Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Agiou Pavlou

On Friday morning, we left Vatopaidi in a van that took us to the port of Dafni. We waited there until 12:30, at which time we caught the boat from Dafni that runs southeast toward the tip of the peninsula. Along the way, we passed Grigoriou (above) and Dionysiou (below).

After Dionysiou, we got off at the port for Agiou Pavlou (above), which sits just below the peak of the actual Mt. Athos (i.e. the highest point on the peninsula, from which the whole gets its name). In the photo above, the peak is obscured in clouds, but you can see Agiou Pavlou nestled in the valley.

At the monastery, we were met by Fr. Evdokimos, an Englishman and the brother of Fr. John Behr, the dean of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary. Fr. Evdokimos has been at Agiou Pavlou for the last 22 years. He gave us a wonderful tour of the monastery, including the osteophylakion (ossuary), where the earthly remains of all the monks in the 1000-year uninterrupted history of the monastery are kept.

The ossuary also has a chapel, in which they celebrate Liturgy every Saturday morning. Above is a photo of the outside of the ossuary. In the background, you can see the boat heading back to Dafni after completing its route to the tip of the peninsula. He also took us into the altar of the main church, where a cabinet along the south side is full of the monastery's relics and treasures. There we venerated the Gifts of the Magi, the relics of the Three Hierarchs, the right hand of St. Maximos the Confessor, and many others.

After a brief rest, we had Vespers at 5:30, followed by a meal, and then our tour continued. We went up to the highest point of the monastery, along the upper walls, to venerate inside a tiny chapel that had been frescoed by Theophan the Cretan. We then climbed up the tower (above) for a view down on the monastery.

The monastery from the tower.

Here, McKeel and the others admire the view from just outside the door to the chapel.

The bottom floor of the tower features this tunnel and ladder, which Fr. Evdokimos told us leads underneath the massive walls to the cave of the monastery's founder, St. Paul of Xiropotamou. I wanted to go down, but he said the tunnel may have collapsed.

After climbing up all the narrow passageways of the tower, the final story was ascended by this ladder through a rusted metal trap door.

A view from the top down to the water. Small Compline ended the day at 8:30 PM (i.e. sunset, which is 12 midnight on Byzantine time).

The next morning, the services started at 3:30 and ended with Divine Liturgy, which concluded around 7:30. This was then followed by breakfast and a coffee with Fr. Evdokimos on a balcony overlooking the water. We then gathered our things and headed down to the port to catch the boat back to Dafni. We got to the port just as the boat was stopping on its way down to the tip of the peninsula, so we decided to get on and ride it down and back so that we could view the sketes at the ascetic end of the mountain.

We soon passed the famous New Skete (above).

A view from near the tip of the peninsula. I believe that this cross marks the southernmost point.

On the way back, we passed Agiou Pavlou just as an interesting and somewhat rare event was happening. A boat full of 200 or so women pilgrims had arranged for the monastery to bring out some of its relics for veneration. The women's boat stopped about 500 meters off-shore, which is the closest women may come to the Holy Mountain, and a speed boat came from Ouranoupolis to monks waiting at the monastery's port with the relics. The speed boat then took the monks and relics to the waiting women's boat, where the monks boarded. Typically, they do an Agiasmo (blessing of the waters) on the boat and allow the women to venerate the relics before returning by speed boat to the monastery. In the photo above, you can see the women's boat waiting off shore, while the speed boat loads the monks and relics to go see them.

As we got closer to Dafni, the clouds finally parted so we could see the peak of Mt. Athos.

For a few more photos from this trip to the Holy Mountain, click here.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Manuscripts at Vatopaidi

On Wednesday, I headed off for my eleventh trip to Mt. Athos, this time with two visitors from the U.S. One was Fr. Alexander Rentel, Assistant Professor of Canon Law at St. Vladimir's and a friend from when we met at a conference in Volos two years ago. The other was his friend and koumbaros, McKeel Hagerty, who also graduated from St. Vladimir's. Our first stop was the Great Holy Monastery of Vatopaidi, where we spent two nights. The photo above is from inside the monastery. To the right is the refectory and along the long is the main church, which dates to the monastery's foundation in the 10th century.

One of the goals of the trip for Fr. Alexander was to see an important 14th century manuscript housed at Vatopaidi. Fr. Philip, a Brazilian monk and former professor of Ancient Greek in Buenos Aires, is the monastery's librarian. He let us into the old library, which houses more than 2000 manuscripts. He very kindly showed us their oldest books and manuscripts. I actually held a 9th century codex that was in remarkably good shape, and 15th century printed prayer books. Eventually, we left Fr. Alexander to his work, and McKeel and I took a hike outside the monastery over toward the nearby ruins of the famous original Athonite Academy.

On the way there, we wandered through some of Vatopaidi's vineyards (see above) and a cell in the vineyards that is currently in the middle of reconstruction (below).

Eventually we made our way through some woods to ruins of the Athonite Academy, which was originally a three-storey building that produced such famous students and saints as St. Nikodemos the Athonite, St. Kosmas Aitolos, and St. Athanasios Parios.

Above, McKeel is just outside the door of the small chapel in the middle of the ruins. Below, the chapel.

We then made our way back to Vatopaidi in time for a short rest before Vespers at 4:30 PM.

Vespers was followed by the meal, which was then followed by veneration of the monastery's amazing collection of relics, including the belt of the Panagia and the skull of St. John Chrysostom, where one can see that his left ear is still incorrupt after 1600 years. This is attributed to the fact that the saint's disciple, Proclus, had been deemed worthy to see the Holy Apostle Paul whispering the interpretations of his letters into that ear. The veneration of the relics was then followed by a tour from Vatopaidi's American monk, Fr. Matthew. (He was featured in the recent piece about Mt. Athos on 60 Minutes. Click here to watch it.) Some interesting numbers: The monastery now has 118 monks from 18 different countries. They host over 35,000 pilgrims per year, or approximately 100 per day on average, far and away the largest number of any of the other monasteries on the Holy Mountain.

I also had the chance to venerate the grave of the blessed Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi, who reposed almost two years ago. The grave is located just outside the monastery's main church.

After Fr. Matthew's tour, the day ended with Small Compline. The next day, services began at 4:00 AM and concluded with Divine Liturgy in some of the monastery's 37 chapels a little after 8:00 AM. This was then followed by the main meal of the day.

For more photos from Vatopaidi, click here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Expo Center

About a week ago, we went with our friend Kalliopi and her son Michael to the flower show being held at the expo center right across the street from the university. The babies were fascinated by the huge elephant.

Here they are stuffing gravel into the elephant's trunk.

Paul and Michael throwing the gravel around.

Phoebe was happy to find a bug among the flowers.

Later last week, there was another show at the expo center dedicated to the ecclesiastical arts. There were artists, craftsmen, and monastics from all over the Balkans showing their ecclesiastical vestments, furniture, marble work, iconography, etc.

For a few more photos from the flower show, click here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Visiting with Herman and Michael

Last week, our friend Herman Middleton returned to Thessaloniki to lead a trip to Mt. Athos. Herman spent many years here in Thessaloniki, where he completed a BA, MA, and PhD at the Theology School. He's also author of the popular book Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit.

The weather has turned lovely here lately, so we spent some time outside in the backyard playing with the babies. Above, our friend Michael Tishel is taking a turn on the trampoline.

To get the babies out of the house, Michael and I then took them to one of the monasteries here in Panorama, Kimisseos, for Vespers. They have speakers in the courtyard around the church which allows the babies to be outside and still hear the service.

Here are the boys at the front of the church.

After Vespers, we then headed over to a little nature area in Panorama called Platanakia. The babies immediately found three little vehicles to ride.

We then walked around the little zoo area to see the animals. One of the rabbits had escaped, so the babies liked chasing him around.

Here come Michael and Paul. You can see some of the areas for the animals to the left and right.

When we got back, Herman took a turn trying to do a backflip before the sun went down. Here I caught him in mid-flip.

For a few more photos, click here.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Agios Prodromos and Peristera

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Last week, on Friday of Renewal Week, we went with Paris for lunch at Agios Prodromos, a village in the mountains of Halkidiki that is well-known for its grilled meats.

It was partly cloudy, but we had a few moments of sun in which we played outside in the yard behind one of the restaurants. Above, Phoebe and I sat in the swing.

We also showed the babies how to blow the seeds off the daffodils.

We hoped to eat outside, but it started raining after awhile so we moved inside. Fortunately, we came at a time when it wasn't busy, so the babies could run around inside after they finished eating.

On the way back home, we stopped at the little mountain village of Peristera to visit the 9th century church dedicated to St. Andrew the First Called. Originally, it was the main church of a monastery but is now a parish church in this village of about 1000.

It has a unique five-dome architecture that is being studied by the archaeological and architectural students in Greece. I learned about the church when I was translating a new pilgrims' guide to the Metropolis of Ierissos, the Holy Mountain, and Ardameri.

Most of the inside seems to be been burned by a fire at some point, but there are some traces of the original mosaics and frescos, including a bit of the Pantocrator in the dome.

The courtyard around the church is an area in which the village children gather to play. The babies joined in.

Above, Benjamin. Below, Paul and Paris.

For a few more photos, click here.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Alistratis Cave and Serres

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On Renewal Tuesday, we went with Fr. Panayiotis and his family to Alistrati Cave in between Serres and Drama, northeast of Thessaloniki.

On the way there, we stopped at a rest stop and playground so that the children could get out and play. Above, Fr. Panayiotis' presvytera spins Paul and two of her children.

The cave is situated in a scenic area with a valley. As we waited for the next tour of the cave to start, the kids played. Above is Phoebe looking out at the mountains.

And here are the babies playing at a waterfall, which they LOVE.

After the cave, we drove over to Serres for lunch at a lovely restaurant situated next to natural waterfalls. Above you can see Pres. Pelagia and Paul. Below Paul and Benjamin play with the channeled water coming down from the mountain.

We also walked around a small reservoir. Above, Pelagia and Paul.

And here the kids are watching the small fish swimming around.

We then headed up the hill to the nearby Monastery of St. John the Forerunner, which is one of three monasteries in mainland Greece for which Elder Ephraim (now of Arizona) serves as spiritual father. Back in December, they suffered a large fire, which destroyed the building which contained most of their day-to-day living and working space. Fortunately, however, none of the churches from this 13th century monastery were destroyed. Click on their website here to see more about the fire.

You can also compare these photos above and below with previous photos I took on other visits there.

Sister Katherine, an American convert from Texas who has been there for several years now, talked with us for awhile and told us that life at the monastery had changed considerably due to the fire. They are eager to rebuild but, since the monastery is so old, the archaeological service has to be involved, and they insist on doing a detailed inspection of the burnt area before allowing anything to be rebuilt. Fortunately, although the part that burnt was frequently used (including not only workshops but also their kitchen and dining area), the majority of the large monastery was not touched at all, so it could have been worse.

For a few more photos from the day, click here.