Sunday, February 26, 2012

Iviron and St. Andrew's Skete

Earlier this week, I was blessed to make my 14th trip to the Holy Mountain of Athos, accompanying my friend Justin, his brother-in-law, and two nephews. Above, you can see the Russian monastery of St. Panteleimon's in the background as we head toward Athos' port city of Dafni.

From Dafni, we took the bus up to Karyes, where we had time to venerate the famous Axion Estin icon before catching a van to Iviron Monastery (above).

That afternoon, before Vespers, we walked down to the sea to venerate the spot on which the Panagia Portaitissa icon came ashore. According to tradition, the monk Gabriel, upon bringing the icon ashore, struck a rock with it -- after the type of Moses -- and a spring came forth, which continues to this day. In the photo above, you can see Justin drinking water from the spring, which is covered by a small chapel.

Above, a view of Iviron's shore line looking north. In the distance to the right, you can make out Stavronikita Monastery, Iviron's sister monastery under their common spiritual father, Archimandrite Vasileios (Gontikakis).

To the left, you can see Iviron's original entrance, from the inside. (The current entrance is just a few meters to the left.) Next to this old entrance is a chapel built around the place where the Panagia chose to station her Portaitissa icon, guarding the door. The monks at Iviron offer supplications before the icon daily in this chapel.

Iviron is one of the largest monasteries on Athos, but has only about 30 monks at present. Thus, there is a lot of work to be done, some of which you can see in this photo above. The peak of Mt. Athos can be seen in the upper right corner. In the evening after Small Compline, Hieromonk Jeremias, a Greek-Australian who has been at Stavronikita and Iviron for over 30 years, invited us all for a tea and discussion. We had a good discussion with him for about an hour and half before heading to bed to get some rest before Orthros at 2:30 AM.

The next day after Liturgy and breakfast, we set off on foot to visit some cells on the way to Karyes. Above is a photo of Iviron as we walked away.

Our first stop was the cell of St. John the Theologian, home to Hieromonk Grigorios and his 3-4 disciples. We were blessed to have a long conversation with him. I last tried to visit him last February, but he had left that very day to go visit Elder Ephraim in Arizona. Fr. Grigorios is a well-known theologian and author who focuses on writing catechetical-type material for lay people, primarily dealing with liturgical subjects. His "Commentary on the Divine Liturgy" was recently published in an excellent English translation. He gave me a new book of his on Holy Communion, and gave me a blessing to translate it and publish it. Only money prevents this! The Orthodox world could really do with more funding for publishing in English the innumerable works of spiritual benefit from Greece...

After visiting with Fr. Grigorios, we headed a few minutes up the hill to Panagouda, the cell of Elder Paisios of blessed memory. We venerated inside his chapel and also spoke with his disciple, Fr. Arsenios.

Finally, we stopped to see Elder Gabriel. He was quite sick, but he was kind enough to get up and let us venerate the myrrh-streaming paper icon of the Panagia in his little chapel.

We then headed on to Koutloumousiou Monastery, where the guest-master monk was kind enough to let us inside the main church to venerate. You can see us entering the monastery in the photo above.

Quite tired from all the walking, we finally came to our destination for the evening, St. Andrew's Skete (Serrai) on the opposite side of Karyes from Koutloumousiou.

The services were held in the "small" church (by 19th century Russian standards) above the gate. The photo above is a view from there down on the central courtyard and the main church, which can hold 3000. You can see some of our group walking past the front entrance back to our rooms.

Here's Justin standing next to one of the bells, which were brought from Russia.

Above is the main church of the original, much much smaller skete which preceded the current Russian renovation. This church and the former skete were dedicated to St. Anthony the Great, and thus the current skete is technically dedicated to both St. Andrew and St. Anthony.

It is dedicated to St. Andrew the Apostle, the First-Called and brother of St. Peter, because it is privileged to hold the skull of this great saint, which we were able to venerate.

For a few more of my photos from the trip, click here.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Snow in Greece

Contrary to many people's perception, it does snow in Greece. Much of Greece is mountainous, so snow is common in those areas, especially in northern Greece (see our photos from the ski area in Zagora, for example).

In Thessaloniki, it's not often that the snow actually accumulates to anything. In fact, Greeks are so unused to having snow on the ground that it's practically a national emergency if the road has any white on it. Nevertheless, every few years we get an accumulation, and this is one of them. The winter here has been the harshest and coldest in several years, after two very mild winters.

The photo above is of our backyard this morning. Interestingly, down in the center of Thessaloniki, right on the water, there's no snow. This is up the hill in Panorama, about 7 miles or so from the water. In the photo above, you might be able to just barely make out the water.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Family Photos - January 24, 2012

Pelagia found an amazing discount for some professional studio photos in Thessaloniki, so last week we dressed up the kids and took them downtown for some photos. Here are the results.

We tried to get one good once of each kid individually, and them some group shots. The kids were wearing their Christmas outfits.

Click here for some other decent photos that didn't make the "final cut."