It occurred to me that it's been a while since I've posted a personal segment, as opposed to the occasional translation or interesting quote. The pictures that you will find below were added before the text, because I wanted to give you all a sense of what I had been up to last weekend while it was still fresh. Now, however, a bit of an explanation is due:
Last weekend (i.e. before Holy Week) an American friend of mine, Peter, who has lived for about 1 year at the monastic community of St. Dionyius at the foot of Mt. Olympus GR, invited me to join him for a weekend at this beautiful historic monastery. Because school is out for Pascha, I decided to go for it, and took the train with him to the small town of Litohoro which sits at the base of the renowned Olympus mountain. One can really understand, to an extent, why the ancient Greeks considered it the home of the God's, at least from an aesthetic perspective, as its beautiful slopes and sprawling picturesque valleys provide a mystical contrast--juxtaposing the flat "earthly" agriculture terrain to the looming "heavenly" peaks.
Due to its mythological significance, the mountain is not as well known for housing the monastery of St. Dionysios, even though it is apprx 500 years old, and famous due to its holy founder, and for its welcoming but austere monastic atmosphere. But in the Orthodox world it is a fairly frequented non-Athonite pilgrimage site, and therefore something that I too had been interested in visiting, but never had a found a good excuse to go. Finally, my time had come :).
So after arriving at the train station in Litohoro, we decided to walk to the monastery and see if someone would decide to pick us up along the way (Peter was fairly well known by the locals as being the representative American staying at the monastery and so it was not improbable that someone would be pass by and recognize him). It was about a 2 hour walk and as we started out we knew that we would not regret it as the fresh rural air blew through our hair and refreshed us (especially me, the urban academic that I have become :)). The walk was paradisiacal to say the least. Going from highway roads with fields on both sides and mountains painting a beautiful background landscape in the distance, to quaint village houses and tiny cobble stone roads, we wound our way through the center and up towards the monastery itself. We passed ancient churches and monuments and were fortunate to have been picked up by a pleasant local who took us through the ugliest part of our journey and gave us a bit of a break from walking. We arrived safe and sound and settled in having found me a room in the guest house.
Peter works with the pigs. He had suggested that I help him the following day, because he really loved his job and thought that I would enjoy it as well. I eagerly accepted his offer, although internally I was curious to see how my city-boy self would fair "wallowing" with the swine; but my idealistic side one over, and I figured that it would be a good break from the books to get down and dirty with the unclean ones.
This was the best decision I think I have made since coming to Greece.
Honestly it was a day full of external filth and internal joy. With ever splash of mud that found its way on my pants, with every lump of manure that oozed betwixt my boots and every speck of dirt that lodged itself behind my ear, I found a renewed strength and energy rushing through me. After I had overcome my fear of being trampled by 100 hungry piglets as I dumped feed into their troughs, I found it rather enjoyable to quite literally rub shoulders with these piggish...pigs, and if they were blocking my way, to give them a loving, but firm, boot out of my way. All day we went from pen to pen feeding hundreds of them (the monastery owns around 600 total, operating one of Greece's few organic pig farms), running around screaming "Roy, roy, roy", which in Greek pig language means, "eat, food, eat, food" or something like that. I got to see how the male breeding pigs, who bore a striking resemblance to some high school football players that I have encountered, would be set up with a couple of females to produce, in the way that comes quite naturally to them, itty bitty oinkers (I say SOME, not all...so no comments about not being PC please ;)).
I guess that if I was doing this all day everyday and had known no other life (like a very kind Albanian fellow that I befriended there), and then I had seen American movies and all of the lazy young people who are seen partying away, I would think that the grass WAS really greener on our side of the fence; but coming from the wealth of American society, and from the cement sterility of urban life, it gave me a new sense of being...just a nice glimpse of another aspect of the life of the world that I don't see too much of at the moment. Maybe someday that will change, life will become a bit more balanced (I pray that this is the case), and I am not unsatisfied with the beautiful life that God has given me in Thessaloniki, but this was a taste of another cuisine that opened up a side of me that needed to come up for a bit of air I believe.
So there it is. Hate to say it, but the highlight of the monastery was the PIGS! Let this be a lesson to all of use: let's not look only what we might consider the cookie-cutter examples of our Faith (the ideal clergyman, that best monastery, the most active parish) to teach us the important lessons. Sometimes its the pigs that make our day! (don't take me too seriously please).
So here's some shots of the the pigs and the monastery! Enjoy!