Friday, December 25, 2009


Dear Friends and Family,

Christ is Born! GLORIFY HIM!        

Wishing everyone a very blessed feast and holiday season!

with love in Christ,

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

In Boston for the Holidays!

Hi All,

Well, to everyone’s surprise (except for my own and a few other select helpers :)), I found my way to Boston for the Holidays. It was a surprise for the folks and friends and it worked out GREAT. I’ll use a play-by-play that I wrote to some friends as to how I pulled it off:

I got home last friday and on Saturday morning went over to our friend's house for b-fast where my parents were also invited to "help my dad with his computer and have some breakfast." I hid in their walk-in closet with my laptop and connected to skype with their laptop which was in their living room. They started talking to me on skype as if I was in Greece before my parents arrived and so when they walked in the door, there I was "in Greece" on the computer. We chatted (my parents and I) on skype for about 1/2 hour and then I said that I had to go, and at the same time my friend said that they had a gift for my parents and should he bring it now or later. Everyone said "now" and he went in and said here comes the gift! (from the other room)...and out I walked! My parents just looked at me blankly for about 5 seconds while their minds shattered and were pieced back together again. It's true, I was expecting at least a gasp or something, but there was just a complete lack of recognition for about 3 seconds and then "what are you doing here?" :). 

So that’s it. It’s been a blessing all around being home, visiting with family and friends, smelling the old smells, exposing myself to some nice culture shock (constantly turning around every time I hear people speaking English behind me...oooh, Americans!...oooh in America :)). Either way, it’s wonderful being home.

I just wanted to wish everyone a blessed Nativity (Christmas) and Holiday season. Hopefully I’ll be able to see some of you during the time that I’m here. Please feel free to me or call me if you’re in the area.

with love,

Monday, December 7, 2009


Hi all!

Hope everyone is well! I miss everyone back home. The semester is nearing it’s end. It’s hard to believe that a year (and then some) has gone by. We have had some protests of late in remembrance of the 15 year old boy who was killed last December after a police fired a warning shot in the air in Athena and the bullet ricocheted. It is pretty peaceful though all in all. It’s amazing that a whole year has passed by though.

Classes have been very inspiring. The study of theology proves to be a continual learning process, especially regarding our approach, as humans, to it. It is a terrifying endeavor, because of the temptation to be luke-warm. How can one dare to study life (theology) and yawn. And yet I do. Within an academic setting it is easy to treat the various topics as historical or philosophical facts and ideas, and limit the depth and value of the truths being expressed. Of course, the highest human expression of theological truths still pales in comparison with the truths themselves or even the divine revelation of these truths; but I suppose in moments of awareness, we can appreciate the ineffability of these truths by the very fact that we constantly fall short in trying describe and express...and yet they are still “out there” (or “in here” in the case of the exploration of the heart).

Either way, it has become clear that this study cannot and, eventually, will not, be limited to an academic environment. Everything is theology. Life itself, through the beautiful unspoken grandeur of God’s creation, expresses the most profound realities in ways that leave man speechless and in awe. Within a city, where man is surrounded by constant reminders of his imperfect creative abilities (cement, exhaust, stress, horns, etc.), he often forgets how refreshing it is to breath in crisp mountain air through the nostrils, and to ‘breath in’ the spectacular view with his eyes. To be filled with the ‘breath’ of true beauty, holistically, and not with words and ideas, only intellectually. Maybe academia is somewhat like the city. CERTAINLY not without value, and still expressive of man’s God-given creative ability, and ability to understand, comprehend and think; but if one only see life from this perspective (only in the city/academia), one becomes a prisoner within his own imperfection and is not given the chance to stand, like a child, in breathless awe of the ineffable.

Well, there’s an attempt to describe a few of the thoughts that have been mulling around. Forgive their imperfection. Pray for us over here, that we may be diligent and aware of the awesome task set before us, and humbly proceed, unworthy as we are.

with much love in Christ,

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

by what was found inside;
It was not found
but found you.
Jumping out of no where
From the depths of a mindless mind,
in the deep heart of quiet strength,
It showed its power:
working through a cracked vessel--
A light through the torn rags.

But you know that it’s not you,
Both comforting and terrifying.

When there is something foreign inside
That you somehow always new.
It was there
For the moment
for you
to realize
That it was not you.
HE was not you, but knew you.


Trees of green and red,
spot a barren wasteland;
Land where quietness prevails--
Land that waits,
expecting fire over the horizon;
waits with baited breath.
A cold wind blows through the withered leaves
one more wind
one more moment,
an eternity spent in active waiting.
When the fire came
It came from no where
It consumed the hillside and the trees
But in the blaze, the passersby
Saw the trees had not been burnt,
But now as candles in the wind
burning through the coldness
waiting, but now growing, ever growing.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

School etc...

Sitting on my bed typing this entry in a new apartment! I recently moved from my old place in the very heart of the city to a nice new apartment just about 5 mins away. It’s quiet, reasonably priced and I have a roommate from Syria named Rami!

Classes are well underway. It’s been a wonderful start to the year, taking in all of the theology courses and other opportunities that the school has to offer. It’s an intense transition, learning how to dive into the study of Theology.

Oh boy, have to go, but I want to at least post this. Hope all is well with you!

Please feel free to send me an email if you think of it!


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Red, White and Blue...

This past week shall be dubbed "the American Invasion." A few days ago I parted ways with two Sisters from the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood, City PA who were passing through Thessaloniki on a size-able tour/pilgrimage of Ellada. Just on Saturday I met up with some pilgrims coming from PA who were headed towards Athos. It was a nice taste of home :). We (the nuns and I) were able to visit some of the wonderful sites that ancient Thessaloniki has to offer. Did you know that Thessaloniki received its name a few hundred years before Christ when a King, to celebrate a victory, named the city after his daughter. Since then it has passed through years of struggle and occupation, but has also seen years of economic and spiritual flourishing. You don't have to go very far to realize that you are treading on the same ground as emperors, soldiers and great minds and hearts of old. In our pilgrimage-by-foot of Thessaloniki we began at the top of the city, at Moni Vlatadon. A peaceful complex, removed from the hubbub of urban live, this one-time Monastery was founded by the two Vlatadon brothers who were monks on the Holy Mountain and disciples of St. Gregory of Palamas. They founded the monastery on the place where tradition holds to be the place that St. Paul preached to the Thessalonians on his Second Missionary Journey. There is a corner of the ancient church with some 2,000 year-old stones that are said to have come from the Agora (marketplace) where St. Paul would have preached. The bishop who lives at Moni Vlatadon, and who hosts a number of students studying Theology, likes peacocks. He has many of them in a large enclosure near the church.

We saw a view of the city that we were about to conquer from a tower near Moni Vlatadon which is part of the ancient walls of the city. For a long period of it's history, Thessaloniki was enclosed by thick defensive walls, originally built by Emperor Galarius (4th century), that protected them from pirates and marauders seeking to loot the once wealthy and flourishing trade/port city. It was a clear day and you could see for miles away. The sun hit brightly on the buildings and made the nearby Thermaic Gulf look like a giant mirror.

We wound down through the narrow, traditional side-streets of Ano Poli (literally "Upper City"), which currently houses many descendants of refugees coming from Asia Minor during the population exchange in the 1920's. This part of the city has retained a precious "village" atmosphere, and you can still encounter the traditional Greek hospitality (or "philoxenia") if you need to ask for directions or just in a passing "hello". Often, the locals will even walk you to where you need to go and give you an earful of history along the way (or gibberish depending on your knowledge of Greek :)). We visited the ancient, 5th century, Church of Osios David, which contains rare mosaics (including one of Christ enthroned and BEARDLESS!!)'s the only one of it's kind in the world, and depicts Jesus in his "mystery years" (i.e. between his childhood and later ministry and Passion). We encountered another "relic" at this church. Maybe it isn't polite to say this, but SHE was both elderly and radiant (thus, we use relic in both senses). The caretaker for the church was an elderly Greek lady who tried to speak to us in a combination of Italian, German and English, despite the fact that I suggested we communicate in Greek. As soon as I entered the church, she enlisted me to help her change some coverings on the icons, which she couldnt reach, and told the nuns to sit and rest while I stood precariously on a small wooden chair covering icons with ecclesiastical cloths. Afterwards, she proceeded to give us an extensive tour of the tiny chapel, and explained it's history from its founding all the way through its existence throughout 500 years of Turkish occupation (15th-20th Century). She was quite simple, loving and willing to share the history. She was the child of refugees from Asia Minor, and the wrinkles on her face were turned upward--more smiling than frowning. It showed strength, the strength of a victim of persecution and hardships, who was not infected by fear, but stood strong in her joy. We all felt as though her presence was a blessing for the nuns along their journey, and we parted ways with happy hearts.

Next we made our way down the hill to St. Demetrios where we venerated his relics and saw where he was martyred during the persecution of Christians in the 4th Century under Diocletian and Galarius.

Thessaloniki is alive with history. The history hasn't ended, although the life of the city (the true life, not the night life) is found mainly in forgotten corners and hidden in humble hearts. But you can still find it, that's for sure.

Advice to pilgrims: if at all possible, venerate the relics, not only of those who have fallen asleep, but also of those whose physical hearts are still beating. They are here, but are not to be found in the guide books unfortunately. Thus, you need to ask a local or a student where they can be found. This should be included in your itinerary, though, or at least in your prayers when you ask for the pilgrimage to materialize. :).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fall is in the Air

You know that crisp, clean, brisk fall air that you can almost drink? Yup, Thessaloniki has officially turned fall. No transition though. Not even a warning day. We went from swimming-weather summer heat, to New England Turkey-day chilly. Thank God though, it makes you feel alive. Today I will be picking up two nuns from the States who are making a pilgrimage to Greece. It will be nice to host some fellow Americans in this beautiful city!

Yesterday we drove down to Halkidiki for the morning. I accompanied a priest who had some business to do down there. It's a beautiful drive. The ocean out the window was choppy and a deep blue, a color set off even more by the brownish green hillsides and white and blue houses. The houses dot the landscape, scattered in no particular order or pattern. Some are looming and majestic, while other neighboring houses shelter impoverished gypsy families. We passed olive groves and farm fields, factories and churches, villages and harbors. Greece is a mix of worlds. Old and new, clean and dirty, light and dark, harsh and soft. Everything unexpected.

Until next time,

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Had the chance to take a day trip to a nearby monastery dedicated to the Ascension of the Lord with a priest that I know. It was in one of surrounding towns called Panorama. It is a beautiful little monastery with an exquisite view overlooking all of Thessaloniki (thus the name of the town :)). The nuns there make all sorts of ecclesiastical cloths, vestments and paint BEAUTIFUL icons! They were all very hospitable and it was especially enjoyable to witness their natural behavior with the priest. He is a long time "client" and friend of the monastery, and they were very natural and loving with one another.

In other news, the Greek have voted their current Prime Minister (Karamanlis) out of office in the recent elections, and elected Papandreou who lived for a long period and studied in America. Some say that he's not Greek enough, others say he is too liberal etc etc. It should be interesting to try and track the changes that ocurr as a result of the new power-change.

Hope all is well with you! Drop me a line if you'd like!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The summer is slipping away! Most of you have probably forgotten about it already, but here in Thessaloniki classes begin quite late. Undergrads have a 1 month long exam period (usually all of September), and then they begin classes in the beginning of October. Masters' students begin in the beginning of November! I'm taking a 1 month intensive language program just to freshen up the Greek before classes start. It is a wonderful class. Our teacher is very well-educated, and the class is focused on building conversational skills and written skill at a higher (more academic) level. We discuss politics, culture, and ethics and write corresponding essays almost everyday. If anyone wants to learn a language, IMMERSE YOURSELF!

Just wanted to share the following homily from today's prologue reading. The scriptural pericope that St. Nikolai discusses, seems to get taken out of context often by various groups/people to give an escapist orientation to our goal as Christians (i.e. our goal is to escape from this evil world into the NEXT world). Anyway, enjoy:

My Kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).
"He who has great wealth also has little wealth. Therefore, let no one think that Christ the Lord does not have royal authority over this world, even though He told Pilate: My Kingdom is not of this world. He who possesses the eternal also rules over the temporal. Here, the Lord speaks of His Eternal Kingdom, independent of time, decay, injustice, illusion and death. It is as if someone were to say: ``My wealth is not in paper but rather in gold.'' If he has gold, can he not afford paper? Is not gold worth more than paper? Therefore, the Lord does not tell Pilate that He is a king, but on the contrary says that He is a higher King than all earthly kings, and that His Kingdom is greater, more powerful and more enduring than all earthly kingdoms. He is indicating His principal Kingdom, upon which all earthly kingdoms depend, in time and in space. My Kingdom is not of this world. This does not mean that He has no power over this world, but on the contrary confirms His awesome power over this world. All His works on earth manifest His unparalleled, lordly power over the world. Tell me, in what other king's presence is the wind quieted and the sea calmed? And have you forgotten His words in Gethsemane? Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and He shall presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels? (Matthew 26:53). And just one angel has greater power than all the universe! The Lord of the soul is also the Lord of the body. The Lord of eternity is also the Lord of time. The Lord of the greatest good is also the Lord of the lesser good. Brethren, nothing can escape the power of the Almighty Jesus Christ our Lord, Who by His own will suffered for us, and by His own power rose from the grave.
O Lord Jesus Christ, our Almighty Savior, help us to seek Thy Heavenly Kingdom, and to be eternally with Thee where there is neither sin nor death, but life and joy and peace.
To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen."
(Prolog of Saints, St. Nikolai Velimirovic, September 30)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Visit to Aegina and St. Nektarios

Last week I packed my backpack and headed off to Athens. After the 5 hour train ride from Thessaloniki to Greece’s capital, I made my way to the Athens Airport where I met Clark and Margarita (a couple from our Boston parish) as they walked out of the doors for international flights. A few months ago they had decided to take a trip to Aegina, which is a small but beautiful island just an hour’s ferry ride outside of Athens. Aegina, for the past century, has become well known as the home of St. Nektarios Pentapoulos--where he founded a monastery for women and where his relics can be found and venerated.

So, after meeting up in the airport, Clark, Margarita and I headed toward the port district, which is called Piraeus. The Athens metro, by the way, is AMAZING! It’s recently renovated, extremely clean and, contrary to most things in Greece (sorry to all Greek friends, but it’s true!), it’s ON TIME! Once we arrived at the port we grabbed a bite to eat and headed towards our ferry. The harbor in Piraeus is chalked full of ferry boats and cruise ships taking thousands of tourists, pilgrims and locals alike to various island destinations. We boarded our rather large vessel and settled in for the 45 minute journey.

Once we arrived at Aegina we took a quick look around (the small harbor is right next to the island’s center) and noticed that there were not nearly as many tourists as we had originally expected. It wasn’t exactly tourist season, but it was also clear that Aegina was more of a locals’ island than one for tourists. We found our respective hotels (I was staying in a pension/hostel-type place and C and M had reserved a nice, traditional pension) and settled in for the night.

The following day we decided to take a trip up to the monastery of St. Nektarios to see his relics and pray there. We took one of the town bus’ which had clearly been in use since the early 70’s. It was old and rickety, with wooden seats and everything! It was a bumpy ride with many sharp turns, sudden stops and all of this at a rather speedy pace, but we made it to the monastery in one piece. The nuns there were extremely nice, we got to talk with the Abbess for a bit who pleasantly surprised us with some profound insights about the spiritual life.

After that we spent our time on Aegina walking around the town; the streets are of the typical island variety--narrow, quaint alleyways with small “hole in the wall” shops and much of everything painted white, blue or some appropriate pastel color. The one thing we noticed, however, is that the roads and shops didn’t look artificially designed for tourist attraction, but really seemed authentic (“dirty” if you will).

We were able to rent a car on my final day there and took a ride all over the island and around the exquisitely beautiful coast-line. We saw the ancient temple of Aphaia, discovered that Aegina at one point used to be the capital of Greece(!), and had a wonderful traditional Greek meal at a taverna overlooking the water as the sun set over the nearby mountaintops. This particular dinner occurred on my birthday. What a great birthday treat! We also drove through the center of the island, where you could see traditional Greek houses, complete with vinyards, stucco exteriors, and of course the most important part--families sitting outside together and having a meal. It was refreshing to breath in the clean, un-polluted, island air, to basque in the slow island life-style and to enjoy the various sites around Aegina.

All of that being said, however, my favorite part of the trip was the traditional (and quite famous) pistachios made fresh on Aegina. They sell them everywhere and oftentimes you can by them still warm. Ok, it wasn’t my FAVORITE part (maybe my stomachs favorite), but I definitely recommend Aegina for any pistachio lovers out there, even if you don’t care for Greek islands or culture...pistachios!!!!

Until next time (when hopefully there will also be PICTURES),

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The last post...

The previous post was really from yesterday but I entered into an old file so it showed up as being from July :)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

He's back in action!

Almost one year ago I came to study in Greece. At that time I had never lived outside of Boston, I had limited travel experience and my knowledge of a language other than Greek consisted of 6 forgotten years of Spanish. Now that the year has gone by, I’ve acquired somewhat of a sense of living outside of my comfort zone, I have done a bit of traveling and my knowledge of Greek is, well, slowly beginning to catch up to my knowledge of English (this is not necessarily a one way other words, English is also running to meet up with Greek :)).

But seriously, I never lived alone--always with family or close friends. Moving to a foreign country, foreign culture, foreign language and living...alone...was a a transition. None of this is to brag. 2 years ago I would have laughed at the thought of doing these things. God is good. Thank you.

Thessaloniki is suffocating in humidity. It’s actually getting better, and it’s really not all too bad. Tonight was the first major protest in a while. Still need to find out what they were protesting. There was a big convention, with big political names in town. This is probably what it was about. Cops in riot gear abounded throughout the streets...actually more than I have ever seen. We walked across Egnatia--the main drag--after the protests had ended, and inhaled the gaseous wasabiness (otherwise known as tear gas) that gave us a good sinus flushing. Mm, mm, good! Needless to say, on the way out to the seaside, as we passed some riot police, the topic arose of anarchy, freedom and order--what are they really and where do they come from. We (meaning myself and the friends I was with) were discussing the fact that these principles can often be assigned to the “other,” which could be the government, other people, institutions, the armed forces etc etc etc. In other words, when we discuss these principles, and even ACT on these principles, we rarely consider ourselves as being the primary mover and instigator. I could be causing anarchy? I could be playing a role in freedom? No, these are outside of my domain--things that I can enter into but do not create or diminish myself. But alas, they are. If we do not, as my friend said, enthrone Christ as the head of...what...government, institution, family, OURSELVES...then we are creating anarchy. Also ties in to how each member of the Church is a PIECE of the Body of Christ. The more that each peace sees itself as a responsible member (both for the sins and forwards movements that it makes) the more the body can work together for its goal.

Anyway, enough soap-boxing: just some interesting conversation. We also talked about the need to be real with yourself, with your friends, with God. Nice conversations.

School starts in a few weeks. Greek for real now--masters classes. It will be a challenge for the first year, but what better way to learn a language?

Try to post some thoughts and nice experiences from the summertime.

Ok, more to come soon hopefully :).

Monday, May 18, 2009

Holy Week and Pascha...

Christ is Risen!

Please check out my most recent post about Pascha on Mt. Athos which can be found below the last few posts (because it is in chronological order in terms of the events and not in terms of the postings)



Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More on the Simple Villagers...

Some friends just e-mailed me to tell me that they were aware of a Greek publication containing this very story by Fr. Nicholas. If anyone out there is interested and reads Greek, here it is:

All in all, after taking a look at the story, my short synopsis wasn’t too far off the mark (surprising for my memory, being as old as I am :)). Anyway, a few things to mention:

The council members (επιτροποί) were illiterate simple folk

Fr. Nicholas was working simultaneously as an assistant to some very important theologians in the university and as a “preacher” (priest, whose job it is to give sermons on Sundays at various churches) in a few villages. He said that he experienced a deep loneliness in this job because he felt as though none of the simple villagers understood what he was saying. He would look out and see that they weren’t catching the meaning of his sermons. One day, as I mentioned, he was invited for coffee by the members of the council and the priest. The members quite simply told him, after expressing their concern with the fact that their church had not yet been consecrated:

[the following is my own humble translation from the article. Despite the awkwardness of it, you should get the idea]

“You know what we did, we decided to fast for 3 weeks, so that God would show us [whether the Liturgy was actually working or not]. We did it, and the truth is, one Sunday before the Bishop came to do the consecration, we saw, at the time of Divine Liturgy again this light.”

I [Fr Nicholas] began to be alarmed:

“Which light, what light?”

“That light, the eternal light, you see the sun afterwards and you think that it is dark, a light which descends and you really see; you see many things, conditions, the present, the past, the future inside of it etc.”

I began to get shaken up; I was with people who had the experience of St. Gregory Palamas and St. Simeon the New Theologian and of course also the other member confirmed this and the simple priest also said “yes, yes it was all like that...” It was a shocking experience for me, and of course it didn’t stop there, but I began to search for the council-member, this simple man.

“How do you live (after experiencing the shock which stayed with me for years). How do you live?

“Ehh...How do I Iive? Poorly.”

“What do you do, how exactly do you spend your day, what exactly do you do throughout the day?”

“I don’t do entirely that much,” He said “I don’t have something special; I love God, but I’m just a little patient.”

He had patience, do you know what that means? It [Patience] means: this cross of freedom, embracing others. Within that, God is revealed. This is the magnificent teaching. Hesychasm is experiential physiology. Don’t think--you theologians (he was addressing this in a sermon to theologians)--that hesychasm is individualized application as the hindus practice or those who dispense with the will to see the spectacle. It is this opening in society, and in this way the big revelations occur, of which I, naturally, as the doctoral candidate and beyond was not worthy, neither have I been worthy ever since.

Thank you for your patience.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Simple VIllagers...

I have been sitting in on a Ecclesiology class taught by Fr. Prof. Nicholas Loudovikos here in Thessaloniki. It was an extremely interesting class, but I feel compelled to try and paraphrase one story that he told, which particularly stuck out in my mind:

(WARNING: This story is translated from memory and certainly contains mistakes. You’ll get the general idea though. I’ll ask him to repeat it to me again so I can make sure that everything is correct)

Fr. Nicholas was describing his earlier days and gave the following story as an example of the piety of the laity and how necessary it is for us all to actualize our individual charisms in the Church--the body of the Christ. He was telling us that when he was a young priest he was sent to help out in one of the nearby villages with a priest. He was asked to give the sermons, and he mentioned that he began to become angry with the villagers because he didn’t think that they understood the sermons that he was preaching because of how educated he was and how simple they were. One Sunday, he went with the priest and some of the elders (parish council members) for some coffee at a nearby cafe. As they were sitting there one of the elders began to talk about a particular occurrence in their parish. It so happened that at a certain point they were wondering if their church had yet been consecrated by a Bishop. It was realized that indeed it had not been consecrated. The villagers, being of a simple disposition, were worried that the Holy Spirit would not come down for Liturgy if the church was not consecrated. They were so concerned with this dilemma that they decided to fast for 3 weeks and pray to God to reveal to them whether or not the Holy Spirit came down during liturgy. On the third Sunday of their fast they all gathered for liturgy and suddenly, during the liturgy, the whole room was filled with bright light and everything was illuminated in an amazing way. They realized from this that the Holy Spirit did indeed come down during liturgy. From then on Fr. Nicholas wasn’t mad at them for not understanding his sermons.

Glory to God in His Saints (both known and unknown)!

Monday, May 11, 2009

What to Look Forward to...

*Account of Mike’s Paschal experience on Mt. Athos

*Πάμε Σαντορίνη! Bright Week Trip to the Islans

*And much more...

Sorry for being offline for a bit...but that will change, God-willing, in a bit :)

with love,

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Holy Week and Pascha on Mt. Athos...

Christ is Risen!

This year I had the blessing to spend Holy Week and Pascha on Mt. Athos. I went with a few friends (one from the States, one from Serbia, one from Congo) to Zographou Monastery for the first two days of Holy Week and to Grigoriou for the remainder of Holy Week and Pascha. I would like to share with you, my friends and family, some experiences and reflections surrounding this week, not to brag (because our Pascha is the same wherever we celebrate it I think) but just to share with you our particular humble blessing on this Feast of Feasts!

I was told to go to Mt. Athos at least one time for Pascha. I decided to take this advice (now that I am in a stage in life where I would not be leaving a family for the visit) and packed my bags for the Holy Mountain.

Until the very last moment we had some logistical difficulties. I had arranged for all of us to stay at Zographou monastery for 2 nights, Xenofontos for 1 and then for at least 2 out of the 4 of us to stay at Grigoriou for the remainder of the trip (the monks were not sure if they could take all of us at Grigoriou or just two). Without hearing back from them, however, we proceeded on our way, hoping that we would be able to spend Pascha as a group and not have to go to different monasteries if there was no room. This was a great opportunity to practice putting things into God’s hands, and that is exactly what we tried to to. Thankfully, everything worked out perfectly and we did not have to split up at all.

There is a thickness to Holy Week that cannot be described. The richness of the prayers and hymns, the absence of food, the weight of an event in time happening so long ago but with so many ramifications for us today. The air is thick with meaning. A normal week passes by in an instant, but there is something that doesn’t allow you to pass Holy Week so quickly. It’s not worth, I don’t think, to try to dive deeper into this mystery.

The first two days we experienced the services in Church Slavonic. We were in church for the greater part of each day. When got off the boat at Zographou we walked up a road for about one hour to get to the monastery. The monks were already in church. We entered the katholikon (main church of the monastery) and were immediately met with the site of 20 or so monks and a dozen laymen making prostrations silently (reverent bows that one makes at various times during the services, especially those of Lent, which entail bending your whole body until you are on your hands and knees). Holy Week had begun. Zographou is a beautiful monastery, of enormous size, tucked away in the mountainous landscape of Mt. Athos. It is very quiet and does not have quite so many visitors as some of the other monasteries (which can be a good thing at times).

After the two days had come to an end we packed our bags again and headed for the boat. Embarking upon the second half of our journey we were also becoming more focused on the reality of Christ’s passion, crucifixion, three-day burial and Resurrection. We arrived at Grigoriou ready to continue this journey toward Christ’s resurrection, and toward our own!

At Grigoriou we were met with traditional Athonite hospitality. Some of the monks that I know there were very kind to us and spoke with us a number of times to discuss various matters in our lives and to talk to us about the spiritual life, giving us tips for how we can carry out Christ’s commandments in the world.

There were a few “moments” that struck me very deeply (among many of course) throughout our pilgrimage that I would like to share:

Banging the Talenton
The talenton is a thin, flattened wooden staff-like instrument that is held in it’s center and struck with a wooden mallet. It is used to call people to prayer, but also to promote the joyous atmosphere of the various church feasts (Pascha included). We were standing in the Paschal liturgy a little after midnight (or it might have been the Paschal Orthros during the canon) when one of the monks that I know tapped us Americans (and our Serbian friend) on the shoulders and asked us if we would like to help bang the talanton’s to bring in the Paschal feast. We readily accepted and were led outside with a group of pilgrims, and each given a talenton and mallot. Armed and ready we were told to follow in a single-file line behind a monk who would lead us in our talenton-banging procession. We began to strike our wooden “bells” and processed joyously around the entire monastery. It was such an innocent and simple moment of joy but we were all grinning from ear to ear and banging away at our wooden toys experiencing the infectious joy of the Paschal joy.

Paschal Light and Procession
When the hour to begin the Paschal service came, all of the candles in ancient chapel were put out and the monks and laity stood in silence and wrapped in expectant darkness. Gradually and quietly the priests began to sing within the alter and to pass around the paschal flame one to another. We were all encourage to received our flame directly from the serving priest at the front of the church, so we squeezed our way to the front to light our candles. Slowly but surely the pitch blackness disappeared as a golden flickering light grew within the chapel one candle at a time. We made the typical procession around the main chapel for Pascha, singing the paschal hymn, reading the Gospel reading, and finally coming back to the enormous monastery doors at the entrance of the chapel, where the priests conversed with “someone” inside using the words from psalm 23 (24) “Lift up your gates you princes and be you lifted up you everlasting gates and the king of glory will enter!”...and the response from within: “who is this king of glory?”...and the triumphant reply: “the Lord strong and might,y the Lord mighty in war.” And this is repeated twice more until the doors are flung open and everyone floods the church which is literally alive with swaying golden candalabras, flickering candles from all corners of the chapel and a gauntlet of priests and monks sprinkling you in the face with holy water and wishing you Paschal greetings, yelling: Christos Anesti (Christ is Risen), and waiting for the response: Alithos Anesti (Truly He is Risen)! With every step that you take, back into the church, your heart is lifted higher and higher, and it continues to ascend in an unbroken chain of beautiful hymns and sites as everyone is flung, head-first, into the Paschal hymns. Christ Has Risen!

Paschal Divine Liturgy begins with the singing of the Paschal Hymn: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life. This is chanted multiple times and in many languages. We heard it in Greek, French, Romanian, Arabic, Swahili, English. A group of us were asked to chant it in English!i There were around 15 priests celebrating the liturgy together and 3 or 4 deacons. All of the priests wore matching vestments, and the deacons wore their most radiant and celebratory garments. It was truly a beautiful manifestation of the Kingdom!

After the service we went to the refectory for a celebratory meal, and then went to bed.

Pascha Sunday and Simonopetra
We awoke the next morning to the beautiful site of a thin fog on the water and remembering the night before as if it were a beautiful dream. We spent the day so peacefully. A group of young men from various different countries (2 serbs, 1 palestinian, 3 americans, 1 from congo, 1 greek) all gathered together to take an enjoyable hike to the neighboring Simonopetra monastery. We were all together singing songs, talking about our lives in our respective countries. We took a break by the beach and climbed some of the rocks and relaxed in the sun. It was hard for us to believe that we could be the recipients of such a wonderful opportunity to be together, sharing the feast with another--all on the same page, all rejoicing at eachother’s existence. We clung desperately on to every moment of our time together, and the time passed so richly and almost as if we had entered into a twilight zone of sorts...everything was so real, and liberated (at least for brief moments) from the tensions and psychological stress of pressing obligations and schedules. Glory to God.

When we arrived at Simonopetra we were a bit tired from our walk but happy to be there. We went into the guesthouse and waited for the guest master. He brought us all some tsiporo (a deliciously refreshing traditional alcoholic beverage which is perfect to cool you down after a hike) and loukoumi (turkish delight). He asked us where we were from and we burst into a joyful “apo pantou” (from everywhere!). It was such a great group of young men, all sharing the grace of the feast together--indescribable!

We stayed at Simonopetra for the Agape Vespers where we heard the gospel being read in at least 7 languages in beautiful byzantine chant. We returned to Grigoriou as it began to get a bit dark, after an incredible meal of fried fish, homemade wine and delicious dairy products. The following day, our day of departure, we finished the service (which included a Litia and procession around the monastery) and were invited to speak with one of the elders of the monastery who shared some spiritual advice with us, but most of all, showed us a true example of humble love.

We were overjoyed but a bit saddened to leave, but all the while remembering that the Paschal flame--the joy of Pascha--is not a one time/year event, but occurs all year round.

Also the Grace that we received from the feast strengthened us a bit, freed us a bit. This is a reality that can be found everywhere! We were grateful, however, to experience it this year on Agion Oros.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

How My Friend Began Holy Week...

A friend of mine, fellow student in Thessaloniki, shared the following experience with me. It struck me and I thought I would share it with you all:

“Holy Week had begun. Earlier today (Sunday) I had gone to the Palm Sunday Liturgy and later at night I attended the Bridegroom Matins at St. Haralambos. The chanting was exquisite. The chanters sang as if calling out to God in continual exhortation. The church was filled with people and the air was thick with the heaviness and gravity of the coming week--Christ’s trial, crucifixion, passion, but the hope of his Resurrection. I actually felt as though something was going to happen--some serious event.”

“After the service and a quick trip to St. Demetrios to venerate the relics and drop my friend off nearby, I went to a dear friend’s house to have a small supper with him before I left the following day for Agion Oros. We are close friends and it was a sweet time of conversation and reflections, because we would not be with one another for Holy Week and Pascha. At the end we exchanged greetings for Pascha. All of a sudden an urge of over-flowing affection came over me and I just wanted to say ‘I love you’ to my friend. I said it, and he said it back...and it was a beautiful moment. Glory to God!”

“After I left his apartment it was about 11pm. In my head I was battling some thoughts of pride...oooh, I said ‘I love you’ to him...he probably thinks I’m pious or something...even though the reality of the situation was that it was an urge, presumably from Above. I was having these thoughts, when I saw a single figure walking towards me. There wasn’t anyone else around, and the man who was approaching was obviously pretty drunk. I could see in his eyes that he wanted to talk to me, and I was alone and didn’t know if he wanted trouble. I was also carrying some bread and lenten cheese with me that I took from my friend’s house to feed my friend who would be traveling to Mt. Athos with me the next morning. I was afraid. I thought about my wallet. I looked for an escape. Should I cross the street? I thought about it, but knew how drunk peoples’ minds work. They are drunk, but there is some sense about them that can smell fear, that can sense subtle aspects about your behavior that provoke them to more disturbing behavior. So, Glory to God, I had the thought to say a quick Jesus prayer and continue walking. As soon as I said the prayer, though it all happened fairly quickly, I’m pretty certain everything was clear--I was empowered with Wisdom and Courage. He came up to me and I could tell he wanted to ask me something. A thought CLEARLY occurred to me to give him the bread and cheese. I gave it to him. I said ”για σένα (for you).“ He looked at it and asked ”τι είναι αυτό;“ I said ”λίγο ψωμί, ένα δώρο για σένα.“ Maybe I said this to butter him up a bit so he would be flattered and not saying anything else, but it was what HE did that astonished me. As soon as I said this, and gave him the bread, he grabbed my hand and kissed it, I felt compelled to do the same and kissed his hand. Afterwards, our eyes met, and his disposition had changed. He was happy, his eyes were glittering. I looked at him more closely and noticed he was wearing a cross. I greeted him with the seasonal ”Καλό Πάσχα“ but added ”Καλή Ανάσταση.“ He thanked me I think, I can’t remember exactly, and turned to go. But as he was walking away, I could hear him repeating the word ”Ανάσταση.“

”The Jesus Prayer is real. I kissed the hand of Christ and saw His face in that of a drunk man’s through GOD’S GRACE. My fear, though real and fallen, was transformed into God’s love through a simple exhortation of His mercy and by calling upon His name. Say the Jesus Prayer as a REAL exhortation, because it is REAL. Glory to God in His Saints and through His mysterious and wonderful works for us, unworthy and sinful though we be!”

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


The Reading is from Isaiah 58:1-11

Thus says the LORD: "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. 'Why have we fasted, and thou seest it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and thou takest no knowledge of it?' Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a rush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD?

"Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, "Here I am."

"If you take away from the midst of you the yoke, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your desire with good things, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Story from the Holy Mountain...

My mother encouraged me to post this story, and so out of filial obedience I am presenting it to you!

I spent Forgiveness Sunday on Mt. Athos. Some of my first thoughts and assumptions when I decided to do this were from the life of St. Mary of Egypt (a story that I have heard every year since I can remember when she is remembered during Great Lent) where we find a beautiful picture of the monastic traditions encompassing this profound and pregnant event:

“Many days passed and the time drew near when all Christians fast and prepare themselves to worship the Divine Passion and Ressurection of Christ. The monastery gates were kept always locked and only opened when one of the community was sent out on some errand. It was a desert place, not only unvisited by people of the world but even unknown to them.

“There was a rule in that monastery which was the reason why God brought Zosimas there. At the beginning of the Great Fast [on Forgiveness Sunday] the priest celebrated the holy Liturgy and all partook of the holy body and blood of Christ. After the Liturgy they went to the refectory and would eat a little lenten food.”

“Then all gathered in church, and after praying earnestly with prostrations, the elders kissed one another and asked forgiveness. And each made a prostration to the abbot and asked his blessing and prayers for the struggle that lay before them. After this, the gates of the monastery were thrown open, and singing, "The Lord is my light and my Savior; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defender of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 26:1) and the rest of that psalm, all went out into the desert and crossed the River Jordan. Only one or two brothers were left in the monastery, not to guard the property (for there was nothing to rob), but so as not to leave the church without Divine Service. Each took with him as much as he could or wanted in the way of food, according to the needs of his body: one would take a little bread, another some figs, another dates or wheat soaked in water. And some took nothing but their own body covered with rags and fed when nature forced them to it on the plants that grew in the desert.”

So this was my picture of what Forgiveness Sunday would look like. In many ways, it was naive and somewhat idealistic, in other ways it was VERY close to reality.

Arriving on the Thursday before the first week of Great Lent I stayed at the monastery together with around 50-70 other pilgrims. The monastery was very full and if you didn’t arrive early to services, you were lucky to find a seat.

The food was delicious and simple as usual, but especially delicious as it was the last days of dairy products. Thus at every meal there was something cheesy and creamy to be had. I had heard from one of the monks that on Sunday evening there would be a very nice meal after the Vespers service.

After a few days of meeting some of the local Greek pilgrims (which is a story in and of itself, and a VERY good experience) we arrived at the Sunday of Forgiveness. Vespers ended and we went into the Trapeza (Refectory) as usual. The tables were set with extra special food for the final meal (last supper? :)) before the Trimera (3 austere days of the beginning of Lent). The meal began and the reading, of course, that was proclaimed aloud from the amvon was on the theme of the day. After everyone had finished, the abbot (who is a well-known figure in Greece, previously a professor at the University in Athens, author of many books and a spiritual man) addressed everyone on the theme of the day as well. After this was over, however, something happened which really made an impression on me.

The monks have a tradition of singing various hymns during this particular meal in teams. Thus, one table would come up with a commonly-agreed upon hymn and would chant it for the rest of the brethren and pilgrims. This went on for 45 minutes or so, various tables of monks sharing hymns. Then the abbot would say “Father so-and-so...” come up here and chant “such-and-such” a hymn for us.“ And Fr. So-and-So who could very well have been in his 70’s would come up, accompanied by a few other monks to make the ison, and pour out his soul by chanting this hymn. Sometimes the abbot would ask if anyone had anything to chant that they were interested in chanting, other times someone would just begin. There were hymns in various languages as there were some Romania workers present and some other foreigners. One very poignant part was the relationship between the monks. They expressed their deep joy in being together and their love for one another in a sober, somewhat muted, but authentic manner. The quietude of the event allowed the reality of this love to come through that much more. As was the case so long ago in the Deserts of Egypt and Syria and elsewhere, the monks were preparing to embark on a serious journey. Surely, the austerity was a bit more pronounced in the earlier centuries where monks did not know if they would return alive from their pilgrimage into the desert, but the sense of beginning was very tangibly present.

Thankfully, I was not only able to witness the festive celebration, but also the actual beginning of the fast. Services lasted for the greater part of each day and monks (unless they were unable for health reasons) fasted from partaking of anything to sustain them for the first 3 days. They ate the spiritual food of the services, of the readings from St. John Climacus which were proclaimed in the morning service in the katholikon (main church), and from their collective prayers, but ultimately and primarily, they were preserved, in their weakness, by the Grace of God.

It is difficult to fully capture this event--yes, even in impossible--but I pray that you would at least get a glimpse into the sobriety of the practice that I witnessed. My mind rested on the thought that despite the fact that they are not in the Egyptian desert and don’t necessarily have the immediate threat of death impending as they embark on their journey, these Athonite monks robe themselves with a similar spirit. They have sacrificed their entire life for the Lord, and ideally, they have died to the world. Thus the epidemy of this vow, a full expresion of it, it seems, can be found in the Lenten journey. Just as we, in the world, use it as a time to re-focus our lives on Christ and repentance, they too do this, keeping in mind their vows of renunciation of one thing and acceptance of another. No, there is no difference in the expectations between a monk and layman regarding salvation, but this experience emphasized the fullness of this expectation that we are all called to. The full renunciation of the ”world“ (as we Orthodox Christians phrase that which is sinful, corrupt and tears us away from God) and acceptance of Christ.

St. Nikolai Velimirovic highlights this point, and quotes St. Isaac the Syrian as well:

"Every day and every hour, proof of our love for God is required of us," says St. Isaac the Syrian. God shows His love for us every day and every hour. Every day and every moment we stand positioned between God and sin.” (Prologue reading March 17).

No need to try to sum up this experience too much. May God give us the strength to remain close to him and the strength to love Him!

with love in Christ,

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Simple Memoir of A Simple Man...

Today (which was really a week or so ago) was a spring day, and infused with a deep heart-breaking stillness after hearing the news of the repose of a newly-befriended, but beloved, American monk living on Mt. Athos.

Fr. Barnabus spoke with a southern drawl. He had a pot-belly and pure silverish white hair and beard. Though long and uncut, his hair was thin, especially after his treatments.

I met Fr. Barnabus for the first time at an American friend’s apartment here in Thessaloniki. I didnt know it at the time, but Fr. B had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and was beginning to make regular visits to Thessaloniki for treatment. This form of cancer is usually fairly beatable, and therefore both he and his doctors were fairly optimistic.

As the weeks rolled on, I would see Fr. Barnabus here and there--once on the ferry back from Mt. Athos and a few more times in Thessaloniki. The American friend whose apartment he would stay in, left for a large portion of the winter to spend Christmas vacation with his family in the States. While he was gone, Fr. Barnabus had come in for treatment, and had decided that it was becoming too much for him to commute back and forth from the Holy Mountain, so he made the move out of his monastery in order to finish this round of treatment. For this reason, and because our American friend was in the States, Fr. B asked me occasionally to pick things up for him, and I would visit when I could to keep him company. Through these fairly regular encounters over the previous few months, I was able to get to know Fr. Barnabus a bit, and pick up on a few traits of his.

He never really struck me as anything special in the beginning.

He was very quiet, pleasant, even-tempered and wouldn’t really get worked up very much (at least not while I was around him).

I remember one instance where he was a bit more worked up. He had just got off the phone with Metropolitan Jonah, the newly-elected primate of the Orthodox Church in America, who was a long-time friend and co-struggler in California at one point. He was like a little child who had just spoken to some big star. He was so invigorated and visibly over-joyed that he was able to get through to M. Jonah and was able to have a word with him.

I also remember that whenever I would try to wow him with some miracle story or something that I thought was impressive or that would get his attention he would respond by a slow, southern-style, head nod and a very indifferent, but far from rude, “ok, ok...” and would not give these words of naivete the fire that they were looking for.

I recall on a number of occasions his comments of gratitude towards different people. Initially I heard him mention his abbot a few times at Karakallou monastery who “put up” with him as an elderly English speaking monk. He would say “he’s been verrrry good to me” and would emphasize this, as if he was some vagrant or beggar that was just looking for a place to lay his head. What a sacrifice and humiliating experience it must have been to subject himself to a different language, different country/culture/spiritual family, at such a stage in life (he was in his late 50’s-early 60’s when he came to Athos as far as I can gather).

He wouldn’t really give any kind of advice or spiritual words of wisdom. The most I heard him say to someone who had expressed a lot of spiritual troubles to him (a young person who was going through a period of discernment for vocational paths) was “Ok C____, I’ll be praying for you” (something like this and some very trivial, but encouraging words).

As time went on, and his body became weaker from the treatments, his appearance became a bit more disheveled. He was still so soft and kind, and very real, whenever I came over. He was telling me about the exercises that his doctor had prescribed and how he needed to try to walk a lot in order to stay in shape during his treatments.

I remember during one visit he was walking into the living room in front of me, and just out of a burst of something, he spurted out “O Michael, Michael, Michael, my dear, dear boy.” I don’t know why I remember this, it was so simple, but it had such compassion in it.

I don’t know. Fr. Barnabus’ life, to me, was so simple. I didn’t really know him that well or for that long, but really made an impression on me by his simplicity, by his compassion, by his lover amidst suffering.

A couple of weeks later I was in my friend’s Apartment where he stayed and noticed a book on the desk in the living room. I don’t know if it was Fr. Barnabus’ book or not, but I noticed that some of his belongings were next to it, so I assumed that it might have been. It was “The HIdden Man of the Heart” by Fr. Zacharias Zachariou from the Monastery in Essex--A Compilation of lecture he gave in America at a clergy retreat.

There was a book-marker marking a section in the chapter roughly entitled “On preparing for the day of death.” Who knows, maybe the book wasn’t even his, but it really engrained the mission of a monk to come to this place in himself where death is regular contemplation. I read the portion of the chapter which was a Q&A with Fr. Zacharias where someone asked him to relate a story about when he was serving at a church in a village in Greece and the Priest asked him to give the sermon to the congregation. The Priest pointed out to Fr. Z that many were wearing black in the congregation, and this was because a plane had crashed recently in the area killing many of the families of the villagers there. Fr. Z was at a loss, especially because he not suffered such a loss as them, and knew that he would just stumble over his words. Eventually, however, he did his best by recounting two powerful examples of the effects of prayer. One was when a plane that he was flying in lost power in one engine and he had come to terms, during the course of the emergency landing, with his approaching death, and had been praying throughout...but the plane landed safely. When he returned to the monastery, his spiritual father, the famous Fr. Sophrony’re safe because of the prayers! He recounted another moving story of prayer in the face of adversity from his family history in Greece under Turkish occupation.

Anyway, Fr. Barnabus was a witness to the simplicity and silence manifested in the life of a true Athonite monk. My impressions of him were more from the absence of something there (i.e. the silence, the simplicity) than from some complex theological supposition.

Check out SHS Curriculum Excerpts!

I highly recommend checking out the newly updated St. Herman’s School website if you haven’t already (surely a biased plug, but there is much to learn and the text that you will find on the site goes into detail about Orthodox Education...very important topic). Even if you think you have no interest in this particular do :) just check it out and see.

with love,

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you cry out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.

~Proverbs 2:1

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Forgive me!

In the spirit of this past sunday (Forgiveness Sunday), forgive me (albeit electronically and in a somewhat impersonal manner) for anything I have done against you in thought, word or deed.

Blessed Lent!

with love in Christ,

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Τεμπέλης είμαι...

Translation: I am lazy...

Meaning: 1. I haven’t written an actual entry in a while, 2. I really am lazy.

Today I finally made it to the early orthros service downstairs at Agios Georgios for the first time in...too long. I had been catching a service that started half an hour later at a church nearby because I was having a hard time getting out of bed for the earlier one :). But the downside to NOT going to the earlier one was that I was not standing at the chanters stand and learning how to chant.

ANYWAY, thankfully I was able to rouse myself (or be roused somehow) in time to go downstairs. It was a wonderful experience...not only to start off the day correctly, but also to learn how to chant, and finally, to be able to spend time with my Greek friend Κύριος Νίκος (the elderly gentlemen who has allowed me to stand at the chanters stand with him). After orthros was over he invited me to come with him to meet a friend. I was happy to spend some time with him and practice Greek and all, so I gladly tagged along. We visited his γαμπρός (brother-in-law) at his office and then he invited me again to tag along to catch the last part of the liturgy for St. Theodore of Tyre at a nearby church that he frequents. After this was over we were invited downstairs for τσαι (tea :)) and I had the miraculous experience of sitting around a table with 6 or 7 elderly Greek men listening to lively stories, rousing political discussions and moving spiritual reflections. I could barely believe that I was actually experiencing this. What a different world! Such characters! So much history to tell! After all was said and done, and we made our exit...Nikos invited me to come on Sunday after church to the church-hall for coffee and a talk by the priest. God-willing I’ll be able to go, as it promises to be very interesting.

There it is :).

Καλό Τριώδιο (Wishing you a good lenten and pre-lenten season!)

with love,

Monday, February 16, 2009

"If you desire the heavenly kingdom, be merciful as the heavenly Father. Do not trust in injustice and do not be covetous; be meek, quiet and be accessible to everyone. Do not accept praises from your noblemen. Let your purple robe radiate with virtues. May the remembrance of death never depart from your soul. Humble yourself before the feet of Mother Church; bow your head before her prime-hierarchs so that the King of kings, seeing your sincerity, reward you with goodness such as never entered into the heart of man."
                ~A portion of a letter By St. John of Rila addressed to Bulgarian Tzar Peter (from “Reflection” in the Prolog, January 30)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wisdom from the Elders of Optina

"Do good to your nieghbour. Do something outward, and when it is done with diligence, it will turn out to be inward as well. But once having done something good, don't become proud, but thank God: ‘by thy blessing ,O Lord, have I accomplished this’.

                                 ~St. Nektary of Optina

“For your soul’s eternal profit, remember above all that in every temptation, victory comes with humility, self-reproach and patience. May the most merciful Lord enlighten you and teach you, help you and keep you and shelter you from all the snares of the enemy on the left hand and on the right hand.“
                                 ~Archimandrite Alexander (from book of Elder Moses)

Friday, February 6, 2009


“For if these things [faith, virtue, knowledge, self-contol, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, love] are yours in abound, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these things is blind and short-sighted and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall”

~2 Peter 1

“Every though which is not preceded by the silence of humility does not proceed from God. All that is from the devil occurs with confusion and disturbance.”

~St.s Barsanuphius and John (whose memory we celebrate today! Pray to God for us!)

“Our merit is in believing and not in knowing.”

~St. Nikolai Velimirovic (Homily, February 6)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Real Update!

Yesterday my friend Christopher and I visited a mutual friend who is a hierodeacon in a small town about 2 hours outside of the city. He was visiting his family who live in Thessaloniki and invited us to lunch. We went to his apartment and his mom prepared a DELICIOUS traditional Greek meal. It was so refreshing to have a taste of traditional Greece. Being in the city, sometimes I feel like I want to experience more of the village life, and this was a GREAT opportunity to do so. The grandfather was there and you had to yell to talk to him because he was hard of hearing, but he was SUCh a character. He was so alert and aware even though he was 88 years old. Christopher was commenting on his journey to Orthodoxy (he’s a convert) and mentioned to Fr. Amvrosis’ father how he started “converting” with his mind and then eventually it moved to his heart. Fr. A’s father replied by saying that it’s the opposite for Greeks. Whether this is better or not, I’m not sure. But it seems to me to be much more of a realistic approach. Why do we underplay the role of the heart in the West? I catch myself doing this daily.

I just returned from Athos, which was a blessing. I’ve been making a good connection with Grigoriou Monastery. Some of the monks there are characters. There’s the Cypriate dishwasher, Fr. Neophytus, who has been on the Holy Mountain for over 30 years now. He visited Elder Paisios monthly to seek counsel when he was still alive and has been to university for theology and is very well educated. From a first glance, however, you’d think perhaps that he was a little nuts. His unkempt riaso and disheveled hair make him look like a monk who you could quickly pass and not even notice. Hi hat is perched clumsily to one side on his head and he cackles when he laughs (in true cypriate fashion). But he is full of love and is like a child. There are others like this at the monastery, old monks who have shed themselves of the thick, stale crust of spiritual “aging” and their souls are as energetic, flexible and dynamic as a child’s.

Language studies are also going well, thank God! Everyday I am more and more grateful to have this teacher. He is SO patient, so caring, and has a God-given gift for teaching, that makes it such an organic enjoyable experience.

What a mystery languages are. I’ve been around people learning languages and speaking other languages my whole life, but I’ve always observed this process from the outside. It’s such a new world, experiencing it from the inside. All of the road signs and processes look so different when they are actually happening to YOU rather to another. Needless to say, it has opened my eyes to many different feelings, emotions and temptations that I never realized existed for people who have to learn new languages. Again, I learned spanish in high school and college, but its NOTHING compared to this. I’ve forgotten it almost entirely anyway.

There are two Bulgarian men studying here that I have met, thank God! I have really been wanting to make some Bulgarian connections seeing as I am in the Bulgarian diocese. One of these men, Alexander, is studying theology in town...I havent gotten too much detail as to his goals (priesthood etc). The other, however, is a hierodeacon from St. John of Rila monastery in Rila, BG. He leads their Byzantine music choir, which I heard perform in the beautiful Rotunda in the center here. They were very nice--simple--but I like that style the best. He’s really a wonderful man, and I look forward to getting to know both of them more. Maybe someday I can learn Bulgarian too :)

There are some really interesting people in my class and I have been making friends with some of them in particular. 2 students in particular have been especially good friends. They are from Congo and are Orthodox. Nektarios’ father is a priest and his brother studied theology in Athens. Michelle will be studying psychology after the language program. They are probably amongst the top students in the class and are picking up the language very rapidly. They are both very hard workers and their “moral compasses” or consciences or however you want to put it, have really impacted my view of the depth of traditional cultures (such as Greece and various places in Africa)...where family, respect, hard work, and love (i.e. the relational virtues) play such a major part in their culture. Not that they are perfect by any means—I know there are many problems with various cultural qualities EVERYWHERE that aren’t, shall we say, Godly—but compared to our business driven ethics in the states (i.e. hard work for money, respect for money, teamwork for money, etc.) it is a breath of fresh life for the sake of life and not for the sake of some dilluted end-goal that ultimately leaves one feeling incomplete. As a result, and in addition to all of these encounters, I constantly find myself realizing how far away I am from focusing on my neighbor. Whether I’m in the bank, on the bus etc, I am always focusing on what needs to be done next, what I haven’t done today, what my progress is in Greece. The deception: these “tasks” that I focus on always lead back to ME. God grant us strength and wisdom!

Today I paid a visit to Fr. Nicholas, the priest and professor here in Thessaloniki, who did so much to help me come over here. It was an encounter with what I believe to be a true Orthodox theologian--one whose mind is as sharp as a tack, but purifies this knowledge in the crucible of praxis. Ahh, I can't know for sure, only God knows...but this was my initial impression. He was reflecting on the place of freedom and synergy in our relationship with God. We are perfectly free to come and go, which, as we can see in this life, can be mirrored in the role of the spiritual father who does not force his spiritual children to do one thing or to NOT do something else. This freedom is a mystery, it is grace, and it is very beautiful.

Until next time!

Some Pictures

Here are some pictures from a recent trip to Mt. Athos and Halkidiki with my friend Christopher. Greece is a beautiful country!


Much love,

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Time Has Come!

So I have been waiting and waiting and waiting for the moment to arrive when I make a BIG mistake in Greek. THE TIME HAS FINALLY COME!

Last night after class I bumped into a friend who I’ve met at a youth group activity that I attend on Sunday evenings. He’s a nice guy but he speaks Greek VERY VERY quickly and it’s hard to keep up. Either way, I was trying the best that I could to adapt, so I was speeding my own Greek up a bit as well.

I noticed that he had cut his hair, so I decided to comment about this. I said the following: “Νομίζω ότι έκοψες τα μυαλά σου!” He looked at me with a curious stare and I suddenly realized what I said...

How would YOU like, in other words, if someone came up to you and pointed out that “I think you cut your brains!” hahahaha.


τα μυαλά in Greek means brains.

τα μαλλιά means hair.

Anyway, there it is.

RANDOM SIDE NOTE: I’ve been thinking a bit about the place of language and such in our call to love one another. Anyone have any thoughts (maybe those of you who have studied abroad) about this endeavor and that of cross-cultural communication in the journey of learning how to love?

Friday, January 23, 2009

On Thoughts--St. Nikolai Velimirovich

About the most all-discerning Prophet [Jesus]

"Why do you harbor evil thoughts in your hearts" (St. Matthew 9:4).

When our Lord deigned to direct a rebuke to the Pharisees and Scribes, at that time, they had not killed anyone, nor had they deceived anyone, nor had they looted anyone and, not only that, at that time, they had not even offended anyone by their words. Why then, did our Lord admonish them when they had not committed any sin neither in works nor in words? Why? Because, at that time, their thoughts were evil.

An evil thought is sin! That is the great news which Christ brought into the world. In truth, an evil thought is the sinful source of all sin because, before a man says something or does something sinful, he thinks sinfully. Thought is the causative sin. All other sins are only subsequent sins. Whoever wishes to annihilate those evil actions must uproot those evil thoughts first. Whoever desires to stem the flow of water must first dry up the source. Therefore, let no one justify himself: I am not a sinner, for I have not killed anyone nor looted from anyone nor profaned anyone nor lied to anyone! Behold, we are full of deadly looting, profaning and deceiving thoughts! If we have not committed sin by our own deeds, that is simply a matter of the mercy of God and external circumstances. But, if God had yielded and if the circumstances were favorable, we would have committed all those sins that we had thought. The serpent is not only venomous when it bites but also when it does not bite, because it carries the venom in itself.

Therefore, not only is thought a sin, but also it is the source of sin: the beginning of sin and the seed and root of sin. That is why the All-seeing and All-knowing Lord rebuked those who had evil thoughts. "Why do you harbor evil thoughts in your hearts."

O Lord, All-seeing and All-knowing, help us to cleanse our hearts and minds from evil thoughts so that our words and deeds may be pure.

[From the Prolog reading of the day--January 24]

Monday, January 19, 2009

Check it out!

Not sure if this is legally online or not, but I found a book on tape that has really impacted me a lot! Many of you have probably heard of or read Fr. Arseny, but this website has his book on tape! PLEASE “read”/listen to it if you have not already. And if you have LISTEN AGAIN! If anyone has any favorite quotes etc, please feel free to post.

(note: not necessarily promoting the website itself...just this book :)).


Thursday, January 15, 2009

I Forgot About This One...

In my last entry (written earlier tonight) I forgot to mention a truly unforgettable moment in my time here thus far, which, in fact, happened JUST TODAY! But before I mention this, let me share something very quickly. This is from the Akathist of Thanksgiving (or “Glory to God for All Things”). The full version can be found HERE:

“Glory to Thee, ceaselessly watching over me, Glory to Thee for the encounters Thou dost arrange for me, Glory to Thee for the love parents ,for the faithfulness of friend, Glory ot Thee for the humbleness of the animals which serve me, Glory to Thee for the unforgettable moments of life, Glory to Thee for the heart’s innocent joy, Glory to Thee for the joy of living, Moving and being able to return Thy love, Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age.”

It was the “Glory to Thee for the unforgettable moments of life” line that I was reading tonight that reminded me to recount this particular unforgettable moment to all of the beloved ones:

Today and yesterday (or the day before...can’t remember), during the break in the midst of my language class, my friends and I went out for something to eat. On our way back, especially today, we noticed an incredible site in the sky: There were thousands (I truly don’t think this is an exaggeration) of what looked like small sparrows, or some form of small bird, flying in beautiful synchronization under the grayish blue winter sky. We saw them in the distance creating various shapes in the sky. First it was a giant oval, then it swooped into a winding river that vanished into a perfect point in the distance, then it oscillated like the waves of the ocean, and then they all turned back on themselves and the mass of flying wings (which looked more like dots in the distance) grew darker and darker as they became more and more concentrated in one area. We were like little children watching this site. My friend and I could not contain our excitement as the birds swooped one way and the other. At each movement our hearts also moved, the power and majesty of this group of birds together was beyond words. How clear and crisp their black silhouettes appeared, framed by the light sky. How perfectly they followed one another in a geometrically amazing manner. How could they know to turn left and right, to swoop up and down in perfect union? I was absolutely shocked.

But then the best moment came.

After the birds, as if sucked by a vacuum, swooped down into ONE TREE (Imagine THOUSANDS OF BIRDS SWOOPING ONTO ONE TREE), they suddenly sprang up, as if on command, as if they were water bursting from a fountain and fanned out into the afternoon sky. Only this time, instead of remaining off in the distance as some beautiful, but foreign, site, they began to rush towards us. The excitement within my chest was hard to take, I wanted to jump with exuberance and exhilaration. The infinite mass of winged dots suddenly became a canopy over our heads. The world was so different for that instant. We had been invaded by tiny birds, but together they created such an impression of power, might and unity! And then they retreated and they became, again, a picture in the distance, the beauty still there but our participation limited.

I recount this as clearly as I can. I have not tried to insert any metaphors or hidden lessons. If anything sounds like a metaphor then most likely they come directly from the experience and not my interpretation (although I might have subconsciously inserted some of my own). Anyway, I think (hope) you get somewhat of a picture of this, or if you have seen such a sight, you know what I mean.

Glory to God for the beauty of His Creation!

with love,

Back from America!

Dear Family and Friends,

Χρόνια Πολλά! Καλή Χρονιά!

Hopefully this latest update finds all beloved friends and family in good health and invigorated upon the beginning of this new year! Love to all! Forgive me for not being more up to date than I have. I recently returned from the states where I spent 2.5 weeks both at home with family and friends (for Christmas) and at the OCF College Conference and at the Monastery of the Holy Transfiguration (Ellwood City, PA). What a restful and joyous time with loved ones! Anyone who has spent any period of time out of their native country (longer than a vacation) knows that it is often strange to return and experience culture shock all over again. The strangest sensation, I think, was walking down the street and every time I heard someone speaking English my heart jumped...only to remember that, yes, English is spoken quite often in America, and no, I shouldnt even consider approaching them and asking them where they are from and what they are doing in Greece...although I’m sure it would be quite entertaining. Needless to say my journey back from the states was also quite unusual. I suppose it had something to do with the fact that my initial departure to Greece had been very final. But this “vacation” back home, as it were, mixed a lot of human identities up in my mind...all of which, in the end, if used correctly can bring us back to the fact that HOME cannot be found, ultimately, in human terms. Another useful lesson to store away :).

The last few days have been quite rainy and cold in Thessaloniki--not a postcard season for sure. Life is good, however. Classes are progressing. Things are sounding less and less foreign...more second nature reactions and nice people throughout.

Not too much else to report on this end of things! Love to hear reports from you though! If you’d like to do so...please feel free: :).

Love to all,