Thursday, September 29, 2011

Celebrating the Divine Liturgy at New Skete

The boat dropped us off at New Skete in the early afternoon, and we soon met the dikaios, or the monk in charge of hospitality at the skete for this year (it's a rotating responsibility), and he got us settled in a room near the katholikon. Just to give an idea of how different life in a skete is from that of the major monasteries, the monk asked us what time we'd like to have dinner. The few other guests that arrived preferred 5:00 PM, so we had some time to rest, which was quite welcome considering all the walking we had done in the hot sun.

At 5:00, we headed up to this monk's cell, which was near the very top of the skete. Above is a view of the skete from his cell. He prepared us a very simple dinner of pasta with tomato sauce. It had oil, so this is what made it a non-fasting meal. The monk himself didn't eat with us, since he only eats once a day. He lives in the rather large but ramshackle cell by himself and, since he's not a priest, he does almost all the services on his prayer rope, going to the katholikon on Sundays and big feasts for Divine Liturgy.

After dinner, we headed over to Elder Nikon's cell. The elder has several disciple monks with him at the cell, which is dedicated to St. Spyridon. We were fortunate to meet this wonderful monk, who is a spiritual child of Elder Ephraim of America, during a previous visit two years ago. Above and below are views at sunset from the balcony of his cell. Like many monks in the cells, we did Small Compline together outside on the balcony, facing the setting sun.

It is Elder Nikon's custom to talk with his handful of visitors out on the balcony after Small Compline, so we spent some time chatting with him then, along with his other two guests, two Roman Catholics from Germany, one of who is a professor of New Testament there. Since neither Elder Nikon nor any of his disciples are priests, I was given the very great blessing to celebrate the Divine Liturgy the next morning in their chapel dedicated to St. Spyridon.

The next morning, we met at 5:30 to do the proskomidi and to read names, and then started the Liturgy about 6:15. I was very impressed with Elder Nikon's great love, hospitality, and discernment. Athonites generally follow the rule that non-Orthodox are not permitted inside the temple during the Divine Liturgy. He was therefore somewhat hesitant to have the Liturgy because he did not want to exclude his visitors, but finally he found a discerning compromise -- he told his disciples to bring some comfortable chairs and to set them up just outside the rather small chapel's door, so that he could keep the tradition regarding attendance at the Liturgy as well as the equally venerable tradition of love and hospitality.

After the Liturgy, we had coffee and pitas and a wonderful discussion.

After breakfast, Trif and I went to venerate the grave of Elder Joseph the Hesychast, which is located at New Skete, near the tall tower. Above is a photo of Trif next to the grave site. Below is a sign pointing the way there.

We then went back to Elder Nikon's for lunch before starting our journey back to Thessaloniki. Above is a sign that says "Monk Nikon," located at the entrance to his cell.

We caught the boat in the early afternoon as it headed down to the very end of Mt. Athos; Trif thus had a chance to see all the sketes and cells on the very southern end of the Holy Mountain -- revered as the original starting point of asceticism on Mt. Athos and still the most ascetic part of the Mountain. You can just make out a cell or two in the photo above. We then slowly made our way back to mainland Greece and Thessaloniki.

For more photos from the trip, click here.

Monday, September 26, 2011


At Dionysiou, we drank lots, and lots, and lots of water and sat on a balcony with a great view over the ocean as we recovered from our walk.

A view of Dionyiou's port area from the balcony.

After we recovered, Fr. Pavlos took us inside the main church and even brought out a few of the monastery's amazing collection of relics to venerate, including the right hand of St. John the Baptist.

We then wandered around a bit and soon found ourselves talking with an old monk, Fr. Vasileios. When I asked him how long he'd been at the monastery, he said he had just come yesterday -- in 1965. He then regaled us with stories about his encounters with Elder Paisios, Elder Sophrony, and Elder Porphyrios, whom he personally knew to have been given the gift of foresight from the age of 18. He was also a monk of Dionysiou under the abbacy of Elder Haralambos, about whom a book has been translated into English (with a green cover). He led us to his grave so that we could venerate it and he told us he thought the Elder was a saint. He then showed us the monastery's ossuary, where they keep the monks' bones (see above and below).

The skulls are kept in a separate place from the rest of the bones.

Here is where the newly reposed lie. Elder Haralambos' grave is here.

Fr. Vasileios and I.

Our destination was New Skete, which is about 1.5 hours away from Dionysiou. We were too tired from our walks in the morning, so we walked down to the port and caught the boat over to New Skete.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Simonopetra and Grigoriou

A friend from the US came at the beginning of the month for a semester studying abroad in Thessaloniki. Before his school started, we made a trip to the Holy Mountain, his first and my 13th. Above is a photo of Trifon with Simonopetra (our first stop) and the peak of the actual Mt. Athos in the background.

We had a little trial getting on to Mt. Athos. Apparently, two days before, the police did a spot-check of the insurance on all the ships in the area. The company running the main boat to Mt. Athos was found with lapsed insurance and therefore taken out of operation. Therefore, the only way to get on Mt. Athos was on the small speed boats which can only take a limited number of people at a time. We waited in line to put our names on a list and then waited around some more. We didn't manage to get on the first available boat and were told to wait around a couple more hours until the boat came back to get more people. In the meantime, another company's speed boat pulled in and everyone went and crowded around it. The captain and crew shouted and pleaded for anyone who did not have a reservation to please get out of the way, but of course -- in true Balkan style -- no one moved. Soon, I saw the abbot of Simonopetra, along with Fr. Iakovos (the Greek-American from New Jersey who was on the 60 Minutes piece) and Fr. Makarios (the French monk who did the new Synaxarion) come up to the boat. I went to greet them and told them we were hoping to come stay with them that day. They had reservations (plus, he's the abbot of an Athonite monastery) so they got on, but we were still out of luck. I knew enough to hang around near the boat and hope something good would happen. Fortunately, at the very end, one of the crew came out and signaled for us to get on -- apparently, the abbot had put in a good word for us, and we were off.

A view from the top balcony of Simonopetra, just outside the entrance to the main church.

After spending a wonderful day at Simonopetra, as usual, we decided to walk down to Grigoriou, which is about an hour's walk downhill. Here we walked by the donkey waypoint. Donkeys are still used in many places on Mt. Athos to haul goods from the sea up to the monasteries and cells.

Here's a photo of Simonopetra from the path down to Grigoriou.

Our first sighting of Grigoriou along the path.

Fortunately, we found a monk at Grigoriou who let us into the church so that we could venerate the icons. Here's a photo of the outside of their main church.

At Grigoriou, we ran into an Anglican visitor from England and his Greek tour guide from Athens and we all decided to walk together to the next monastery, Dionysiou, which was nearly 2 hours away along a path that at no point seems to go along even ground, instead going continually up and down the ridges of the peninsula.

It was tough, tough walk, but as Bishop Athanasije (Jevtic) says, "The Holy Mountain is in the legs." Part of the experience is walking the paths that the saints trod.

The photo above is of the last uphill from Dionysiou's port up into the monastery.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Triplets Update - Summer 2011

It has been too long since I posted some photos of the triplets. Here are some shots from one of our trips to the beaches of Halkidiki this summer.

Visiting with friends on our balcony one evening.

Paul getting buried in the sand on another trip to the beach.

Here are a couple shots from a trip down into the center of Thessaloniki. We stopped at a Starbucks for a coffee and the babies ran around in a grass area next to the outdoor seating. In the background is the Arch of Galerius, built around 300.

Our friend Iren from Hungary stopped by for a visit one day and played with the babies on the trampoline.

Some shots of the kids using the kaleidoscope feature.

Our friends Moses and Maria, with their two kids, came to visit one afternoon, and all five of the kids managed to pile on the swing.

For a few more photos, click here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Back Home (in Greece)

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Back in Greece, there wasn't quite as much snow as I had seen in Crater Lake!

Pelagia's mother was visiting and she gave us the opportunity to get away for a day, so we drove over to the east side of the second leg of Halkidiki. It takes about 2 hours to get there from Thessaloniki, but it's truly beautiful. The second leg is not nearly as developed as the first leg.

We drove the complete circuit around the second leg, stopping at many of the beaches. In my opinion, the most beautiful was Sarti (photo above). Across the gulf you can see Mt. Athos and you can even make out individual monasteries such as Simonopetra, Dionysiou, etc.

A shot of one of the beaches we stopped at.

Back home with the babies, we had a good time with Pelagia's mother. One day, we visited Elder Paisios' grave at Souroti. Here Benjamin is venerating his grave.

Just down the road from our house, there has been some work (sporadically) on a new apartment building. The babies love the big backhoe. Here they are inside of it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Way Back to Greece

Near the end of my stay in Oregon, my hosts, the Lubliners, took me out to the central Oregon Coast. This is quite different from what I was used to from Florida and Greece! It is very rugged and only the very hearty go swimming in the cold water (even in July!)

Popadija Esther and I went for a walk on the top of some relatively small sand dunes (caused by the nearly nonstop strong winds). Above, you can see we slid down one sand dune.

Look how we were bundled up in the middle of summer!

On my way back to Greece, I stopped in Los Angeles for a few days to visit Bishop Maxim and the headquarters of the Western American Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church. This was my first time in Southern California and I was very impressed by the weather.

Finally, I headed back to Greece near the end of July. I had a long 9 hour layover in Rome, so I went into the city for a few hours to visit some of the 5th century churches. At one of them, I noticed this contraption above. You drop your coin into a slot (like a vending machine) and one of the electric candles lights up at random for a certain amount of time!

For more photos from Crater Lake and the Oregon Coast, click here.