Sunday, December 30, 2012

Feast of the Dormition in Portaria

Here are some much belated photos from the eve of the Dormition of the Theotokos here in Portaria. There are two parishes here in Portaria, and each parish has a procession with a bier after Vespers on the eve of the feast. The two churches wind their ways through their respective parishes, finally meeting at the village's main square, where they celebrate an artoklasia together. Above is a photo of me and Fr. Agathonas, the priest of the town's other parish, as we meet in the main square.

The square was packed with people. Above you can see all the bread we blessed in order to accommodate all the people.

The chanters from both parishes.

As is the custom in Orthodox countries, the elected political leaders have a special place in the front.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

St. Modestos

Today, our friend Haralambos ("Bahbi") brought us some wood for our new wood-burning stove. To get it to us, back along the cobblestone paths, he used one of his horses to carry the 18 burlap sacks full of cut wood. 

This was only fitting, since we had just finished Liturgy for St. Modestos, patron saint of animals, in our chapel dedicated to the Holy Archangels (above). The chapel has a large icon of St. Modestos and there seems to be a long-standing tradition of celebrating the saint in that particular chapel. The weather this morning was very rainy and windy, but normally (so I'm told) many of the farmers and shepherds would bring their animals to the chapel for the agiasmos.

We then saw first-hand why this was so important. These were not simply cuddly pets to be pampered, but actually integral to people's livelihood, a significant part of their lives. It is thus no wonder that the people have traditionally asked for St. Modestos' intercessions for their animals.

Here's Bahbi when he arrived. Somewhat paradoxically, he was on his cell phone!

You can see the horse, which he told me is pregnant with a mule, has a burlap sack on each side. You can see our main temple, dedicated to the Holy Unmercenaries, in the background.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Cleaning Up

Pres. Pelagia has been working on cleaning our main church's chandeliers. The next big one, which you can see to the right, is from Venice and pre-dates electricity. At some point, it was retrofitted for electricity.

And here's Paul getting ready for his Greek military service, should he ever acquire Greek citizenship...

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Our First Parish Pilgrimage

Despite the fact that Greece is a small country about the size of a medium-sized state in the US, it has over 1000 active monasteries, which the faithful really enjoy visiting regularly. Thus, many parishes in Greece organize pilgrimages to various monasteries, a tradition which I would like to continue here.

For our first pilgrimage, I picked the Holy Monastery of the Honorable Forerunner near the village of Anatoli, in the region of Agia, about 2 hours from Portaria. It lies at the far end of our metropolis' borders.

For the bus, I contact Fr. Stavros, who owns and operates his own bus tour company. It is, of course, highly unusual in Greece for a priest to have a secular job, but Fr. Stavros is one of the first priests ordained in Greece without a salary from the state. Due to the financial crisis, the government has tried to reign in government jobs, and these new regulations also apply to the Church. (Of course, the Church provides, on a sort of indefinite lease, vast amounts of land to the government in exchange for these salaries, a fact the government now would like to forget.) Some "conservatives" in Greece have reacted against the ordination of non-salaried priests who have to hold another job. In any event, I was happy to support Fr. Stavros, who was a great help in assisting me to organize our first parish trip.

So, first I arranged the bus and date, and then we made announcements in town, hoping to fill up the bus' 50 seats. To my surprise, the seats went quickly, as the people love taking these parish trips to the monasteries. 

So on Saturday, December 1, at 1:00 PM, we were off. Pelagia and the kids came, too, as you can see in the photo above. The kids loved the great view from their front seats.

We arrived just after 3:00 and the nuns were waiting for us. They even rang their bells as we arrived. We proceeded straight into the monastery's main church, where we celebrated a beautiful Paraklisis to the Mother of God.

Afterwards, the nuns took us to their arhontariki (guest reception room), where they treated us to coffee and "mountain tea," which is an herbal infusion made from various local herbs they gather and dry themselves. The monastery has over 30 nuns, who hail from 13 different countries. Many of them are converts, including 2 young American girls, one from near Seattle and one from near Chicago. There are 7 novices and over the half the nuns are under 40. The abbess is Greek, while the second in command is an English convert.

One of the Greek nuns (above) spoke to us for about an hour about the monastery and the work it does, which centers around making various food products, which we would call "organic" and "free-range." They are famous for their milk and cheese products from their own cows and goats, including non-homogenized and non-pasteurized milk.

Here you can see the kids on the floor, eating Greek cookies from the nuns.

One of the fireplaces in their guest area. Their spiritual father was a Fr. Dositheos, who reposed a few years ago. On the mantle, there is a sign with a quote from their elder: "Above all, sisters, do not judge."

Their trapeza, or refectory. The nuns have been at the monastery only since 2000, so there is still much renovation to do to the original monastery, which dates from 1100 and then 1550. Some monks from Karakalou on Mt. Athos tried to re-found the monastery from about 1980-1985, but eventually abandoned the project. I would assume this was related to the monastery-building work of Elder Ephraim, but I'm not sure.

This is what the Greeks call a "sompa," a wood-burning stove.

After the talk, the nuns set up a display of their goods and the people eagerly supported the sisters' work.

A section of the wall from the original monastery. The sisters are hoping to collect the funds to preserve it.

On the way back to Volos, the abbess helped me arrange a stop at a nearby restaurant, run by spiritual children of the monastery. They were waiting for us with a variety of fasting-friendly foods.

For a few more photos, click here.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Donkey Traffic

In the village, we don't have home mail service, but rather there is a small post office where everyone goes to get their mail. There is one employee, who opens the office from 8:30-10:30 AM (unless he's sick or on strike or something). Earlier this week, I walked to the post office along the village's Byzantine-era cobblestone paths and I passed, both coming and going, this above donkey, who was hauling manure to someone's garden.

When taking a walk with the kids earlier this week, we noticed that we could see the Monastery of Panagia Odigitria -- a dependency of Philotheou under the spiritual direction of Elder Ephraim -- as we looked northwest toward the neighboring village of Makrynitsa. If you look closely, you can make out the stone roof of the monastery's main church just right of the very center of the photo.

Here's a map of our parish.

Anyway, as you can tell from the photo, the weather here went through about a wintery, rainy period of about 2 weeks. The highs have been around 60 F.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Back in Greece, Move to Portaria

After a very, very long and tiring flight from the West Coast back to Greece, I was sick for several days, but I recovered just in time for us to move all our stuff from Thessaloniki to Portaria. While we were away, they had finished several projects in the new house, including some new ceilings and floors.

With the help of some friends in Thessaloniki, we were able to pack up all our stuff and get it on a moving truck relatively easily. Getting it into the new house was more of an adventure, since a moving truck can't get anywhere near our house, which is back on narrow cobblestone paths. So the truck parked at a central point in Portaria, and they off-loaded it into a small pick-up truck, which then took it within about 100 yards of the house. Then a crew of guys carried it into the house.

One of the first orders of business was to set up the kids' new bunk beds. Their room has a little crawl space for storage, but we decided to make it a reading loft. Above, you can see them climbing up into their loft from one of the bunk beds.

Here's Benny coming down the stairs from where we park the car to the church and the house.

We arrived just two days before the parish's feast day on November 1 (Holy Unmercenaries), so it was busy time, but we had a good turnout for the feast day, despite the fact that it was a weekday, and we kept plugging away at unpacking boxes and getting the house set up. The following Monday, the kids started pre-school, which we had arranged before we left for the US. On the Saturday before school started, the kids and I took a walk down the winding labyrinth of cobblestone paths to try to find their school, which is located in the village right below us. We found our way and it turns out to be only about a 15-minute walk downhill. On the way back, the kids and I decided to explore a little and we veered a bit off track. But we found this shade-covered spring that reminded me exactly of what one would see on Mt. Athos. In fact, then, posted on the spring was an icon of the Panagia protecting Mt. Athos, as well as a hand-written sign that read: "Drink of this all of you. This is running water," in the archaic Greek of the New Testament. The climb back uphill was much tougher, so we all stopped for a much-needed drink.

Eventually, a kind old lady saw us coming and came out with a chocolate bar for the kids. She pointed us in the right direction. A little later, I asked an elderly gentleman for directions, and he said, "Fr. Gregory, is that you?" It turned out he was the father of another priest in a nearby village. We stopped and had a snack with him and chatted for awhile. He explained where we were, which was still in the lower village of Katohori, but close to the "border" with Portaria and our parish.

One day, we were cleaning out one of the side chapels on the main church, the chapel dedicated to St. Athanasius the Great and St. Tryphon. Above, you can Benjamin standing in the door as Paul comes flying out.

There are a couple small park nearby. Unfortunately, the budget cuts in Greece have reduced the municipalities' ability to maintain the parks, but the kids still like going there. This one is near where we have to go to take the trash, so it's a nice excuse to stop and play.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Part 1 of our trip to the US was visiting my family on the East Coast. Part 2 was on the West Coast with Pelagia's family.

One day we stopped by an old family friend, who gave the kids their first professional hair cuts.

Yiayia made the kids their own personalized chef hats so that they could help her in the kitchen.

One day, we drove down to the monastery in Goldendale to visit the sisters. Above are Paul and his cousin Simeon hanging out with the nuns' goats.

And here they are playing on a tractor. In the background, you can see the monastery's present church, really a chapel located in one of their buildings. We got a tour of the great progress they are making on their permanent temple.

One day, our friends Gabe and Erin visited us in Yakima from Seattle. Above, Gabe is reading a book to his son and Benjamin.

Pelagia's family's parish, Holy Cross, held a fall festival while we were there. The kids loved it.

Here, Paul was dressed up as a bandit. You can see the temple in the background.

During our stay in Yakima, I was able to go to San Francisco and take care of all our paperwork for Greece. So we returned to Greece on schedule toward the end of October.

For more photos from Yakima, click here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Trip to West Virginia

It took a few days for the kids (and us!) to recover from the long trip, as well as the time change. One night, Benjamin decided he wanted to sleep in one of the suitcases in the closet. This could certainly save us a lot of money on airfare!

One day, we went for a walk on the boardwalk at Rehoboth Beach. The kids loved this statue.

Finally, we took a long road trip to go visit my grandmother in West Virginia. On the way, we stopped at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, which the kids loved. Above, we're looking in the dolphin tank just as a dolphin dives down.


The kids loved the dolphin show, especially when they came around and splashed us.

Here we are with my grandmother at a great local restaurant, owned by a distant cousin of mine.

And here are the kids playing on my grandmother's bed. Of course, it was the first time they met her.