It’s been since Saturday since I’ve been able to post, but hopefully I’ll be able to catch you up on what’s been going on since then. I suppose I should start from then and work forward, just so I don’t confuse myself!
Saturday night, His Eminence, Metropolitan Elpidophoros, dined with us and spoke with us afterward about the importance of Halki and plans for its future. Sitting in the grand reception hall of the monastery, with its great chandeliers and the portraits of its founders and professors, it was an almost surreal experience sitting where St. Raphael once did, and countless other hierarchs, priests, and professors. His Eminence expressed hope for the continued strengthening of ties between St. Vladimir’s and the Ecumenical Patriarchate and with Halki. It’s definitely something I can look forward to, and I look forward to visiting again.
Sunday was our last full day in and around Constantinople and it began with the celebration of Liturgy in the monastery chapel. Our dean, Fr. John, presided at Liturgy, with Fr. Alex, Fr. Marcus, and one of the priests from Halki, Fr. Samuel. His Eminence, Metropolitan Elpidophoros, the abbot of the monastery, presided from the throne while we sang liturgy. It is quite possible that this was the first time that Liturgy was celebrated entirely in English in the chapel there, and possibly the first time a four-part choir sang there as well! The Liturgy was prayerful and the singing reverent (enhanced by the good acoustic). His Eminence presented each of us with gifts from the monastery, and bid us a very fond farewell as he would not be able to see us before we left early on Monday morning.
After Liturgy we walked down to the harbor to catch the ferry to the City. I had debated going, if only because I was pretty worn out by that point, but it was a very good thing I went back. As an aside, I think that taking the ferry every morning and evening was one of my favorite parts of that leg of our journey. Not only was it time outside, with the salt air and a breeze, but it was a time to reflect on where we were and what had happened there. I mentioned before how Aghia Sophia had left me a bit melancholy with the vicissitudes of history so “in your face” there, but after reflection it only serves as a testament to one of the most important lessons from the Psalms: “put not your trust in princes, in the sons of men, in whom there is no salvation.” Put not your trust in princes, not even emperors like Constantine, because they do not last. Neither do great churches.
Anyway, Sunday afternoon we went for coffee and bavlaka (the best I’ve had thus far on the trip), and went to the Spice Bazaar where I picked up some Frankincense along with a couple other little items for friends and family back home. After that the group split up and I went with Gregory, Tristan, and Dn. Nicholas on the walk to the Phanar, the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch. It was a hot day so we took it slow, but the Church of St. George was well worth it.
The church and surrounding buildings are few, but beautiful.
The might of Constantine has vanished, and only faith has remained. Inside is dark, with oil lamps hanging from the ceiling and large reliquaries lining the walls. Off on the left side of the church I knew I would find the relics of my patron saint, St. John Chrysostom. They’re kept in a carved alabaster casket, with two others next to it containing the relics of St. Basil the Great, and St. Gregory the Theologian. The Three Hierarchs, as they’re known in the Orthodox Church, together again.
I’ve been trying to put into words what it was like standing in front of my patron saint, and nothing I’ve written has really been adequate. We pray to our patrons, certainly, and we probably have an icon of them. We read about their lives and their struggles, and we wonder what it was like at the time. It’s all kind of abstract. But there I was, standing in front of the bones of this great saint, Chrysostomos, the golden-mouthed. And that’s what I did, stood there. Like an idiot with my mouth hanging open, trying to think of adequate words to say to him. That’s when I realized that I didn’t have to say anything. He’s the one nicknamed “golden-mouth” anyway, so I figured he could say something to me. That’s when I remembered that Saint John has been with me from when I was named, and when I was baptized (on his feast, actually). He’s seen me grow up, he knows my weaknesses and my failings just as he knows my strengths. And he was, and is, watching over me. It was nice to visit with him.
I’ve realized now that I’ll not be able to write about our time in Thessaloniki just yet, nor even our time on Mt. Athos thus far. It’s about 10 p.m. here and we need to be up at 4 a.m. in time for Midnight Office, Matins, and Divine Liturgy. To keep you interested, though, here are a bunch of photos from our time in Thessaloniki and on Mt. Athos with some captions to tide you over. Please keep us in your prayers, as you are in ours. More updates over the next few days!