Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Night at the Taverna...

5 hours of Παρεα in a Greek Taverna tonight and my head is aching from talking and listening to the soulful strumming of the bazooki and rich Greek folk music (Παρεα is a obviously a Greek word, but one that has no English equivalent...simplest translation: company of friends). I walked out of the Taverna at 1:30am having arrived at 8:30pm and looked back to see the windows still aglow with the lively chatter of people who had been there as long as us. T

hen my eyes were drawn a bit to the left and I saw the dark virtual flashing blue of a glitzy internet cafe directly adjacent to the taverna and it struck me as such a stark contrast. In the Taverna people can sit for hours and talk to one another another, whereas the internet cafe, full of young people playing computer games (sure, this is not ALL that they are used for, but it’s a pretty fair generalization) sucks each person into their own individual world and even if it indirectly relates to others--a social life without actually having to be social. The irony of these two establishments siting directly next to one another was mind boggling.The lively chatter of the taverna can only remain alive for so long if at least one member of the party is able and willing to listen to the other. This requires a certain sense of patience and humility--a virtuous life.

The internet cafe should not overshadow the depth of history, human potential and communal creation that exists in the tradition of the taverna. This was not my first time visiting such an establishment, and they never ceased to amaze me. The wholesome quality, the vibrant energy and the human element enlivens the soul.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Rioting in Greece...

Dear Friends and Family,

Assuredly some of you, at least, have seen in the news that riots are spreading across Greece and centralized in Athens (primarily) and Thessaloniki (secondarily). I wanted to let everyone know that I am safe, and not to worry, but DEFINITELY to pray. These riots are arguably the worst that Greece has seen, and the devastation and destruction left by the anarchists, communists and other leftist groups involved in the rioting will take months to recover from. Many stores have been totally destroyed or burnt. Yet the violence is focused strictly between rioting leftists and police.

In the wake of so much destruction, one cannot help but turn inside and ask some of the most fundamental questions of life and Faith: how could a human being be so destructive? How could this have gotten so out of control? What is my role in all of it? What can I DO? As the shocking site of gutted stores meets the eye, the smell of smoldering trash fills the nostrils, and the feeling of lingering tear gas stings the face, there is a call to turn inward and pray--for all of the residents and workers in Greece who are affected by the destruction, and for the rioters themselves who seem so full of rage that they do not know what they do.

It is very surreal to sit at my computer and read CNN and BBC articles about an event that is occurring down the street from where I live. Not too much else to say.

Lord have mercy!

All is well, other than this. Just had a test for Greek class, and life continues as usual.

miss everyone and can’t wait to be home for Christmas!

with love in Christ,

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Elder Paisos' Grave: Souroti for the Morning

Yesterday a friend and I took a 1EURO and 2 hr long bus-ride a bit outside of Thessaloniki where one can find the monastery of St. John the Theologian. This hesychasterion (a type of monastery...the root of the word coming from the Greek work meaning “quiet” or “silence”) was founded by the late Geronda (Elder) Paisios. His grave is there, as well as a large relic of St. Arsenios the Cappadocian. Geronda Paisios is arguably the most venerated “saint” of the last century in Greece and beyond (saint in quotations because although he is venerated by the people, he has not yet been officially declared a saint). If interested, one can find his biography and some teachings HERE. He is a very inspiring character, exhibiting a simple yet quite profound love for God and neighbor.

HERE is another good link to a bio about Elder Paisios, some of his teachings and photos.

We were taken back by the peaceful atmosphere at the monastery, quite unlike any other monastery we had visited. Quite amazing.

The Library is On Strike Today...

Well, after packing up all of the books, heading off to the library for full day of studying, I was (only slightly) surprised to find the front gate to the library chained with a large declaration pasted on the front proclaiming the harsh injustices that are being imposed upon the poor library workers. Hithertofore, the library would be closed until further notice. Please keep in mind that this Library services a university of well over 60,000 students. Ah well, such is life in Greece. It’s good to know that the system (in general and in Greece) is not infallible.

Anyway, this must not overshadow the wonderful events of the previous weekend as a small excursion was made to Grigoriou Monastery on the Mountain. On the bus from Thessaloniki there were 3 American boys doing an exchange program in Athens. One of them is Russian and baptized Orthodox and others are Lutheran and Catholic. They merely heard about Mt. Athos from different sources in Greece and wanted to check it out. They came to Grigoriou and met some of the monks. It seems as though they enjoyed their stay (constantly saying how they wanted to return), and were all very serious and humble young men. On the ferry ride back into the “world” there was an Orthodox young man coming back from the mountain from the States and we discovered some unexpected mutual friends. Surely, these providential encounters shouldnt come as too much of a surprise, given the international interest in Athos, but it was quite a nice experience.

Not too much else to say. I’ll be heading home for Christmas at the end of December, which I am very excited about.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Γεια σας, Παιδία!

It’s a bit too tiring at night, after working out the old brain during class etc to say too much on the blog (i.e. I’ll try to write in the mornings :)). There are many wonderful gems one discovers from under various rocks here and there. Let’s try to share a few:

On Sunday my friend and I attended a lecture given by Fr. Symeon, who is becoming a more and more well-known spiritual father in the region around Thessaloniki. He is a tiny elderly priest-monk. He walks humbly and with a stooped posture. He has a brilliant smile and a wonderfully soothing high pitched (sing-songy) voice. On Sunday evenings he gives homilies to an auditorium filled with his spiritual children (one of whom estimated that he has well over 2,000 sp children who see him regularly). His talks are simple and unassuming. He sits at a desk on a platform in front of hundreds of attentive listeners and speaks quietly, humbly and (unfortunately for me) with little regard for enunciation of words :). Yet despite his subtle disposition, his powerful words touch the the thirsty soul and give the heart peace.

My Greek friend was there on Sunday as well, and was able to translate for a bit, because it’s difficult to pick up on his fast-paced speech, especially this early on in the game. Fr. S said so many wonderful things. He takes a bit of the Gospel and gives quite an accessible explanation of each little portion. His words are powerful and not empty. One senses a confidence inside each word that allows the gems to rest on fertile ground. The heart is soft in response. It can’t help it; he’s like a child.

He spoke of the need for persistence in our prayers to God, even to the point of being annoying. He pointed out that a patient soul is not irritated when another person is annoying, so how much more patient will God be with our persistence.

He spoke of the need to be like a child in our Faith. To deepen our understanding of this common analogy, he showed how children come with a positive emptiness. In other words, they have not been filled, like adults, with various opinions and the confusion and baggage of the world. He said we must strive to attain this same emptiness in order to be “child-like” in our Faith.

He said much more but unfortunately I was not able to copy it all down.

Anyway, HAPPY TURKEY DAY to all y’all in the States. I’ll miss all of the good food, that is for sure, but it’s ok to experience it from the outside for once. It will provide good perspective, and good content for the next Thanksgiving where I’m home and have to say what I’m thankful for (“I’m thankful that I can be home for Thanksgiving THIS year as opposed to previous years :)).

I’m making good friends with some of my classmates. They are all very friendly and EXTREMELY generous despite some of them coming from very difficult backgrounds. My one Ukranian friend who is 17 but studying Greek (and doing quite well...although this IS his 4th language :)). Was with me in the cafe the other day and I needed 50 cents. I asked him if he had it (in PERFECT Greek of course :)) and he quickly took out the change. Afterwards, we were walking back to our class and he turned to me and said ”My friend, ANYTIME that you need money I’ll give it to you, of course, that is, if I have it“. WOW! And you could really sense that he meant it. He’s been through a lot. He was sitting at his computer before coming to Greece in Georgia (the country from where he moved after the Ukraine) and was rudely interrupted by bombs hitting neighboring houses. He said that he had a hard time sleeping for a while after this. I wonder why. There are other examples of this level of generosity from others. How humbling. How much we, in America, have to be thankful for.

A Big Prayer: for Gratitude at this time of Thanksgiving

with much love and thankfulness for my family and friends,

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

learning a language...

Well, almost 2 months have gone by since my time in Greece began. It’s hard to believe. I was reflecting on my first few days here and how nervous I was walking around the city having practically no knowledge of the language and no idea what the layout was. For those of you who know me well enough, you also know that my sense of direction isn’t much to call home about. So, my first few days were spent looking at maps, trying as hard as possible to ingrain street names, directions, and locations into my brain as much as possible. Thessaloniki is really quite easy to navigate though, thankfully, and everything is pretty straight forward, especially here in the center.

Many people here (especially students) speak English...for better or for worse (for better at first, for worse when you want to speak Greek with them but they get impatient and switch to English).

I have made friends with some really wonderful Greek students. Besides the fact that they are all-around great people, they are also very patient with my current child-like speaking abilities and are willing to converse with me and correct me all at once. This is a real blessing, because I was finding it difficult to jump on opportunities to speak Greek, especially at first, when people would always want to switch to English. I’ve contemplated the idea of, at some point just saying, in response to their immediate switch to English, ῾Δεν μιλἀω αγγλικἀ. Μιλάω μονο γαλλικἀ῾ (i.e. “I don’t speak english. I only speak French...which is not if they actually spoke french, I’d have to claim muteness or something...Δεν μιλἀω καθόλου...I don’t speak AT ALL :)).

I have also started assisting at the reader’s stand for orthros at St. George’s (below me). It’s a lot of fun because I can learn Greek and a little byzantine chant all at once. It is strange to assist in a language that is foreign (although less and less so everyday). As of now, I read the Trisagion Prayers (Holy God...etc) the petitions (Lord have mercy etc) and some other short prayers. Slowly but surely I’m learning some of the longer prayers and tones. What a process though. I was telling someone the other day that it’s like opening up door and finding a whole other world on the other side. It’s actually much more exciting than I anticipated, even just to come across new words that will help beef up my vocabulary etc. It’s also a GREAT lesson in patience. One that I fail at regularly. There are some days when I feel like I am learning absolutely nothing, and others when I feel like everything is going so fast.

At the church, the chanter is a very nice elderly man named Nicholas. We’ve begun having rather long chats after church. He only speaks broken English, so it’s a perfect situation, because we speak mostly in Greek, but when I don’t understand a word, he will use a combination of English, Greek and complex hand gestures to explain it to me. He’s also very patient, and one of the few elderly Greeks that I have met who will actually speak clearly, slowly and didactically. It occurred to me that most Greeks from the older generations are definitely not as acclimated to the increasing globalization that the younger generations (esp in America) experience...where it’s common to have to speak slowly to a foreigner etc.

Anywho, all in all it’s pretty surreal that in two months I went from having virtually no understanding of modern Greek (and a bit of background in ancient Greek) to where I am now, albeit a FAR shot from being anywhere close to comfortable/fluent. Still a long ways to go, but I’m learning (and was told by a very nice priest here) that like many things, it’s as much about the process as it is about the result.

For any of you polyglots out there. If you have any tidbits of advice to throw my way, I’d certainly appreciate it. I’ve gotten some great advice thus far, which has REALLY been helpful, but I can always use more.

Ok, hope all is well with everyone!

with love in Christ,

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Practical Theology--The Value of Waiting

The last few days can properly be called “A Lesson in Practical Theology: The Value of Waiting.”

I realized in retrospect that I severely underestimate the value of waiting. In other words, how easy is it to jump directly to the result--to see life as a string of results that require “waiting periods.” These blips in time, as it were, are seen as an inevitable absence, as opposed to a crucial opportunity. Needless to say that my experience with the Resident Permit Office in Thessaloniki at least showed me how far I was from seeing an event as producing fruit when it doesnt produce results. Well, this is a bit abstract, but maybe you know what I mean. I wrote an e-mail to my mother and she suggested that I post my description of the Residence Permit office on the blog so that y’all can get a bit of a sense of what the bureaucracy is like in these parts. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly cynical descriptions. It was an amazing experience (mostly in retrospect) and one that I know I will remember for a long time to come...and sadly will probably have to repeat...although, God-willing, with a bit more patience, love, long-suffering etc etc etc.

I got the paper that I need to be able to travel back home for Christmas! God is very good and has taught me an immeasurable amount of lessons through this experience...

I bought Greek health insurance, because i won’t be covered by the school until next year and my American insurance only covers me for emergency care while abroad and the office won’t accept this. Well, after submitting my certificate for Greek insurance to the Residence Permit office I was told that they wouldn’t accept the letter from the insurance company because they claimed it didn’t cover enough. Yet the Insurance company, which is the biggest private company (at least for life insurance) in Greece sends the exact same letter to ALL of the offices all over Greece and only this office for ME gave them a problem. As it turns out, it was only because they didn’t know about the extent of my coverage and so they were a bit insecure and therefore rejected me. Imagine, having government workers reject an application based on insecurity...well, I’m sure it happens in the states, but I never had to deal with immigration offices before. I have to tell you, it has been an eye opening experience to see how some of these poor souls are treated when they seek solace in a country that is certainly better than their own (usually from Albania or Bulgaria etc.)...but I am VERY grateful that I am an American.

Imagine walking into a 3rd floor office which is appropriately placed at the end of a hidden stairway in back of a random alleyway on a small side street outside of the center of Thessaloniki. The first thing you smell (or rather see AND smell) is THICK THICK smoke from all of the agitated employees trying to calm their frayed nerves with cigarettes. Then you see a jungle of people—families with children, students, immigrants from Africa, china etc—and a jungle of paperwork that they are hurriedly trying to prepare for the employees who sit behind thick plexiglass counters and pretend not to speak anything but Greek, when in fact they often speak English. All of the signs are, of course, in Greek (b/c why would an immigration office EVER put up signs in English or some other language that ALL of its customers could understand :))...and you have no ideas where to go. Finally, after waiting for a good amount of time, you discover that you were supposed to give them your passport to save a place in line. They call your name and you go to spot at the counter where they take your application and pick it to pieces with random, useless criticisms that leaves your head spinning and completely bewildered. Then you are sent away and asked to change this sentence in one of the letters or that stamp on one of the pages. Multiply this experience times 3 or 4 (or if you are my friend from Montenegro, times 20) and you have a basic idea of the waiting period one must pass through. Most of the time they make up requirements that don’t even exist...blah blah blah...ok, I could go on...but I just wanted to give you an idea :). Lest you think my view of the "system" here is that it is totally defective or evil, please read on.

Any Balkan readers who are reading this are probably laughing at me right now. I’m sure this is pretty standard procedure, maybe even better.

Today, the day I received my paper, the office was exploding with clients SCREAMING at emplyees and employees SCREAMING back at clients. Two fights almost broke out and it literally seemed like the entire office of employees ended up yelling at eachother. They finally called the police who seemed to calm everyone down. 

Anyway...amidst this chaos, there are BIG lessons to be learned...prayer, inner peace, patience, love, long-suffering, selflessness etc.

You should try it sometime :)

Glad you stuck with me through the whole story.

Until next time,

with much love,

Monday, November 10, 2008

Weekend at Vatopedi

Dear Friends,

What a weekend! My friend Dn. Gregory and his (and now my) Greek friend Paris and headed off to Vatopedi Monastery on Agion Oros where we spent our Saturday, Sunday and part of Monday.

Upon leaving the Holy Mountain, Paris made the comment that every time he goes, it feels like time passes very slowly while he is there, but then when he leaves, it’s as if he had just left a moment ago. I truly felt the same way. Going to monasteries, for some reason, feels like an eternity of precious moments and blessings all strung together. Yet the “descent” into normal life is an experience in and of itself, often a battle between the loud and stressful jungle of everyday life and the quiet, unassuming, simple and eternal beauty of the spiritual life.

We were able to speak with the Abbot (Ephraim) and receive his blessing. He is a wonderful man--fairly young, white beard, very kind and joyful. I was struck by how intently focused he was on everyone he spoke to, devoting his entire attention to each individual, instead of scattering his attention all at once on everyone. He was very kind to us as well.

Providentially we met an American young man who Dn. Gregory immediately pegged as an American when he saw him in church. I, on the other hand, had this strange feeling that I recognized him. I couldn’t figure it out until we started talking and I discovered that he was the boyfriend of a friend of mine from our Diocesan conferences. We had even corresponded at one point during the past year, and I had seen pictures of him (which is why I recognized him). What a small small world.

One thought: I dragged a bit of skepticism along with me initially, as Vatopedi is such a LARGE monastery (over 100 monks, thousands of square feet and multiple large-scale projects being accomplished on site), and my experience had been at smaller monasteries. Would it be very impersonal or busy? Would the swarms of pilgrims (over 100,000 every year) detract from the desire for silence and pray? All of these thoughts ran through my mind before we arrived, and all of them were quickly put to rest as we were treating with the utmost kindness and philoxenia (very rich word for hospitality). Despite the shear enormity of all that is Vatopedi, one still sensed the intimacy of each monk’s struggle and intense prayer-life amidst it all.

Well, I’ll let the pictures say the rest. I’ve included a link of Dn. Gregory’s wonderful pictures of our week. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

2 entries in 1 day?!?!

Yes, who would have ever thunk...the man who can’t write a thank you note when someone gives him a million dollars is writing two blog entries in 1 day. Well well well...the world is a different place :).

One more thought. Just had a wonderful evening spent with beautiful young people going out to eat and celebrating a friend’s name’s day. Granted 90% of the conversation was in Greek, and I understand...ehhh...let’s not go there. But what a wonderful lesson. To experience joy even with a lack of understanding. To be in a position of helplessness and dependancy on the help of others. I won’t continue. Just to say that not knowing a language can be a blessing.

Abide in the Gospel...

I am continually reminded, amidst the various “challenges” (or in reality, blessings) that one faces studying abroad in a place like Greece, of some very good pastoral advice that I received via a homily:

Abide in the gospel. Do not abide in disturbances of everyday life, but abide in the Gospel.

This advice came back to mind as I was beginning to worry a bit about some paperwork that needed to be done, and I realized how I was dwelling in this problem, when I am, in fact, called to dwell in the the Way of Christ.

Anyway, just a thought from a wise priest that helped me in the midst of everyday life!

with much love,

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Γεια σας!

Not a whole lot to report on this side of the world. Today all of the Americans (and the rest of the Greek world) found out, early in the morning, that Barack Obama (Μπαράκ Ομπάμα στην Ελληνικά) will be the new president of the good old US of A. I’ve made a variety of friends from various countries (Congo, Brazil, Ukraine, Greece etc.), and everyone is thrilled that Obama won. My friends from Congo are especially grateful, because they strongly believe that some of his policy changes will affect the unstable situation in their country at the present. God-willing this will be the case. Nevertheless, it is very interesting to experience an American election from another country. EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE new that America was having elections. It was all over the news and many people were perhaps more interested in the results than many Americans. It’s all fascinating (and somewhat scary) to behold :).

This Saturday is my names-day new calendar (for Archangel Michael and the Heavenly Hosts), but before I had a chance to notice this I was invited and accepted an invitation to go with my friend Fr. Gregory to Mt. Athos. There they celebrate old calender which means they will not be celebrating Archangel Michael. But, not to worry, because St. George’s (as you know by now, if you’ve been keeping up with everything) has an “All Night” Vigil (Αγρυπνία) on Fridays and this friday will be for the Bodiless Hosts, so that will be nice.

Other than that there’s not much else to say. Just needed to fulfill my blogging obligation. I will check back in soon!

Discovered Gems
Here’s how we should see the path of love: “We get when we give, we don’t give when we get.” Inotherwords, we don’t give out of our bounty, but we give, period, and by this sacrificial giving we will find true joy.

“The more people deviate from the natural simple life and move towards luxury, the more human stress increases. And as worldly politeness expands, simplicity, joy and the natural human smile are lost.”
        -A very holy spiritual person

Say Glory to God and Lord Have Mercy. These phrases are like two wings that go together, and should be said throughout the day.


Friday, October 31, 2008

This Month's Theme is...

In college (and surely elsewhere) many of the manly-men had themed this coming month “No Shave” November. Inspired by this sense of purpose and sobriety I have developed my own theme for November:

No-Messin’-Around November

The reason this arises is because I would like to ask all of my friends and family for prayers. Up to this point everything has been very out of the routine (in a good way of course)--visiting different wonderful sites, settling in with a new language and culture, wading through the seemingly eternal pool of bureaucratic paperwork etc etc etc. But November has rolled around, and things are settling down into more of a solid routine, thank God. Please say a little prayer, if you have the chance, that the Lord will give me strength and focus to continue with this routine and do the work that has been set before me.

Thank you!

with MUCH love,

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

St. Demetrios Weekend!

Well, as promised, I’ve severely slacked on my blogging, but at least I warned everyone!

I couldn’t, however, resist the desire to share a bit about the events of this weekend as they have been very memorable!. Yesterday (Sunday that is), was the Feast of St. Demetrios here in Greece (and for the rest of the new calender Orthodox world). I had heard about how special in was to the people of Greece (and especially the inhabitants of Thessaloniki) but it was such a wonderful display of piety and that I could not have expected. Granted there was the usual superficial partying that occurs in all holy days and holidays...but the special moments became evident in the most unconventional ways.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I was trying to decide whether to stay in Thessaloniki for the feast or whether to use the few days off from classes to take a trip to a monastery or somewhere outside of the city. Christopher, one of the Americans studying here, invited me to join him on a trip to a small monastery in the tiny mountainous village of Siatista. His friend from school was a monk there, and also a deacon under the Metropolitan of that region. In the end, I decided to go with him, because I thought that it would be a nice retreat from the city and also a wonderful way to celebrate the feast.
We set out on Saturday morning in a coach bus for the town of SIatista to stay at the monastery for the weekend. It was a rainy saturday and as we passed the city limits, I wondered whether it would be this we throughout our mini vacation. We passed farms, factories, beautiful houses and picturesque hillsides. Finally, as we began to reach the town, our bus slowly climbed up into a small mountainous region where, as we were told later, many of the villages have as few as 30 residents. It was very surreal--paying $20 (EU) round-trip to make a 2 hr journey to a monastery in Northern Greece...but what can you do...enjoy the ride!

Needless to say, we met Christopher’s friend, Fr. A, at the bus stop in a neighboring town, where the Metropolis of the region was located (and the bishop that Fr. A served under lived) and accompanied him to the center. We entered the Metropolis center and were greeted by the sacred sound of silence and a very cozy yet venerable looking parlor, with antique mahogany chairs with red velvet cushions and large portraits of the previous Metropolitans adorning the walls. The center was as large as a small mansion I would say, but had a very intimate feel to it. We were greeted by the chancellor of the diocese, a very bubbly and joyful middle-aged priest, who welcomed us with open arms. Christopher and I waited in the parlour for a few minutes while lunch was being prepared. After about 10 minutes we were beckoned into a kitchen/informal dining room where we were invited to sit down to eat with the Metropolitan, Fr. A, the chancellor, the Metropolitan’s second deacon, and driver. It was a DELICIOUS meal, prepared by some of the women who worked for the Metropolitan, and was eaten in almost total silence.

After our meal we departed for the monastery, which was about 30 minutes away. We traveled on winding mountain roads that over-looked a gorgeous view of the neighboring villages. Finally we pulled into the monastery parking lot and entered through the large wooden gates. Christopher and I were shocked to find a paradaisical looking facility, with beautiful gardens, large tan-colored stone walls, and a complex of a few good-sized buildings, all tucked into the corner of a large mountain hill-side. We were greeted, from the very beginning, with the warmest hospitality by the all of the monks and even guests who stayed there. In total, there were around 7 monks (including the Abbot/Elder). 4 of them are hieromonks (priest-monks) and the others are simple monks/novices. We were taken into the church to venerate, and were struck by the beautiful iconography which dated back to the 16th century. Despite the fact that the monastery complex was very new (only 12 years old), it was built around a 300 year old church which was not only beautifully painted, but also had an extremely peaceful atmosphere. The entry-ways were all very low, requiring you to bow as you entered the dimly lit chapel, in order to show reverence for the holy place of worship. The monks chanted simply, but with a striking amount of sincerity (like you could really tell they meant what they were saying)...even compared to other monasteries that I have visited.

The Abbott/Elder there was full of humble love and joy. His name was Father Stephanos. He was an elderly man with a beautiful white beard, radiant smile and gleaming eyes. He greeted us after a long night of hearing confessions with love and heart-felt care. Throughout our stay he made sure that we were well taken care of even in the midst of the constant stream of pilgrims who wanted to visit with him. Another thing that struck me, however, was how much sincere love and affection his spiritual children (both monastic and lay) showed him when they were with him. They would embrace him and hold his hand and joke with him. Both Christopher and I came away from the monastery with the strong impression that we had just witnessed the strong spiritual love of a family.

We heard many powerful words and accounts when we were there, but it wasnt what was said that made it such a wonderful visit. The candle-lit chapel was not just ‘mystical’ or ‘spiritual’ but conducive to the important work that has been set before us--prayer. Anyway, life is back to “normal” (as much as it can be in the surreality of living in a foreign country) here in Thessaloniki. I attended the “Oxi Day” military parade where I got to see huge tanks, anti-aircraft missiles, ant-land mine equipment, bazookas, rockets and the like stroll past me 10 feet away. It reminded me of all of my dear friends in the armed forces. Life is not a joke or a first draft I guess.

I will be going to class today after some time in the library. Please pray for me!

with love,

Thursday, October 16, 2008

yes it's real life


Imagine going into a hospitable for an x-ray having scheduled an appointment at the desk that says “appointments” the week before, and going back to that SAME desk and asking them in Greek “where is my appointment” and having them tell you “go here and ask these people”...then you go there and “those people” say “go here and ask these people” then you go to “THOSE people” and they say “go back to person A and ask them” and you say “I ASKED them and they told me to come to YOU” and they say “well you’ll have to ask them” and then you go back and start all over again and repeat the process about 3 times until you finally go back to person A and stand in front of her window until she gets up out of her seat and leads you to a building that you haven’t been to before and tells you ACTUALLY where to go...which FINALLY turns out to be the right place (why she didn’t tell you before is a mystery). Then you go there, get an x-ray, take it downstairs to some random nurse who gives you a paper to take to the registers to pay in cash, who then sends you somewhere else to wait for 2 hours to be told that you need to come back later b/c you need to get a TB test at a random clinic on the other side of town that closes in 1 hour anyway (at about 1pm). So you leave, with your head spinning, but realizing that there is more to life than good clean American systems, and feeling that much closer to curing your case of American systematism.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Just finished first class of the year yesterday. Glory to God. I think it will be a good class. We have a very good, very entertaining and organized, teacher. Many people told me that there might be difficulties with the class because teachers begin the class speaking in Greek and not English, and because everything is disorganized and the students are often not motivated. None of these concerns seem to be the case here. Everyone seems to be motivated and the teacher seems excellent. Who knows. Maybe something will change. Glory to God!

Unfortunately (or fortunately I think) my internet (which I was 'borrowing' from my neighbors) is now secured. This means that internet access will be much less frequent (as I will be using it at the school). It is very interesting that this occurred on the same day classes were to start. I’m thinking that it is a two-fold sign. 1) Buy your own internet access, and stop stealing from others (even though you can hardly call it stealing…but maybe that is controversial) and 2) Focus more on the language.

I am also very excited to say that there are two Romanian clergymen in my class (one deacon and the other an Archimandrite) both of whom are from Bucharest and know Teo and Fr. Teofil. It is a SMALL world.

Home Sweet Home...errrr...

I am writing this entry from the Bibliotheekee (Library). For some reason this place seems a lot like home. Well, for those of you who knew me at Gordon, I suppose that makes a bit of sense. They have a really nice room here with lots of large glass windows, big study tables and multiple signs that boldly proclaim “ΗΣΥΧΙΑ” (SILENCE!). Actually, it is very quiet in here (as it was in the good ole Reference Room, whenever all of the student were actually doing their work) and the woodword is even quite similar. I suppose the only differences are the size of the room and the birds. Yes, you heard correctly…the birds. The first time I was in hear, the windows were open and there were large birds flying in and out. Now it seems as though there is even a wee little sparrow nest just to the left of where I sit. Well, as long as they don’t use my head as a toilet, I think we’ll get along just fine.

Today is allegedly the first day of class. I say allegedly because I just heard from two of my American colleagues who were supposed to have class today in the morning (mine is at 3pm) who told me theirs was canceled. This was not a complete surprise, nor will it be for me if mine is canceled, as the registrar told us that classes do not officially begin until the majority of the students who have been accepted actually pay their tuition. Oh well, pray that this happens sooner rather than later please!

Either way, life in Greece is become a BIT more normal. At least I am getting used to the varied and diverse noises in and around my apartment building. All in all, however, I have an unusually quiet situation for my central location in the city.

Before making the trek to the library this morning, I went to a church in downtown Thessaloniki where, I was told, there was a good English-speaking priest, who confesses many of the Americans. I was able to locate him in his office to the side of the Church (which is beautiful by the way), and we had a very nice little “getting to know you” type chat, in which he proceeded to give me very good advice: don’t treat your time hear, your learning the language etc etc as a hobby. He said something to the effect of: “if I must sit here at this desk for at least 8 hours a days, then you should spend as much time studying the language.” He warned me against feeling satisfied with the hobby-like mentality for learning Greek, because the external satisfaction of learning the language will come to the end, and there will be nothing internally. But if there is pain on the outside, and a little suffering, then the satisfaction will flow from the inside. Thank God for that advice, now if only I can follow it!

Oh, rewind to yesterday: I went vespers at Panagia Dexia (a really beautiful church about 1 minute from my house with a miracle-working icon inside). As we were leaving, there was a priest-monk and layman entering. The priest-monk really struck me for some reason; so I asked Christopher (a friend who I was with) if we could stop just to ask him where he was from. It turns out he was from Mexico! We received his blessing, and that was that.

But the real kicker, was when we were walking past the Arch of Galerius (kind of a meeting point in the center of Thessaloniki if you want to meet up with a friend), I saw a guy that I had seen before at a conference at Holy Cross. He was walking with his girlfriend, and I pointed him out to Christopher. At that very moment I thought that perhaps this could be the young man that I was trying to meet (whom I had heard about through a monk-friend who was his uncle). I asked Christopher if he new this man and he said that he did, but couldn’t remember his name. Then he said “actually I think its Petros.” This was the name of the man that I wanted to meet! Anyway, we ran up to him, and found out that indeed it was the right man (who is a doctoral student at the School of Theology and is supposed to be a great guy) and I was able to meet him and make the connection.

Anywho, continuing to adjust. I realize that this will be such a big learning experience, and I am sure that at this point I am very naive and "wet behind the ears," as they say, but its all very exciting and interesting!

Well, I think that’s enough for now. Hope all is well with all y’all!


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Agios Georgios

There is a small and quite unusual looking church (at least from the outside) tucked into the side of an apartment complex directly behind the historic ROTUNDA of St. George. The Church is a Metochion (dependancy) of Grigorious Monastery on Mt. Athos and holds daily vespers and Orthros 3 days a week. The priest’s name is Fr. George, and he is joyful man (in his later years) full of life and love. He does not speak English, but in my few experiences of Orthros at St. George he and his presbyera (and some other Greek attendees) have made it a point to welcome me.

A little background on Fr. George (you may have heard about him if you run in Greek/Orthodox circles). Fr. George is a retired officer in the army. He has 8 Children, 7 of whom are monastics in Greece. The 8th, I believe, is a presbytera. I heard one story about his child-rearing techniques:

He would not let his children watch television growing up. This can often cause conflicts with other children, however, because most other children are allowed to watch TV. To solve this problem, he resolved to take his family on a vacation once a year, each time to a different part of the world. This way when his children would be asked “Did you see _____ show last night” they could say, “No, where was that filmed though?”...Usually these shows would come from other parts of the world and the reply would almost always be “from America” or “from Paris” or “from Spain.” Then the child would say, “well, no, I didnt see the show, but I HAVE been to the place that it was filmed.”

I thought that was pretty cool.

Anyway, these early morning services, besides being necessary for the soul, seem like they will give me a good chance to interact on a significant level with native Greeks.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Like an Infant...

My blogging discipline is very low. Sadly, it is difficult to keep up with it all. Please forgive me if you want more.

Today I tasted Greek bureaucracy. After all was said and done, I realized that it was not the bureaucracy that bothered me, but my impatience, fears and anxieties.

Imagine entering a situation where no mental formulation can even begin to solve the solution to your problem (i.e. get Form “A“ from someone in a foreign Hospital with no signs in English, and really no background in Greek).

I was like an infant--completely helpless; in the arms of...

Well, in America it would have been:

  1. The Information Booth

  2. A helpful English-speaking doctor/nurse

  3. A helpful English-speaking family member of a patient

  4. An English-speaking Janitor

  5. My own logic/reasoning

  6. Moooooomie!!!

In Greece (and not to “bang on” Greece, because as you will soon realize...Greece has the cure to the American disease that I will call systematism), my options were drastically limited:

  1. Greek-speaking, kind people (but they spoke GREEK and I didnt)

  2. My fears

  3. GOD


I fear writing this, because I do not want to prematurely synthesize, codify or summarize, so forgive me.

All to say: I think Greece has the potential to cure my Systemetism, with which I am severely infected, by the grace of God :).

Well. Nuff said.

Much love,

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Arrival in Thessaloniki

Ok, Here I am. Wow. My flight and travels to Greece were EXTREMELY uneventful and passed by so quickly I practically don’t even feel like I traveled. Things are feeling a little “twilight zone”-like but hey, its fun.

Nektarios, my good friend, was kind enough to pick my up from the airport and showed me my apartment that he was also (very) kind enough to prepare for human habitation.

It’s a very nice 1 person apartment which has a good sized bedroom, usable bathroom (sometimes unusual for these small apartments in the city), nice kitchen, and a hallway sitting area/living room. I also have a small balcony which overlooks a yard and other apartment buildings :). One of the big pluses is the fact that I have A LOT of sunlight. This can often be hard to find in these apartment buildings, and can even turn into a health risk when mold begins to grow.

One of the really nice perks about my living situation is that it is directly adjacent to the church of St. George, which is a dependancy of Grigoriou Monastery on Mt. Athos. They actually have an all-night vigil every Friday night. I went this past Friday and it was beautiful!

So I began this entry before I left for Mt. Athos but wasn’t able to finish it. Since then I’ve been to the Holy Mountain for about a week, where I visited a monk-friend at Zographou monastery (the Bulgarian monastery on the Mountain) and celebrated the Exultation of the Cross (old calendar) with the monks there by doing an all-night vigil. It was wonderful, but I got a bit sick from the change in temperature, combined with a somewhat strenuous hike, and staying up later than I should. By the time I reached my second destination, Grigoriou Monastery, I was definitely feeling under the weather. I was blessed, however, to received EXCELLENT medical treatment from the monks there, who gave me everything from Airborne-like pills, to delicious honey/lemon/mountain tea, to salt water (to snort, which by the way works EXTREMELY well to relieve congestion and sinus pressure) and some strong alcoholic beverages to boot. Needless to say by going to the Church and sleeping most of the rest of the day, I was feeling much better by the end of the trip.

Besides sleeping however, I was able to have some wonderful conversations and meet some pilgrims who were staying there, one of whom was just baptized yesterday after having discovered Orthodoxy through research in his native land of Sweden. He encountered a priest who told him that he should visit the Holy Mountain to learn more. He spent some time in Sweden at some of the few Orthodox Churches there, and then headed to Mt. Athos where he stayed at a monastery for at least 1 month in order to learn about the faith and be baptized into the Orthodox Church. He was a wonderful young man, and you all can pray for him...his name is Seraphim (and we discovered that on the day of his baptism, the relics of St. Seraphim of Sarov were due to visit Greece for veneration).

There are some other Americans studying here, and on the day of my return from Mt. Athos, we gathered at one of their apartments for a little “getting to know you” time. Needless to say, I am praying that I don’t “get to know them” too well, at least for the first 6months-1year as I know that it is not advisable while trying to learn the Greek language.

Well there is so much more to say, but I will leave that for another entry. I am off to Vespers tonight at St. Charalambos church where I am told that there are a number of young folks who attend, and the priest is very pastoral and welcoming. God-willing this will all work out :).

Ahhh...brief note on struggles and realizations: it has not been easy living alone in these first days in Greece. It has been filled, however, with rich lessons and realizations about my own shortcomings and God’s Grace! Glory to God for all things! What a comfortable life I lead in America.

with MUCH love in Christ,

p.s. Feel free to email me if you want to chat further:

Monday, September 22, 2008

1 DAY!

The paradox is stunning. I sit in a quiet, peaceful, normal home, bumming around the house as if it were a regular day off. I sense the familiar sites, smells, feelings of home

and yet

I leave for Greece tomorrow!

Friday, September 12, 2008

11 DAYS!

Hello Everyone,

I figured I would get started with this blogging business in order to get myself into the habit of actually posting. I probably won’t post regularly until I actually arrive in Greece.

I’m shocked that this big adventure is only 11 days away.

It’s like staring out over a cliff just as you are about to jump--unsure of the end result etc.

Well, we’ll keep it short and sweet for now. Until next time!


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Dear Friends,

Christ is Risen!

As promised, I am writing (although very late) to share with you from some of my experiences in Greece this past spring break. In March I was bless to serve Christ and His Church on a RealBreak trip to Greece with over 20 other college students. We traveled to central Greece to help at some monasteries there for one week.

I suppose this trip to Greece meant more to me than just a service trip. I thought about studying there, and thought it would be nice to have this opportunity to experience Greece before I made any decisions. It was truly a blessing!

The moment we arrived at the monastery, we were graced with the prayerful presence of the nuns who lived there. They greeted use with exuberant ringing of bells, angelic smiles and hospitable "welcomes" and hugs. Before we had even step foot on the monastery grounds, and met one monastic, I think we would all agree that we were "home."

The week proved to shock most of us. We were utterly flabbergasted by the nuns' hospitality, love, humility and joy. They radiated the love of Christ to us, and we melted in their presence. We helped them paint rooms, organize workshop spaces, build paths, clear brush and much more. We ate with them, prayed with them, worked with them, spoke with them, laughed with them and cried with them...all in one week!

We experienced Greece in its holy splendor by visiting the ancient monastic community of Meteora. Perched high above stunning tube-like rock formations, the millennium old cluster of monasteries reflects the awe and majesty of a life absorbed in the Creator of this beauty. We toured countless ancient churches and holy sites, one of which included a unique 4th century design, where the enormous pulpit was built in the center of the Church. We were told that the Emperor would come to this church and speak from this pulpit in the 4th century! It was quite the blessing to be able to sing hymns to Christ, the Theotokos and all the saints in a church such as this.

Our finals days in the monastic dwellings were certainly bitter-sweet. We were left with a feeling of apprehension as we prepared ourselves for life back in the "world." What was only a week, seemed to stretch itself out to become more like a year. We had all gained so much in the way of spiritual lessons from this trip, that we all agreed how diligent we would have to be when we arrived back home. Many people used "life-changing" or "the most amazing" as descriptors towards the end of the trip.

I imagine as a whole the trip served more to educate, inspire and form us, rather than as a service trip to these monasteries. Don't get me wrong, we really did work hard. But as usual, the tables were turned, and we found ourselves overwhelmed by the blessings we had been given, and not by what we gave.

Greece is a wonderful country. Its rich and ancient history, especially being the home to so many Orthodox saints and martyrs, emanates from its many spectacular sites, and from its even greater (though not as apparent) holy men and women.

This was not, I pray, an experience that will remain "in the past." My desire is that it will serve to remind me of God's amazing Grace, working through those who serve Him. Glory to God for all things

Monday, February 11, 2008

Help Send Me To Greece!
Click Below To Make Your Donation!

Donations are due February 25, 2008

[Check back after March 23rd for YOUR GIFT,
which will include a daily Image&Text Journal of my trip!]

Dear Friends!

Another year has sped quickly along, and the sirens of Spring Break call to all college students! As you may remember, last year I was blessed to be able to join a team of college-age folks to the orphanage of San Cristobal in San Salvador, El Salvador. The trip was incredible! I never knew that one week could be packed with so many phenomenal experiences and encounters. I pray that for the short period of time that we were there, we were able to bring a little joy and encouragement into the lives of the orphans; either way, one thing is certain: they had a lasting effect on me! To see their joy and generous spirits in the midst of complete poverty and seeming hopelessness was utterly beyond words!

This year, I am able to use my final spring break as an undergrad for another positive experience. I will be traveling to Greece to participate in a service project, to help several monasteries face the material challenges involved in the rebuilding and the rehabilitation of long neglected facilities and properties. There will be reconstruction and renovation projects. Our work will vary from painting, logging, gardening projects, spring cleaning tasks requiring many hands, grounds clean-up, re-organization of spaces, to light construction and recreational projects with handicapped children. The project will take place in Central Greece, near the city of Karditsa. These monasteries, that are off the beaten (tourist) path, are symbols of the love and sacrifice given to the world by monastics who dedicate their lives in prayer for all of us. These monasteries are ancient by American standards, and the work is often too much to handle for the monastics who inhabit them. In addition to the help that we will be giving them, we will be participating in the prayer-life and routine of the monasteries. This will be an incredible opportunity to bridge the gap of culture and vocation as we interact with people who live lives completely dedicated to prayer and service to God!

In order to go on this trip, however, I am humbly asking for your help! No amount is too little, as I have to raise over $1,000 in order to pay for travel, living expenses, and any supplies needed. Any additional funds will go directly to the projects and monasteries! Please prayerfully consider giving as much as you deem fit, and keep our team in your prayers! We leave on March 15th and return March 23rd.

Thanks for your prayers and support!

with love in Christ,

NOTE ABOUT PAYMENTS: Paypal offers a secure method of online payment that allows you to use debit/credit (see above "Donations" button). If you do not feel comfortable doing this, feel free to send any gifts, via snail-mail in check form (which will be tax deductable), made payable to “OCF - Real Break.” Please earmark the check RB 2008 Michael Tishel. All donations need to be collected by February 25th, 2008 (EXCEPTION: Late Donations are still accepted even after the trip, they will go to the general pool that is compiled for my trip).

Mailing Address (please include note w/ your own name/address so that I can send you an update and "thank you" note!):

Orthodox Christian Fellowship
P.O. Box 300249
Boston, MA, 02130