Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Akathist Hymn

For the fourth Salutations to the Theotokos, our little parish had a visit from a busload of pilgrims from Volos, specifically retired nurses from the Red Cross who act as auxiliary nurses in times of emergency. For fellowship, they organize various excursions and this time about 50 of them came to us. They came about an hour early to the service, so we treated them to a coffee and I spoke to them a bit about our parish and how I ended up in Portaria.

The next week, for the full Akathist Hymn, one of our diocese's preachers, Fr. Pamphilos, came to serve with me.

For years, he has come about twice a year (once during the Great Fast and once during the fast for the Panagia) to hear confessions from his spiritual children. After the service, we set him up in my office where he heard confessions of about 20 people. Here is a lovely photo of him hearing the confessions of two four-year-old cousins.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Parish Trip to Pteleos and the Monastery of Ano Xenia

On Thursday afternoon, our parish took a trip to visit the Monastery of Ano Xenia. Before we went there, though, we first stopped to visit the new parish of our good friend and bus driver, Fr. Stavros, in Pteleos.

Here Fr. Stavros said a few words to the people inside the main church, which is dedicated to the Dormition of the Theotokos.

He also brought out the parish's relics--which included St. George, St. Haralambos, and St. Prokopios--for our group to venerate.

Afterwards, a local cafe, located behind the church, in the village's main square, treated us all to a coffee. Then we headed back to the bus. Above, you can see the church in the background.

You can see a reflection of the front of the church in the door, as Paul and Fr. Stavros get ready to drive.

On the way out of town, Fr. Stavros stopped briefly at the local women's co-op, which makes traditional sweets, jams, etc. Many of the women in our group work at Portaria's co-op, so they enjoyed meeting their counterparts. The ladies there treated us all to free samples of their handiwork.

We then headed on to the monastery, where the abbot, Fr. Nektarios, had graciously arranged to do a Presanctified Liturgy for us.

The monastery was founded in the late 10th century, although there is some evidence that an earlier church was there from the 7th century. The monastery was torched by Cardinal Pelagio in 1213, during his two-year mission east to Constantinople (during the period of Latin occupation) to close Orthodox churches. According to tradition, he also killed 800 of the monastery's monks.

The monastery was again burned by Italians in 1942, as retribution for the monastery's support of the resistance movement (although the katholikon, or main church, was spared). Finally, the monastery suffered extensive damage during the major earthquake of 1980, which damaged much of the Almyros area, west of Volos.

The frescoes, some of which you can see above at the entrance to the main church, are from 1663, and follow the famous Cretan School of iconography, whose most famous representative is Theophanes.

Probably because of the monastery's remote location in the mountains, the monks built a dependency in the 13th century that is 12 km closer to Volos. Today, that monastery is known as Kato Xenia (Lower Xenia, as opposed to Upper Xenia), and because it is quite near the main Athens-Thessaloniki highway, it is generally more well-known. It today houses a vibrant women's monastic community.

In the photo above, you can see the abbot, Fr. Nektarios, serving the Presanctified Liturgy.

Here's Phoebe in the courtyard. Since 1980, there have been extensive renovations, including the buildings surrounding the main church, which you can see in the photo above.

After the Liturgy, the monks treated us all to a coffee in their guest area and Fr. Nektarios spoke to us.

Fr. Nektarios is on the left, and to the other side of me (and Benny) is Fr. Titus, the monastery's hierodeacon, who has labored at the monastery for more than 50 years.

For a few more photos from the trip, click here.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Greek Independence Day

In Greece, March 25 marks not only the Feast of the Annunciation, but also Independence Day, commemorating the successful 1821 revolution against the Ottomans.

Of course, it is a national holiday, and typically school children go to church in the morning, and then participate in some sort of celebration, which usually involves reciting poems in honor of the day, sing songs, a parade, etc.

Our parish doesn't have a school, so right after our Liturgy concluded, I headed down the hill to the neighboring parish of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, where the kids' school is located. Here's a video of their celebration in the courtyard outside the church, next to the monument honoring all those who died.

Here's part of what the kids recited:

Στα πολύ παλιά τα χρόνια
Ο Χριστός πριν γεννηθεί
Παναγιά στην εκκλησία
Πήγε να προσευχηθεί

Ξάφνου φάνηκε μπροστά της
Ένας άγγελος λαμπρός.
Μη φοβάσαι της μιλάει
Εδώ με έστειλε ο Θεός.

Άκουσε το θέλημά του
Το τρανό το ξακουστό
Ένας χρόνος πριν περάσει
Θα γεννήσεις τον Χριστό.

Monday, March 10, 2014

First Salutations to the Theotokos and the Sunday of Orthodoxy

Here are a couple photos of the icon of the Theotokos, as we set it up in the middle of the church for the first Salutations service on Friday. We also left it there for the Sunday of Orthodoxy, in which we processed outside around the church with icons. As is often the case in Greece, we had a big turnout this Sunday.

One of Phoebe's friends, Kyriaki, from Alli Meria came with her family for church on Sunday, and stayed afterwards to visit.

And here's Phoebe in the kids' room with her Sarakosti, which the kids made at their school. If I understood correctly, it's something like an Advent wreath designed to mark the time until Pascha: one of the legs is folded back or removed each Sunday.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Parish Trip to the Monastery of the Late Elder Athanasios Mitilinaios

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Yesterday, we took a parish trip to the Monastery of the Dormition of the Theotokos and St. Dimitrios perched on a hill just outside the seaside village of Stomio. The monastery is famous as the home of the late Elder Athanasios Mitilinaios (+2006).

We left Portaria at 1:30, stopped in Volos to pick up some people, and arrived at our coffee stop at 3:00, at a mall in Larissa, which is about halfway to the monastery. It was a beautiful sunny day, and Benny and Phoebe (Paul was home with a slight cold) spent the whole playing at the outdoor playground.

Our driver and my friend, Fr. Stavros, and I took some coffees to go and sat outside with the kids, while most of the others had a coffee at this cafe. We were also joined by my new friend Fr. Dcn. Nikolaos and his family. 

We arrived at the enormous monastery at 5:00 just as it was re-opening from the midday rest. The monastery is quite historic. We know that the area has been settled since at least by the 6th century BC, since a graveyard from that period was found nearby. It also seems that the monastery was built on the ruins of an ancient pagan temple, possibly dedicated to Poseidon. Around the 4th or 5th century, a small church was built on the site of that temple. Later, a monastery developed. Tradition dates the monastery to the reign of Justinian (6th century), but others date it later. 

The inscription above the door into the old part of the monastery dates its founding to 1492, the same year Columbus "discovered" the New World. In the 16th century, the monastery held 300 monks. Today, it has about 10.

The grave of Elder Athanasios, located in the courtyard of the new part of the monastery.

Another view of the new part of the monastery, which is the first part one enters.

And here we are again in the new courtyard, with the door to the old part on the right. A chapel is located in the background to the left. One of the monks gave us a talk in there about the history of the monastery and the importance of the fast before we saw the rest of the monastery.

The kids running around the courtyard.

Here we are entering the monastery's (past and future) main church, which is being reconstructed. In the background you can see the cells that once encircled the main church.

Our friend Babis having a good time on the bus with other parishioners.


Μονή Αγιου Δημητρίου Στόμιο The Catholicon (main church) follows the Athonite type, with three apses and 4 corner chapels. Its upper part has been destroyed, but is currently renovated by the 7th Ephoria of Byzantine Antiquities. Its façade bears a loft extending to a part of the north and south sides. According to an inscription kept at the monastery, the Catholicon dates from 1543. Its wall paintings from 1758 were destroyed during a fire in 1868 and only traces are salvaged in the four chapels. The paintings belong to the workshop of the painter Theodoros. The 1492 inscription salvaged at the gate testifies to the Byzantine past of the monastery, whose Catholicon was discovered during  the excavation works under the modern church.
Special characteristics of the monument
One of the most representative samples of Byzantine architecture, as this was preserved in the 16th century and an important sculptures’ museum (5th, 6th, 11th centuries).
The above is taken from a tourist website. The aerial photo gives a good idea of the monastery's size. The entrance is to the right.

Fr. Symeon, who guided us, showed us the best preserved chapel of the four corner chapels, dedicated to St. Nicholas. The frescoes there from 1758 have been almost completed saved and restored, and feature scenes from the life of the saint.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Kids' Ski Lesson

Last year, the boys had their first ski lesson at the ski center in Hania, just 20 minutes up the mountain from us in Portaria. We promised to go again this winter, but the winter has been so mild that there really haven't been many chances.

A couple weeks ago was our chance. On Saturday morning, our friends Apostolis and Stavroula accompanied me and the triplets up to the ski center, where the kids had a ski lesson. Although Phoebe had been too afraid to try it last year, this year she was gung-ho. While we waited for our lesson to start, and to fortify themselves, the kids first "repaired" to the ski lodge for a hot chocolate.

Here's Benny.

And Phoebe.

Paul on the tow-rope.

Paul heading down. You can see the ski lodge off to the right.

Phoebe really liked skiing and they're all eager to go again.

Here's a little video.

And here's Benny collecting his skis to return them to rental center.