26 June 2012

Athos, Take One

Adrian and I are currently at Ouranoupoli, the town at the edge of the Holy Mountain.

To make a long story short, we missed the boat to Mount Athos due to poor communication. We'll catch the first boat tomorrow at 6:30 am. Today we are relaxing on the beach.

On Sunday at church, I met a woman named Anastasia who was excited we were going to Mount Athos. She lives in Thessaloniki and wanted to go home this week and didn't want to go by herself. She wanted take the train with us.

After several phone calls, it just wasn't working out. However, just as the train was about to leave, I got a very excited phone call. The ensuing scene was so dramatic, it was like a movie. She was at the station to give me a list of names for the monks to pray for and a donation for the monastery. She was yelling to me, her friends were yelling at her, and the security guards were pulling her away. Standing in the doorway, I grabbed the list and money as the train was pulling away.

Thanks to earplugs, a mask, and Advil PM, I slept most of the ride. Adrian was not so fortunate. There were bright lights on all night, the chairs were uncomfortable, and people were snoring loudly.

The train itself was awful overall. One or several of these factors would be tolerable, but the overall atmosphere was not ideal. Combined with the state of the bathrooms, which Panagiotis described most accurately as, "Eat a big lunch, skip dinner, and take care of business before the train. You don't want to have to use the WC on the train. People are so disrespectful."

When we got to Thessaloniki, we caught a cab for €10 to the bus station where we at breakfast and waited until the first bus at 9:00 am.

The three hour bus trip was quite surreal. Instead of bright lights, there was now loud bouzouki music. The driver talked on his cell phone for most of the drive and had the loudest conversation in the bus. Besides that, of course, no sleep could be had on the hairpin turns or abrupt breaks on narrow steers through small mountain villages.

We arrived in Ouranopouli at 12:30 where we were assured a boat would be waiting for us. The man at the pilgrim's bureau was annoyed...the last boat left hours ago. "Get a hotel and catch the boat tomorrow at 6:30 am."

Adrian and I found the dock and figured things out. We met a man our age named Alexandros who was heading to Donkey Island where he was going to rough it for a week. We stopped by a beautiful chapel to St Nicholas on the dock.

We ate lunch at a taverna. We had mussels saganaki (not in tomato sauce but still good).

We used the WIFI to locate a hotel through booking.com. We found Theopisti which is close to the beach and dock, air conditioned and has WIFI for €35. Sweet.

Note icons behind the counter of the hotel (which doubles as a bar). There are icons and chapels everywhere here in northern Greece (much more than Athens)... in the cab, on the bus, at the bus station, in every store... everywhere.

Adrian is resting and I am writing. More updates after the beach (and European swimwear shopping).

We can see the Holy Mountain... we just can't touch it.

Until tomorrow.

25 June 2012

Onward to the Holy Mountain

Adrian and I spent the day visiting many churches around Athens, enjoying local food, and getting sweet deals.
I had a lesson today. We began studying melismatic (multiple notes per syllable) chants.
Adrian and I played a game of chess.
In a few minutes, we will leave for the train station, take an overnight train to Thessaloniki, a bus to Ouranopouli, and then a boat to St. Anna's Skete on Mount Athos. Pray for our safety and a wonderful experience. We will light a candle for you.
I might not have internet access for a few days, so I will keep in touch upon my return.

Leaving for Mount Athos

Adrian and I spent the day visiting many churches around Athens, enjoying local food, and getting sweet deals.

24 June 2012

Adrian Has Arrived

Yesterday, I did not go anywhere or do anything exciting. I relaxed after running around for much of the week. I practiced and cleaned up the apartment for Adrian's arrival.
Today, Sunday 24 June, is a feast day, the Nativity of St. John the Baptist It is about 6 months to Christmas, and he was 6 months older (so to speak, since Christ existed before time) than Christ. Being a feast, vespers last night had a little more pomp and ceremony. After the singing of "O gladsome light," which signals the beginning of the new day, was a particularly beautiful moment. The choirs met in the middle and began a slow procession to the back of the church while singing hymns specific for the feast. They were followed by the acolytes with candles and the deacon with the censer. Last came the priest with the icon of the feast, which he reverently placed on a stand after all had assembled.

The extraordinary part of the service continued from the back, complete with several intercessions and "Lord have mercy" sung 12 times in a distinctive melody after each petition. The "ordinary" service of vespers resumed as the choirs processed back to the front, followed by the clergy.
In the evening after vespers, I talked with a couple of cantors from St. Irene's. The three of us happened (probably not a coincidence) to meet at the metropolis, venerating the relics of St. Philothei and St. Gregory. We sat on the marble steps of the metropolis (which were still quite warm from bearing the sun's heat all day) and talked about life.
It was so encouraging to talk to these men my age who have suffered much but have such strong faith. One of the cantors was telling me how the saints help him, especially St. Nicholas, a new-martyr from his city, and St. Ephraim of Nea Makri (see Thursday's post). He was one of the few Greeks I have met who were encouraged (as opposed to perplexed) that I grew up Protestant and became Orthodox in adulthood. "Yes! Like St. Seraphim! I have his icon."

Father Seraphim Rose grew up Methodist in California, turned to eastern religions, and eventually found Truth in Orthodoxy. He became a priest and a monk, founded a monastery and wrote several books in English, as well as some in Russian to strengthen the persecuted Church during soviet times. He died in 1982, and is popularly venerated, although not officially canonized yet.
Today during liturgy, I made careful notes of exactly how the Liturgy can be sung antiphonally by two choirs. Watch out, St. Mary's: this will happen this fall! We can do it!
After liturgy, I got coffee with a cantor I met last night, as well as a woman he met outside the church. His English is quite conversational, but she speaks very little. The three of us had a nice conversation. She just visited St. Nektarios on Aegina. She said that in the hills above the monastery, there are 365 chapels, each for a saint for every day of the year. The conversation was mostly in Greek. While I didn't understand every word, I did get the main idea. She bought both of us a handheld/hand-powered sewing machine from a street peddler.

I took the bus to the airport to meet Adrian. I am very glad he is with me...it is good to have a friend to share in the experiences. We dropped his luggage off in the apartment, then walked around Plaka. We were hoping that St. Demetrios was having vespers, but they weren't. We sat in a taverna in the shadow of the acropolis over a carafe of local red wine, then walked through Anafiotika. He really enjoyed walking down Adrianou street, naturally. Of course we couldn't miss the opportunity:

All the churches were closed (as were most of the stores). We will visit the churches tomorrow. We ate dinner at a taverna beside the Metropolis. Panagiotis called and showed up a few minutes later with the train tickets for Thessaloniki. But then, he didn't want us to take them until he called the Geronda (elder) on Mt. Athos. The tentative plan is to leave tomorrow on an overnight train to Thessaloniki, then spend Tuesday and Wednesday on the Holy Mountain. May God grant us mercy and grace to undertake this awesome pilgrimage!
Let the adventure begin/continue!

22 June 2012

Daphni Monastery and the Holy Monastery of St. Irene Chrysovalantou

This morning I visited Daphni Monastery.  The monastery was relatively simple to access from public transportation (don't rely on google...use it to get a general idea, then ask people...google told me to take the metro/bus the wrong way each time...good thing I didn't listen).
Daphni Monastery is well known as one of the greatest collections of mosaic icons and is a UNESCO world heritage site.  Unfortunately, the katholikon (main church) was severely damaged in an earthquake in 1999.  All the books and half the websites said it has been closed for repairs.  The official website listed hours for two days each week, one being Friday.  I took a chance, and it was open.

What I saw of the iconography was incrdedible.  These are the icons in the textbooks...and it was incredible to see them in real life.

Unfortunately, the whole experience was mostly disappointing. It hasn't served as a monastery for quite some time.  I would suppose museum might be the right word, but even so, there wasn't much to see. The inside of the church is filled with scaffolding (no photography allowed...sorry).  I couldn't see anything from the ground.  I was escorted by a museum guard to ascend the scaffolding.  At each level, a few icons could be seen from a distance, through metal beams and around plywood planks.  I would ascend a level, see a few icons, then asencd some more.  There was no "big picture" or context, just bits and pieces.  The "crown jewel" is the Christ Pantokrator in the dome. 

Unfortunately, it was inaccessbile and all I could see was a glimpse of his left hand.

The guard hurried me along to watch the video in the next building "because [I] could see more in the video than in the church."   After the video (just a slideshow of the icons), I returned to the church to see a few things in life that I realized from the video. Another guard stopped me, "You can only go through once.  It wouldn't work if everyone got to go twice."  I argued.  Sometime after "I'm the only one here..." But before I got to "there are three of you and plenty of time for coffee and cigarettes..." the guard that escorted me stepped in and took me up to take a few more glimpses.

A repeat?  Probably not until the renovations are completed.


There is more scaffolding on the inside, if you can believe it.

I made a brief stop  by the apartment to call Arvanitis to establish a time for a lesson.  I quickly returned to the metro.  The ticket is for 90 minutes for all modes of transportation.  I didn't buy the monthly or weekly pass...I've just bought tickets as I need them because I can just walk almost everywhere, other than these extraordinary trips.

I rode the metro to Kifissia, a suburb on the north-east side of Athens.  Many people have told me it is the nicest part; I'd tend to agree with them.  It is quite densely wooded (as in, comparable to an average Midwestern city).  After riding the bus around for a while, I saw a couple of signs for the monastery.  The driver dropped me off at the closest stop.

I still had to walk about half a mile before I came to the 20-foot high stone castle walls.

At the wall, I met a woman who was on the bus, but must've walked down a different street.  She entered the monastery just behind me.  The first stop (still within the wall, and just inside the gate) was a room full of shirts, skirts, and scarves.  A sign on the door instructed of the dress code.  The lady from the bus put on long-sleeves over her strapless sundress.  She handed me a long-sleeve shirt.

I exited to a courtyard.  The first thing I noticed was a holy water fount.

A little further was the church.


A prominent sign warned (the only English text in the whole compound) that photography was prohibited.  Just inside the church was a room with candles and holy oil.  The candles were placed in a 3x8 foot bed of sand at table height, with a large powered hood above to vent the heat (almost all the churches in Greece have this feature, and I have yet to photograph it...a smart idea since the candles produce a lot of heat and most churches are not air-conditioned).

Beside the candles, bottles were available for the holy water and holy oil. The oil was a large bowl with several lit wicks floating around.  Beside the bowl, on the table, were several ladles. I filled several bottles.   A nun walked past and, with a smile, handed me a bag to carry the bottles. This was one difference from St. Ephraim's monastery, where I didn't see a single nun: there were women tending the candles and the store, sweeping the floor, etc., but not a single nun.  At St. Irene's, the nuns were doing everything.

I entered the church, which were really two side chapels that connected to the katholikon, which is only accessible to the nuns.  The second chapel was almost pitch black, save for a couple of candles.  Along the north wall was the wonderworking icon of St. Irene.  This icon is how this monastery was named and became famous.  You may read more about it here:

St. Irene was a noblewoman bethrothed to marry the crown prince of the Roman Empire in the 8th century.  When she arrived at Constantinople, she gave her wealth to the poor and entered the Chrysovalanou Monastery.  She lived a holy life, becoming a deacon and abbess of the moanstery.  She was very strict in her prayers, ascesis, and fasting.  She prayed from the afternoon until dawn every day, with her hands raised to heaven, not unlike Moses.  She worked many miracles.  A famous story goes that she told the nuns to welcome the sailor who would arrive that day.  Sure enough, a sailor did arrive at her monastery.  He had just sailed from Patmos.  As he was sailing around Patmos, an old man called the boat to shore.  He was unable, do to the rocks, so the man walked on the waves to the boat.  On the boat, he revealed that he was St. John the Theologian (the apostle and gospel-writer).  He gave to sailor three apples to give to St. Irene.  One apple was divided among the sisters, one solely sustained St. Irene for the duration of the 40 days great lent, and she ate the third shortly before her death. The nuns grow and bless apples to this day, and give slices of these apples to all the pilgrims.  Many people have been healed by eating these apples after prayer and fasting.

Her relics are not in the monastery and have sadly been lost to the ages.  All that remains is her hand, which is in a monastery of the same name in Astoria, New York, which I may have the opportunity to venerate later this summer.

Read more about the Saint and her Monastery in Attiki Greece: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/07/miracles-icons-and-photos-of-st-irene.html?m=1
and here:http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2009/07/miraculous-icon-of-saint-irene.html?m=1
This link has a video tour of the monastery...follow in my footsteps! http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/03/tour-of-st-irene-chrysovalantou.html?m=1

21 June 2012

St. Ephraim of Nea Makri

I woke up early to visit Nea Makri to venerate the relics of St. Ephraim of Nea Makri, the Great Hieromartyr and Wonderworker.

St. Ephraim was a holy monk on the east coast of Attica.  Turkish pirates raided the monastery and beheaded the monks, but kept St. Ephraim prisoner for 5 months, torturing him to become a Muslim.  In the end, the Godless Turks hung him upside down from a tree and drove a flaming, red-hot stick through his stomache.  He contested for Christ 5 May, 1426.

Then, he was utterly forgotten for 500 years.

On 3 January, 1950, the Abbess of the Monastery, followed a still small voice, and began to dig in a particular spot, which revealed a skull, followed by a heavenly frangrance.  She found the martyr's bones and his raso (habit), which she cleaned.  He appeared to her, told her his name, and the story of his life.

St. Ephraim has worked many miracles around the world, and has healed countless of people who have asked for his intercessions.  Orthodox believe that the saints are alive with Christ, and therefore not dead. In Christ, there is a thin veil between earth and heaven. Christ unites all Christians in the Church, whether alive on earth of alive in heaven.  Just as I can ask any of you reading this blog to pray for me, I can ask the saints in heaven to pray for us.  Because they are perfected in Christ and are near to him, their pure prayers are quickly answered, as is evidenced by their many miracles, especially of this saint.

St. Ephraim is well loved by Orthodox all over the world, even America.  One particularly moving story involves a teenager (with no religious upbringing) from the midwest who entered what would-have been a deadly coma from a drug overdose, after several other suicide attempts.  The doctors told his family that he would probably die, or at best be a vegetable...no chance of recovery.  After two weeks,  he immediately awoke from the coma, and told the doctors and his family that a radiant monk named Ephraim appeared to him and told that he had been praying for him.  God would give him a second chance if he turned his life around.  He followed the saint's exact directions to his relics in Greece.

My introduction to this wonderful saint was through my Godfather, who gave me his icon, which I blessed on the saints relics today.

I awoke early and grabbed some still warm bread to eat on the way. 

I followed directions given to me by a man named Ioannis at Panagia Rombes a few weeks ago. I took the metro to the airport, getting off at Ethniki Amyna.  There, I caught the Attiki bus (after waiting half an hour) to Nea Makri, a town about 20 miles from Athens, on the east coast of Attika, on the Aegean Sea, and just south of Marathon (yes, THE Marathon).  I was told that the bus would drop me off in the square, where there will be taxis waiting.  Just ask the driver to take you to "Agio Ephraim." It worked exactly as described, down to the taxi fare (4 euros).  The drive up Amomon Mountain was beautiful.  The road was lined with olive trees and the sea was visible most of the drive (I apologize for not getting a better photo).

The driver dropped me off at the gate of the monastery and gave me his business card to call for my return.

I entered the beautiful grounds of the monastery.  There were maybe a dozen pilgrims sitting in the shade around the courtyard.  The first site that caught my attention was the chapel over the grave of the thrice-blessed iconographer Photios Kontoglou.  The chapel offers pilgrims the opportunity to pray at his grave and light a candle.  He is popularly venerated, and may one day, God-willing, be declared a saint.  As an aspiring iconographer, visiting the grave of Photios Kontoglou is definitely a highlight on my pilgrimage in Greece.


Kontoglou pretty much singlehandedly restored traditional iconography to Orthodoxy world-wide in the mid-20th century.  For much of the 18th-19th centuries, Orthodox churches used very mediocre baroque/romantic icons.  Kontoglou mastered western painting in Paris, before making a pilgrimage to Mount Athos.  Seeing the ancient icons in Athos inspired him to paint in the traditional style, and spread the traditional practice.  The traditional iconographic style is important for many reasons, mainly, it abstracts the subject and shows the saint transfigured in heaven, not the earthly, naturalistic appearance of western art.  Indeed, this was the predicament in modern art: artists moved to abstraction to show the true essence that cannot be seen with physical eyes.

The last icon ever painted by Kontoglou was of St. Ephraim, and is in the church with his relics.
Continuing past Kontoglou's grave, I entered the Katholikon (main church of the monastery).  I can't describe with words the holy atmosphere, but I can try.

The saint's reliquary is on the right side of the church.  It is essentially a silver coffin with a glass top.  St. Ephraim is vested as a priest-monk, his skull is visible.  The glass is covered with flowers left by pilgrims, and icons for the saint to bless.

The church was silent with an otherworldly peace that was definitely palpable, but can't be described with words.  There were perhaps a dozen people.  Some were kneeling at the relics, clutching papers full of names.   Others were standing, and most were sitting in a silent contemplation.  Some were whispering, and some were weeping.

Birds flew in and out of the open doors and windows, their song was the only sound.

I can't describe the feeling of my unworthiness as I approached overflowing holiness the saint's body that endured so much suffering for the sake of Christ.  I kneeled before the reliquary, under the crosses made with wood from the tree on which he was martyred. I kissed the glass and added my icons and prayer-rope to the others.

I sat with the other pilgrims in silence for a period of time (I'm not sure how long).  Suddenly, dozens of people of all ages began pouring in and the silence was interrupted.  Among them was a priest who entered the altar, vested, and returned with a censer and prayer book.  After about a hundred people crowded in, a paraklesis (supplication) service to the saint began.

After the service, I followed the people to the courtyard.  I found the chapel built around the tree where he was martyred.  Someone explained to me the door has to stay locked because so many people have taken pieces of wood from the tree (to be honest, that's what I wanted to do).
A miraculous spring comes from the tree.  The pilgrims drank from it and I filled a small bottle.  I filled another bottle with soil from beside the chapel.  This soil was soaked with the martyr's blood 500 years ago.  I will put it in my parish church.

The people left, and the gate was closed. I called Taso the taxidriver, who quickly arrived, but I had to wait a good half-hour in the town square before the bus came for Athens.

I took the metro an extra stop and walked through the monastiraki flea market district.  I found several good coffee-table-books full of beautiful icons.  I also bargained down a censer for 10 euros.  I stopped at a taverna for lunch.  I ordered the "Special of the Day without meat," which the waitress described as "a vegetable that's about this long, green, and looks like a closed umbrella." Okra, right?  Innaccurate all around.  I hope I don't scrandalize anyone, but it defintely wasn't okra, and definitely wasn't vegetarian (green beans in a tomato sauce, with a liberal amount of souvlaki chunks for flavor).

I walked to my lesson, where we studied plagal first (a "minor" mode starting on the 6th), and third mode.  Third mode was the favored mode for singing battle songs as the ancient phalanxs marched.  "Byzantine" chant is really quite innaccurate: it's simply music, and has been around for thousands of years.  The whole Roman world shared it, so it was organically used by the church.  All folk music uses these same scales and modes to some degree or another.
On my way back to the apartment, I found a couple of great coffee table books on the beautiful island of Naxos.  Coffee-table books are great because images transcend the language barrier.

20 June 2012

A Day Full of Surprises

Today began with a lesson with Arvanitis. We continued to work on the fourth mode called "Legetos." I learned more about rhythm and integrating the textual accents into the rhythm, as well as certain ornaments and other oral traditions about how to perform certain melodic cadences and phrases. On my way back from the lesson, Panagiotis called me and wondered if I was free for lunch. I met Panagiotis providentially in a bookstore a couple weeks ago. He has made arrangements for Adrian and I to visit Mount Athos next week. I stopped by a bookstore an looked at a couple of coffee table books about Naxos, which I will probably buy tomorrow, because I had to run to meet Panagiotis. "Do you like calamari?" he asked. What kind of question is that? "I know a taverna in Pireaus that makes the best grilled calamari." I got on his moped (I said I wouldn't do it again...oh well) and we were on our way. Today was even more scary than the city center, because we took the highway to Piraeus. "Did you see any cops?" he asked. "No," I answered. "Exactly. In America, they're everywhere. Here, they don't do anything. People drive however they want." I couldn't describe the traffic better if I tried. We arrived unscathed at the taverna. The place was packed. You can't tell that the country has hard times by looking at a taverna...they are always full. Soon, the first course arrived. It was a kind of spread for the bread. It was not exactly hummus, but similar, topped with onions, capers, and olive oil.

Next came beets, doused with olive oil and topped with sliced raw garlic.

The calamari arrived. Two beautiful specimens, each about a foot long, and grilled to perfection. They were whole: tentacles, body, and fins. Simply the best.

We were stuffed. The total bill? 14 euros, including wine and coke. We discussed life in America and Greece. Panagiotis lived in Chicago for a number of years and still owns a house in Joliet. He grew up not far from here (we'll visit it in a minute) on a farm. I told him my father is a farmer; he wants to visit the next time he's in Chicago. He asked if I live near any Amish; the answer is, of course, yes. I told him about my admiration of how they are about the only Americans who have preserved some sense of community. We drove past the house where he grew up, which used to be a four acre farm. The government bought it and built projects.

We continued to his house. It is his "hesychia," (silence) as he calls it. It is a little sanctuary in the city. A tiny door on the street opens up to a narrow alley.

A courtyard, complete with a lemon tree, emerges at the end of the alley.

Every room is around the open courtyard. First we went to the kitchen, where he gave me a Greek soft drink, which was very good, and not unlike Cream Soda, but still a little different.

The first thing that struck me was that the walls and bookshelves were full of icons. He explained that the Geronda (elder) from Mount Athos brings these icons (the handiwork of the monks) to sell in Athens. He gave me a beautiful icon of St. Nektarios that we will bless on his relics on Friday. The icon is printed with a special process that looks remarkably like it is handpainted, and has 14k gold leaf.

Panagiotis told me about his love for dictionaries (especially good ones, because bad ones spell words differently). I talked about Naxos; he would like to visit (especially when I told him that my room cost e20). He showed me around the other rooms of his house (passing through the courtyard from one room to another). He is in the middle of renovations. He showed me the new kitchen, office, and bedroom. "And this will be a guest room... you can stay here next time you come to Athens." I know deep within that this is not my only trip to Greece...this beautiful land will draw me back. The last room he showed me was a real surprise. He literally has a skete (small monastery) in his house. The walls were covered in icons to that point that it was hard to tell what color the paint was. There is a lamp which is lit 24 hours a day.

There were two beds, neatly made. One had an iconic photograph on the pillow. "This was the cell of the Geronda Chrysostomos. People come here to pray to him." The other bed belongs to the Geronda from Athos. He stays here when he comes to Athens.

Panagiotis drove me to my apartment (the route involved first crossing traffic on the highway, then going over the curb and across the median). Now, I appreciate American traffic laws and enforcement. After returning to my apartment, I walked down to church supply row. I was warned about Greek store hours. On Monday, everything was closed. Yesterday, every store was open until 8pm (and later). Today, everything had closed at 3. Oh well. As I was heading back, I happened upon a store that reminded me of the flea market. Maybe "Hoarders" is a more descriptive term. The store was navigated via a narrow walkway (some places too narrow) with old Greek stuff literally piled up (and hanging from) the ceiling. I don't mean touristy kitsch. I mean old icons (many handpainted), shadow puppets, lamps, censers, pipes, coffee pots, and a host of other unidentifiable wares.

As I ventured further into the store, I realized I was utterly alone. "Γειά σας." I said, to no reply. Hmm... "Am I supposed to be here?" I wondered. Eventually the elderly shopkeeper showed up (he was sipping coffee in the shade across the street).

I found an icon I liked, a sterling silver dish, and a lamp. Stavros, the shopkeeper, and I bartered over prices. In the process, I discovered that he will have to close his shop soon (I couldn't quite gather if it was because of higher taxes, owed taxes, poor economy or all of the above). I made a bold proposal: "How much if I bought all the lamps." "Δέκα." Ten each. Wow. Now that's a steal. The cheapest ones here are 35 euros (in the US, you can't find them for less than $50). The next half hour was spent discovering lamps, reaching, crawling, and stretching, untangling, and gathering. Now, I am bringing back a hoard of lamps. Some are very old, some are less old. Most need to be polished, some need a glass, some need a new chain, others need a little work. All are beautiful.

19 June 2012

St. Papa Nicholas Planas

Today, I was primarily concerned with venerating the relics of St. Papa Nicholas Planas. He was an extremely holy parish priest who served the Divine Liturgy every day for fifty years in various churches around Athens. St. Nicholas was born on Naxos (where Bekah and I were last week). His wife died young, and he sacrificed his inheritance by paying off someone else's debt. He would pray for anyone who asked, and so regularly prayed for thousands of people by name for hours at every liturgy every day. It is said that when it rained, he stayed dry as he walked to church, and when it was dark, a light illumined his path. His acolytes witnessed him elevating at times during the liturgy. He reposed in 1932. His holy relics are in the church of St. John the Hunter in Athens, which has since been rebuilt. You may read more about him here: http://fr-d-serfes.org/lives/stnicholas.htm

The church is right off of a metro station. My plan was to buy his icon this morning, go to my lesson, then take the metro from my lesson to the church of St. John. I started at an icon shop near my apartment. The icons were made to look old (rough and black around the edges...personally I don't care for this style). I moved along to another icon store down the street. They had a nice, large icon of St. Nicholas standing, vested. Nice. I asked for another (St. Mary's will get one, and I'd like one as well). They had a smaller icon as well. I was ready to go to my lesson and then to St. Nicholas.

On the way to my lesson, I passed another store, so I stopped in. This little store is across the street from the ancient Church of the St. Theodores and is run by the nicest people. Of course they had a really nice, large icon of St. Nicholas Planas (I'm not worried about finding a home for this icon). I also found two other beautiful icons I will bring home to my parish church of St. Mary's. The first was St. Ephraim of Nea Makri was a monk near Athens, martyred by pirates and forgotten for 500 years until he recently revealed himself...I will visit him soon. I also found St. Philomenos, who was a priest monk at Jacob's Well in Samaria (where Christ met the samaritan woman at the well). He was recently martyred by the Jews in 1979 who demanded they have "their" well, so they clove his face in a cross with an axe.

I also asked about an icon of St. Philothei (a nun martyred by the Turks, whose relics are in the cathedral a block from my apartment). They didn't have it, but would make one for me by Friday. The store owner gave me a small icon of St. Christopher as I was leaving. "Put it in your car." This held me up a bit from my lesson, which ran late, so I didn't make it to the church of St. John (then at least). At my lesson, we studied rhythm. The rhythm of Byzantine chant follows the natural patterns of the accents in the text. It becomes interesting because the hymns are written an prose, so mosty are not metered. The melody rises with main ideas in the text, and the rhythm places the accents on downbeats. This can mean that a "measure" can have 2, 3, or 4 beats, and although a 2-beat rhythm is the norm, a time signature is not constant through a hymn (although the ancient hymns kept a strict 2-beat rhythm). An accented syllable should usually fall on a downbeat and/or can be held for two beats to preserve the rhythm. Also, if the accented syllable won't land on the downbeat, the melody should rise to accomodate this. We sang a number of hymns in plagal fourth mode (the major mode in western music). The main emphasis was practicing moving my hand in the rhythm (difficult because the meter is not constant). My teacher told me "Rhythm is in the body, not the mind, so you must move your body (hand) to keep the rhythm. It is a natural tendency and should not be suppressed." I have noticed this with the cantors of St. Irene's as they chant. As an aside, the ancient chant had a system of chieronomy, or hand gestures, to communicate the melody to the choir (contrasted with modern western direction which only shows rhythm and expression). For various reasons (written notation being one), the ancient chieronomy became extinct, although my teacher and his teacher, Simon Karas, have discovered some hand gestures, which may be used to distinguish certain notes. Other directors, such as Lycourgos Angelopoulos, have developed their own chieronomy to "paint" the melody in the air. After the lesson (it was too late to visit St. Nicholas; the church closes at 1pm) I returned to my apartment. I spent the afternoon reading and practicing. Fortunately, the Church of St. John opens in the evening from 5-7. Doubly fortunately, Arvanitis was kind enough to schedule a second lesson for this evening. I left around 5pm for Syntagma, where I boarded the Metro red line towards Agios Demitrios. I departed at Agios Ioannis (St. John). Just as described, the metro station opened up on the square of the church. You can't miss it.

The church is dedicated to St. John the Baptist. I have been unable to find out the origin of the appellation "the Hunter." The church is relatively new (rebuilt at some point after the repose of St. Nicholas) and is beautiful.

I entered the church and venerated the holy relics of St. Papa Nicholas Planas.

The men tending the church were very nice and will have the priest bless the icons on the relics of St. Nicholas, where they will stay for two weeks, and I will get them before I leave. I took the subway to Panepistimiou and walked to my lesson. We continued working on rhythm and hand movements. We studied characteristics of the first (minor) and fourth (dominant note is the third of the major scale...no true equivalent in western music). We also chanted in English for the first time: psalms 140 and 141 from vespers in the first mode. Based on what I just learned about rhythmic accents, I placed the barlines in the melody (they were absent in the score). I bought from fruit, vegetables, and pita from the grocery, and made dinner at home. I will close this post with two hymns for St. Nicholas Planas: As a simple shepherd of Christ God's lambs, thou didst tend thy flock well on the pasture of piety, nourishing their spirits with ceaseless supplications and leading them to Christ, O wise Father Nicholas. Humble of spirit and pure of heart, illustrious in life and dispassionate of a truth, wast thou, O wise one. Thou didst illumine all by the virtues and dost grant grace unto them that draw nigh unto thee; and by thine intercessions, thou dost heal them that call upon thee, O Father Nicholas.