Constantinople Continued…

The choros of Aghiou Pavlou Monastery, Mt. Athos.

The choros of Aghiou Pavlou Monastery, Mt. Athos.

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.

After liturgy with His Eminence

After liturgy with His Eminence

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.

At the psaltiri of the monastery chapel on Halki.

At the psaltiri of the monastery chapel on Halki.

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.

Looking across the right balcony in Aghia Sophia

Looking across the right balcony in Aghia Sophia

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 Patriarchal Church of St. George.

The Patriarchal Church of St. George.

The church and surrounding buildings are few, but beautiful.

The facade of the church

The facade of the church

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.

St. John Chrysostom in the foreground, St. Gregory the Theologian in the middle, and St. Basil the Great furthest.

St. John Chrysostom in the foreground, St. Gregory the Theologian in the middle, and St. Basil the Great furthest.

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.

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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!

The pillar upon which our Lord Jesus Christ was scourged.  This was brought to Constantinople from Jerusalem by Constantine himself.

The pillar upon which our Lord Jesus Christ was scourged. This was brought to Constantinople from Jerusalem by Constantine himself.

 

One of the side chapels in the Katholikon (main church) of the Holy Monastery of St. Paul.

One of the side chapels in the Katholikon (main church) of the Holy Monastery of St. Paul.

 

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The relics of St. Demetrius

St. Demetrius is one of the most widely venerated saints of the Orthodox Church, especially among the Greek-speaking peoples. We were blessed to have time in Thessaloniki with him, as well as being able to venerate St. Gregory Palamas and other saints of Thessaloniki.

Russell Crowe, Sultans, and Baklava

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The dome of the Chora Church.

Good evening!  Once again I find myself sitting in the beautiful dormitory of the Halki seminary/monastery trying to think of how I can condense everything we did today into one blog post.  There’s just so much to tell!  But, I think I’ll start with a couple of things that I forgot to mention yesterday.

First: Russell Crowe.  Yes, that Russell Crowe.  So, yesterday we went to Aghia Sophia in the afternoon and after touring the church we hit up the gift shop.  I loitered in there a bit too long and thus I missed Russell Crowe standing around outside Aghia Sophia talking with some of his friends.  There are pictures, I am told.  So that was the celebrity sighting for our trip, pretty cool given that we all loved him in Gladiator.

I forget what the other thing was I meant to mention, but I’m sure I’ll remember at some point.  Today we went took our usual beautiful ferry ride in to the City and got some baklava and pastries at a great place (not exactly sure where).  Fr. John recommended the pseudo-clotted cream which, while some disagreed, I thought was great with the baklava.

Breakfast

Breakfast

After breakfast we made our way to the Little Ayasofia Mosque, formerly the church of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus.  The building was built at the time of Justinian and is beautifully proportioned.  The only real remains of its “churchness” is the inscription that runs around the sides of the nave, as well as the Justinianic monograms left in the capitals (the other Christian symbols were removed when it was converted).

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“Other sovereigns have honoured dead men whose labour was unprofitable, but our sceptered Justinian, fostering piety, honours with a splendid abode the Servant of Christ, Begetter of all things, Sergius; whom not the burning breath of fire, nor the sword, nor any other constraint of torments disturbed; but who endured to be slain for the sake of Christ, the God, gaining by his blood heaven as his home. May he in all things guard the rule of the sleepless sovereign and increase the power of the God-crowned Theodora whose mind is adorned with piety, whose constant toil lies in unsparing efforts to nourish the destitute.” -Dedicatory Inscription

A monogram carved into the capital of the pillar.

A monogram carved into the capital of the pillar.

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Moi near the eastern wall of the basilica.

After this visit we made a stop at the ancient Studion Monastery where St. Theodore the Studite lived and worked, as well as his brother St. Joseph the Hymnographer.  So much of our liturgical hymnography was composed here; it’s mind-boggling.  And not only the hymns, but the Studite Typikon (rule for serving services) was from here.  Only the shell of the basilica remains, but our wonderful tour guid, Murat, spoke to some of the people who lived next door to the ruins and they let us through their porch, into the back yard, which is only divided from the basilica walls by the great cistern

The apse of the basilica church of the Studion Monastery.

The apse of the basilica church of the Studion Monastery.

After visiting the Studion Monastery we drove along the old city walls to the Chora Church, now a museum, with its mind-blowing iconography.  You’ve probably seen pictures from it, it’s that famous of a church.  In the side chapel are a series of frescoes and in the main church and narthex (and exo-narthex) are mosaics.  The mosaic program in the narthex includes a series of the life of the Virgin Mary, and scenes from the life of Christ.  The fresco program is equally as intriguing with frescoes you wouldn’t normally see, like Jacob wrestling with the angel, or St. John of Damascus in the pendentive under the dome.  Really cool stuff.  Here’s a big series for you.  Remember, click on the image to enlarge it!

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St. John of Damascus in the pendentive under the dome where one of the Four Evangelists usually was placed.

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Left: St. Joseph’s Dream. Right: the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt.

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Icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos.

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Standing on porphyry again…

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This image of the Virgin Mary includes a play on words with the name of the church, “chora” which essentially means “the countryside.” The inscription in Greek says something like, “the country of the uncontainable one,” but I know I’m not remembering it correctly so I’ll ask Fr. Alex again in the morning.

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One of the domes in the narthex

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Theodore Metochites, the “prime minister” of the Byzantine Empire in the late 13th-early 14th century and who was responsible for the mosaics and restoration of the church.

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The very famous icon of the Harrowing of Hell

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Hosts of saints approach the door to Paradise, guarded by a cherubim with flaming sword. The Penitent Thief, St. Dismas, carries his cross in Paradise and welcomes the saints while the Virgin Mary is enthroned in the midst of Paradise attended by angels.

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The Final Judgement on the ceiling approaching the altar in the side chapel.

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St. George the Great Martyr

After visiting the Chora Church, we had a fantastic lunch overlooking the Bosphorus and then walked to the Pammakaristos Church which is now a museum/mosque.  This church (which is the museum part) was a little gem.  The iconography is all in mosaics and is concentrated in the apse, dome, and a few places scattered here and there.  It’s a small space, more of a chapel than a church, but the church feels both intimate and soaring.  Here are a few of my favorite photos from the visit.

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Christ sits enthroned, blessing, and holding the Gospels in the apse of the Pammakaristos Church.

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The Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, supplicates her son on his right hand in the apse.

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St. Anthony, the Father of Monks, is on the small dome in golden sunlight.

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This tiny space was covered in mosaics. Unfortunately, it was such a tiny space that you couldn’t make out the inscriptions as to who they are. All I could tell is that they’re bishop saints.

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One of the Gregories.

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The dome of the church.

We then made a pit stop at the Fatih (Conqueror) Mosque where Mehmet II is buried, on top of the tomb of St. Constantine the Great, founder of Constantinople.  After he conquered the city, Mehmet II decided to conquer Emperor Constantine even in death.

After that we made our way back to the ferry for our boat back to the Halki Seminary where we had a wonderful dinner with our gracious host, His Eminence Metropolitan Elpidophoros, abbot of the monastery here.  His Eminence spoke to us with much love and care about the struggles confronting Orthodox Christianity in the world, as well as plans for the revival of the monastery and (God-willing) seminary.  It was a marvelous evening that was a witness to the strengthening of ties between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and St. Vladimir’s Seminary.  Fr. John, our dean, presented His Eminence with a complete set of the SVS Press Popular Patristics Series, and His Eminence presented Fr. John with a beautiful plaque that commemorates the founding of the seminary and will stand as a testament to the love between Halki and St. Vladimir’s.  We also were given a tour of the library that is currently being catalogued and organized anew.  All in all, a fantastic way to end the day.

Tomorrow, His Eminence will preside from the throne while some of the clergy traveling with us celebrate Liturgy.  We will be singing, so it’s time for some rest!  Prayers welcome, more posts to come!

A doorway in the balcony of the former church of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus.

A doorway in the balcony of the former church of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus.

The Adventure Continues

The doors at the chapel at the Halki Seminary

The doors at the chapel at the Halki Seminary

 

Well, another long and exciting day has come to a close for us here in Constanitnople.  It’s about 12:48 and we’re leaving at 6:15 to catch the early ferry so we’ll have time to get to where we need to tomorrow.  The plan is to go to the Chora church, spice market, as well as a few other places.  All exciting stuff!

So after I posted last night I went to bed and experienced something I hadn’t before.  I was so tired I feel asleep while unfolding the blanket.  Never a dull moment here.  Unfortunately our chambers were at the east end of the building so we got full sunlight (and heat) rather early in the morning.  But that actually helped getting everyone up and about before a nice breakfast of cucumber, tomatoes, olives, Greek cheese, olive oil, and bread with honey made for the monastery’s apiary.

Breakfast at Halki.

Breakfast at Halki.

After breakfast some of the guys went down to the town for coffee, but I stayed around to explore the buildings and I hit the jackpot.  The Chapel, dedicated to the All-Holy Trinity, it absolutely stunning.  It is in a classical Byzantine style, with an exceptional carved and gilded iconostasis.  The icons are beautifully written, and the entire chapel is filled with a serenity that’s rather hard to find these days.  It helped that I was alone, but the comment stands.

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We then took an earlier ferry (there were strong winds so our normal ferry was canceled) and made our way to the Church of Aghia Irene, and Aghia Sophia.  I’m not really sure how to describe the experience.  It surpassed all my expectations.  I can only encourage you, dear reader, to visit yourself.

Looking at Aghia Sophia from the western side.

Looking at Aghia Sophia from the western side.

We went to Aghia Irene first, which was opened for us specially thanks to our intrepid tour guide.  Even though it has been stripped of its marble revetments and decorations, the architecture of the church alone is worth the visit and is incredible.  While the pigeons flapped around in the dome, we strolled about taking pictures and letting the fact that we were standing in this particular church sink it.  It was truly a blessing to be there.

The interior of Aghia Irene.

The interior of Aghia Irene.

After Aghia Irene we went for a very enjoyable lunch and then made our way to Aghia Sophia, the Great Church of Christ.  It really boggles the mind at how big this church is.  From the outside you’re kind of like, “hmmm, this looks kinda small” but when you get inside it’s just soars.  Pictures do not do it justice.  At all.  Go visit!

The Theotokos in the Deisis icon.

The Theotokos in the Deisis icon.

The famous Deisis icon mosaic.  I was so moved standing before these images.  The detail is incredible.

The famous Deisis icon mosaic. I was so moved standing before these images. The detail is incredible.

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As I stood looking out over the church, I began to quietly chant the hymn “Soson Kyrie” in Greek.

O Lord save thy people and bless thine inheritance, and to thy faithful emperor grant victory over their enemies; and by the power of thy Cross, protect all those who follow thee.

This hymn was the battle hymn of the empire, it asked for the protection of the emperor and of his people.  It spoke of the triumph of the Cross.  But, more than anything, Aghia Sophia made me sad.  Sad for those who were slain defending her, sad for those who converted it into a mosque, sad for the glory that was once hers.  Times change, and the world moves on.  But there, at that moment, I was united in prayer with all those who went before us to their rest: patriarchs, emperors, saints and sinners.  And for that I am so very grateful.

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St. John Chrysostom on the middle left.

St. John Chrysostom on the middle left.

This is the emperor's place, indicated by the large circle of porphyry marble.

This is the emperor’s place, indicated by the large circle of porphyry marble.

The emperor (Probably Leo VI) bows down in submission to Christ.

The emperor (Probably Leo VI) bows down in submission to Christ.

The original "royal doors"

The original “royal doors”

The famous image of the Virgin flanked by emperors Justinian I and Constantine I.

The famous image of the Virgin flanked by emperors Justinian I and Constantine I.

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And that was Aghia Sophia.  Sad to go, really, but hopefully I’ll get to go back for a big on Sunday when we have a free day after church in the morning.

The rest of the day was spent at the Bazaar which was rather cool.  I haggled with people who wanted exorbitant amounts, got a better deal than I would have otherwise, and got some things to give to my loved ones when I get home.  After relaxing on the sun-warmed steps of the nearest mosque (and then getting driven away by one of the people who worked there), we took an amazing ferry ride back to Halki for dinner, drinks, and parea (fellowship).  Now I’m way overdue for bed!  But I just wanted to share a small bit of what happened today.  Please keep us in your prayers, you are all in ours.

Here are some more pictures for your enjoyment!

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Standing on the roundel of marble that the empress (allegedly) stood on in the balcony overlooking the nave. There was quite the debate about it when it came up, as apparently there’s only one source that attests to the empress attending services up there. But, it was on the sign next to it, so I’m running with it. Well, standing…

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All of the crosses on the marble balustrades and anywhere else were scraped off after the conquest. Very sad.

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While they scraped off the marble cross, the outline is still visible at the right angle.

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The pillar of Constantine. THE pillar of Constantine. The one he used to found Constantinople, in the base of which are supposedly many interesting relics including an early copy of Plato’s works, relics of the Passion of Christ, a bit of Noah’s Ark, etc.

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Sunset on the Sea of Marmara.

Constantinople, Halki, and Horsecarts

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The Patriarchal Monastery and Seminary on Halki is perched at the top of the island, this is where we’re staying till Monday

Well, we made it!  I’m currently writing from the marble staircase at the Halki Seminary/Monastery since this is the only place where I can both sit down sort of comfortably and get a wi-fi signal.  It’s been quite the adventure already, and things are just beginning.

Our flight from J.F.K. was delayed by about two hours, so we didn’t arrive to Constantinople until after noon today.  The flight itself was pretty good, I was actually able to sleep for a couple hours.  The only upset was the small child sitting in front of me threw up during the landing, otherwise the little tyke was fine.  Once at the airport we spent quite a while getting through passport check as the lines were ridiculous, but we got through just fine.

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Boarding the ferry

Our tour guide met us at the airport and we took that to the ferry.  Since we were early to the ferry, some of us went and sat around on a patio and had some tea.  The ferry ride over to Halki was stunningly beautiful.  Nothing like salt spray and sunshine to wipe away ones weariness from traveling.  Once we go to Halki we took horse carriages up to the seminary since there are no cars allowed on the island (I’ll be uploading a video of the trip up the mountain soon).  The accommodations are amazing.  Huge rooms, ancient icons on the walls, peacocks strutting around the gardens.  It’s quite the place to be.  I’m going to go explore for a bit before dinner and take some more pictures for your enjoyment.

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Fr. John heaves luggage into the carriage

That’s about it for now.  We’ll be having dinner soon and then probably crashing and going to bed a early to rest up for a full day tomorrow.  Aghia Sophia, the Bazaar, and other museums are on the docket for tomorrow so there should be lots of pictures of those.  In the meantime, here are some from today’s travels.

The HC/HC Chapel makes an appearance over the hat rack at Halki

The HC/HC Chapel makes an appearance over the hat rack at Halki

A small steam engine that I spotted off the port bow of the ferry

A small steam engine that I spotted off the port bow of the ferry

Talk about a room with a view...

Talk about a room with a view…

 

To Constantinople!

Well, on the plane to Constantinople (my dad forbade me from calling it Istanul…)!  Please keep us in your prayers.  I’ll be posting updates on here as often as I can and with lots of pictures.

The trip to the airport was fraught with traffic, but we got here all right with plenty of time to spare.  we enjoyed a panini and talked about our upcoming trip and our various plans.  Now I’m wedged into my economy class seat with The Lord of the Rings on the screen in front of me (with the option of the entire Harry Potter movie series, too) and am settling in before we taxi.

See you in Byzantium!