November 23, 2009

Thessaloniki, The Holy Week of Saint Demetrios

The day after I arrived in Thessaloniki, my hosts took me on a pilgrimage of the city. We visited and venerated several churches in the city. The city has a Byzantine aroma in its atmosphere. It is not unlikely that your daily walk to your destination as a citizen there includes passing by at least one or more churches. Regardless of convictions of each individual who you see on the street, the sense of reverence is quiet, but prevalent. In addition to this inherent sense of piety, the anticipation of the feast of the city's patron, Saint Demetrios, was evident in the decor of the city streets, and the flocking of people to the churches for vespers, supplications services, and vigils each night during the week prior to the feast--the Holy Week of Demetrios, as they like to call it. The events surrounding the feast also included film showings, concerts, lectures, and art exhibits--a host of celebrations called "Ta Dimitria" (those of Demetrios). I was happy to find my name displayed practically everywhere...something you won't see in America. Among the churches we visited were: the Vlatadon Monastery in the Old, Upper City, Panagia Dexia, Panagia Chalkeon, Saint Sophia, The Church of the Encounter of Christ in the Temple, Saint Theodora of Thessaloniki, Latomou Monastery of Osios David, and of course, Saint Demetrios. From our lunch spot, I had a direct view of the church of Saint Paul (see earlier posting for picture). We also visited the Rotunda, which has a small Chapel dedicated to Saint George. What a breath of fresh air to be able to take a break from city bustle and to go into a church to say a prayer, at any time of the day, anywhere in Thessaloniki. On our walks through the city, I noticed large numbers of young people. Thessaloniki is home to three big universities, making it one big college town. It is nothing like the Charlottesvilles or Princetons of America, but student life is ever so present. Even with the influence of impersonalizing technologies (internet cafes and text messaging), the cafe's are always full of groups of young people simply talking and having coffee, all day, and all evening. This seemingly slothful way of life may be a point of criticism by some of us (i.e., me), but I now believe that it is actually quite necessary. Man is made in the image of God, and so, it follows that if we want to see God, then perhaps we should start by seeing our fellow man, by experiencing his or her presence in our midst, not through Facebook or text messages alone. In the deepest core of our being, our desire is to be with God, and so, the desire we have to be with others stems from this, since the others give us a glimpse of God as icons of Him. It is possible that the majority of the young people I saw socializing in the cafeterias may not be practicing Christians, but the whole idea of desiring personal encounters with others is ingrained in the tradition of meeting for coffee, it's part of the culture here. I think I can get used to this. :)

November 3, 2009

The Mediterranean Holy Land

On October 21, 2009, I arrived in Thessaloniki, Greece. This country is my ancestral homeland, where my parents were born and grew up. My last visit at 5 years of age still provides blurry images of my time here, but it's not the same. This trip to Greece is an abundant gift from God that I never thought would occur so soon. After my arrival, I was greeted by two friends of mine, the newly-weds. We went on a walking tour of the waterfront of the city (the Paraleia), with views of sailing ships and Mount Olympus. The amazing views of the city gave me a sense of great excitement and curiosity. I was ready to go exploring this treasure of antiquity and holiness. And a few cappuccinos and delicious seafood meals along the way never hurts...