Monday, September 24, 2012

Liturgies in the Chapels

Our parish has the tradition of celebrating certain feasts in certain chapels. For example, we celebrate the Exaltation of the Cross in the chapel to Sts. Constantine and Helen, since St. Helen is the one who found the Cross.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the "chapel" was actually the central church of a monastery, and is thus rather large. It was built in 1861. You can see the original, quite tall iconostasis in the photo above.

Here is a photo of the rear of the church, taken from near the chanter's stand. This was taken before Vespers, so you can see the table in the center prepared with loaves for the artoklasia.

On Saturday, September 15, we celebrated the feast of the local saint, St. Gerasimos the New, in our cemetery chapel of St. Paraskevi. Several of the parishioners had requested a Saturday liturgy there to commemorate their loved ones in the cemetery.

This chapel was built in 1808. In 2009, it was largely destroyed by fire when thieves broke in. The chapel has no electricity, so it seems the thieves took one of the liturgical candle holders and lit it so that they could see. They then left it, lit, propped up against the original wooden iconostasis.

The next morning, villagers attending to their loved ones' graves noticed the smoke and called for help.

Some small parts of the original iconography were saved and incorporated into the rebuilt church, which was completed in just one year through the donations of the faithful. The photo above shows some parts of the original, beautiful iconography, which seems to have slightly predated the "Athonite" westernized style which came to dominate later in the 19th century.

Thankfully, the apse seems to have been untouched, preserving this beautiful mural of the Three Holy Hierarchs and the Panagia "More Spacious than the Heavens."

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Elder Porphyrios' Cell and Thermopyles

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One day, Pelagia and I had the chance to visit the monastery and cell of Elder Porphyrios, which is located approximately as the map shows above.

Here is a photo of the central church of the monastery he founded, the women's Monastery of the Transfiguration.

The elder's cell is located in an inconspicuous building and is cared for by an elderly woman, who kindly let us us. Above is a photo of his bed, with his stole laid out for veneration.

Interestingly, the elder had a parrot, which still lives in his room -- you can see him on the floor next to the red chair. Behind the chair is a needlepoint work with the verses on love from 1Corinthians 13:1-8.

In the building is a wonderful icon of the elder, which I believe was done by Fr. Stamatis Skliris.

On the way back, we stopped at Thermopylae (of the popular movie "300" fame), which is right off the highway. Read the excellent summary of this important battle in the link.

Here is where the Greek traitor Ephialtes led the Persians behind the outnumbered Greek forces. As a Greek friend pointed out when discussing the bishop's call for unity, it has always been the Greeks who defeated themselves. (See also Constantinople, 1453, when traitors let the Turks into the city walls.)

Here is a statue dedicate to King Leonidas of Sparta, above his famous words in response to the Persian king's demand for them to surrender their weapons: "Come and get them."

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Portaria with Angela

Our good friend Angela and her son, Alexander, as well as her daughter, Myrina, were our latest guests down in Portaria. They came to help us out for a few days earlier this month as we try to entertain the kids and fix up the house. One day, we all took the kids for walk while Pelagia painted. In the photo above, we walked up one of Portaria's many cobblestone paths. This one has water running down a channel on the right side of the photo. In the background, you can see the road to Zagora passing overhead. Just past that bridge, the church of St. Nicholas is on the left.

Next to St. Nicholas is the Church of the Panagia Portarea, from which the town of Portaria got its name. This church was built some time before 1273, when we have the first written evidence, as the central church (katholikon) of a monastery dedicated to Panagia "Portarea," which probably meant the icon of the Panagia which guards the pass, i.e. the pass in the mountain. The village later came to be built around this monastery and took its name from it. Most of the beautiful iconography dates to the late 1500s. Above is a photo of the north wall.

Here's Paul coming in the tiny door along the south wall. The door is just his size.

The mural on the west wall above the entrance.

A photo of the front of the church, with Alexander and Angela. The iconography on the outside is amazingly well-preserved considering it has no protection.

Our group then headed over to the neighboring village of Makrynitsa, where the kids got some ice cream. In the photo above, you can see Paul eating his, with Portaria framed in the background.

Here's Paul still eating his ice cream as he walks down one of Makrynitsa's cobblestone paths lined with shops.

Here, we found a small playground for the kids. Portaria is again in the background, to the left.

Feeling adventurous, we decided to hike up Makrynitsa all the way to the top, where the Monastery of St. Gerasimos lies. The kids were great, and we finally made it all the way to the top, where the nuns greeted us. There, we venerated the skull of the local saint St. Gerasimos the New, whose feast day was September 15.

For more photos, click here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Bishop's First Visit

On Sunday, September 9, our bishop, Metropolitan Ignatius, made his first pastoral visit to our parish in Portaria. As usual, he was very gracious and supportive, officially introducing us to the people with kind words.

In the photo above, you can see the Metropolis' archdeacon, Fr. Kallinikos, preparing the bishop's vestments during Orthros. Besides Fr. Kallinikos, we also had a second deacon, the married deacon Fr. Georgios from the nearby village of Zagora, as well as Archimandrite Agathonas, from the other parish here in Portaria. In the photo above, you can see him in the background preparing the proskomidi.

The president of the Volos Chanters' Association honored us by chanting for us during the bishop's visit. Above, you can see the blur of Fr. Georgios walking out into the nave during Orthros, while Metropolitan Ignatius presides from the throne.

A photo of the altar, ready for the bishop to come and vest.

Metropolitan Ignatius completing the proskomidi.

The clergy gathered at the bishop's throne before the beginning of the Divine Liturgy.

A shot from behind the altar as we make the Little Entrance with the Gospel.

The bishop distributing Holy Communion. In the foreground, you can see Angela and Phoebe waiting for their turn in the usual Greek orderly approach for Communion.

The bishop had an excellent homily on the epistle and Gospel readings of the day. At the end of the Liturgy, he made an impassioned plea for unity among the people during the difficult times facing Greece now. He pointed out, quite rightly in my view, that the Greeks' worst enemy has always been themselves and their disunity, citing numerous historical examples.

His last words to Fr. Agathonas and me could be translated something like "Hold on to Portaria," i.e. "hold down the fort," "keep the faith here."

Afterwards, we had coffee and pitas just outside the church in the exo-narthex. Keeping with the Greek tradition, the local politicians and dignitaries sat with the bishop and clergy at the head table. The bishop then came next door to see the work being done in our house. To encourage and support us, he donated fencing for the yard and new tile flooring for the living room.

For more photos, click here.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Back to Portaria

After a week in Thessaloniki, we headed back to Portaria, this time with our Bosnian Serb friend Milenko and his mom.

About half way, we stopped in the Tempe Valley to take some holy water from the shrine to St. Paraskevi. Above, you can see Milenko and the kids crawling into the cave where the holy spring gives water.

Above is the exo-narthex of the small church built to honor St. Paraskevi.

The water from the mountain runs out into a beautifully clear steam. Pelagia and the kids stuck their feet in.

Above is the long footbridge over the river. Above, Paul is running to go get Milenko. Below, Paul beat Milenko in a race.

All the kids love the educational games on the iPad. Benny is a real wiz with it. Here he is playing out on the balcony, with the city and the gulf in the background.

Above, Paul is watching the sunset in front of the church. The Greek and Byzantine flags are flying.

The other parish in Portaria has this lovely old church in the woods dedicated to St. John the Baptist, which was originally the central church of a monastery. I was asked to come serve the festal Vespers the night before. One of the best chanters in Volos came, and it was a beautiful service.

On Friday night and Saturday, September 1, our parish also had a panegyri (feast) in our country chapel dedicated to St. Symeon. The chapel is about halfway between Portaria and Makrynitsa, near Philotheou's Monastery of Panagia Odigitria.

Our parish has a old large icon of St. Symeon the Stylite (pre-1750), which we brought to the chapel for veneration.

As is common, a faithful couple in our parish has sort of taken on the chapel, assuming the cost and responsibility for keeping it clean and getting it ready for feasts. A lot of other parishioners chipped in as well, making the loaves for the artoklasia and volunteering to clean. Afterward the Liturgy on Saturday, the couple had coffee and treats for everyone.

Here are the kids playing at one of the playgrounds in Portaria.

When we came back from playing, Benny was thirsty, so he ran down the stairs to get a drink from the fountain in front of the church.

Here's Phoebe playing along the north side of the church, in front of the chapel to St. Anthony.

For a few more photos, click here.

Monday, September 03, 2012

River Swimming Outside Vrastama

We've been living in between Thessaloniki and Portaria as we try to get the new house ready. After the feast of the Dormition, we were back in Thessaloniki. One day, we stopped at a park in downtown Thessaloniki where the kids like to see the turtles. In the photo above, you can see them trying to get a view from the bridge down on the fish and turtles. In the background, you can see Pelagia standing at the next bridge upstream.

One day, we went to visit our friend Angela at her village house in Vrastama.

She took us to the locals' favorite summer spot - a secluded spot in a mountain river with lots of small pools and rocks to climb.

We went with our friend Iakovos, another American studying theology here in Thessaloniki. 

Iakovos let the kids try on his goggles, which they loved.

For a couple more photos, click here.