Friday, September 13, 2013

Visit to the Shroud of Turin

After the conference ended, I had one afternoon free before our plane back to Greece. Two kind women from Turin were at the monastery for the conclusion of the conference, and offered to drive me there, so I took them up on the offer. I walked around the city, and had a coffee at the square of the Royal Palace.

Another view of the Royal Palace.

Another another section of the Royal Palace. Toward the center, you can see the bell tower of the Turin Cathedral, where the Shroud of Turin is housed.

Above, the Turin Cathedral. There was a wedding going on when I arrived, but I quietly went over to the northeast corner of the church where the Shroud is housed in a chapel.

I was surprised that visitors aren't actually allowed to see any part of the Shroud. The chapel is closed off by glass, which I suppose is understandable, and then the Shroud is housed in a long bench-like special container, with temperature control, which I suppose is also understandable. What was less understandable to me was why they also had to drape a large cloth over it to prevent the visitor from even catching a glimpse of it. Apparently, one is supposed to simply contemplate its presence. I tried to communicate with the two church wardens, but they spoke only Italian, as was the case--I found--with many Italians. Through hand gestures, I pointed to a photo of the pope praying before an uncovered Shroud. I was then given to understand that this was only for the pope, and no one else.

Anyway, it was an interesting experience. From what I can gather, the 2008 BBC documentary on the Shroud is the best objective documentary, so I plan to watch that when I get a chance.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Conference at Bose in Northern Italy

Last week, I was invited to attend the 21st Annual International Conference on Orthodox Spirituality at Bose Monastery in Northern Italy (see map above), dedicated to the theme of the ages, or stages, of the spiritual life, according to the Orthodox tradition.

We were able to get a flight on the European discount airline Ryan Air directly from Volos to Milan. A kind man from Turin, a friend of the monastery, then picked us up and drove us about 2 hours to the monastery, where we arrived Wednesday evening. Above is a photo of the monastery.

There weren't enough rooms for all the guests, so I was give a room in a house (which was given to the monastery) in the adjacent little village of Magnano, about a 10-minute walk from the monastery.

The house had a traditional design, around a central atrium. My room was on the second floor, in the background of the photo above.

Here was the street outside my door, which leads to the monastery.

The monks there have a wide variety of interests and talents, including iconography. They put on an exhibit of their iconography for the participants in the conference. They experiment with a variety of Orthodox styles - Byzantine, Russian, Coptic, and, above, Ethiopian, which I found interesting.

One morning I took a brief walk around the village and had a wonderful cappuccino in the small village square. There is the village square was a water dispenser. For 5 cents, you could choose to fill up a bottle with regular water, or carbonated water.

Here's the main street leading from the square the village's Catholic church.

Here is their parish church, dedicated to St. Martha.

The area reminded me a bit of Greece, in that one can still see public displays of Christianity, such as this little shrine along the road. Unfortunately, they all seem to have a sort of "historic" feel, meaning that they're still there only for cultural or historical reasons. It was indicative that this shrine was barred off, so that no one could venerate the icon or light an oil lamp.

Along the small country road from the town to the monastery, I found this pillar, with icons on all four sides.

Not far from the monastery is this 11th century church. It is now used only for musical performances, etc.

The other thing that struck me about the town was that there were video cameras in several public areas of this small village, such as the main square, etc. Also, Italy offers free Wifi throughout the country, but you're required to register your name so that they can monitor your internet usage for possible links to terrorism.

In any event, the conference had some interesting papers and discussion, and I also had the chance to see Bishop Maxim of Western America, who ordained me.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Feast of St. Phoebe the Deaconess and Equal to the Apostles

In recent weeks, we've been slowly working to clean out and reclaim our north side chapel dedicated to St. Anthony, which is attached to Holy Unmercenaries.

I have found three old icons with St. Anthony the Great, all of which have him with another saint. The first one, dating to 1809, has St. Anthony together with St. Athanasius the Great. The second one, dating to about 1838, and currently located on the iconostasis (or templon) of the main church, has St. Anthony together with St. Athanasius the Athonite. The third one, dating to 1860, has the saint depicted together with St. Theodore of Tyre. The first and third icons are above-average size and seem to have been originally in a small iconostasis, such as one that would fit such a chapel.

The presence of the St. Athanasiuses is explained by the fact that the south side chapel is dedicated to one or the other (probably St. Athanasius the Great, but I'll get to that another time). Oral tradition says our main church was built in 1791, and it has a dedicatory plaque that seems to indicate it was consecrated (or finished?) in 1801. It's pretty clear that the two side chapels were appended later, but the 1809 icon indicates it was almost immediately later. The icon of St. Anthony with St. Theodore, which dates to 1860, and which we are having restored now in order to display it for veneration in the chapel, could mean that the chapel had a dual dedication (the feasts being close to one another), or, perhaps more likely, it could mean that an important donor was named Theodore. The iconostasis, which you can see in the photo above, is clearly dated on the back also to 1860.

Here is a photo of the outside of the chapel, with the main church along the right. Above the door is a rather modern icon of St. Anthony, but almost certainly there was once an older icon there that filled the whole space. To the left is an icon of St. Phoebe, who was the immediate cause of this cleaning work. I had the idea of celebrating festal vespers for St. Phoebe, whom the Church celebrates on Sept. 3, in this chapel. I also found a complete service to her in Greek, which we sang for the Vespers, Artoklasia, and Liturgy the next morning. The text refers to her as "the Deaconess and Equal to the Apostles." I hope some day to translate the service, as well as the complete service I found for St. Benjamin. 

Here we are coming out of the chapel for the Artoklasia. Phoebe is carrying the icon of her saint in procession.

Here we are walking around the table three times.

Phoebe holding her saint's icon as we offer the prayers.

Two chanter friends of mine came to sing the service. As you can see, there was a decent turnout to honor the saint.

Here, we chant: "Rich men have turned poor, but they that seek the Lord shall not be deprived of any good thing."

Some times, we pour the blessed wine from the artoklasia into a cross-shaped cut on the bottom of the loaves.

The chapel needs more work and cleaning, but we hope to slowly gather volunteers and money work on it. Previously, it (and the other chapel) were used mainly for storage, since the parish's storage room is extremely limited. But we're trying to find another solution in order to restore both chapels to their proper use.

ADDENDUM (16 October): I give you here the English translation of St. Phoebe's apolytikion, just completed by Benjamin's godfather:

Tone 3

Shining with divine grace
and versed in faith in Christ
by the chosen vessel of our Saviour,
you performed God’s work.
With divine zeal you went to Rome, bearing the words of the Apostle,
Deaconess Phoebe,
entreat Christ our God,
to illumine our souls with His All-Powerful Spirit.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

The Cave Chapel of St. Euthymius the Younger

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The week after the Dormition, we took a few days' vacation and went to stay with our friend Angela in her country house in Vrastama.

Over the days, we visited all the parish's lovely chapels, including the cave chapel of St. Euthymius the Younger (or the New), who lived as an ascetic in the remote cave for several years, later being joined by a few disciples who lived in nearby caves. We were able to drive on dirt roads up to a point, and then it was about 25 minutes hike to the cave.

The kids did really well.

Here's Benjamin outside the cave.

And here are the kids walking up the rickety wooden stairs to go venerate inside the cave chapel.

We were fortunate to have our friends Jacob and Stephanos, Americans studying theology in Thessaloniki, join us at Angela's house. Here's Jacob and Angela's son Alexander at the analogion, where we found and sang the saint's apolytikion.

Paul took this photo of Benjamin and me in the cave.

Here's Paul making his way down the stairs from the cave.

We then walked a minute or two down toward the river, where the parish has a sort of picnic area. The parish is incredibly well organized, with different teams taking responsibility for each of the parish's chapels. The team leaders go around the village before the feast days and collect money to prepare a common festive meal at the chapel, and each chapel is outfitted with a picnic area and at least a rudimentary kitchen area. They then prepare a free meal for whoever comes to the feast.

We went over there and Angela made us all some coffee.

She had also brought some chocolatey cereal as a snack for the kids.