Thursday, May 14, 2009

My Sister Visits for Holy Week in Greece

Xristos Anesti! Christ is Risen!

Dear Friends,

Its so nice to be writing you now basking in the joy of Christ's Resurrection. Although many of you have been following me on facebook with the pictures and video's I have posted, I have not shared the words that were spoken by my mind and my heart when my wonderful adventure with my dear sister began a little more than a month ago.

The majesty of Orthodoxy Christianity in Greece cannot be explained, it must be experienced. This is because the metaphysical experience and rush of prayer, combined with emotions of repentance, love, and joy that one experiences in their spiritual life with God, while idiomatic in its personal expression and at the same time shared by all, lacks when speaking of Orthodoxy from a view from the exterior. This spiritual life, combined with the traditions of the faith in arguably its native land, where Saint Paul first sewed the seeds of Christianity has no equal.

If you haven't experienced an Orthodox Christian Pasxcha before, it is a culmination of our faith. A revelation of the kingdom of God, that occurs once a year, but also every week, and to some, every day. Though the period of one week we remember the entirety of Christ's life, and we ponder, wonder, and mourn, on all the things Christ taught, his love for us, his humility and his passion. It is a whirlpool of emotion for those who choose to truly live Great Lent and Holy Week, in which the resurection of Christ surprises us with complete joy at a moment when we suspect all is lost.

Although I wish to share much in explicit detail, as to share the delicious smells before a feast, or the last sip of coffee at the end of a heartwarming chat, yet I must advance with some haste or we are in danger of losing our programmes of the day.

And so my sister came.

She came to me to be flustered by many things, the beauty, the love, and the physical and emotional expression of Greece that is so different by the standards of Western culture.

To see my sister again was a joy that I have never experienced, as seeing each other sporadically after being separated from the days of our youth seemed so unnatural, that when I saw her after being apart such a long period of time, although I expected it, I couldn't help but be shocked to see her.

It was so nice to be with my sister, my first friend. The one that I had practiced love and hate, spite and adoration, laughter and tears, and in retrospect, much of this I had experienced with her in my youth for the first time. But when you are united again with a sibling, it is so easy, and nice to throw ages out the window and blind ourselves to what we have become physically and become what our eyes still reveal: that we are still kids experiencing a siblings' romance . Our eyes don't show age, nor our minds, nor our hearts.... and yet we grow young again.

And so our first moments together were like the mystical emotions after claiming first place in little league, capturing the lead role of the school play, and getting a new pet and bringing it home. It was so fun to be with her again, old, but new.

We spent one night in Athens, and with view of the Parthenon from the balcony, it gave birth to fantasies of what might be revealed in the coming days.

We awoke, and Natalie immediately had her first frappe pronounced (frap-ay) and a few jokes with one of my friends and we were off to the bus station at Kifisos. After claiming our tickets it was funny to hear Natalie, acknowledging the strength of the frappe she drank by stating "What the hell was in that?". I laughed, as any newcomer after their first Greek frappe would likely say the same. I have overheard somewhere that there is a secret ingredient that is added in the Nescafe in Greece - one that either makes it toxic, severely addictive- or probably both.

During our 6 hour bus ride, we had some amazing talks, as we viewed the coast of the Gulf of Corinth, shared a few jokes, filled in my sister of some of my joys and trials of Greece, and even had time for a nap. This was Natalie's first time in Europe, and as I remember my first time in Greece, I was as wide eyed as a newborn baby.

As we rolled through the city of Patras, memories came back to me about my time in this town, and we were greeted by Greece's largest Church, Agios Andreas (Saint Andrew).

Although the bus was not scheduled to stop , my sisters heart did stop as we passed the Church and she scrambled to snap some quick photos. It was such a pity that we didn't go inside, and we both flashed a look of befuddlement to each other and proceeded to give a sigh of missed opportunity.

The short ride to Kilini was charming, as we were greeted with the joys of springtime flowers and warm sunshine that was deemed by me as being the perfect temperature. The ship that was to take us and about 500-800 others was inviting people and cars in a fashion of organized pandemonium as per the usual experience in Greece.

We shared the 1 hour boat ride, with a couple of greek coffee's ( I take mine "metrio" medium if anyone is taking notes) and 2 small bottled waters and shared the with Natalie the incredible discovery that the Greeks have made, that one must drink water with ones' coffee, and the theory behind this. This information was all taken on the deck while we enjoyed the smell and sight of a deep blue sea paired with a light blue sky.

We were greeted at the port of Zakinthos town by a dear friend of mine, a Monk-Priest from the monastery of Agios (Saint) Dionysios, who has treated me with the most love and respect that I have ever experienced. He waited for us at the port after we experienced a long 6 hour bus ride from Athens and 2 hour boat ride from Kilini. (My sister had been traveling for over 36hrs!)

We stopped to see and venerate Agios Dyionysios, who's relics are fragrant and whole. My relationship with him is what originally brought me to this beautiful island, for that I am eternally grateful. (I will add a blog of my first encounter with him, and the miracles and people that surround my life today because of his prayers)

After venerating his relics we stopped by the gift shop, as our friend picked out a few things for us that gave us a taste of the monastery and of the island. He saw that we were clearly exhausted, and we hastily made off for home.

I call it our home because that is how our host family presented their home to us, and our hosts surely provided quite an impressive accommodation with lots of amazing food, drink, all the sleep we desired, and more love that we could have fathomed.

Here is a few pictures that describe our approach to Zakinthos and give a little light on how our first day was there.

Please click on the box below, then press SLIDESHOW in the left hand corner :)

First Days in Zakinthos 3

Alas, this is all I can offer you for now, we have so many pictures and stories to tell that it couldn't be done all today, I will write shortly to you so that you can enjoy some of the beauty that we were able to see!

to be continued soon :) Thanks for reading!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Day 2 in Constantinople

The second day we were there we started with the Ecumencial Patriarchate. It was not very fancy. It was actually very plain, and not quite too impressive from the outside. Could this be the center of Orthodoxy for the entire world? How far has Constantinople fallen? It is tough to see the Patriarchate marginalized in such a way. Sometimes I think that we are greater that we are put in such a position of suffering. If this is confusing, I should inform you that Turkey does not have freedom of religion (so to speak). It is strictly a Muslim country. Orthodox Clergy are not allowed to wear thier proper attire
suited to thier office outside of the Phanar (place of the Patriarchate). Only the Patriarch is allowed to do so. Turkey has closed the majority of Orthodox Churches and monasteries and has turned them either into museums or have barred them from being used. The government of Turkey has marginalized the Patriarchate in so many ways, it is hard to imagine.

to learn more about the Ecumencial Patriarchate click here

This picture above is the Patriarchical Church of St. George. It is amazing, with relics of incredible saints! The last relics in the album below are those of the great Fathers of the Church St. John Chysostom and St. Gregory the Theologian!

for more Ecumenical Patriarchate pictures click below on icon then press SLIDE SHOW

Ecumenical Patriarchate

The relics of St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chysostom were amazing. I prayed that they might bless me with some of their wisdom, and St. John some of his incredible speaking power. It is amazing to think who has worshiped God in this Church, and now I have been able to be a part of it.

Here are some video's of the Liturgy inside of the Patriarchichal Church of St. George

First Litany video

Save us O son of God video

Sofia Orthi video

After this visit we have the Monastery where the first Akathist to the Theotokos was created, which left an indelible mark on the entirety of Orthodoxy recognizing its love and devotion to the Mother of God.

Here are the words to this lovely hymn to the Mother of God :)

click here to hear the hymn

ΤΗ ΥΠΕΡΜΑΧΩ ΣΤΡΑΤΗΓΩ ( tee ee-pear-ma-ho stra-a-tee-goh)
ΤΑ ΝΙΚΗΤΗΡΙΑ ( ta nee- eek- tee- ree- ah)
ΩΣ ΛΥΤΡΩΘΕΙΣΑ (os lee- troh- thee- sah)
ΤΩΝ ΔΕΙΝΩΝ ΕΥΧΑΡΙΣΤΗΡΙΑ ( ton dee-non ev-har-is-teer-ee-ah)
ΑΝΑΓΡΑΦΩ ΣΟΙ (ah-na-graf-o see)
Η ΠΟΛΙΣ ΣΟΥ ΘΕΟΤΟΚΕ (ee po-lis sou theh-o-to-ke)
ΑΛΛΌΣ ΕΧΟΥΣΑ ΤΟ (al- os eh-hoo-sa)
ΚΡΑΤΟΣ ΑΠΡΟΣΜΑΧΗΤΟΝ ( kra-tos ap-ros-ma-hee-ton)
ΕΚ ΠΑΝΤΟΙΩΝ ΜΕ ΚΙΝΔΥΝΩΝ (ek pan-tee-on me keen-dee-non)
ΕΛΕΥΘΕΡΩΣΕΟΝ (e-lef-theh-ros-ee-on)
ΙΝΑ ΚΡΑΖΩ ΣΟΙ (een-a kra-zo see)
ΧΑΙΡΕ ΝΥΜΦΗ (heh-re neem-fee)

For more pictures please click the icon below then click SLIDE SHOW in the upper left hand corner

Μόνη Ακαθίστου

These pictures cannot express the joy that I had by being in this Church, the priest that I was with began a a prayer service in which all of us ended it with this akathist, which left me dumbfounded at the beauty of our amazing faith!

After this awesome place we went to a famous monastery called Μόνη της Χώρας (Monastery of the Country) The icons, I have seen nothing like it in my life. The detail, the care, and the craftsmanship of these icons, many of them mosaics. We gazed at these icons for about an hour and a half, perhaps more. I couldn't help but be drawn in to these icons, and in a sense become part of them. When surrounded by such beauty and the truest expression of heaven I have ever seen, I truly felt like I had left earth and was in God's kingdom. If we could only imagine Hagia Sofia in its original beauty, it was probably much grander than this.

To see more pictures of this magificent Monastery click in the box below then SLIDE SHOW

Μόνη της Χώρας

Our next stop was the final resting place of all of the Ecumenical Patriarchs- "Ζωοδόχος Πηγή Βαλουκλή" (Zo-do-hos Pee-yee Bal-oo-klee) Which was truly magical. The icon you see to your left is over a pool of Holy Water, with fish in it! When I asked my friend why are there fish in the Holy Water, he responded with this story. He said when the Turks were invading Constantinople in 1453 a monk/priest was cooking fish in a pan and another monk ran in to plead to him "The Turks are invading the city!" He replied, "If the Turks are truly invading the city, these fish will jump out of the pan!" ( the fish were being fried ) And so they did, and that is why we now have fish in the Holy Water here! The pool is connected to 4 faucets where anyone visiting may drink of the Holy Water from this pool. (Yes I did!) To see the tombs of the these Patriarchs was surreal, unfortunately we passed though too fast, and it was hard to take in.

Here is a video of this magnificent Church click here

For more pictures of
"Ζωοδόχος Πηγή Βαλουκλή" click the box below, then click SLIDE SHOW

"Ζωοδόχος Πηγή Βαλουκλή

Our last and final stop was incredible and fantastic. It was the archelogical museum of Turkey. But really the Archeological Museum of the Hellenistic Roman Period. The detail of these marble statues was mind boggling. It also, makes you wonder what a world like this could be like? Visions of movies like Troy, Gladiator and the like fill the mind when moving though these halls and seeing these statues!

For more faboulous pictures of the Archeological Museum of Constantinople click on the box below and press SLIDE SHOW

Archelogical Museum

As you can see this was quite a fascinating trip, where I learned a lot about the richness and history of our Orthodox faith as well as the history of the Greek people. Again, I could feel the pain of the Greek people I was touring with, knowing that all this land, churches, and artifacts were taken from them. It is difficult to imagine what it would feel like to look at your stolen property though plate glass, and your places of worship turned into money gobbling museums. There is such a feeling of bittersweet joy when sharing these experiences with them and I am truly sorry for the loss(es).

If anyone is looking for a great side trip, while in Eastern Europe, Constantinople (Istanbul today) is a wonderful journey full of wonderful food, great places to see and truly a European experience whatever anyone might say :) Thanks for reading about my trip, when I post something else I will surely let you know!

If you would like to contribute to my studies please click below!

For my other blog on my spiritual and theological reflections please click here

Monday, February 2, 2009

Back from Constantinople!!!

Wow, just got back from Constantinople... and I looooooooved it. To say the least. I was able to see most of the things that I wanted to see, and more. I really don't know the area too well. Thank God I was invited by a very dear friend of mine to go, who had been to Constantinople before. If you are ever going to Europe, it is an excellent side trip.. and much less expensive than Greece! I was surprised.
Anyway it was truly a miracle that I was able to go because after I was informed that we were going to go (to Constantinople) I lost my passport. The day before!!! I was frantic, walking about 10 miles over the course of the day, to the 2 places (3x each) that I had been for sure the night that I lost my passport. And to the US consulate, and the Police station (2x). I had about given up, was defeated, lost and definitely upset because the trip was already paid for! Ah, perhaps it was divine intervention. As I was so low, I got a call from the police station that they had found my passport! I was able to go!
What I truly have to say about Constantinople (Istanbul) is two fold. It is an amazing place. 15 million people, and absolutely gorgeous. But there is something that I felt is so difficult for the people of Greece to take. This was once Greece's greatest city. The greatest city in the world. One that had the most beautiful churches, the center of civilization. The pride of all Greeks. Only to be taken by the Turks. So this trip for any Greek must be bittersweet to say the least. I asked the priest how does it feel to be in Turkey, (knowing that it was once Greece) he said "it is like I killed my mother and father." Wow.
Well, it is a 10 hour bus ride to Constantinople (Istanbul, but don't say that to a Greek) from Thessoloniki, and it is an amazing ride passing the town of Xanthi, and Fillipi on the way. The scenic views of the mountains with snow capped peaks is absolutely majestic. The ride was long but for some reason I was able to sleep most of the way. As we began to cross the border the tension mounted, not that I had any reason, but I could feel it from the rest of the people on the bus. Turkey, if you may not know occupied Greece for an extended period, and Greece and Turkey have had a long bloody relationship.
What you notice first is the large red Turkish flags across the border and how they contrast with the light blue flag with a white cross of Greece. You couldn't have two more different flags.

Here is a video of our approach to the Greece-Turkey Border

click box below to see the video :)

From Greece-Turkey Border Crossing

Once we were were across it was pretty boring, we stopped for some food and wow, I thought it was incredible. Not exactly for the dishes themselves, but for the yogurt that they served with the meal. I don't know if you have ever had fresh yogurt- but it tastes completely different than the stuff at the store. It was fresh, scooped out of a pan. It tasted like milkified butter. I ended up putting it on everything.
Our first night was rather uneventful, after a long 10 hour bus ride that started at 4am it was off for a short walk down the main drag and off to bed. We stayed at the Peak hotel, where I was able to have my first stand up shower, and first full size bath in Europe! We also got a complimentary full buffet breakfast every day :)
Our first day was full, and our first stop was a the Palace of the Prime Minister of Turkey

It was quite grand, although it could be seen on the faces of all the Greeks that were with us as if they were looking at thier stolen property, now in the hands of another.

...for more palace pictures click on the picture below, then click SLIDESHOW in the upper left hand corner :)

Residence of the Turkish Prime Minister

Our next stop was a boat cruise of the harbor of Constantinople, which was about 2 hours and was amazing. Along with service of coffee and snaks it was great to take a look at what the town had to offer from the view of the water.

more boat tour pictures click on picture below, then click SLIDESHOW in the upper left hand corner :)

Boat Tour Constantiople Harbor

Once we were done with that, we got a chance to go to our Mother of all churches, the grand model in which all Orthodox Churches have been built Agia Sofia!

It was rather difficult being in Agia Sofia. While it is our home, it is half laiden with Islamic writing, and most if not all of the crosses are desecrated. So while it is truly a joy to be in such a church, the sadness that we do not celebrate liturgy and glorify our Lord in it is quite disheartening. The priest that I shared my time with couldn't help it but cry upon our entrance, it show's that his love for God is much more than mine. I think it was all so surreal that I didn't know what to think or to feel. The Icons were amazing, the fantasies that I made up in my mind of worship in this magnificent building were mind boggling. And also to think that the emperors of Rome worshiped Christ in this church, amazing!

Please click on the picture below to see more photos,
then click SLIDESHOW in the upper left hand corner :)

Hagia Sofia

That was about the end of day one we did some walking around the city by the hotel.

In reflection, day one was magnificent, stunning really. I think sometimes that I am living a dream, that I am walking not in reality, but must it be heaven? Walking today into Agia Sofia, and touring the city on a boat, was quite awe inspiring and to do it with someone (my Father confessor) who I hope to be like one day as a person and as a priest.

Stay tuned for Day 2!! In about a week :)

If you would like to contribute to my studies please click below!

For my other blog on my spiritual and theological reflections please click here