the Apostle.

In the morning, we celebrated Orthros and Divine Liturgy with the monks from about 2:00-6:00, had something to eat, and then we're off at 8:00.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Vigil at Simonopetra

On Monday morning, I headed off with our American visitors to the Holy Mountain, my tenth trip to Mt. Athos. Above and below, we're enjoying seeing the monasteries as the boat makes its way from Ouranoupolis to Daphni. Above, I'm standing with John as we pass Docheiariou Monastery.

Ken, John, and Fr. Dn. Nathaniel admire the Russian Monastery of St. Panteleimon.

When we arrived in Daphni, we found Fr. Averkios, the driver of the van from Simonopetra, who drove us over to the monastery. Once we got our rooms, we took a walk up behind the monastery for a view down, which you can see above and below.

Fr. Dn. Nathaniel and Fr. Joseph looking down at the monastery from the gazebo.

We also went into the little cave where the monastery's founder, St. Simon, struggled in the ascetic life.

Here we all are with the monastery in the background.

And here's Fr. Joseph trying to enjoy the peace and quiet of the Holy Mountain.

We then walked back down to our rooms to have a little rest before the start of the vigil for the feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

And here we are walking up the narrow tunnel to the courtyard and main church of the monastery. The vigil went from 6:00 PM until a little before midnight, and then we had a rest before resuming with the Hours and Liturgy from 6:00-8:30. Fr. Joseph, Fr. Dn. Nathaniel, and I were honored to be asked to participate at the entrance at Vespers, and we even got to wear some beautiful vestments made by the sisters in Ormylia, where they hand weave the fabric on looms.

At the Liturgy, Fr. Joseph and I were asked to serve along with the abbot and a couple hieromonks of the monastery, which was a great blessing.

Of course, it goes without saying that the chanting was magnificent. I should also mention that we were able to venerate the monastery's relics, which include the still-warm relic of St. Mary Magdalene, a piece of the True Cross, and relics from St. Tryphon, St. Anne (the mother of the Theotokos), Paul the Confessor (Patriarch of Constantinople), St. Sergius, and St. Barbara, as well as soil containing the blood of the great martyr Dimitrios.

For a few more photos, click here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Liturgy with Fr. Joseph at St. George's

On Sunday, I had the pleasure of celebrating the Liturgy with my father-in-law, Fr. Joseph, at our parish of St. George's here in Panorama. The fathers here insisted on giving Fr. Joseph the honor of serving as the protos, or first. Above, a photo of all of us at the reading of the Creed.

Around the altar after the Creed. In the background you can see Fr. Dn. Nathaniel from the parish in Yakima.

The fathers also asked Fr. Joseph to give the homily, which meant (unfortunately for all the Greek speakers there) that I was the translator.

Here's another photo from the homily. Some of the little kids were nearby as they were excited to get in line for communion.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Reunion in Goumenissa

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On Saturday morning, we headed out to the northern Greek village of Goumenissa (see map above), which our visitor John believed was the village from which his grandfather came when he immigrated to the US in the 1920s. John had a vague list of names of potential relatives who still may live there and little else to go on, so we were in for a bit of detective work.

Again, the first step was to honor God, so our first stop in Goumenissa was to the monastery of Sts. Raphael, Nicholas, and Irene., which sits perched on the hill to the north of the town. There, we met one of the monks who showed us around the monastery and let us venerate small pieces of the saints' relics. The monastery was founded in 1992 after the saints appeared to the woman (to whom they originally revealed themselves) and told her where the monastery was be founded. There are currently 6 monks and 3 novices there. The photo above is of the large katholikon (main church) they are currently building. Despite the monastery's remote location, the monks told us they have over 100,000 pilgrims a year, due to the saints' popularity (and the many miracles they have worked) in Greece today.

Above is one of the beautiful mosaics adorning the new church. After we venerated inside the new church, this is when our day took an unusual twist. As we were coming back from the church to have a coffee with one of the monks, another monk called over to me and asked me my name. When I asked him his, we learned that he was the bishop, Metropolitan Dimitrios of Goumenissa, Axioupolis, and Polykastro. He had a coffee with us and was happy to regale us with the countless stories of the saints' miracles. As he was getting ready to go, I thought I'd tell him about John's search for his relatives on the off chance that he would be able to point us in the right direction. I was somewhat hesitant because the politics of this area are extremely tense, and John was under the impression, since his grandfather only spoke some dialect of Bulgarian (and no Greek at all), that his family belonged to the FYROM. But the bishop was immediately fascinated with the story. He recognized a variation of the last name we gave him and made a call to a local butcher with that name. The butcher referred us to his mother, whom the bishop called next. She was overjoyed to get a call from the bishop and the next thing we know we were all going down to the village to meet her at her house. It appeared we had found his family!

The bishop even accompanied us down to the village. First, we stopped at his monastery/diocesan offices, which is centered on the 200-year-old Church of the Dormition (see #2 in this post), containing the wonder-working icon of the Panagia of Goumenissa. The photo above is of all of us with the bishop. Below is a shot of one of the faded walls.

We then headed just a couple blocks over to the house of the woman with whom the bishop had spoken. Not only John, but all of us, including the bishop, were moved to discover that he had, in fact, found his relatives. The woman to the left in the photo above is the wife of John's first cousin, who, unfortunately, reposed some years ago. The telephone calls began and soon their daughter came over to meet her long-lost cousin. Then an aunt and uncle came. They all compared notes and between them they were able to piece together a good bit of the family history over the last 90 years.

The bishop called one of his deacons, who loves the history and tradition of the area, and he was excited to help facilitate the reunion. He took many of the photos here, including the one above of John with some of his family.

We then walked a few blocks away and found John's grandfather's house, which, it turns out, is one of 18 churches that are registered in Goumenissa as of important cultural heritage and thus cannot be destroyed. Above and below you can see how the original house, which dates to the 19th century, was raised up, with the help of money sent from John's grandfather in the US, to add more room for the growing family. Below is a photo of John with one of his uncles who lives at the house currently.

The bishop took leave of us, but he insisted on treating us to a wonderful, traditional lunch of local meats and foods, which we enjoyed with his deacon, Fr. Christodoulos. There, I broached the potentially explosive question: John's grandfather spoke a dialect of Bulgarian and didn't seem to know Greek. Was he--and by extension John--then Greek? "Absolutely" was the definitive reply from the Greeks present. I didn't know this, but apparently most of this area didn't speak Greek at that time, yet they fought in the Macedonian Struggle on behalf of Greece and the Ecumenical Patriarchate (as opposed to the Bulgarian Exarchate). Many of the heroes of that struggle, they said, didn't speak Greek. But their descendants, such as the ones we had just found in the village, had Greek as their mother tongue and were certainly Greek. Therefore, John was Greek!

What better way to celebrate this than with Greek food, and lots of it! Afterwards, we took a walk in the city down to the village's one parish church dedicated to St. George, where we had Vespers. We were also blessed to venerate a small relic of St. George, which was fragrant.

Here we are with the two priests of the parish, both named Fr. Christos.

And here we are outside the large parish church, which just received a grant of 4 million euros for restoration.

After Vespers, Fr. Christodoulos invited us for another coffee in the village's central square. We started talking about the wine that the region is well known for, and the next thing we knew had called one of the old local winemaking families and a man came over to give us a tour of the old winemaking facilities which were located just two blocks away. In the photo above, we're looking at the old equipment, which was used from the mid 19th century until 1986.

Finally, we managed to tear ourselves away from the incredible hospitality and make our way back home. It was a memorable day for all of us, not just John.

For more photos, click here.