Just a quick update on the OC.net Eastern Winterfest. Yes I know that no one else knows anything about it, but due to the logistics of putting up anybody else at my house and the expense involved in getting to Greece in the first place, it was decided to keep this fairly low key
Oblio arrived on Saturday afternoon (first day of the nativity fast) as a short stopover on his way back from some work in Jerusalem. The evening was spent planning a basic itinerary for the next few days. Sunday morning we headed off to Divine liturgy at our church (Ascension of Christ) from 7am til 10:15am after which we drove my kids over to the church of Saint Menas where they go for Sunday School. Saint Menas is built on the site where the Apostle Paul first preached to the people of Thessaloniki.
After we picked my children up, we got some lunch on the road (McDonalds in Greece have a few fasting items on the menu) and headed out to the Convent of the Annunciation near Ormylia in Halkidiki. We arrived in time to catch the end of Vespers, so were priviledged to here the beautiful chanting of the nuns. After vespers we sat down and chatted over Greek coffee with a lovely nun from Cyprus, a Greek-American woman from Athens and a German journalist who had come to do a story on the monastery despite the Abbess denying their request ( their letter arrived in Germany after the journalist had already left). As is usual, we were the last to leave, the sisters patiently reminding us that the monastery was now in fact closed (they close at 4pm), so reluctantly we made our way down through the olive trees to the car park.
Our next destination, the Monastery of Saint Arsenios near the village of Vatopedi, was not due to open for the afternoon until 5pm, So we decided to see if we could find the Convent of John the Forerunner near the village of Metamorphosi. We found it without difficulty and were lucky enough to arrive during Vespers (as this monastery remains open until sunset), so we stood in the church, lit only by a few candles as the sun was already low in the sky and very little sunlight made it into the church and let the beautiful chanting of the nuns wash over us. Oblio was already managing to pick out certain words in Greek which enabled him to determine roughly where we were in the service, despite knowing little Greek apart from "Kyrie eleison" and "Doxa Patri...". Afterwards we again sat down for coffee though we did not stay for long as we wanted to get to the beginning of Vespers at Saint Arsenios.
We arrived shortly after Vespers had begun so quickly made our way to the church which by this stage was only lit by candle light as the sun had already set. At the end of the service we went forward to venerate the icons and relics of Saint Arsenios and Saint Nicholas Planas then made our way downstairs to the Archondariki and the small shop to buy some books, icons and charcoal powder. We were able to spend a little while talking to Father Serapheim, a lovely young monk who spoke excellent English before finally heading off for home. Oblio was doing extremely well considering he had to wake up at 3am to catch his flight from Jerusalem the previous day.
Monday was a public holiday in Greece, so Oblio and I went to the pilgrim bureau for Mount Athos to book a seat on the ferry boat for Wednesday. After that we went up to the church of Saint Demetri to venerate his holy myhrr streaming relics. Even though they had opened the larnaca a couple of weeks before (during which they soak up the myhrr in cotton wool to distribute it to the faithful) the smell of myhrr was still as strong as ever. Afterwards we visited the Rotonda (Saint George) then headed home for lunch where Oblio had his first taste of octopus. In the evening, while my wife Francie took our daughters to swimming lessons, Oblio and I took my 15 month old son and went to a service of Holy Unction at our church from 5pm until 7:30pm.
I had to go back to work today, so Oblio is on his own visiting the churches and monasteries in the centre of Thessaloniki. Hopefully he will manage to visit the church of Holy Wisdom, the church of Saint David, the Church of Saint Gregory Palamas where his relics lie, the monastery of Saint Theodora where the relics of saints Theodora and David lie, the churches of Saint Panteleimon, Saint Haralambos and a few others whose names I cannot remember just now. This afternoon we hope to visit the monastery out at Souroti where the grave of Father Paisios is found and the relics of Saint Arsenios.
Tomorrow morning Oblio and I will take the bus to Ouranoupoli where he will take the ferry boat to Mount Athos. I had planned to have him go to the monastery of Saint Panteleimon (russian) as it is one of the stops the ferry boat makes, but it turns out they have no room for any more visitors so I have been frantically calling the other monasteries to ensure he has somewhere to eat and sleep tomorrow night
. He is now booked in at Iviron for one night. After that he is in the hands of Panagia until he comes back on Sunday
I'm wondering about starting up Prodromos tours
. What do you think?