Sunday, August 09, 2015

Stopover in Komotini

At the beginning of July, we took a family trip to Constantinople/Istanbul, which is about 9 hours away by car. To break up the long trip, we spent a night in Komotini, an interesting city harkening back to the days of the Ottoman Empire, with large Muslim and Jewish minorities.

We found a hotel with a great swimming pool for the kids, which is just what they needed after 5 hours in the car.

After a swim, we went into Komotini to find some dinner. Here are the kids enjoying the ice cream at the end of the meal.

The next day, it was back on the road.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

The Holy Belt of the Theotokos

Our parish celebrated its feast day of the Holy Unmercenary Healers Cosmas and Damian on July 1 in grand fashion this year. First, the bishop, Metropolitan Ignatius, came to serve the Liturgy. We thus enjoyed a Hierarchal Liturgy, with the deacon reading from the ambon. In the photo above, you can see the bishop's back during the Gospel reading. In the background, you can make out the deacon perched up in the ambon.

My friend Fr. Gabriel from a neighboring parish also came to serve with us.

We also had the blessing to host two small pieces of the Holy Belt of the Theotokos, which are treasured at our Metropolis' Monastery of Panagia Xenia in Almyros (about 1 hour from here). The two pieces were given to the monastery in 1551 by Vatopaidi on Mt. Athos, which hosts the rest of the Holy Belt (that is known to exist). I don't know of any other pieces that exist.

I had spoken with the abbess of the monastery for several months about this, and she and the sisters finally agreed, as they loan out the relic very rarely. The Metropolitan also gave his blessing. Thus, the abbot and one of the sisters arrived with the Holy Belt at 7:30 on the morning of the feast day. We met the Holy Belt out on the main road and processed back to the church with it, where we continued Orthros until the bishop came a short time later.

At noon, we performed Holy Unction next to the Holy Belt and finally, in the evening, we celebrated Vespers together with the Paraklesis to the Holy Belt. The abbess and the other sister, who remained all day in the church next to the Holy Belt, then left about 8:45 to take it back to the monastery. 

We are very grateful to them and the bishop for this great blessing.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Triplets' Sixth Birthday

The triplets recently celebrated their 6th birthday. The day began with a friend coming over and opening some presents, as you can see above.

Then I took the kids to an indoor playground so that Pres. Pelagia would have time to prepare the house for the big party. Despite being June, the weather here has been unpredictable, and that day was full of rain and thunderstorms.

Pelagia decorated the balcony with balloons and homemade hula hoops, which all the kids took home with them after the party.

We even found a clown to come to the party for a few hours for games and face painting in the courtyard.

Here they were playing something like dodgeball.

Finally, it was time for pizza and cake. Pelagia made three individual cakes and each of the kids helped design their own cake.

They were topped with sparkling candles.

Before being consumed with ice cream.

Phoebe with her cake.

Paul as Captain America.

Then, high on sugar, the kids went back to play more with the clown.

The party ended with some small fireworks, which the kids loved. Just as the party was ending, the hiatus from the rain ended, with everyone joking that we must have "some good connections" for the weather to have held out so perfectly for the party.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

May and June in Makrinitsa and Portaria

May and June seem to be the favorite time for academic conferences, and our Metropolis hosted several groups. Twice recently I gave a tour of Makrinitsa and Portaria, which gave me an opportunity to learn a bit more about Makrinitsa. In fact, it was the first time I had ever managed to go into Makrinitsa's enormous main church, and learn about its history.

Above is a photograph from inside the church of a sculpted stone relief of the Divine Visitation, dating from the 13th century. It is one of the few pieces preserved from the original monastery built on this spot some time between 1205 and 1215, which was dedicated to the Divine Visitation of the Mother of God. The monastery had royal benefactors and grew in importance until the 17th century, when it seems to have disappeared. No one is sure whether it was destroyed by the Turks or whether it was gradually abandoned.

In any event, it was rebuilt on the same spot as a large church dedicated to the Mother of God in 1767, using parts of the original church.

In 1955, the church was almost completed destroyed by the earthquakes that rocked this region. It was rebuilt according to the same dimensions and plan in 1963.

May and June also mark the beginning of the season for weddings and baptisms. We were invited to a reception after a baptism recently, and the kids had a good time particularly with the bubble machine. Here you can see Damiani chasing the bubbles.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Damiani's Second Birthday

June 3 marked Damiani's second birthday, which was marked by opening a few presents.

With the help and eager interest, of course, of her brothers and sisters.

And which, included, among other things, a small inflatable pool for behind the house.

And, best of all, a chocolate cake decorated with mint frosting in the shape of a turtle, which is Damiani's favorite animal at the moment.

Here she is giving the turtle a kiss.

And here she is getting ready to blow out the candles.

Monday, June 08, 2015

The National Gardens in Athens

After we finished our work at the US Embassy, we took the subway over to the National Gardens in the center of the city. The kids enjoyed the subway.

Here we are the Parliament Building and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is ceremoniously guarded by three traditionally clad guards. They stand motionless and stone-faced, changing places only on the half-hour. People can pose next to them, but only with serious poses. Just before we reached the guards (you can see them in the background), we fed seeds to the birds, who actually came and stood on our arms to eat them out of our hands.

Paul was the only one brave enough to try it.

We then headed into the National Gardens, which were built in 1840 as the King's gardens, directly behind his palace (which is, today, the Parliament building). I told the kids the story of how the course of history was changed in these gardens in 1920, when King Alexander, who was out for a stroll, was bitten by a pet monkey and died three weeks later. His death brought the return of his father, King Constantine, whose pro-German sympathies changed the delicate European alliances and led, possibly, to the Greeks' loss of Constantinople and western Asia Minor.

I assured them, however, that there were no monkeys in the Gardens today. Instead, there were lots and lots of turtles, which Damiani loves.

Here is a great mass of turtles. The Gardens also have a large playground area for the kids, where, of course, we spent some time. In all, it's really a very nice respite in the middle of bustling Athens.