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?