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.