Sunday, July 17, 2011

Simonopetra and Ormylia

On Wednesday morning, after the tour of Vatopaidi, we headed off to Simonopetra, where Bishop Maxim was welcomed with ringing bells by the abbot, Fr. Elisaios (above) and much of the brotherhood.

We were given a tour by the abbot, including the monastery's breathtaking view from the top (see above), as well as a tour of the library by Fr. Maximos, the Greek-American former Harvard professor who is now the monastery's librarian.

Finally, they gave us a wonderful lunch of octopus before we headed down to Daphni to catch a private speed boat back to Ouranoupolis.

Back in the world in Ouranoupolis, we met up with the five female pilgrims in the group and headed over to Kakovo, a Serbian men's monastery and dependency of Hilandar located only about 20 minutes away. There are only a handful of monks, but the property they are responsible for maintaining is enormous and full of crops, a lake for fishing, etc. It is dedicated to the Feast of the Life-Giving (or, better, Life-Receiving) Spring, which the Church celebrates on Bright Friday. Above is a photo of the courtyard where we visited with the monastery's abbot.

Above is a small chapel at the dependency.

We then headed on to a dependency of Simonopetra, the women's monastery of the Annunciation, located in the village of (and frequently referred to as) Ormylia. This is the largest monastery in Greece with about 120 nuns from approximately 17 or 18 different countries. Unfortunately, one member of our group was not feeling well, and one of the sisters at the monastery (who is also a doctor) recommended we take her to a hospital in Thessaloniki out of an abundance of caution. So Fr. Blasko and I took her to a private hospital near my house in Panorama. I then returned the next morning with Pelagia and the babies to visit with the abbess, Nikodemi, and the sisters after the Liturgy. When we walked in to the conversation between Bishop Maxim, the abbess, Fr. Serapion, a monk from Simonopetra who serves the monastery, and some of the nuns and pilgrims, Paul headed straight for Bishop Maxim and sat in his lap, eating the bishop's cookies (see above).

Later in the morning, Fr. Athanasios, a monk of Simonopetra and the chief hymnographer of the Great Church of Constantinople (the one responsible for composing all services to new saints, such as he has done for St. Silouan the Athonite and St. Justin of Celije), as well as the abbess' brother according to the flesh, came by to greet Bishop Maxim. Above and below are a couple photos of him playing with Paul. The babies loved being swung by him (see below).

Thus ended my participation in the pilgrimage, as the group continued on to Meteora and Bishop Maxim left for other obligations in Serbia. For more photos, click here and here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


After Iviron, we headed to Vatopaidi, where we were scheduled to spend the night. Above is the entrance to the monastery.

Before retiring for the evening, we got to spend some time speaking with Abbot Ephraimon the balcony just outside the abbot's office. See the view above, which is out onto the Aegean from the northeast side of the peninsula.

Above, Bishop Maxim with Abbot Ephraim. The abbot is a disciple of Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi, who was one of the disciples of Elder Joseph the Heyschast, along with his spiritual brother Elder Ephraim of Philotheou (now in the US).

The next morning was Wednesday, and starting just this year, the fathers at Vatopaidi had decided to revert to the monastery's old typikon with regard to Wednesdays and Fridays during fasts (such as the one that was then happening for the Apostles). Normally, Vatopaidi, like most Athonite monasteries, has Divine Liturgy daily. But under this old typikon, they instead do the mid-Hours in place of Liturgy. After the services, we ran into Prof. George Mantzaridis, professor emeritus of theology at the University of Thessaloniki and a former parishioner at our church in Panorama. He is credited with rediscovering St. Gregory Palamas, which led to an explosion of interest in hesychasm.

Bishop Maxim read a trisagion for Elder Joseph, whose grave lies behind the main church.

After breakfast, we then got the royal tour into the famous secret room that was featured on the 60 Minutes piece at Easter. If you didn't see it, take the 25 minutes or so to watch the two parts now (part 2 here). Above, you can see Fr. Matthew, an American (convert) monk at Vatopaidi for the last 25 years or so, using the five old keys to let us into the first part of the secret room. This door leads into what looks like a simple library/study, with bookcases lining the walls. Apparently, the fathers of Vatopaidi had at one point in history lost one of the five keys needed to enter this room.

Eventually, it was found and when they entered they were surprised that all this security was only for a nearly empty study. But they knew there was a piece of the building they couldn't account for. When they came back again the next day and began investigating more thoroughly, the discovered that one of the bookcases was actually a secret passageway into another area, which was originally used to house the monastery's most precious liturgical items. Of course, now it was recently renovated and, although, small, it is a first-class museum housing, still, some of the monastery's most valuable liturgical items.

It was quite dramatic when Fr. Matthew opened the door inside the bookcase (see below). In the new renovation, they've set it up so that low museum lighting and a CD of Vatopaidi's chant automatically turn on when the door opens. Above is an icon of St. John Chrysostom housed in the museum.

Another shot of the initial door that takes five old iron keys to open.

For more photos of the trip as a whole, click here.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Iviron with Fr. Vasileos

On Tuesday morning after the Liturgy and a festive meal at Hilandar, we headed to Karyes, the capital of Mt. Athos. The road connecting Hilandar with the rest of the Holy Mountain recently washed out, so we took a speed boat down to Dafni, where a taxi van was waiting for us.

This was Bishop Maxim's first visit to the Holy Mountain as a bishop, and the ancient custom is for bishops to be received, on their first visit, by the Protos (head) of the Holy Community at the administrative headquarters, located next to the Protaton. Thus, the Protos treated us all to a raki, a coffee, and sweets, per tradition, and after a discussion with him, we headed down the stairs to venerate the Axion Estin icon in the Protaton (see photo above).

Next, we went to the original cell of St. Sava of Serbia, where a lone Serbian monk has kept St. Sava's Typikon, the most austere on the Holy Mountain, since the saint's repose in the 13th century. Above is part of our group. The cell is down on the left.

Next, we headed over to the "cell" of Bourazeri, a dependency of Hilandar in Karyes, but populated by a large Greek brotherhood of 25. Thus, this "cell" is bigger than some of the ruling 20 monasteries, demonstrating again how relative the terms "monastery," "skete," and "cell" are. Technically, a "cell" on Mt. Athos can have no more than 7 members, but Bourazeri is an exception.

We went there because the brotherhood there is famous for its production of antimensia, which Bishop Maxim wanted to order. They also showed us their gorgeous new "chapel" that is currently being completed. See above and below.

Then it was on to Iviron to see the famous Athonite theologian and elder Fr. Vasileios Gontikakis, an important theologian of the "generation of the 60s" and responsible for renewing two Athonite monasteries, Stavronikita and Iviron, at the same time as the likes of Elder Ephraim of Philotheou, Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra, and Elder Georgios of Grigoriou. Above, we are walking into the entrance of the monastery.

Above, Bishop Maxim, Fr. Vasileios, and the current abbot of Iviron, Fr. Nathaniel. We spent over an hour discussing theology with Fr. Vasileios (see below).

Fr. Vasileios showed us the relatively new iconography inside the refectory. He preferred the light colored backgrounds to make the relatively small space feel more open for the monastery's large brotherhood.

On the way down to our van, I got a few minutes alone with Fr. Vasileios to ask him advice about being a pneumatikos (spiritual father). Above, Iviron from the water.

For more photos, click here.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Hilandar with Bishop Maxim and Pilgrims

On Monday morning, June 27, Bishop Maxim led a group of two priests, one deacon, and five laymen to Hilandar Monastery on Mt. Athos. The bishop was greeted with the ringing of the monastery's bells, and the all the monks came out to greet him at the entrance. There they gave him the mandyas (bishop's cloak) and he entered into the monastery, proceeding down to the main church. Above is a view of the main church from near the entrance to the monastery. It was this part of the monastery, near the entrance, that suffered the most damage in the very serious fire of 2004.

After the new abbot, Methodije, treated us to refreshments, he took us for a tour of the monastery, including a visit to the monastery's vineyards. Above, Bishop Maxim is checking out the grapes. You can see the Aegean Sea (i.e. the northeast coast of the peninsula) in the background.

Just outside the building where they produce the wine, Bishop Maxim picked some wild berries that everyone tried.

Here we are inside the winery, where the monk in charge provided us with a wine-tasting of their two productions, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Paul's godfather, Paris, was able to take off a few days from work to join us for this trip.

We then walked down to the waterline, which is close by. Here Bishop Maxim is gathering some rocks.

Here I am with Pars and Abbot Methodije on Hilandar's eastern dock.

Next we visited the cemetery. Above, the cemetery chapel behind Bishop Maxim and Abbot Methodije. Below, the ossuary underneath the chapel.

Here are the plots where the newly reposed monks rest for a few years before they are exhumed and placed in the ossuary.

Here's our group at the entrance to the monastery.

The new guesthouse is built just outside the monastery walls. Here is a view of the monastery from the guesthouse.

Here are the frescoes at the monastery's entrance.

Here are some views of the inner courtyard of the monastery from my room, situated near the monastery's entrance.

Here is Bishop Maxim walking down to the church for Small Vespers. We had a Vigil for Vivovdan from 9:00 to 3:15 AM, followed by a short rest, and then Liturgy at 7:00 AM. Vivovdan is a Serbian feast dedicated to St. Prince Lazar and the martyrs who died with him fighting against the Turks in 1389 in the Battle of Kosovo. Although the Serbs didn't win (it was basically a stalemate), they so damaged the Turkish army that they were not able to continue sweeping through Europe, thus saving western Europe from Islamization.

After Small Vespers, our tour continued. Here a monk is showing us the vine of St. Symeon.

Bishop Maxim, Fr. Blasko (a priest of the diocese with a parish in Orange County, CA), and I were then treated to a special tour of Hilandar's library. The monastery's librarian was just pulling ancient manuscripts out of a drawer, including this one -- the ORIGINAL Typikon of St. Sava (or Karyes Typikon). That's the original wax seal there at the bottom.

Here are some shots from the small library quarters.

Finally, here's a photo from the end of the Liturgy for Holy Prince Lazar on Tuesday morning. I was blessed to be able to serve, now making it three Athonite monasteries in which I've been able to celebrate.

For more photos, click here.