Continuing the story of our travels, I left you standing in the Church of St. George, the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch. We spent some time there, sitting and praying in that wonderful church with saints surrounding us. It was a truly palpable instance of being “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” that St. Paul speaks of. We were a bit worn out after our walk there so the four of us stopped at a nearby café for some tea and water before starting the hike back to the Spice Bazaar area of the City. On the way back we decided to walk by the shore of the Bosphorus to take advantage of the breeze off the water. It was amazing walking that way, it was obvious tourists almost never came there because the shore was covered with local families relaxing and barbecuing on little charcoal stoves on the grass. Children dived into the water amongst apparently harmless swarms of jellyfish, and the fishing boats came and went along the moorings. By the time we got back to the Spice Bazaar we decided to call it a day and head back to Halki via an earlier ferry.
The next morning we took our last ferry ride to the City in order to catch our flight to Thessaloniki. Blessedly, the trip went quite smoothly and we caught our flight and got to Thessoloniki on schedule. Our hotel was right down the street from the great Church of St. Demetrius where his relics are kept. The church is ancient, but had fallen into ruin by the early 20th century when it was eventually restored after WWII. The current church is magnificent, with side chapels and shrines to St. Demetrius, St. Nestor, the Theotokos and others.
The marble martyrium that houses St. Demetrius’ relics is on the left side of the church. St. Demetrius is know as “the myrrh-gusher” because his relics exude myrrh, a fragrant oil. Walking up to the martyrium is incredible because you can smell the myrrh before you see the tomb, and once there it can be almost overpowering. The myrrh is collected and then given out to pilgrims, a great blessing for us. While we were there they had started Vespers, and then immediately a supplicatory service to St. Demetrius which we stayed for most of. One thing that struck me was how even though there was a service going on, there was so much movement and other things going on. There was a priest on his cell phone in one of the back rows of chairs, Russian pilgrims scowling at him; little old ladies tending to the candles and directing visitors to their proper places, and giving us a look if we wandered too close to somewhere we shouldn’t. It was wonderfully active and vibrant, there was a sense of people being absolutely at home in this great church. I picked up a couple things for friends at the little shop in the narthex before heading out.
During the day we split up and walked all over Thessaloniki, including visits to the ancient church of Aghia Sophia, as well as the Church of St. Gregory Palamas where his relics are kept. Both were incredible spaces with soaring domes and beautiful iconography. St. Gregory’s has newer iconography, whereas Aghia Sophia’s mosaics are ancient. Fr. John pointed out to us that the inscription above the icon of the Theotokos and Child in the apse of Aghia Sophia was the quote from Acts 1:11, “Ye men of Galilee, why do ye stand there looking up to heaven?” And in the dome of the church is an icon of the Ascension, instead of the usual icon of Christ Patokrator (Ruler of All). Someone obviously had a sense of humor.
Tristan and I went and had a cold drink overlooking the sea near the white tower (of Minas Tirith…), and afterward I went to an ecclesiastical goods store where I ordered a new cassock as well as a few items for certain monastics back home. It was a great experience because it gave me a chance to practice my Greek. The shop attendant didn’t speak any English, so I managed to order everything and get measured entirely in Greek. My old Greek professor, Dr. Dova, would be so proud!
We ended the day in Thessaloniki with a fantastic dinner of grilled and roasted meat items (the lamb was the star), since we wouldn’t be having any during our time on Mt. Athos. We had some retsina, ate our fill, sang a hymn, and departed to the hotel to rest up for our early trip to Mt. Athos in the morning.
That’s all for now, I’ll be posting again after liturgy tomorrow about everything we’ve been getting up this week. We’ve been so blessed to come to Aghiou Pavlou with the kindness and generosity of Fr. Evdokimos and the Brotherhood. Tomorrow I’ll tell of the services, bells, food, monks, washing, hiking that’s been going on, and what not.
Also, for those of you that have read this far, please check out my Facebook photo albums where I’ve been posting lots more pictures than I’m able to on here. You can find them at: