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.