Friday, May 31, 2013

Parish Trip, Part 2: Osios Loukas in Steiri

Our next stop was the highlight of the trip -- the Monastery of Osios Loukos in Steiri, founded around 960 by Osios Loukas (St. Luke), an ascetic monk who is not to be confused either with the Evangelist or the Surgeon, of Crimea. At its height in the 12th century, the enormous monastery had 800 monks. Today, it has just three, who co-exist along with the Archaeological Service, and millions of visitors. We arrived around 12:45 and stayed for about an hour and half, during which time we saw countless buses full of tourists, including some from Japan. The monastery is rightly a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The monastery has three main churches. The first church, dedicated to the Panagia, dates from around 960. The main church, seen above, dates to around 1010, and is dedicated to St. Luke. Finally, a third church, dedicated to St. Barbara, was built directly underneath the main church during the monastery's height around the 12th century. The first and second churches are connected by a passageway, where the full relics of St. Luke are kept for visitors to venerate. The relics are said to have exuded myrrh and been the conduit of many miraculous healings.

Here we are inside the main church, listening to one of the guides from the Archaeological Service. The monastery's height met a swift and sudden end with the Franks' Fourth Crusade in 1204. At that time, Boniface of Montferrat, the new king of Thessaloniki, came to Central Greece, expelled the Orthodox monks and installed Catholic ones, who stripped the monastery. Then the Prince of Achaia, Godfrey II Villehardouin (1218-1245), sacked the remaining treasures of the monastery and took them to Rome. At the time of the Duchy of Athens-Thebes (1205-1308), the de la Roche family considered the monastery to be theirs. The Catalans, after their victory in Kopais (15 March 1311) and their occupation of Levadia, sacked the monastery again. 

But when the Italian scholar Cyriacus of Ancona first visited the monastery in 1436, he found the monastery in good shape. During the Ottoman period, from 1460 (when Levadia fell) until the day of liberation, the monastery struggled for existence. Despite all this, the French explorer Jacob Spon, who visited the monastery in February 1676, wrote that it was "thriving and beautiful," while the English traveler George Wheler, who also visited that year, was so attracted that he wanted to become a hermit there.
After the area was liberated from the Turks in the 19th century, the Greeks themselves did what the Turks were unable to do -- close the monastery. It remained in the hands of the Archaeological Service until the 1980s, when a local priest cut the locks on the door to the church, and went in and "illegally" celebrated Liturgy. After that incident, a compromise was found whereby the monastery could once again function as a real monastery.

All the marble on the floors, and the naturally colored marble on the walls, as well as the mosaics, are all original. In some areas of the church, the mosaics were destroyed, but many are intact. They are considered the work of the same school that did the mosaics in Agia Sophia in Constantinople.

At some point in history, an earthquake caused the dome to collapse, along with the original mosaics there. The dome you see above is frescoed, dating to the 17th century, while the mosaics all around and in the apse are original, dating to the 11th century.

Above and below, some of the beautiful original mosaics.

Here we are in the crypt Church of St. Barbara, which was built around St. Luke's original cell (which was also where his disciples buried him).

Here's Paul exploring a small passageway in the crypt church.

Behind the main church, we explored some buildings, whose original use was not immediately clear. There was also an old sundial behind the building in the photo above.

A passageway along the south side of the main church, with the entrance down to the crypt off to the left.

Here's Paul exploring again, this time climbing up some steps to...

A balcony over the entrance to the crypt church.

After the tour, a few of my parishioners gathered for conversation in the shaded outer courtyard with a beautiful view.

Part 3 coming.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Parish Trip, Part 1: Monastery of Jerusalem

View Larger Map

On Saturday, May 25, we went on our monthly parish pilgrimage, this time about 3 hours southwest, around the area of the famous ancient city of Delphi.

We left from Portaria at 7:00 with Anastasia and the kids, leaving Pelagia to enjoy some peace and quiet for the day. After about two hours, we made a brief rest stop near Lamia, and then continued on to our first destination near Davlia, the Holy Monastery of Jerusalem, an usual name owing to the fact that its first monk and founder hailed from the Holy Land. In the mid-18th century, the monastery became a dependency of St. Catherine's on Mt. Sinai for tax relief. In 1770, during one of the failed revolution attempts, the monastery was destroyed by raiding Albanians.

In the photo above you can see Anastasia and our friend Stavroula playing with the kids just outside one of the small church's side doors.

As you can see from the photos, the monastery is surrounded by beautiful nature and lots of green. After venerating inside the church, the abbess spoke to our group -- a little about the history of the monastery, about St. Jerusalem and her three children, and some encouraging words. 

Paul wanted to ring the bells.

The nuns, of course, treated us all to some of their sweets, and then a group of us decided to hike out about 10 minutes above the monastery to the original cave/cell of the monastery's founder.

Here we are inside the small cave/cell, which also includes a small chapel, with iconography from the late 17th century, in the famous Cretan style, by Nikolaos Kallergis.

Here some of our group are taking photos in the scenic, shaded courtyard just outside the monastery walls.

After staying there from about 11:00-12:00, we got back on the bus and headed to the next monastery. Above you can see Phoebe having fun wearing her godmother's sunglasses.

And here Phoebe is looking over our the shoulder of our driver, Fr. Stavros, at the herd of goats we passed.

Stay tuned for the next monastery.

For more photos from the whole day, click here.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Panegyri at Our Chapel of Sts. Constantine and Helen

One of our "chapels" was originally the central church of a men's monastery in Portaria. The main church, built in 1860, is dedicated to Sts. Constantine and Helen, so it parish tradition to celebrate their feast day, as well as the Elevation of the Holy Cross (Sept. 14), at this chapel.

Given that a large number of Greeks celebrate their name day on the feast of Sts. Constantine and Helen, we had a particularly large crowd, especially for the festal vespers on Monday evening. Our friends Babi and Popi take care of the chapel, and so it was, of course, clean and ready for the feast. You can see the altar above.

Another woman, Anastasia, has many people in her family who have their name day on this feast, so she also takes it upon herself to help with preparations, provide the bread, wine, and oil for the artoklasia, etc. In fact, many people brought bread and wine for the artoklasia, such that this large table in the middle of the church was overflowing.

Here are some of the local women sitting outside the church before the service began on Monday evening.

To the north side of the church are the remain of the monks' cells (seen to the left in the photo above). From what I can gather, monks occupied the monastery until about World War II.

My chant teacher, Constantine, (who is also the teacher of our chanter) was able to attend, along with another fellow student, so we had an excellent choir.

Here is the front of the church, taken from down the bank.

Here we are processing around the church during the Litia, just before the Artoklasia.

Here we are at the artoklasia, reading many, many names.

Our chanters.

A photo of the church from the northwest.

From the northeast corner. You can see that there are also two side chapels. The one to the north is dedicated to St. Minas, and the one to the south to St. Anthony.

After the service, Anastasia treated everyone to pitas, sweets, juice, etc.

On Tuesday morning, after the Liturgy, we had good news that a friend of ours who works with the Archaeological Service had managed to find some timber for us from an old church being restored in nearby Makrinitsa. This was a big help, because the roof of the side chapel to St. Minas is badly in need of repair, as is the southern section of the overhang of the exo-narthex. The Archaeological Service requires repairs be done with original materials, so getting the right material was a great help, as our funds for the chapels are quite limited. As my friend noted when he brought the materials: "See, the saints provided for their church on their feast day!"

For a few more photos, click here.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Cousin Comes to Visit

The kids' cousin -- and Phoebe's godmother -- Anastasia arrived last week for her fourth visit to us in Greece, but first in our new home in Portaria. She graciously came to help us as we prepare for the new baby.

Above is a photo of the kids on the stairs in the church courtyard, with our bell tower in the background. The flower and white runners were for a wedding on Sunday afternoon, and the kids were wearing their Pascha clothes, which they generally like to wear every Sunday.

Here are Anastasia and the kids at the playground. The Monastery of Panagia Odigitria can be discerned in the background, just to the right and below Ana's hands.

For a few more photos, click here.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Catching Up

Here are just some photos from around town. Above is a photo of a snake we saw alongside the main road in Portaria. We stopped so the kids could check it out. It's some kind of constrictor snake wrapped around a rather large lizard, which was still trying (unsuccessfully) to wriggle his way out. The kids thought it was pretty neat.

The kids and I walked to the park a few days ago. Everyone is glad that spring is here.

We had the first wedding of the season on Bright Monday. Here the groom is arriving accompanied by traditional Greek instruments and dancing.

Phoebe loved the bride's dress. Here she is staring at it as people congratulate the bride and groom outside the church after the wedding.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

American convert tonsured a nun in our Metropolis

His Eminence Metropolitan of Demetrias Ignatius characterized the tonsuring of the new nun from America as "A joyful Resurrection event."  He stated "Love dares... just like the Myrrbearing women who out of great love put their own lives in danger so they could reach the burial place of our Lord.  A love that is wholehearted, real and authentic.Just like the Myrrbearers silently followed the Lord, from then on, thousands of souls follow the Loved One."
Referring to the new Nun His Eminence said "She was born in the Western world which has its own experiences and its own culture, but there are many things that it can give, and proof of this is her presence here with us.  She was baptized into the Orthodox Christian Church with the name Fotini and has now been integrated with her second and "irrevocable baptism", with the name Theokliti, into this most beautiful spiritual family.  Our Monasteries are a huge wreath which surrounds our local Church, our faithful, each of the Monasteries with its own aroma of incense..."
At the end of His speech He said "Let us pray, that she follows the steps of the Myrrhbearers, that she is always faithful to the Bridegroom Christ, obedient to the Abbess and to the rest of the nuns in the name of our Resurrected Christ, and that she brings the Gospel of Joy, the Gospel of Truth, the Gospel of Righteousness, the Gospel of Peace, and finally the Gospel of Love with her vibrant prayers to the souls of the people."
He thanked the Abbess, Theodekti and the spiritual father of the Monastery, Fr. Athanasios for all the sacrificial work they do.
The new nun took on the name Theokliti ("chosen by God") and has already completed the five year trial period at the Monastery, during which she was able to learn quite well the Greek language.
See photos here.

(This took place at the monastery our parish visited back in December.)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Repairing the Church Courtyard

Before Pascha, we were busy trying to do as much work at the church as possible. One of the things that needed to be done for some time was to fix the church's courtyard, which is covered with traditional stone, but had begun to settle in some areas. In the photo above, you can see the flat stones piled up on the raised platform used to announce "Christ is Risen!" on the night of Pascha. To the left is the area where the ground had settled.

Another view of the settled area around the tree. The railing behind the tree marks a 10-foot stone wall down the mountain side. The whole courtyard, in other words, is starting to settle, and we'll eventually need to replace or at least reinforce the old wall. Technically, this is the work of the municipality, but in Greece now they are all broke, so the likelihood of it happening is slim. In this case, we managed to find a partnership between the municipality and the church to get it done in time for Pascha, when this whole courtyard is jam packed full of people. The church supplied the labor and the municipality the materials and managed to get it done by the beginning of Holy Week.

Here's a picture of the work in progress.

And, finally, here's a photo of it all done.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Panagia Goritsa

On top of a hill called "Goritsa" just outside Volos is perched a chapel, dating to around 1800, dedicated to the Life-Receiving Spring, the feast day of which was Friday. This is actually a chapel belonging to the parish just down the mountain from us. Every year on the eve of the feast, the icon of the Life-Receiving Spring is taken in procession by horseback from the parish's main church, along horse paths, to the chapel. I've heard the ride takes about 1.5 hours. The icon is then returned by the same means on the eve of the next day, after the feast.

In the morning, of course, they celebrate the Liturgy, and the two natural springs under the church begin to emit water, which is considered holy water.

It is a true "panegyri," which is one of the words for "feast," but means more literally "all around." This refers to the fact that festivities occur "all around" the church that is celebrating, with the church as the focal point.

This is the case with this church. All around there are vendors selling foods, games, icons, etc., and many pilgrims come. After our own Liturgy here at the parish, we went with some friends to this church around 1:00 PM. After venerating inside the church and getting some holy water to take home, we had some souvlaki and Greek donuts next to the church, with a view out over the ocean and Volos.

Here at the kids eating loukoumades (Greek donut holes), covered with chocolate syrup.

Here the kids went down to get holy water from the spring.

Here is the old icon of the Life-Receiving Spring, surrounded by fresh flowers.

Here's a photo of the west entrance of the church. 

You can see the vendors' booths (and the water) on either side.

I think the panegyri is a nice tradition, as the Greek people seem to inherently yearn to always draw close to the church, with the church as the "spring" for all festivities.

For a few more photos, click here.