Saturday, February 28, 2015

Trip to Mt Athos with Paul

Earlier in February, I had the opportunity to bring one of my boys to Mt. Athos for the first time. We went there to meet my good friend Raif, who used to live here in Portaria but has now returned to his native Germany. (We went to visit them in Hamburg last year.) It was the first time I've managed to visit Mt. Athos since moving to Portaria. (I think this must have been my last visit.) Paul and Benny decided between them that Paul would go this time, and Benny would go next time. Above you can see Paul's diamonitirion, or "visa" for entry to Mt. Athos.

Our group also included three Greek friends of Raif, as well as two of his German friends. One of the Greeks, Vasilis, has many friends on Mt. Athos, and he arranged our whole trip. Above, you can see Paul looking out the window of the boat as we passed Dochiariou Monastery.

After reaching the Athonite port of Daphne, we then took the bus up to Karyes, where we went to visit Vasilis' long-time friend, Fr. Symeon of Dionysiou Monastery, who happens to be the Agios Protos (first monk, head of the Holy Committee overseeing Mt. Athos) this year. His office is in the administrative building of Karyes, overlooking the famous Protaton church. Here you can see Paul checking out the Protaton from the door to the administrative building.

And here we are together on the stairs. Paul was being camera shy. I'm awaiting many more photos from our trip from the others.

We then headed to the Holy Cell of the Nativity of the Mother of God, also known as Marouda, which belongs to Hilandar Monastery. Like most cells on Mt. Athos, this one is headed by an elder and a small number of disciples. In this case, there is just one other monk, Fr. Paul, as well as several novices or potential novices. The elder is Fr. Makarios, who spent many years at Philotheou before taking on the project of rebuilding a dilapidated cell, as is commonly the pattern. Like many monks on Mt. Athos, he struck me as quite unique (some might say eccentric), and full of grace. His character was evident throughout the cell, which was very simple but also decorated in a lively way. Above you can see Paul next to many of the paintings that adorn the outside walls of the buildings.

Here Paul is looking out over the balcony of the guest quarters down to the small central church. 
I had the blessing of the serving the Divine Liturgy there with Fr. Makarios both mornings. 

Along the outside walls of the guest building is a mural with the life of Alexander the Great, apparently painted by a man from Volos who frequently visits the cell.

There was still snow on the ground in many places. Here you can see the cell's view down on the Skete of St. Andrew in Karyes. To understand more about this cell, see this very interesting article about the baptism there (on the spot where Paul is standing) of a former Taliban Afghani last year. This man, who took the name Alexander, is something like a novice there, and I had the good fortune to get to talk to him a bit.

Fr. Makarios has quite a sense of humor. Unlike many monasteries, which post serious warnings forbidding smoking (which most Greeks then ignore), Fr. Makarios has a different approach. Here the sign says: "Smoke freely and without fear. Smoking helps you lose weight and rest," picturing however a man getting sick and dying from smoking.

At one point, we took a walk around the area of Karyes. Our first stop was to the nearby monastery of Koutloumousiou. Above you can see Paul in the courtyard, just outside the katholikon.

Here we are back at the cell of Marouda. The monks loved the wild animals (especially cats) who gathered there, and so did Paul. He even shared some of his milk with them in a saucer.

Another time, we took a walk to St. Andrew's Skete. You can see the massive church and bells in the background above.

Here are some of the small "everyday" bells they use.

One of the monks took us up to the winter chapel, housing a large fragment of the skull of St Andrew the Apostle, which we had the blessing to venerate.

Finally, before leaving, we stopped again at the administrative building to say goodbye to Fr. Symeon, who had hosted us in his cell for lunch one day. As is the custom, Fr. Symeon brought out a bowl of chocolates. He then said Paul could make the second round, which he later did. You can see him getting into the Athonite spirit of hospitality above.

Although it was cold while we were there, the sun was out. On the return boat trip, we were able to spend most of the time out on the deck, where we fed the seagulls who fly alongside the boat.

For more photos, click here.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Trip to Servia, Western Macedonia

At the end of January, we made a trip to Servia to meet some friends from Florina (as a halfway point). It is an ancient city that served as the passageway between Macedonia and Thessaly, and through which passed Alexander the Great and the Apostle Paul.

We visited the town's acropolis, which included several churches, including these ruins of a 7th century basilica dedicated to St Demetrios.

The ruins are exposed and unguarded and, unfortunately, have been suffered from graffiti over the years, some of it obviously recent.

Although the weather wasn't clear, there was still a remarkable view over the city and surrounding region.

We also explored the ruins of the castle, where we found a tiny chapel. Here we crossed a wooden plank to go see the chapel, which still had the altar intact.

A view from part of the castle ruins.

Perched on top of this craggy rock is what they call the Monastery of Sts. Theodore. In its current form, it is little more than a small chapel, next to which appears to have been the acropolis' cistern. It's hard to imagine how it was a full-fledged monastery, but it retains that designation.

Outside the western entrance door to the chapel.

Another small chapel, dedicated to the Holy Unmercenaries. We ate with our friends at a good restaurant right across from this chapel.

In the restaurant, they had this rendering of what the acropolis once looked like.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Blessing of the Waters (Pool) Theophany 2015

The beginning of the New Year was full of snow and very cold northern winds. Nevertheless, we had one brave soul--a fireman--who was eager to jump into the pool to retrieve the cross at Theophany. Unfortunately, our parish does not have any natural bodies of water where we could perform the outdoor blessing of the waters, so we do it at the largest body of water we have--the pool at the Xenia Palace Hotel. In the photo above, you can see the snow still on the ground.

A few brave souls huddled together for the service, while others observed from the (warm) cafe above.

The wind was howling so much that we couldn't get the icon to stand up at all.

Apostolis was the only one brave enough to dive in, so there wasn't much competition. Afterwards, they hurried him off to the spa room at the hotel so that he could get dressed and get warm. Afterwards, we warmed up with some hot coffee in the cafe, and then I was off to bless houses.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Snowing in the New Year

Contrary to popular belief, it does snow in Greece. Not often, but it does snow. This is our 9th winter in Greece and this is the first time we had any real snow that stuck. This snow storm hit on New Year's Eve and left about 40-50 cm here in Portaria. Down in Volos, surprisingly, it was actually worse, leaving about 80 cm. Because this area is not accustomed to snow, most things grind to a halt. In the whole metropolis, I think only the central church downtown had Liturgy on January 1. Although Portaria's central road was cleared rather quickly, it took days to open up the cobblestone paths leading to our house.

Meanwhile, the kids enjoyed the snow. Above is a photo from the front door of our house, looking at the southern side of the church.

Playing in the snow on the trampoline.

Benny sliding down stairs.

Benny went for a walk with me to the cars to see what state they were in.

Phoebe in front of the house.

Paul in the church courtyard. Normally you could see Volos and the water behind him.

On the hill below our house, we tried to fashion a sled run, but I don't think it was steep enough.

Damiani eating an icicle that formed on the roof of our house.

The kids made snowmen with their friends. The sky cleared and you can again see Volos and the water below. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Pilgrimage to St John the Russian

During the kids' Christmas break, we took a trip down to Evia to venerate the incorrupt relics of St John the Russian. To break up the trip, we first stopped in the ancient town of Aidipsos, which has been famous for thousands of years for its thermal springs. It is mentioned by numerous ancient writers, such as Plutarch, Strabo, and Aristotle.

According to mythology, the goddess Athena asked the god of fire Hephaestus, to bring to the earth’s surface warm waters suitable for soothing and healing, so that her protégé, the legendary hero Hercules could come and rest after each feat. The god Hephaestus did what his beloved sister asked. He hit the bowels of the earth with his divine hammer and immediately warm thermal waters sprang.
According to the historian Plutarch, in antiquity, Edipsos was a place where people from all over Greece met to bathe, to relax, discuss and have fun. The famous Roman general Sulla used the baths for the same purpose. Today, there are ruins of the baths, bearing the name ”Baths of Sulla.” Aidipsos was visited even by the Emperors Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, Septimius Severus, Pertinos, and the empress Julia Dovna. There are also pedestals of statues of Constantine the Great and the Byzantine emperor Theodosius.

Above is a photo from the ferry.

Apart from the history, the most important for the kids was the fact that it had a playground!

Here we are inside the cave of Sulla.

At the entrance of the "cave" are two massive pedestals of statues with inscriptions in honor of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and Septimius Severus, dedicated by the municipality Istieas.

Here the kids are running on top of the cave mound. To the left, you can see the town's church dedicated, appropriately, to the Holy Unmercenary Healers.

The city has a complex system of pipes that channel the 80 some hot springs to various locations. Here can you see the steam rising out of the ground from pipes that are near the surface. Some of the town's hotel even have the hot spring water piped directly into their hotels for their own spas.

Here is Pres. Pelagia and Damiani in front of the ruins of all old bath house.

You can see the steam rising from the water as it is channeled over to the town's spa area.

Several springs well up along this small stretch of beach.

Here's one bubbling up from the ground. Even though it was December, you could reportedly boil an egg just by placing it there.

And here's another spring emerging from a rock and emptying into the ocean. Although the ocean was quite cold, the areas where the hot springs entered the ocean were nice.

We then continued our trip down to venerate the incorrupt relics of St John the Russian. You can read his inspiring life here. His relics are not housed in a monastery, but rather in what is called a "shrine," which is closer to being a parish church.

For more photos, click here.