January 11, 2010
The Port City of Patras, Family, and Blessed Going-Away Presents
While in Athens, I had the chance to visit with some of my family members in the city of Patras, the town in which my father was born and raised. My great aunt took me on a walking tour of the city, where I saw the regular hang-outs my dad would frequent as a young boy, as well as the cathedral of Saint Andrew the Apostle. This church was simply amazing, as you can see in the picture. I venerated the relics of the Apostle and the X-shaped cross on which he was crucified. Again, I felt very blessed to have had the chance to be in the presence of another one of Christ's glorious saints and apostles. The smaller, older church pictured with an X-shaped cross on the outside is the older Church of Saint Andrew, and incidentally, is the SAME church in which my parents were married, back in 1971, it was quite special for me to see it. There was also a well of holy water located to the right of the old church, which is said to have been established by the Apostle Andrew himself before his martyrdom in this city. Later that week is when I returned to Thessaloniki to spend the remainder of my stay in Greece. Writing this post about two months later makes me wonder just why I didn't stay longer! Taking the plane from Athens to Thessaloniki on a clear day, allows one to see Mount Athos on its southwest side! My camera was packed away, but I found a picture of something similar to my view online (left). What a blessing it was to just see it from the sky! On November 7, another blessing was bestowed on us--being able to attend the consecration of a new Church! This Church is dedicated to the Holy Trinity, at the men's monastery in Panorama. Metropolitan Anthimos of Thessaloniki, as well as another Metropolitan, Seraphim of Kythiron and Antikythiron, were presiding. The consecration of an Orthodox Christian Church is quite similar to the Baptism and Chrismation of a new person into the faith. The following saints' relics were placed into the altar table during the service and sealed: One of the 40 martyrs of Sebaste, The 5 new martyrs of Samothrace (Greece), Saint George of Cyprus, and Saint Magdarius. This is the second Church consecration I attended in 2009, the first was at my parish in Charlottesville, VA, Saint Nicholas. I am definitely undeserving of the amount of grace I experienced at these services this past year, but God gives us such gifts in abundance out of His infinite love for us. I can never be thankful enough. Being able to participate in the entire service by just being there, by processing with the people around the new Church of the Holy Trinity, and by entering into the kingdom during the Divine Liturgy was one of the best going-away presents that Greece gave to me. The week following the Consecration, I stayed at the women's monastery dedicated to the Nativity of the Theotokos, which is right next door! It is customary to perform Divine Liturgy in a newly-consecrated Church each day for 7 days, and so, there was a vigil service each night of my stay. Again, countless blessings given to me, the most unworthy and neglectful one. My stay at the monastery was very good for me, it was a time of rest, healing, and gaining of much spiritual strength. The nuns were so loving and so very lively and hospitable, they would treat me to coffee often so that we could just talk. I learned about how this community of monastics live in the love of Christ. It was interesting to me each sister's story about how she came to become a monastic had one common theme: they had a strong desire to live in this way, to serve Christ by giving of themselves totally and completely to Him. In the photo above, you can see one of the many labors of love for Christ (διακωνήματα) that the sisters do--the restoration and preservation of holy icons and other holy items from not only decades, but centuries past. Here, in their workshop, an icon of Saint George from around the 13th century was cleaned and the colors are once again vibrant. Other types of work include the regular cooking and cleaning rotations for all 40 of them, as well as: an iconography studio (they wrote the icons for the newly consecrated Holy Trinity Church, see above), a well-kept garden (I had tomatoes in November!), a sewing workshop where the make vestments for priests and church items (the Altar table cloths), a publishing office where they transcribe homilies of their Elder, Father Symeon, into books (lots of them!), and also a craft workshop where they make various gift items such as children's sketchbooks and decorative items for weddings and baptisms. And did I mention that they are located in Panorama, a town outside of Thessaloniki where one can watch views of the waterfront of Thessaloniki or Mount Olympus from the window as she sews or works in the flower gardens. This also gave me some enlightenment about the calling to marriage and family life as well. For those of us who are living in the world, the monasteries offer a witness to living a true and concrete life in Christ. The lives of monastics are centered on the daily cycle of prayer services because their primary duty is prayer, even during their manual labors and meal times. They pray for us, and so their work and activities are more concentrated around the prayer schedule of the Church. This is the same standard that we are called to follow while living in the world. Saint John Chrysostom says that the only difference between a monk and married man is that the married man has a wife. I left the monastery feeling strengthened for continuing my spiritual journey in the world, as well as having several new friends who I know are constantly remembering me and my loved ones in prayer. My last weekend in Thessaloniki was a treat because my hosts were a family with 3 great children, and amazing, God-loving parents. It was really nice to compare the life of an Orthodox family in the world with that of the monastery. I truly saw no huge differences because the goal of both communities is salvation and union with Christ. It's just simply that the monastics do not marry and do not have children. And yes, there are some other minor differences, but not in essence. With this host family, I got to spend time with the kids, we played games, watched movies, and laughed a lot. I'm quite thankful to God for giving me this opportunity to experience my ancestral homeland, which is a rich treasure-chest of grace and love, manifested in the people who live there now and those holy ones who lived here in the past.