Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Day in the Mountains

Sunday, May 31, 2009

After church, Chrysostomos and his wife, Roula, picked us up in their car and drove us off to the mountains. It was a bright, clear, very warm day, so perfect for the purpose.

The sweetness in Roula’s face matches the sweetness of her soul, so you can’t help loving and admiring her immediately, and feeling totally at ease in her presence, even if you wear make-up and she doesn’t. She doesn’t seem to need any, she’s so pretty. Her skin is clear and not wrinkled at all. Her eyes are bluish green and her medium-length, thick hair is white.

Our first objective was the Monastery of St. Anastasia the Pharmakolytria, my patroness. (“Pharmakolytria" means “Releaser from Poisons.” She knew how to make potions that cured people. She is depicted, in icons, with a flask in one hand.)

We passed through farmlands with wheat, through vineyards and olive groves and pretty villages, and on up into the hills, all green with heavy forestation. “All these woods,” said Chrysostomos, “were planted by the Junta.” Demetrios says those three dictators did mean well. They were dictators, which mustn’t be forgotten, who seized power in a coup, but most of the people wanted them to, thinking that would be better than the chaos in which the country had been for a long time. And the Junta apparently governed with the country’s best interests at heart (unlike the current government) and tried to do wise and wonderful things. The reforestation of the mountains here was one of those.

The Monastery of St. Anastasia is very ancient, built by a Byzantine Empress, St. Theophano. Her silver-plated icon is on the other side of the door of the narthex from the icon of St. Anastasia. Apparently this Empress later became a nun, but I’m not clear on the details of that story.

There was a baptism in progress when we arrived, of a gorgeous baby boy who received the name Evangelios. He will probably be called Vangelis, or perhaps Angelos.

The relics of Great Martyr Anastasia, her skull and some other bones, are near the entrance to the church, in a sliver box with a glass lid. The sign above the box notes the year of the Saint’s repose: 304. The skull is brown with age.

She was an outspoken saint. She was married to a very wealthy man who abused her terribly, and she used to pray he would either convert or die. He died. And when he did, the Emperor cast a lustful eye upon her. When she was brought before him, he demanded, “Honor the gods of your husband!”

To which she replied she already had; she had melted down their statues to prevent the pigeons from pooping on them. And with the metal, she had made coins, money with which she supported the Christians the Emperor had thrown into prison. You can see why she was a candidate for martyrdom.

Apparently – I didn’t know this – she still heals people, because next to her icon there is a horizontal iron bar, and hanging from that bar are “thank-you notes” from grateful people. These consist of very thin plates of silver, about 2 inches by 3 inches, each hammered to show an arm or a leg or a heart or some other body part. The ones showing babies healed by St. Anastasia are hung by either blue or pink ribbons. There must have been 60 of them. They brought tears to my eyes. I wished I had one to hang there, in her honor. But I’m not aware of any time she may have healed me of anything physical.

Up in the front of the church is a glass-covered casket containing the remains of St. Theonas, a bishop of Thessaloniki. Most of the body is covered with an embroidered cloth, but you can see one hand, complete with some of the skin and the cuff of his original vestments from the early 1500's.

Demetrios went and stood in the receiving line to congratulate the parents and godparents (which must have startled them some); the rest of us waited outside for him, admiring the view of the valley below and the other mountains across from it.

Our next stop was at a taverna Chrysostomos and Roula had heard about but never been to. We got a little lost, but on such a glorious day, with such scenery, getting lost was worth doing! At last, stopping to ask our way a few times, we arrived at the place, on the top of a mountain. It was a large taverna, with a long veranda, and wide, green lawns, a swimming pool, and two hot tubs, not yet filled with water.

We sat at an umbrella-covered table on the veranda for our meal. We watched the children funning and playing. A German Shepherd bitch of doubtful breeding ambled onto the lawn and rolled over onto her back, exposing enlarged teats; the children came to pet her. A mostly- Doberman bitch, similarly enlarged, followed her example. The children petted her, too. As Demetrios said, “Everybody is having fun, including the dogs!” We probably sat there enjoying the warm sunshine and cool breeze, for a couple of hours.

I asked Chrysostomos and Roula what about Greece’s dire political situation? Who, I asked, is going to tell the Greek people to wake up, to understand their government is selling their country out from under them? The army has been scaled back to nothing; military discipline has been relaxed until it is a joke; NATO has placed the defense of the Aegean Sea under the charge of a Turkish general; Turkey violates Greek air space every day with impunity; Mr. Obama called the Aegean Islands “The necklace of Turkey,” never mind they’re Greek, not Turkish. The Greek language is being undermined; Greek history has been revised so that now the textbooks in schools make it sound as though living under the Turks had been a joyous and desirable thing. And on and on; I could give you several more examples.

Roula said half the Greeks already know all this, so nobody really needs to tell them.

Chrysostomos replied by discussing the spiritual progress Greece has made in the past 50 years. A thousand people a day visit the Holy Mountain, he said. And it used to be that many villages didn’t have cantors for their churches; now every village has three or four young men who know Byzantine Chant and love singing it. There used to be only a very few confessors in Thessaloniki; now there are plenty, and people are going to confession a lot more often. In short, his reply was, “Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men, in whom there is no salvation.” He believes God will spare and protect Greece if and for as long as she remains faithful to Him.

I believe that, too. On the other hand, God helps him who helps himself. Why expect God to do it all if the Greeks themselves are not willing to lift a finger? Isn’t that rather presumptuous? But I didn’t ask.

St. Paisios prophesied that the Greeks would retake Constantinople. So did St. Kosmas, I believe. Well, neither of them has ever been wrong in his predictions before. St. Kosmas, a contemporary of George Washington, predicted the people would fly around like birds, “and drop fire upon one another from the air.” He also said people would one day be able to speak to one another from far away and hear one another as clearly as if they were in adjoining rooms.

Oh, and by the way, Alexander the Great made his appearance in the conversation. Last weekend, I was teasing Kostas and Demetrios. I was sitting with them on Kostas’ balcony, listening to their conversation, and during a lull I said, “I haven’t heard mention of Great Alexander yet.”

Why should you, they wanted to know? Well, I always do, in any discussion of Greek history. Oh, that’s nonsense, they said, not so.

But it is. It wasn’t half an hour later they were using Great Alexander’s military strategies as an example of something. And today his name came up again, as it virtually always does. You could safely bet money upon it. This is Macedonia, Alexander’s home, and nobody here ever forgets that. Alexander the Great is very much alive in the inhabitants’ memories and imaginations. He founded this city, naming it after his beloved sister, Thessaloniki (“Victory of Thessaly”), and both their portraits and their names show up regularly in hotels, restaurants, posters, lectures, political speeches, etc.

Roula told us a story about St. John the Russian. His remains are in a church on some Greek Island she and Chrysostomos visited. Now his body, although blackened from the time the Turks tried to burn it, is otherwise more or less incorrupt, but his vestments go bad and need changing about every five years. Roula and Chrysostomos happened to be visiting during the time when the vestments were to be changed, and the priest of the church there told them this story. He said that during the time of his predecessor, the bishop had come to participate in the changing of the Saint’s vestments, and the bishop worried aloud how they were going to do it without the whole body perhaps falling apart. The priest told him, “Be patient and you will see how it is done.”

So they placed a sheet under the body and gently placed it on the floor. And then, the corpse sat up and stretched out its arms, making the removal of the old vestments and the slipping on of the new very easy. When it was done, the remains lay back down.

After our leisurely meal, we drove back down the mountains, most of the way, back through the farms and vineyards and orchards, past Manolis’ and Vasilea’s place, to Chrysostomos’ and Roula’s little spread. It’s three Greek acres, which is something less than three American acres. There are to large houses on it. Chrysostomos and Roula live on the ground floor of one; their son and his wife and four children live on the top two floors. The other house is occupied by their daughter and son-in-law and their four children. There is a vineyard, an olive orchard, a vegetable garden. There are several adult turkeys and 15 turkey chicks, rabbits of all sizes and ages, and there used to be sheep and goats. There are cherry trees, fig trees, almond and walnut trees.

We sat at an outdoor table next to the vineyard and had a little supper. (!) Roula brought what looked like spanikopita, but the filling was of meat instead of spinach, followed by tsoureki (Pascha bread, sweet), followed by candied figs and limes.

The children, having lived several years in England, all spoke very good English and were quite charming.

Ah, what an idyllic life! Isn’t there some Bible verse about sitting in peace under your own tree and your own vine, surrounded by your children and your children’s children? Isn’t that in the wedding rite? Well, that’s exactly the blessing this couple enjoys. It has come true for them. And everybody is happy. The children have three acres to run around in, plus the panoramic views of the mountains. They learn how to tend the vineyard and grow grapes, how to prune the trees and grow olives and the rest, how to care for poultry and rabbits, how to plant and maintain vegetable gardens, how to make fig jam and cherry jam, and a jillion other things. They have their cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents on the same property.

The other four of Chrysostomos’ children are monastics, three nuns and a monk. One of them is the identical twin of Christina, mother of four of the children. She confirms what a special bond identical twins share, says there is nothing like it. Asked whether she gets to see her twin sister often, she replied, “No, unfortunately, not often at all. Only once a month and I count myself lucky.”

I also asked how they manage to keep the fruit away from the birds. “Ahhhh,” said Roula, “We beat them to it!” They watch it carefully and decide exactly when to pick it, ahead of the birds. The magpies, Roula says, can open the walnuts and the almonds. Chrysostomos adds that they also pierce his garden hose with their beaks when they are thirsty.

By the time Roula offered us some of her homemade fig ice cream, we were so full we had to decline. We were also getting chilly in the evening air, so they drove us home, first loading us with gifts: olives from their own trees, dried plants that smell like lemons and make wonderful tea, and 9 roses “for your house”.

We are simply going to have to have a party at our house to thank everyone. Actually, given that it is such a small house, we are going to have to have two parties. I think maybe we’ll wait until Sylvia and Dwight are here, so they can also meet our other dear, dear friends.


elizabeth said...

What wonderful friends and generosity.

Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

You have written such a gloriously evocative post, It sounds utterly idyllic !
I'm glad you are having a wonderful time :-)

Markos Parakyrkas said...

Marco Polo formalized the Sineurabia Code with Magog Kublai Khan a century after the Fourth Crusade partitioned Greece with Venice and Russia with Poland. Then imposter Polish clergy concocted the Uniate Eastern Rite. That is why there are Magog Muslim Lipka villages still in Poland. Marco Polo Korcula Croat family were part of Venice force occupying Byzantium. Poland persecuted Protestant Jan Amos Komensky of Torun and burned Leszno under the leadership of Jan Dziedzic banning Protestant Socinians in 1658. Polish laws of 1717 and 1733 barred Protestants from parliament, public office, higher military ranks, and free worship - including Evangelicals of Stanislawow, Calvinists of Wilno and Volhynia, and Lutherans of Silesia - justifying Partition of Poland. They ate glis glis yet blamed others for their pestilence. Polish Jesuit Felix Dzerzhinsky was the Bloodiest Bolshevik. Hitler was a Catholic Altar Boy. Hilter was protege of von Papen, Catholic who directed Armenian Genocide and Black Tom, NJ megaton WWI sabotage - which is why Churchill called them Magog Huns. Pogroms against Jews began with Warsaw decrees of 1570, 1580, and 1633 from tracts of Marcin Czechowic against Isaac of Troki. This is why worst Nazi camps were in the lands of the former Lithuanian-Polish Empire. Magog massacred Little Bighorn, Pearl Harbor and Boston Marathon. Crimean War against Photius Heresy avenged humiliation of Louis Napoleon uncle because Czar Alexander marched on Paris, demanding food Bystra. Do you remember Franco one hundred fifty thousand muslim Moors proclaiming Death to Intelligence? Or Hitler Mufti in Jerusalem and Bosnia spawning the PLO. Greece was neutralized during the Crimean and Cold Wars by P5 Sindona and Venice nobles masquerading as Greek Shipping Families who pay no tax because of Liberian Registry. Clinton embargoed photographs vindicating Serbia because Choochtown had his crotch files. Carolingian Brzezinski spawned Zia al Haq, Khomeini, and bin Laden and breaks up superpowers via Aztlan and Kosovo as per Joel Garreau Nine Nations. Schindler Unholy Terror shows 9/11 was Yugo Crimean Blow Back. Greece 2008 riots incited to stop Russian pipeline. Putin tax, gay and oil policies are almost like Sarah Palin. Putin did not violate constitutional term limits like Bloomberg. CNOOC was not allowed to buy Unocal just like Exxon and Chevron tried to buy Yukos. Hermitage Browder grandfather was FDR chief red. Cuomo environmentals even exterminating Tchaikovsky swans. Anyone who knows the cruel, vindictive ending of Vercingetorix, Spartacus and Carthage can only blame Rome for the death of the Messiah. Let them off to Argentina where Croat and Arab Nazis pork for lore enforcement, casuistry and pestilence instead of thinking!

Markos Parakyrkas said...

The Europa Canal links the Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers to the Black Sea, an aquatic Orient Express. It was for this reason that Yugoslavia was partitioned, to keep the Danube international. The Danube is Ukraine's border with Romania, whose Hun Timasoara is the next conflict area. Obama was raised by his
Catholic maternal grandmother and was promoted by Brzezinski, who also promoted Carter and Wojtyla. The Old Prussian language is actaully related to Lithuanian.
Merkel's maternal grandmother was Polish from Gdansk. Merkel fancies herself Catherine the Great. Germans Catherine and Nesselrode were the only "Russian" Imperialists. Catherine sought to Germanise Russia, bringing Mennonite Germans, like Mayakovsky's forbears, into Russia. Hordokovsky fancies that Russia must return to Scandinavian Varangian roots of Novgorod. At the time of the Bolshevik revolution, Russia was the largest petroleum producer. Casey got the Saudis to flood the petroleum market in 1982 to bring down the soviets in Afghanistan. The Tsar chased Napoleon to Paris, leading to the Russian word for fast
becoming a type of restaurant, bystro. This is why Napoleon's nephew prosecuted the Crimean war, which the pope called the Crusade Against the Heresy of Photius.
France was indebted to the Russian central bank for saving them from the 1838 and 1846 panics. Greece was occupied during the Crimean War, so Greece replaced her Catholic king with a Dane married to a Russian whose son became Constantine XII. Greece was not allowed to regain Constantinople to keep Russia from the straits,
yet every old American world history book said ancient Greek power depended on the straits. Alexander the Great's father took the straits to prevent Athens feeding herself with Scythian wheat. Athens farmed Scythia while Sparta farmed Italy, hence Italy and Russia, twin daughters of Greece, are very jealous of each other. Without the straits, Greece is doomed a commercial cripple. The Greek 1967 junta planned to quickly try Andreas Papandreou and restore elections,
but LBJ forbade it on grounds Papandreou was American. Andreas raised the Greek debt to income ratio from one third to unity and his son raised it by another half, deliberately bankrupting Greece to obstruct the 1975 Karamanlis plan for Russian energy pipelines. As soon as Obama became president, Greece was striken by Canvasopedia.org riots which restored Papandreou.