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,