December 19, 2009

Holy Week of Saint Demetrios Part 2

The remainder of the week involved more visits to monasteries and churches, as well as nice social gatherings. We visited the monastery of Saint John the Theologian in Souroti outside of Thessaloniki. This was very special for me because we had the chance to venerate the tomb of Elder Paisios--one of our modern-day saints who reposed there in 1994. We stayed for Vespers with the sisters and it was a great blessing to be there. Below is a taste of the beautiful garden there. Many of the people I met had known him personally and their lives have been touched by his presence and they are continually blessed by his prayers.Our next stop was a neighboring monastery in the village called "Δήμος Βασιλικών" (Village of Vasilikon) at the foot of Adrianos, one of Mount Hortiatis's summits, dedicated to Saint Anastasia of Rome the Healer (celebrated December 22). Here, we encountered the end of a baptism, visited the grounds of the monastery that was founded in 888 A.D., got some blessed water from a mountain spring, saw a path that led to caves where ascetics used to dwell, and most importantly, venerated the relics of Saint Anastasia and Saint Theonas. It was amazing to be in a church that is older than the country of my birth, the U.S.A. On the feast day of Saint Demetrios, October 26, we attended a vigil service at Holy Trinity Monastery in Panorama that concluded around 2 am, and there was a relic of his there as well. I was very much struck by the abundance of saints' relics in almost every church I attended. Having the chance to venerate and remember men and women who lived and died for Christ on that very ground I walked on is something I valued during my visit and continue to keep in my heart. We don't have this kind of easy access to relics in the States, unless one visits San Francisco where Saint John Maximovich reposes or Saint Anthony's in Arizona, where various saints' relics are kept. The people in Thessaloniki are keenly aware that their city is an ancient dwelling-place of many saints, and as I have mentioned, it is obvious in the atmosphere and the life there. After spending my nameday on an outdoor adventure in the mountains near Mt. Olympus with my friends, we visited Saint Demetrios' Church that evening. It was amazing to see crowds of people waiting patiently in line to venerate the Saint on that day which commemorated his martyrdom for Christ. The line went from near the altar to the back in the narthex, and that is a LONG distance, given that this is a basilica we are speaking about! That's the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki, Anthimos, on the right in the above picture. We found him later that week at the Parade celebrating "OXI" Day next to the waterfront, and got his blessing before heading down to Athens on the midnight train.

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