Away We Go

The helicopter pad at Aghia Anna Skete on Mt. Athos.

Just a quick post to prove I’m still alive, even without a phone.  It’s oddly freeing, although I would have come in really handy a couple times today when I went in search of the perfect gyro (I failed in that quest).  But we had a good day otherwise, with a beautiful Liturgy at the Church of St. George near the Aghia Pareskevi metro stop.  I wandered around Athens for about three hours, going to Monasteraki and other areas before heading to the Acropolis in the late afternoon.  One mini-reflection that a few of us shared is as awesome as the ruins of the Parthenon and other buildings are, the views are the winner of the Acropolis; just stunning.  In the evening we headed back out to the parish for dinner with the parish priest (and respected academic), Fr. Stefanos Alexopoulos, who took us to a fantastic restaurant for a farewell dinner.  It was funny meeting him because it took me a while to make the connection between him and the Stefanos Alexopoulos whose articles I’ve read in the past.  Very nice to meet him in person, he and his parishioners were so very welcoming and provided a great end to our stay in Greece and our experience of Orthodoxy here.

Alas, my computer’s battery is about to die and I seem to have misplaced my outlet converter so it looks like I won’t be able to post till I get back to NY tomorrow, but be assured that there will be many more posts coming with details of the trip, as well as many more photos.  Because of my battery life problem I wasn’t able to download the pictures I took from my camera so those will probably have to wait until NY as well.

Please keep us in your prayers as we make the long trek back to St. Vladimir’s Seminary!

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The Patriarchal Church of St. George.

The Patriarchal Church of St. George.

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.

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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.

The martyrium over St. Demetrius’ relics

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.

Aghia Sophia in Thessaloniki

Aghia Sophia in Thessaloniki

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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!

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The reliquary of St. Gregory Palamas

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The dome of St. Gregory Palamas

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The interior of the Church of St. Gregory Palamas

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:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152847876105573.1073741825.605415572&type=1&l=8d6b83fb4a

and

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152864839005573.1073741826.605415572&type=1&l=67e1882110

 

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.

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.

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!

Tired As A Dog

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Becky the Wonderdog relaxing

So it’s time for another one of those “I’m not dead” posts, this time in the midst of finals.  I will probably not be posting regularly till next week, and then I’ll be posting regularly during my trip to Istanbul and Greece, with posts appearing both hear and the St. Vlad’s Seminary website (along with Mr. Gregory Tucker who I’m sure is thrilled to bits at being mentioned on my blog).  It should be very exciting!  I still need to go get some mosquito netting and other items for the trip, since the bugs are killer at Halki where we’ll be staying for our Istanbul leg of the trip.

I had two finals on Saturday, none today (it being my birthday they Powers That Be had the forethought not to schedule any today), three finals tomorrow, one on Wednesday, and a few papers left to write.  Holy Week slowed my work progress to a grinding halt, and I was sick for the beginning on Bright Week and have been playing catch up ever since.  Seminary is definitely not for the faint of heart.  I’m reminded of an amusing prank on April Fools’ Day where someone rearranged the sign in the Rangos building foyer to read, “St. Vlad’s: not for faint or weary hearts.”  As you can imagine, the sign was met with much amusement from faculty and students alike.  It’s always good when we can poke fun at ourselves, especially since I find that it helps relieve stress most efficiently.

OH!  I almost forgot, the St. Vladimir’s Seminary Chorale will be giving a concert on the evening of May 20th, at 7:30 p.m. at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in New Rochelle, NY.  Here’s a link to the Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/336143649844573/  Make sure to come if you can make it!

Now it’s back to the grindstone to go over things to prepare for my Patristics exam tomorrow morning, and the chant and liturgics finals in the afternoon!  See you on the flip side.

Not Quite Dead

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So I just wanted to make a quick post to let all two of you know that, in the words of the anonymous old man at the beginning of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I’m not quite dead. I just have a lot of work to do, not a lot of time to do it in, and I’m wicked tired.  

I haven’t forgotten about my promise to write about my trip to Montreal, but you’ll hopefully be seeing my article about that on the St. Vlad’s website soon.  With pictures.  Always good.

Today we had a PT Unit (Pastoral Theology) with the wonderful Dr. Al Rossi.  We talked about intimacy and suffering, and watched Tuesday’s with Morrie.  It was an informative and thought-provoking session.  I then spent the rest of the afternoon in the library working, and then spent 45 minutes on the phone with my bank to try and rectify an error on my account (fixed, thank the Lord!).  Then we had Vespers for Lazarus Saturday and thundered the troparion:

By raising Lazarus from the dead before Thy passion, Thou didst confirm the universal resurrection, O Christ God! Like the children with the branches of victory, we cry out to Thee, O Vanquisher of Death: Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord!

After that I spent the rest of the evening in the library and accomplished a feat that I had yet to experience in college or grad school: falling asleep in the library.  Somehow I leaned back in the chair and the next thing I remembered was bolting upright.  Good times.  Now I’m back in my room for the rest of the evening where I’ll try and finish this paper and then get some much needed rest.  

Tomorrow is Lazarus Saturday which you can read about here: The Liturgical Year – Lazarus Saturday.  So I’ll be going to liturgy in the morning and then spending the rest of the day trying to be studious.  God bless Dunkin’ Donuts.