Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christmas in Zagora

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For Christmas, the bishop sent me to serve the parish of St. Paraskevi, which is temporarily without a permanent priest. It is one of four parishes in the ancient town ofZagora, which dates back until at least the 8th century BC.

We drove down to Zagora on Dec. 23 for Christmas Eve services. After the Liturgy on Christmas Eve, we drove over to a nearby ski center so that the babies could play in the snow. Above, Paul is holding my hand as we walk up the hill to the lodge.

Pelagia walking up the hill with Benjamin and Phoebe.

After the babies had a hot chocolate at the lodge to warm up, we rented a sled to back down the hill. All three piled on one sled and I ran down the hill with them.

As usual, the babies were quite a sight for people as they flew by!

Next, we drove over to the ancient port of Zagora, Horefto, which is 8 km down the mountain from Zagora. It is now a beautiful summer beach area rather than a major port as it once was.

This was the babies' first overnight trip and they didn't sleep all that well at night. So they took a good nap in the car.

On the way back up the mountain from the beach, we passed Zagora's old monastery, dedicated to St. John the Baptist. The mountains of Zagora were once full of hermits' caves and this monastery (or probably, technically, skete) served them until at least the 19th century, I believe.

Behind the monastery church lies one of Zagora's two cemeteries. Directly behind the altar is the grave of a local priest who reposed this year. This is a wonderful tradition that is still kept in the villages in Greece.

The cemetery with the monastery church above on the right, and a very old school building, which served as a "secret school" during the period of Ottoman occupation and hosted such famous students as the Greek revolutionary Rigas Feraios.

Another shot of the monastery church.

The parish put us up in a nice bed and breakfast in the heart of the old part of the village. Above, Pelagia and Phoebe are walking down the narrow street to our place, which is just on their left.

The old main square with several enormous old plane trees. Inside this one, the town erected a Nativity scene, which the babies enjoyed.

On Christmas Day, services started at 5:30 AM and went until about 9:00. It is the tradition in Greece to start Christmas services around 5:00 or so. In the mind of the Church (at least in ages past), the bigger the feast, the closer the Liturgy is celebrated to midnight. Hence, Pascha is celebrated right at midnight. Theophany services are also often begun early, around 5:00-6:00.

Above is a photo of the kids on Christmas day in their Christmas outfits. We had a coffee at this local place after the Liturgy and before heading back to Thessaloniki.

Heading back to our hotel from the other direction. On the right is Kivis, one of the parish's tireless helpers. He is also well-known for his traditional, handmade pasta, which is exported even to North America. On the left, Benjamin heads back, while you can make our Pelagia and Phoebe up ahead.

Above, the Metropolitan Church of St. George, in the old part of the village next to our hotel. Until perhaps 20 years ago or so, the Metropolis was called the Holy Metropolis of Demetriados and Zagoras, but was then changed to Demetriados and Almyrou, another area of the metropolis. The people of Zagora, however, still prefer the old title and use it in the bishop's phimi when he serves there.

The road from Volos to Zagora is very windy and the area is frequently hit by snow, making the roads a bit treacherous. But it is also quite picturesque as you pass through tunnels of snow, with deciduous trees hanging bending over the road, full of snow. We had to stop a few times to deal with car sickness, but thank God we made it home safe and sound.

Once we got home, the babies got to open a few presents!

For more photos, click here.

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