Wednesday, October 30, 2013

October 28th - Protection of the Theotokos and Ohi Day

On Monday, in a scene repeated around Greece, school kids gathered in churches to celebrate the national holiday of "Ohi Day," which was later combined with the church's feast of the Protection of the Theotokos, shifting its celebration from October 1 to October 28 to commemorate the many miracles of the Mother of God reported by Greek soldiers at the beginning of the war.

It is a national holiday, but kids still go to school in the morning in order to go together to the local church. After the Liturgy, they then recite various traditional poems related to the feast. We went down to the adjoining parish of the Holy Apostles to see our kids' presentation. Each of the kids had to memorize and recite four lines. Our kids divided up a 12-line poem, to say together. You can see them in the video above, followed by some of the other kids.

Here are the parents and family looking on.

Afterwards, it is traditional for the priests to say a trisagion, and then the various local institutions lay a wreath at the memorial in honor of those who fell.

Finally, Fr. Ioannis told the kids that it was over, and they all ran to be treated to some juice and loukoumi (Turkish Delight).

Here's Fr. Ioannis with his grandson, who's classmates with the triplets.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Old Liturgical Books

In my various projects involving cleaning and rearranging at the church and the chapels, I stumbled across these two old, leather-bound liturgical books. The first one, above and below, is a November Menaion, printed in 1760. Above you can see the handwritten title page. There are other sections of the book that have been repaired. Where the pages tore, someone added parchment and hand wrote the missing sections. Our church was built in 1791, so this was probably the first Menaion they had.

Below is a smaller book, a priest's service book or Ieratikon.

Below, on the left side, you can see the date of 1842. On the right, you can see the name of the parish's long-time priest, along with a date of 1977. A year later, appears to have done some math above, where he subtracts 1842 from 1978 to come up with 136, meaning that the book was then--the year I was born--136 years old.

As a frame of reference, this part of central Greece (as well as northern Greece) was still part of the Ottoman Empire in 1842.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Kids's Swimming Lessons

Since the beginning of the month, the kids have been taking swimming lessons down in Volos--at the pool, in fact, built for the Olympics in 2004 (some of the competitions were held in Volos).

We can go every weekday, but we usually go about 3 times per week for a 40-minute lesson. The pool is quite shallow, so that the kids can all stand.

Above, you can see the teacher helping the kids learn how to swim on their backs using a paddle board.

Here's the whole class practicing kicking with their feet.

Here's the teacher with Paul.

At the end of the lesson, they play various games. Our kids' favorite is jumping through the noodle. Here you can see Benny leaping through to make a big splash.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Visit to the Monastery in Anatoli, Ayia

After Liturgy on Sunday, my German friend Raif--who lives here in Portaria--and I took our kids for a visit to the Monastery of St. John the Forerunner in Anatoli, Ayia, a women's monastery with nuns from all over the world, which we visited as a parish back in December. With the weather warmer this time, we had a chance to visit the monastery's playground, which lies outside its entrance, near the parking area. Unlike the government-run parks in Greece, this one was clean and well-maintained, since it was run by the monastery. We learned later that it had been designed by a German nun's father (the monastery has 6 German nuns), and construction had been done by a team of volunteers from England. As you can see from the photos, the kids really enjoyed the zip line. At first, they were a bit hesitant, but finally Benny volunteered to give it a try. You can see him above with Raif as they prepared for the first run.

Benny loved it, and that convinced Paul to give it a go.

Raif's two girls tried it, too, but Phoebe wasn't so sure. She played in the rest of the playground.

Here's Benny flying down toward the end.

And here's a good shot. You can see the joy on his face.

Finally, we managed to pull the kids away and walk down to the monastery, where we noticed this funny sign.

The immediate reason for our trip was to pick up an American priest and friend of Pres. Pelagia's family, Fr. David Sommer, who was visiting the monastery. A former parishioner of Fr. David's, an American convert, was tonsured a nun at the monastery earlier this year. After venerating inside the church, the nuns took us to have lunch.

After lunch, the new American nun, Sister Theokliti, took the kids to see all the monastery's animals. The monastery has an active organic farming program and sells a wide variety of cheeses and other products to support itself. In the background of the photos above and below, you can see the ruins of one of the walls of the original men's monastery, which dates to about 1550.

The kids really enjoyed all the animals, especially when Sr. Theokliti ran after the horses to get them to run.

Here they are with one of the cows.

And here we are looking at the baby calves, the youngest of which was only 2 weeks old.

After a stop at the store to stock up on their yogurt and cheeses, and then another stop at the playground, we headed over to the nearby village of Anatoli, where Fr. David treated the kids to an ice cream in the village square. Above you can see the kids playing in the old plane tree in the square, with the church in the background.

We then headed back to Portaria, nearly 2 hours, and dropped Fr. David off at the Monastery of Panagia Odigitria.

For more photos from the day, click here.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Benjamin's Name Day

On Sunday, the Church celebrated the memory of St. Benjamin the Deacon, Benny's name day. I was able to find the entire service dedicated to him (in Greek), from a 1937 edition that was dedicated to the Ecumenical Patriarch at the time, who was also named Benjamin.

Benny's godfather just translated his apolytikion, which we now make available for the first time (as far as I know) in English:

Mode 1 (citizen of the desert)
In hymns and spiritual songs, let us honour holy Benjamin,
scion of Persia and great boast of the faithful,
lustrous pride of deacons and adornment of martyrs,
striving after his sacred virtues and crying with one voice:
Glory to Christ Who glorified you, glory to Him Who crowned you,
glory to Him Who kept you steadfast in your struggles.

On Saturday night, we celebrated Vespers with Artoklasia, and Benny was quite pleased to process around the church with the icon of his saint.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Vigil for St. Pelagia

Presvytera Pelagia celebrated her name day yesterday on October 8. To celebrate, we held a vigil Monday night from 9:00 PM - 1:00 AM in our recently renovated side chapel to St. Anthony. I found the complete service dedicated to St. Pelagia the Former Courtesan (read her incredible life here). I hope to translate at least her apolytikion soon. Of course, the general apolytikion with her name is available in English in the Menaion, but not the one written specifically for her.

As you can see in the photo above, since we celebrated St. Phoebe's feast here one month ago, we removed the old roll-on fake wood flooring and put traditional Pelion stones on the floor. We also painted and cleaned generally.

For the vigil, we used only oil lamps and candles. It was beautiful, but my eyes hurt a bit the next day.

As you can see in this photo, we put in a little electric heater to keep the small chapel warm. Since the first of October, the weather has turned decidedly cold and rainy. I believe they dedicated both side chapels to winter feasts at least part because it was more practical to heat them. (The other side chapel on the south side is dedicated to St. Athanasius and St. Tryphon. I hope to similarly renovate that chapel with new flooring and a paint job, if we have sufficient donations.)
The chapel was packed from the beginning until the very end of the vigil.

We also restored this old icon from 1862 of St. Anthony and St. Theodore and put it in the chapel. Above is the icon "before" -- you can see in this photo some small squares where they did examples of what it would look like when cleaned. And then the "after" photo.

Next up is Benjamin's feast day on Sunday.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Parish Trip to Agios Lavrentios

Back on Saturday, Sept. 21, we resumed our monthly parish pilgrimages with an annual tradition of going to the village of Agios Lavrentios (St. Lawrence) and celebrating Liturgy at the church dedicated to the local saint, St. Apostolos the New

The map above shows the driving route we took, but many of my parishioners remember going to the more direct route through the village of Drakia every year by foot (or horseback/mule). They would go the evening before, carrying lanterns. I heard one say that they remember it taking about 4 hours each way.

We, of course, went by bus. We left Portaria at 7:00, and arrived at the church a little after 8:00. We soon started Orthros and Divine Liturgy, with a memorial, and finished around 11:00.

The current church is rather new, from perhaps the 1970s. I have the impression that it replaced an older, much smaller church.

The iconography depicts the saint's life and martyrdom.

Here are the blood-soaked clothes in which he was martyred.

As well as his skull. The rest of his body has not yet been found.

After Liturgy, we headed to the nearby monastery dedicated to St. Lawrence, from which the town took its name. The monastery dates to the beginning of the 11th century, before the Schism, and was originally a dependency or metochion of a now-extinct Western, Benedictine monastery of Mt. Athos known as Amalfion, which was located about halfway between the Great Lavra and Karakallou. Only the ruins of a large tower remain today. After the Schism, its property was given to the Great Lavra.

The monastery of St. Lawrence seems to have been originally dedicated by the Benedictine/Athonite monks to St. Andrew. Even after many subsequent changes, it retains some peculiarly Latin architectural features. Additionally, many of the original inscriptions have been preserved by being reused in later construction. Above is part of an inscription which ends with "Amalfitan" in Latin.

Again here we can make out the "Am" from Amalfitan.

After being abandoned by the Benedictine monks, it was re-founded as an Orthodox monastery in the late 14th century by St. Lawrence. The village later grew up around the monastery, as often happened in Greece, and the village took its name from the monastery.

Today it is a women's monastery with three nuns, who were very gracious to us, serving us coffee and giving us a very moving talk about the history and role of the monastery today.

Afterwards, we headed to the village of Milies, further southeast down Mt. Pelion, where we enjoyed lunch in the village's main square, next to its historic Church of the Holy Archangels. After lunch, we were treated to a tour and explanation of the church's unique iconography and acoustics. I blogged about it previously several years ago (see below). We then headed back to Portaria, stopping for a coffee along the sea side in Kala Nera.

The church was absolutely fascinating. Since it was built in the 1700s, during the period of the Ottoman yoke, the church was purposely designed to appear, from the outside, as just a house, so that the Turks would not be tempted to steal from it or desecrate it. This was why, interestingly, the door to the church (as is so typical of that time period), is so small -- it was to prevent the Turks from riding into the church on their horses. This concern to hide the church from the Turks also led to an ingenious acoustic system. The roof is composed of a series of small domes, each of which has 4 large clay pots situated upside down in it. These act much like the cones in a speaker and resonate with different pitches -- treble, bass, etc. There were also hollow spaces under the floor to help absorb sound. The purpose was to limit echoing and keep the sound inside the building, so that the Turks would not be aware outside. The effect, though, was also to create an incredible acoustic system. The man giving us the impromptu tour had us demonstrate by having the priests sing an apolytikion from the front of the church, and the rest stand in the back. The sound carried as clear as a bell. The man told us that a European Bach Appreciation Society had even come to perform several concerts in the church in order to utilize and study the church's acoustics. Above is a photo of the church from the outside.