Friday, June 26, 2009

Hiatus?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Our time in Greece draws to its end while my paid-for hours of Internet time are approaching zero. That’s another way of saying I don’t know when I can post again.

Our only other big plan (only other thing I plan to write about) is a wedding in the ancient and very picturesque village of Nymphaios, high up in the mountains, in “The Balcony of Macedonia,” very near FYROM (which is what people here still call the Former Republic of Yugoslavia). We will pack on Friday, leave here very early Saturday morning, God willing, attend the wedding and some of the reception, and come home again the same night, courtesy of Chrysostomos and Roula. Then after church on Sunday, we’ll head for the airport and England.

I think our hotel there has free wireless Internet access. If so, I’ll write from there; otherwise I don’t know.

We are scheduled to return home July 8.

OH – Demetrios decided to replace half our windows and doors after all! So two sliding glass doors and one window are scheduled to be put in Today, the ones facing north, which is where the wind comes from. Well, with that and packing, it’s going to be one hectic day!

After that, what will remain to make this house properly functional is to replace two more sliding glass doors and one window, the stove, the refrigerator, and the television. After that, all that’s left will be various beautification projects, most of them comparatively minor.

I hope, if we find a house in England, it will already be more or less as we like it.

Basil, Part 2 of 2

or, A Happy Ending for Kitty

To spare you unnecessary suspense, I tell you ahead of time that it has a happy ending.

But what a problem, trying to find kitty a home! I walked all over the neighborhood three times, with kitty on my shoulder, asking everybody I dared, “Do you want a kitten? He’s very friendly, as you can see,” while kitty would rub against my cheek.

Nobody wanted him, precious as he is. There are thousands of homeless cats in this city, tens of thousands.

I met some very nice people in the effort, though, Earlier this week, I met a kind monk, who stopped to say, “What a lovely kitten!” and who wanted to pet him. Of course he couldn’t take it, and he didn’t know anybody else who would, either. I met some very pleasant shopkeepers, sitting on the sidewalk out in front of their establishments. I met a woman with a toddler in tow who said she loved cats and would love to take this one, but she was leaving, same as me. She was French, living here most of the time, but going back and forth to France for vacations. I met another woman who was fussing at her toddler, and when I stopped to ask an old man sitting on a stone wall whether he’d like a kitten, he smiled and nodded toward the woman and said, “Ask her. She can throw away the kid and take the cat.” So I laughed with him. I met two very sweet young women sitting at a sidewalk café, and they told me there was a lady across the street who loved cats, and I should ask her. They were just showing me which apartment was hers, when she appeared on the balcony. Or perhaps I misunderstood and it was not she, but a neighbor fed up with all the cats. At any rate, she called down to me: “Kyria, Kyria!” Lady, lady! When I looked up, she took off her shoe and kicked her bare foot at me. (You remember about shoes and the East, don’t you, from the incident wherein an Iraqi threw at shoe at President Bush?) “Go away!” she yelled. “Go away! Go on, get out of here!”

I think if I had it to do over again, I might have said, “I go where I please” and have sat down. But as it was about to rain, I shrugged and walked sadly away. That is the one and only Greek, here or in America, who has ever been rude to me.

This morning, Demetrios got up at dawn and caught a cab to the village and church of St. Anthony, to arrive in time for services beginning at 7:00. Ioannis the theologian and Chrysostomos are both cantors in that parish, and had proposed that Demetrios join them today. So he did, and if he hadn’t, we wouldn’t have found a home for kitty. Because they all went out for coffee afterwards, and the priest joined them, together with his sympatheros. (Your sympatheros is your married child’s father-in-law.) And when Demetrios thought to ask whether anyone knew someone who could take our kitty, the sympatheros said he would! He already has several cats, including two litters of kittens, but he said it would be no problem to take our kitten as well.

Well, now I’ve got to go clean up my cat carrier, which will go with him, a donation to his new owner, and tomorrow (the shops all being closed for the rest of today), I’ll buy a big bag of cat food, too.

Kitty will be a yard cat, not a house cat, but that’s better than being a street cat. And he will be guaranteed a living; i.e., food, although it will most likely be table scraps. He probably won’t get regular medical care, but he will if there’s anything seriously wrong with him. He won’t be neutered, so I have explained to him that he is just going to have to be the toughest, strongest tomcat out there, to do well in cat fights over females. To that end, to express that hope, he now has a name: Basil.

Basil, Part 1 of 2

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Last night, at last, I got to meet Demetrios’ old friend Vasilios (That’s Basilios, because the Greeks pronounce their “beta” as a “v”. And for short, it’s just Vasilis.) In English, it's Basil.

Vasilis is a friend from medical school, now a retired orthodpedist, and also a friend from the para-ecclesiastical movement Demetrios was so involved with, called Zoe. Chrysostomos had told him we were here, and he immediately got on the phone and wanted to see us. So did their other friend, Christos, who remembered Demetrios from Zoe. He says Demetrios also came to examine him after he’d had a little stroke some years ago. (The embarrassing thing about that is, Demetrios does not remember Christos at all, either from their youth or more recently.)

Vasilis, even in his youth, was a very large, very powerful fellow, and I’ve heard stories about his strength for as long as I’ve known Demetrios. The friends here still delight to tell about the time one of their classmates said, “I’m not sure I exist,” whereupon Vasilis knocked him to the ground and shouted, “Now what do you say? Do you exist or not?” (To me, the cool thing about this story is that if the other guy had answered, “I exist!” then a big thank-you to Vasilis would have been in order, while if the answer had been, “I don’t know!” then he also didn’t know who had been punched, and there would have been nobody to punch Vasilis back, not that anyone would have tried.) There was another time that is still talked about, when a certain student, who used to mock the other boys for being Christians, carried his taunts just too far for Vasilis to bear. Vasilis knocked him to the ground, then picked him up, lifting him horizontally to shoulder height, and then just dropped him. Well, not just dropped him, but kneed him, too, on the way down. There is always great hee-hawing when this story is recounted.

Vasilis became an orthopedist and married a pediatrician he had met in medical school, who turns out to be another long-lost friend of Demetrios’, Maria.

Last night, Christos picked us up in his car, recognizing Demetrios immediately and swearing he hadn’t changed a bit, and drove us to the home of Vasilis and Maria, up on the heights near Thessaloniki, a town called Panorama, for its spectular views of the city and the sea.

Vasilis and Maria have a house there, a single, detached dwelling with a grassy back yard and a vegetable garden.

Vasilis is still a large man, although somewhat reduced in size now from prostate cancer. He has been very ill, and was at once at the point of death, and another time was thinking of suicide, but now says he is growing daily better and better.

It wasn’t very long, of course, before I said, “Vasili, I have a problem I wanted to tell you, to get your advice.”

“Oh, yes? What is it?”

“I’m not sure I exist.”

Demetrios began laughing, but nobody else did. After a moment, Vasilis smiled. He doesn’t remember those stories with the same glee the others do. He remembers them with tears (literally) and repentance. He said, “When the teacher came to try to revive that boy, I thought I had killed him.” And he shakes his head, sadly.

We changed the subject quickly.

The conversation, besides including some religion and some politics (as conversations here always do), was mostly about the course of his illness, which began in September. It seems to have done him some good to tell the whole story.

Both Vasilis and Christos speak excellent English, and both have lived in America, so, since they are both such considerate gentlemen, I was able to be included in most of the conversation. Sometimes they’d get carried away in Greek, but as it was important to them, and as it was about medical matters, and since it was 4 old friends getting together again, I just sat happily and watched.

Once in a while, Vasilis would say, “Anastasia is tired; this is so boring for her,” and I’d reply, “I’m fine.” But eventually we caught on that this was his way of saying he was tired, so we got up to leave just after 10:00. Just before we departed, out on the front porch, they all sang one of the old Zoe songs, one of those songs almost militaristic in tone, that sounds like it belongs at a pep rally, the type of song young would-be Heroes of the Faith would be fond of singing, the kind that used to make our neighbor, Thomai, suspect that Demetrios and all his young friends were Protestants, in fact, probably Jehovah’s Witnesses. They sang it for old times' sake, with the vigor it required, but mock vigor now.

I learned something important from that visit. It’s something I already knew on account of my sister Barbara, yet needed to learn again. When I first heard that Vasilis was very sick with cancer, three or four weeks ago, I felt disappointed, and subconsciously, I thought, “Well, then, we won’t be seeing him.”

Why not? Was it not going to be enough “fun” to visit him if he were ill? Did I already consider him as good as dead? Did I imagine that if he were sick he was no longer one of the old gang? What? Please note, besides the hideous self-centeredness of such an attitude, what twaddle it is! Pure nonsense! Vasilis is not as good as dead; he’s as good as alive and well, because he IS alive and we hope getting well. He’s a wonderful person. He’s still very much part of us, part of everyone. And even if all that were not true, now would still not be the time to abandon him! Now is when he most needs his friends. And it clearly did him good to have them around.

We all hope to see one another again at the wedding on Saturday.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Getting Together

Let’s get together, yeah, yeah, yeah!
We can have a swingin’ time.
Let’s get together, whaddya say?
Why don’t you and I combine?


She leaned across the table toward him, her eyes aglow with love. He leaned across the table toward her, his eyes bright with lust. He was handsome; her main attraction was being clearly available.

Their knees touched. Each hand found its counterpart. There were smiles and whispers, sweet nothings in her ear. She was soaking it up. He virtually had her.

And then her cell phone rang. And she answered it! She held a lengthy conversation with some third party, while under the table, he tapped his heels impatiently, making his knees jump up and down in frustration.


Hint from Helen for Adults

Your cell phone, during a date, should never be used to allow a third party to intrude upon your time together. Turn it off as soon as your date begins (not before, though).

First Exception: It’s okay to find ways to share a cell phone, as in looking together at photos stored on it or texting each other messages you’re too shy to say out loud.

Second Exception: Your date turns out to be a dud and you need a third party to rescue you.

Third Exception: You are a doctor on call, or some other emergency worker who really, truly, does need to be reachable. (Courtesy requires this to be made clear when the date is first arranged.)


Hint from Helen for Teens

Ignore the above advice for adults! The day will come soon enough when you, too, can turn off your cell phone. For now, take it with you on every date, keep it on, and use it! Answer your phone every few minutes (that is, each time your parents call you), and in between times, be sure to call them to let them know you are okay. Encourage your date to do the same.

Don’t talk to anyone else on your cell phone, though, unless you want to let your date know you aren’t interested. Even then, perhaps you can find a more polite way to do convey your message.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Christos, Max, and We

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Demetrios has spent the past two days taking care of people, principally his brother. He found him a good dentist and a good gastroenterologist, and made appointments with both. First there were X-rays of the teeth, and while they were at it, they had a bone scan done. Christos has lost 45% of his bone mass (!!!) and has two collapsed vertebrae. I could have guessed the former, because I noticed him recently clutching his thigh, and he had his fingers almost the whole way around it!

Next, to the dentist, who will adjust Christos’ dentures so they fit properly and don’t hurt. Then he should be able to eat more things. There are two natural teeth holding those dentures, which we will try to preserve, but they aren’t in good shape.

The gastroenterologist did a gastroscopy and found nothing worrisome. Christos doesn’t currently have ulcers, although he has them chronically, and has bled from them 14 times in his life. Probably a colonoscopy will follow. Poor Christos has never been in good health. He has never been inclined to look after his health, either.

We’ll be back in September, God willing, to make medical appointments for him and make him keep them, and to be sure he follows through with doctors’ orders instead of saying, “I tried those pills for two days and they didn’t help, so I threw them away.” So much for coming here to try to gain some emotional distance from sickness and death in the family.

I spent the day grocery shopping, cleaning out the refrigerator, and sweeping and mopping all the floors. Also trying to give away this kitten.

I took him downstairs to our tiny park and the children there all crowded around. I got to meet their mothers and/or grandmothers, sitting on the park benches, watching over them. None of the grown-ups wanted the kitty, although they all wanted to pet him. I explained I had to give him away, as I lived in America and was leaving Greece in about 12 days. (So little time! I can’t believe it!) And I was enormously flattered when one of the women asked, “Have you lived in America many years?” She actually mistook me for Greek!!!

“What is his name?” asked a little boy named Stephanos.

“He doesn’t have a name,” I replied, in Greek.

“The cat has no name,” he said, in English. Then, in reply to my unasked question, he added, “Frondistirio,” which is a place where you can get tutoring. He was taking private English lessons.

“That’s very good, “I said, “Bravo!”

Another little boy, Antonios, pointed to the cat and said, “Max!” So that, apparently, is my kitty’s name now.

I had a lot of fun chatting with the children. I don’t need a huge vocabulary for children, although of course theirs is still vastly greater than mine.

After that, I walked, with the kitty on my shoulder, all the way to the pet shop, about a mile and a half away (even without Sylvia making me!) and asked about 20 people, coming and going, if they wouldn’t like a free kitten. I asked women carrying shopping bags, men sitting at sidewalk coffee shops, street sweepers, anybody who looked even vaguely friendly. One of them said, “When it is a kitten, it is a joy, but when it becomes a cat, it’s ‘Panagia mou!’”

(“Panagia” means All-holy, and is a title for Christ’s Mother, so it’s an exclamation something like, “My God!” but taking her name in vain instead of His.)

I also left at the pet shop a hand-printed notice: “Free, Kitten. Small, very, very friendly. Male. “ Plus my telephone numbers and first name. I asked the customers in the pet shop if they wouldn’t like a kitten, but of course they were there because they already had cats or dogs or both.

I left my little notices, all hand-printed, at other places, too, the butcher, two greengrocers, Nikoletta’s general store, Demetra the veterinarian, and Nektarios at “Nek-Net,” his computer store.

KONSTANTINA, surely you want a kitten, don’t you??

Demetrios also took Leonidas to his doctor today. I only heard that the results were good. But afterward we met him and Ianna at a taverna owned by one of his countless nephews. Mena and Kostas came, too, so we had a jolly good company.

Near the end of our meal, a thunderstorm came up, very unusual, with driving, pelting rain, strong winds, and the kind of thunder that is so close you jump. We were outdoors, but in a covered area. We just moved our table another foot inward and were fine.

Then the lights flickered two or three times, and the next moment, everything around us was blacked out. I don’t know if it was the whole city or only the neighborhood we were in.

The proprietor brought two or three candles to each table and we continued our fun, uninterrupted and glad for the cool brought by the storm.

It was after midnight when the rain finally stopped so we could go home. Mena drove us to our house.

Kitty was dry, in spite of having been banished to the balcony during our absence. Demetrios had lowered one of the awnings all the way. The litter box, with brand new litter in it, also stayed dry.

Kitty was extra happy to snuggle up to my chin tonight, especially when the next line of storms passed through, thunderously, a couple of hours later.

Human Jurisprudence and Divine Justice

If justice means giving each person his due, then there is no justice in human legal systems.

Suppose, for example, that a small girl is murdered. How will you recompense her parents? You can’t. You can sentence the murderer to death by hanging or to life in prison with hard labor and no parole, but no matter what you do to him, none of it will make the parents whole, because none of it will bring back their little girl. The murderer may have gotten what he deserves, but the parents and family haven’t, and of course neither has the deceased child.

Or suppose you are a man and you are gang raped by a bunch of other men, and beaten and left to die, and you spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair. Can human legal systems give you back what you’ve lost? Make the trauma and the horror never have happened? Let you walk again? No. No matter what the court does to the rapists, it will not compensate you one iota. It may uselessly gratify your hostility some, but indulging your hostility will actually further harm you as a person. (It will make your hostility grow, too, and crave further gratification.)

There is no true justice in human systems of jurisprudence. They cannot restore a life or make the damage disappear. But God can. No, what God does is even better than that: He transforms the trauma and the injury into something whereby we benefit, profit, grow, so we end up better off than we might have been, had it not happened. We get back all we had lost and much, much more.

God’s justice, then, consists of putting things back to rights. His justice means righting the wrongs, correcting them, rather than uselessly retaliating. His justice means making things as good as they originally were but even better, far better. God’s Justice means when he encounters evil, He transforms it into a good that would otherwise not have existed. Justice is perfecting His creation, damaged by sin. Justice means abolishing wrong, eliminating evil, exterminating death. It means healing the sick, making then lame walk, setting the prisoners free, liberating the people from their oppressors, giving the widow and the orphan what they need, vindicating righteousness.

And punishing the wicked? No. Converting them, rather! True justice, notice, would also restore the murderer and the rapist, and bring them back to their family and friends, new persons, healed, sanctified, made beautiful. That would be the highest justice, because that would be making things as they ought to be, as our loving God intended them to be.

Yet – because God wouldn’t define anything as sin if it weren’t harmful, especially to the perpetrator – the wicked do punish themselves, and in this way (in contrast to the Penal Substitutionary theory of Atonement) the right people are punished, the guilty instead of the Innocent. The right person is also inflicting the punishment: the sinner himself, tegether with satan. And the punishment is in exact proportion to the sin. (If I touch the hot stove, my finger is burned. If I jump from a bridge, I drown. If I tell a lie, I become calloused and false, and hollow.) This is not yet the highest form of justice, but it is the kind most people lust after. Yes, I put it this way because it is totally unchristian to hope anybody will ever suffer for any reason. Or to suppose it is God inflicting the suffering, when it is the sinner all by himself, with no help from anybody but the devil and perhaps other sinners. If you are hoping the wicked will suffer, well, they will, but you have some serious repenting to do for hoping it.

But I’m only hoping it, you say, because otherwise there’s no justice. But there is. It just isn’t the kind you had in mind, the kind driven by hostility and fear, the punitive kind. It’s True Justice, God’s justice.

So where is this True Justice, which consists of correcting rather than punishing injustice, and making everything even better than it was before things went wrong? This True Justice is eschatological, a long word meaning it only appears, in its fullness at least, at the end of the world.

So what’s to make us think it will, if it never yet has?

But it has. We do not yet see the full-grown plant, but the first green leaves do already appear, and they appear in Jesus Christ. He heals the sick, makes the lame to walk, sets the prisoners free, releases us from the bonds of sin, renews and restores His people, corrects ignorance, brings wisdom to cure our foolishness, love to counter our hatred and fear, and His own Body and Blood to doctor or corruptibility and mortality. He vanquishes death and He promises to come again when the time is right, this time in all His glory, to put the whole house in order once and for all. (Beware, all ye who have investments in the disorder!) He comes again in power to consummate all the work of His own hands.

Fathers Day

I forgot all about it this year. I don't think Greeks observe the day.

Here's a photo, thanks to my niece Tisho, of Mom at Dad's gravesite. Do click to enlarge. I suppose the photo says it all.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Garbage Strike is Over, Thank Heaven

Monday, June 15, 2009

Around here, there is a different arrangement for trash and garbage than we have in Richmond. In Richmond, every household has its own garbage can(s) and we hire one of several companies to come around and empty them every week.

Here in Thessaloniki, there are dumpsters at every intersection (almost) and everybody takes his trash and garbage in bags or boxes and tosses these into the dumpsters. The garbage trucks come around every day or every night, depending upon your neighborhood.

Well, the garbage workers have been on strike for a week now. They are distressed about the site of the dump. I don’t know why. Perhaps for ecological reasons. Perhaps they are quite right. I don’t know. All I know is, a garbage strike in June is not pleasant. With small mountains of garbage building up everywhere, several times what the dumpsters can hold, this city has become increasingly stinky for several days now.

I also don’t know what ended the strike. (Our television has died, so we don’t hear news.) But it’s over, and what a relief!

I spent the day putting the house back into order. After the fact that you miss your company, that’s the second worst part of having them leave – or the only good part, depending upon your point of view. The disorder resulted from our having removed so much of our stuff from the master bedroom, which we gave to them for the duration. Also from not having had time to fold and put away all the laundry we had to do, and also from having too much laundry because the kitten – well, kitty cried and cried to go outside and I have no idea why we were stupid enough not to let him, but he in desperation scraped together a few layers of a bed sheet and used that instead of his litter box. And after that, he thought that was an acceptable alternate place. So we went through three times as many bed sheets as would have been necessary…

I still have the floors to wash, the refrigerator to clean out, and the bathroom to scrub, but at least there is order now. As Demetrios remarked, “The house almost has back its former shape.” Yup.

Happy Birthday, Sydney!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Today, my youngest granddaughter turns 4. I have been unsuccessful in many times to reach her by phone, and I miss her (and all my other grandchildren) terribly!

Meanwhile, here are some pictures I received recently. Sorry I haven't had time to put them through a photo-editor... Click if you wish to enlarge.


Ryan, Sydney, and Connor


Sydney with Connor


Connor, Sydney, Ryan, neighbor Cloe, and I don't know the rest




Kelly with a new haircut




Kelly's brothers with their new haircuts, Ryan on left, Connor on right

There is no “Justice”

Fr. Stephen has pointed out that justice, as thought of in the West, does not exist. That’s to say, if justice means rendering equality, such that each person is repaid the moral equivalent of the good or the evil he has done, and recompensed for the evil he has suffered, that simply does not exist. It doesn’t exist in human systems of jurisprudence, and it doesn’t exist in the divine order, either.

Let’s begin with the latter, with theology. In classical Catholic and in Protestant thought (Protestants having inherited it), we have varying forms of what has come to be called the Penal Substitutionary Theory of Atonement. This theory states that the reason Jesus died was to bear the punishment for our sins which God the Father would otherwise have had to inflict upon us – and/or that He died to repay God the Father the debt we owed Him on account of our sins. This theory assumes that justice means rendering to each person what he deserves. Yet, ironically, the theory is devised precisely in order to avoid doing that!

In the “Pen-Sub” theory of what the atonement means, the first thing that happens is that the wrong Person is punished. The Righteous One is punished while the sinful many, provided they repent, get away scot-free. How is that any kind of justice? Its own proponents know it is not, else they would try to imitate the Lord by doing the same thing. They would go around to prisons offering to take the punishments of convicted offenders. But they know no court would even entertain the idea. No victim of rape, nor any family of a murdered person, wants to see the perpetrator set free and someone else take his place. The very idea is outrageous, both in human jurisprudence and in theology.

The next thing that happens in the Pen-Sub theory is, the wrong Person is thought to be inflicting the punishment, namely, God the Father! But how in the world could He ever derive any pleasure from seeing anybody, much less His own, perfect Son, be tortured and killed? What kind of God would take any pleasure, whether emotional, moral, legal or otherwise, in such a hideous thing? And why? And how would that repay Him in any way? What is He supposed to get out of it? Does He like bloodshed and pain, hoard up horrors and treasure them? Is anything accomplished or corrected or repaired by punishment? In reality, it is the devil in his wrath crucifying Christ, with the collaboration of wicked men. (Acts 2:23) I can’t think of any theology more tragic than that which confuses God with the devil.

We notice, too, that there is no proportional justice in the Penal Substitutionary theory, none of the business of everybody getting his due. This, on three counts:

First, as Fr. Stephen pointed out on his blog, there is no such thing as a sin so great that eternal torment would be a proportional to it. I mean, you’d think even Stalin might have paid his dues after several thousand years of unspeakable misery, and God would be satisfied and have pity.

Second, there is no way Jesus’ three days in Hades compare with even a sinner’s first taste of torment. Why not? Because Jesus’ time there was spent in perfect communion with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit while He conquered Hades. The condemned sinner, however, has no blessed communion with God and knows he has no way of conquering hell, no way out, no pass after three days or three million days.

Thirdly, if Christ endured His sufferings in the stead of all mankind, then even unrepentant sinners should not have to go to hell, since their punishment has already be borne and/or their debt to God the Father is already paid. Either way, once Christ is crucified, the Father gets all the suffering and death due to Him, yet He exacts it again from those in hell, getting it, in effect, twice. Now two people have had to suffer and die for the same sin(s) – unless you are a Calvinist and believe Christ only took the punishment or paid the debt of those predestined to be saved, and not on behalf of the rest. (I’ll give the Calvinists credit, at least, for logical consistency.)


There are many more things wrong with the Penal Substitutionary model of the Atonement, but I have limited myself here to pointing out only one of them, namely that there is no justice in it whatsoever. The whole theory is a travesty, a mockery, an undoing of justice. (And it’s meant to be, because otherwise, if this kind of justice were actually carried out, we’d all be in hell forever.)

There’s no justice in Orthodox theology, either, if "justice" means giving each person his due. I’ll try to explain that in another post. There isn’t even any such justice in human legal systems and I’ll try to explain that, too.

True justice, on the other hand, divine justice, does indeed exist. It’s the only kind that does. But it’s something else. Stay tuned.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Holy Mountain

Sunday, June 14, 2009
Our guests departed at 7:00 a.m. The taxi arrived at our front door and we said our goodbyes and away they rushed. It was sad to see them go. Their visit was the highlight, for me, of this stay in Greece. Sylvia tells me they arrived home safely and with no problems, other than the last flight being delayed a couple of hours.

At noon, Chrysostomos and Roula came in their car to pick us up. We had no idea what the plan was, but were delighted when told the program for the day was to visit Mount Olympos!

Okay, so who can tell me three significant facts about Mount Olympos?

• It is the highest mountain in Greece (9,570 feet).

• It is the original home of the Olympic Games.

• It is the stuff of fairy tales, of legend, of myth, because it is the home of the twelve gods of ancient Greece, of Zeus, the father of all the gods, and his wife, Hera, and the rest. At the top of Mt. Olympos was (and still is, as a rock formation) the Throne of Zeus, from which he hurled his lightning bolts and thunder-hammers. That’s the throne upon which he invisibly sat to watch the Olympic Games on the plateau spread out before him.


And I’ll tell you a fourth significant fact about Mt. Olympos: a saint lived there in the 1500’s, named Dionysios, who built a monastery there. The Germans destroyed it on suspicion it was harboring resistance fighters, and now there is a new monastery nearby, but the old one is also being restored, ever so gradually.

Our first stop was for lunch in a village at the foot of the mountain. We sat outdoors on a perfect day, admiring the views of the snow-capped peaks.

Then we entered the Mt. Olympos National Park. A ranger at the gate jots down your license plate number, “in case of fire,” Demetrios told me.

“Do they have fires very often here?” I asked.

“Oh, yes! Every year. They can’t prove it, but they think there are arsonists.”

Oh, great.

It’s a beautiful mountain, actually a group of peaks, heavily forested with hardwood and evergreen trees, with ferns and all sorts of other flora and fauna. Roula picked a handful of herbs and handed them to me, saying, “Rigani.” Oregano! Imagine, finding oregano growing wild. Roula says many species here are unique; they don’t exist anywhere else.

We stopped at the new monastery of St. Dionysios, had a look around, and continued on our way, stopping at one or two scenic overlooks. The road is somewhat narrow, with hairpin turns and no guardrails; Chrysostomos drove nice and slowly, so I was never scared. We weren’t in any hurry, after all. The idea was to enjoy ourselves, and we were definitely doing that!

We stopped beside a mountain stream and Roula and I went to collect a few pebbles each. We didn’t find any smooth ones, probably because that’s where everybody else also stops to look for pebbles, but we took three of four apiece anyway.

You can’t go all the way up the mountain by car, only as far as a café a little less than halfway up. You have to hike the rest of the way. I’m told it’s about a 4-hour climb for experienced people, plus four more hours back down. We just stopped at the café and had cold drinks.

On the way back down, we came to the older Monastery of St. Dionysios of Mt. Olympos. It is interesting to walk around through the ruins. The main church has already been restored, and so has the refectory, where meals are served to pilgrims after church; donations accepted.

What they do is shoot cement into the old stone walls with a compressor engine, and it spreads through all the cracks and dries into concrete, sealing and strengthening the structures. There are piles and piles of the original stones, which are used for re-building the destroyed parts.

There was a kindly priest-monk there, who chatted with us, then disappeared with Demetrios in tow. Demetrios returned to us 20 minutes later, his face all radiant, so we knew he’d had Confession.

Then, continuing back down the mountain, we came once again to the new Monastery of St. Dionysios. This time, Chrysostom made a request for the museum to be opened for us, and is request was granted. A monk took us there and unlocked the door and showed us around. The museum contains some very old, valuable manuscripts, some hand-written New Testaments, some very old vestments and church vessels. But its main treasure is a room full of bones. They range from a couple of large bones, a couple of skulls, to tiny slivers, most being somewhere in between. They are relics of 40 saints: St. John Chrysostom, St. George (yes, THE St. George), St. Paraskevi, and I cannot remember who all else. The elaborate silver reliquaries in which these bones are kept are of course also treasures,in their own right, of an altogether different sort.

Demetrios bought a book in the gift shop before we headed home.

We didn’t get there until midnight, the traffic was so heavy. The drive, which should have taken less than one hour, took four. The highway between Mt. Olympos and Thessaloniki was bumper-to-bumper, stop and go, and so were the city streets. Sunday night is when everybody returns from their weekends in their villages. Lesson learned.

But what a wonderful day, what a dream come true, to stand upon the shoulders of this legendary mountain, this mountain of ancient lore! And to do it with such dear people as Chrysostomos and Roula made it a hundred times more wonderful yet.

(Roula says someone recently mentioned to her something about wanting a cat. She will ask for me.)

What Does it Mean for God to Be Offended?

As readers/commentators of Fr. Stephen’s blog have illustrated, there is a very strange notion common to certain strains of Western Christian thought, that since God is infinite, any sin we commit constitutes an infinite offense against Him. Therefore, sin requires infinite punishment.

But how do we see the “Most Offended” behaving on the Cross? Here mankind has offered Him the ultimate offense, killing Him, and how does He respond? “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” What meaning does it have to be “offended” if this is the way the Offended One responds?

Or do we seriously think this attitude differs one iota from the Father’s own attitude, when Jesus Himself tells us, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father”? When St. John tells us Jesus was the exact imprint of the divine glory? (Hebrews 1:3) No, His forgiving attitude is identical to the Father’s and the Spirit’s, in every minute detail. There is no conflict in the Holy Trinity, none whatsoever. The Father no more takes offense than the Son does, for they are in complete harmony in all things, being two facets of a single God, and The Son is the Mind of God, the Wisdom of God.

And although it is extremely difficult for us who have been raised in the West to get this through our noggins (at least it is for me!), it really ought not to come as any surprise that God the Father NEVER changes His loving attitude toward us, not in the slightest. Why should this not surprise us? because after all, He is in no way harmed if we disobey His commandments. He only gave them to us for our own good. It is not as though He had determined which behaviors He likes and which He does not just arbitrarily, for no reason at all. Nor does He make this determination because it in some way serves Him. He is not self-serving. “God is love” (I John 4:8) and “love seeketh not her own.” (I Corinthians 13:5) Jesus did not say, “I have come that all men may know and serve Me and bow before Me.” Rather, He said, “I came not to be served, but to serve.” God does not need our service, does not even need for us to exist. He already has the all the fullness of glory independently of us.

Rather, God gave us commandments because the keeping of them would be for our own benefit, the same way a parent commands his child not to touch the stove or to look both ways before crossing the street. And if the child does touch the stove, does the parent get mad at the disobedience and therefore cause the stove to burn the child? If I jump from a skyscraper and hit the pavement and die, is it because God was angry with me for jumping? Or if I chain smoke for 40 years and develop lung cancer, is it because God is getting even with me because for some unknown reason He is opposed to smoking? Of course not! All these things happen just because that’s the way the universe works. It’s the same way with the commands God gives us; they are for our growth and happiness and if we transgress them, it is not He who is harmed, but we. It isn’t He who inflicts the harm, either. The harm just happens because of what we’ve done. The harm is inherent in the sin. (Otherwise, God wouldn’t have had any reason for considering it sin!) The harm is there independently of God’s attitude. God’s attitude toward us is constant and true, not fickle, not changeable.

And what is that attitude? He makes His sun to shine on the wicked and the good alike. He makes His rain to fall upon the just and the unjust, alike. He is kind to the wicked and the ungrateful. Those are Jesus’ own words (Luke 6:35), not the words of some liberal theologian. And to be like our Father in Heaven, Jesus says, we must bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us, pray for those who abuse us. That is God’s unwavering, unalterable attitude. “God is Love.” “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” God does not add to the enormous harm we’ve already done by harming us further! No, the very opposite: He seeks to save us from ourselves and from the harm we do.

We often do not notice the harm we do to ourselves when we disobey God’s instructions. We blind ourselves to what is happening to us inside; we imagine we’ve gotten away with it. But the harm is still being done. We grow gradually alienated from one another, we feel increasingly isolated and lonely, we find life more and more bereft of meaning, we become depressed. Our character erodes, our ability to act freely is diminished as we become enslaved to our passions, our personhood suffers trauma, even our physical health deteriorates. We build ourselves a little, but growing, hell.

No, God is not infinitely offended; He isn’t offended personally at all.

But on behalf of the people or things we’ve harmed, He can be said to be offended, yes? Well, put it this way: He does not take joy in seeing harm done to any aspect of His handiwork. He does not approve of the harm we do and He labors to undo it – but all the while still loving us every bit as much as if we had never sinned. (That’s what grace is, when He still loves us no matter what, even though we don’t deserve it.) Again, if His love for us will never change, what does it mean for Him to be offended?

Doesn’t He require at least some payment for our sins? NO! No, for the very same reason: He does not take joy in seeing harm done to any aspect of His handiwork! He does not approve. Much less does He inflict yet more harm! That’s the devil’s doing and ours, and neither we nor he do it on God’s behalf, either. We may be sure that whatever the devil does, he does in opposition to God, in rebellion and in hatred, not in collaboration. WE are the collaborators with satan; God is not. What God wants, instead of payment for sins, is correction of them, a.k.a., repentance, so that we may become whole again, and holy.

Does that mean God actually DOES NOT give to each person what He deserves? That’s exactly what it means. He gives to each person far better than any of us ever deserved. Note the parable of the laborers in the vineyard in Matthew 20. Notice that “He died for us while we were yet sinners.” (Romans 5:8)

Does this mean everybody is going to be saved? No, not necessarily. It does mean that if you are “in hell,” whether right now or in the ages to come, it is entirely your own doing. Alexandre Kalomiros describes how this happens in his lecture, “River of Fire.”

Now if anyone is perplexed and does not understand how it is possible for God's love to render anyone pitifully wretched and miserable and even burning as it were in flames, let him consider the elder brother of the prodigal son. Was he not in his father's estate? Did not everything in it belong to him? Did he not have his father's love? Did his father not come himself to entreat and beseech him to come and take part in the joyous banquet? What rendered him miserable and burned him with inner bitterness and hate? Who refused him anything? Why was he not joyous at his brother's return? Why did he not have love either toward his father or toward his brother? Was it not because of his wicked, inner disposition? Did he not remain in hell because of that? And what was this hell? Was it any separate place? Were there any instruments of torture? Did he not continue to live in his father's house? What separated him from all the joyous people in the house if not his own hate and his own bitterness? Did his father, or even his brother, stop loving him? Was it not precisely this very love which hardened his heart more and more? Was it not the joy that made him sad? Was not hatred burning in his heart, hatred for his father and his brother, hatred for the love of his father toward his brother and for the love of his brother toward his father? This is hell: the negation of love; the return of hate for love; bitterness at seeing innocent joy; to be surrounded by love and to have hate in one's heart. This is the eternal condition of all the damned.


If you find yourself in hell, it is because you actually prefer to be there, and you prefer it knowingly. It is because you hate, resent, and reject God; because you fear Truth, hate what is Good, feel jealous in the presence of Love, and find Beauty unbearable. It will be your choice, which God will not override, because to do so would be to destroy you as a person and reduce you to an automaton. And God, Who is love, Who created you to become the opposite of automatons, will not do that to you. He will always respect your freedom, which is a part of His own image in you, even if you use it perversely. He does not want to see anybody in hell; far from it; He has done everything possible to keep us from that. But He will even let you have hell, if that is what you really want. If you are in hell, it is in spite of everything God has done for you, is doing for you, and would have chosen for you.

Does the fact that God always loves us, infinitely, eternally, and unconditionally, mean there is no justice? Well, yes and no. It means there is no “justice” in the sense of equality, of giving to each person a reward or punishment equal and only equal to his good or wicked deed. That never existed, either on earth or in heaven, as I will try to explain in an upcoming post. But that never was justice anyway, not true justice. True justice there is, which I will also try to describe in another post very soon.



P.S.) Actually, the fact that God is infinite means the very opposite of the idea that He is therefore infinitely offended. It's because God is infinite that His mercy is infinite. Search any online concordance and note how many times the phrase appears, "His mercy endureth for ever." I think it's 40 times, if memory serves.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Chronicles of the Visit of Dwight and Sylvia, Part 6

Thursday, June 11, 2009
Phillipi


Today we went to Kavala, where Demetrios was born. More importantly, it is the same city that used to be called Neapolis, where St. Paul and St. Silas first set foot in Europe to bring Christianity there.

It’s a beautiful and quaint town that either spills down to the sea or climbs up from it to huddle under its castle, depending upon your perspective. It has a harbor that receives anything from fishing boats to pleasure crafts to cruise ships. It has a swimming beach. It has an a Roman aqueduct. It has a monastery where Sts. Paul and Silas (Barnabas) are said to have rested on their way to Philippi. Philippi, founded by Philip the father of Alexander the Great, was his capital city, and the book of Acts describes it as the principle city of the region.

We arrived in Kavala in the early afternoon, checked into our hotel, napped for an hour, and decided our first objective should be Philippi.

“It’s a ruin, you understand,” I said, to avoid their being disappointed when we got there. “Nobody lives there today.”

Wrong! It’s still a thriving little town. It’s only the ancient part that is in ruins.

We didn’t know where to go, what to see, but we spotted a priest, and stopped to ask him. It was Father Peter, the American priest who serves the church in Petrokerassa! He was there with, apparently, guests of his own. “Well, the prison is that way,” he said, pointing, “and the oldest basilica in Europe is over there, and the Octagon, the first church ever named after St. Paul, is in that direction…”

The prison! The prison where the Apostles had been held, the prison whose doors were opened by an earthquake, but the prisoners stayed put, from love of the jailor, so he wouldn’t commit suicide. The prison where the Philippian jailor had asked, “What must I do to be saved?” (And note, St. Paul did NOT say anything like, “Nothing at all, and the very idea that you could is downright presumptuous.” There is indeed something you must do. Granted, you can only do it by the grace of God, yet it is you doing it; it is an act genuinely yours, and not merely God acting in you, leaving you a puppet. Believe and be baptized.)

The prison was what we had to see first. It is still there, still in pretty good shape, and it is obviously a prison, more like a dungeon. And among the reasons the prisoners sat up all night praying and singing hymns is that there wasn’t room in that cell for more than about 5 men to lie down. We just stood there in awe, tears in our eyes.

Then there was the amphitheatre, the High Place of the Day which Sylvia had to climb, so of course I did, too, although I only arrived as she was coming back down.

Ancient Philippi isn’t just a city block of ruins, it’s block after block after block. It would take two days to explore it all adequately. We had a much shorter time than that because it began to rain. We dashed for shelter and had a light supper at the visitor’s center there before heading back to Kavala.

In Kavala, we wandered the winding, stone-paved streets. Of course they all go uphill. We went as far as where the house used to be where Demetrios was born, pretty far up. En route, we passed the beautiful, glistening mosaic depicting the sections of Acts 16 in which St. Paul dreams of a Macedonian man saying, “Come over here and help us.” In the mosaic, the dream is shown in a kind of oval halo. The Church interpreted this dream as from God and sent Sts. Paul and Silas (aka Barnabas) to Macedonia. They landed here, at Kavala, and the landing is also shown on the mosaic. Sylvia tried to take some pictures, but the flash got in the way and I think she got some better ones the next day.

We also passed the aqueduct and walked under it. Sylvia wanted to touch it, and did. It used to carry water from the mountains to I don’t know where. Someone said to the castle, but the castle was built centuries later.

The castle was lit up, dominating the landscape.

We decided to make it our first objective in the morning.



Friday, June 12, 2009
Kavala


We had thought of making an excursion today to the island of Thassos, in sight of Kavala and said to be very beautiful. But Sylvia and Dwight said Kavala itself was too good to miss; they would rather spend the day there. They were right; you can indeed spend a whole day just exploring this town, and still have things left for your next visit.

The houses are all old-fashioned and I think not allowed to change in style. They are very picturesque with their carved wooden doors or wrought iron doors, their shuttered windows, their balconies, their red tile roofs. Sylvia especially admired the doors. There are little alleys full of flowered balconies and shady terraces. There are tourist shops and real shops, and we stopped at both.

The lady in the tourist shop, after chatting with Demetrios, said there were still some people living here with the same last name as his grandparents, and one of them looked like him and she felt sure he must be related. She told us how to get to his house. So, winding around the narrow streets and asking our way, we did find his house.

He isn’t related, so far as anybody can tell.

Along our way, we passed the Imaret, which was once a Turkish prison but today is a luxury hotel. Last I checked, on the Internet, rooms ranged from 500 to 1500 Euros per night. Maybe it's cheaper now, due to the recession. Our hotel in Kavala is. So the dreaded, horrific place has now become a source of wealth; how’s that for sweet “revenge”?

Sylvia got her camera ready and then darted inside long enough to take one photo. We had already told her how we were escorted out of there once when we ventured into the lobby without reservations.

We also passed the old mosque, now a music hall. And Sylvia and I, while the men waited, climbed about 100 miles back down that hill (okay, 100 meters) to see where the Turkish ruler of the district used to live. Couldn’t see much, but the gardens were lovely. Then we hiked back UP those hundred miles to find – nobody waiting for us. We called out and found them, but it was a frightening moment or two. All part of the adventure.

Finally, we arrived at the castle, the High Climb of the Day. By then we needed a cool drink, and of course the locals are smart enough to have figured that out, so drinks and fast food are served within the outer keep of the castle. We had water and sodas.

After that there was more climbing to do, if you wanted to walk around the ramparts. We did, even Dwight. They are narrow, high, and rough and there are no handrails, so the experience is just scary enough to be that much more fun, especially if you are afraid of heights. Sylvia and I both are, though in her case you’d never know it.

Getting up the hill is only part of the battle, as you know. Eventually you have to come back down, the part Sylvia doesn’t like but I do. We came down, spent some time in a café, retrieved our luggage from the hotel, and took the bus home to Thessaloniki.

Saturday, June 13, 2009
The Baptism of Irene Semirami Theodosiadi

Katerina and Nikos, daughter and son-in-law of our friends Renna and Theodosios, invited all four of us to the baptism of their daughter, which took place today at noon.

She’s an adorable little girl, 9 months old, who looks a lot like her older brother, Spiros.

I don’t know what to tell you.

In “My Fair Lady,” Professor Higgins sings:

Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak?
Norwegians learn Norwegian, and Greeks are taught their Greek.


Well, that’s not true, strictly speaking. The Greeks nowadays are only taught the language of the gutter, the Greek equivalent of Cockney, with the result that they can no longer read either Homer or Aristotle, or any other philosophers, or the Bible, or the Fathers of the Church, or any of the classic, immortal literature that forms so much of their heritage.

But my own gripe is,

Why can’t the Greeks teach their kids to stand in line?
To be quiet when in church and not to chat or whine?


The kids grow up to be adults, and still act like toddlers. (The toddlers, however, behaved very well!) I’d like to propose the following bits of etiquette when in an Orthodox church:

• Find where you want to stand and stand there, reverently. Move around as little as possible during the service.

• Refrain from conversation in church.

• Take pictures but be discreet about it; don’t push your camera in people’s faces.

• Pay attention to what’s going on.


Now in an Orthodox service, because there are children present, who are most welcome, and because there may be no chairs to speak of, a certain amount of quiet disorder is normal and in fact inescapable. But the behavior at this baptism was a disgrace, and I say so even understanding Katerina and Nikos may read this. It was total chaos. The priest had to ask the congregation three times to be quiet, please, but to no avail.

It was an embarrassment to have brought our Baptist guests to this service.

The baby was named Eirini (Irene), after her grandmother, whom we call Renna. Middle name, Semiramis. I know that is the name of a piece of pretty music...

I gave Katerina the pink baby blanket I had knitted for Irene, and we left after milling about the outdoor reception for about an hour.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Chronicles of the Visit of Dwight and Sylvia, Part 5

Wednesday, June 10, 2009
A Museum and a Feast


I woke up early this morning (early being a relative term!) to put my kitchen back together, more or less. Then Sylvia and Dwight and I took a bus to the Archaeological museum. Demetrios, tired, begged off.

I have a theory that when you do too many museums in too few days, they all begin to run together. You arrive at the point of aesthetic overload. Everybody says Thessaloniki’s Archaeological Museum is Not To Be Missed, but I cannot remember a single thing about it. There were more marvelous marble statues, more fabulous pieces of jewelry, more mosaics, more pieces of wondrously decorated pottery. I’m looking through a guide book right now and I don’t remember anything I see in the pictures except the marble sarcophagi in the courtyard, and a horrid “sculpture” there, consisting of about a hundred pairs of pantyhose cut flat, stretched out, and stitched together in places, a canopy looking like so many kites. It was an imaginative “work,” I’ll grant you that, but that’s the only praise it can have.

It’s as I’ve said before, people a thousand years from now, looking back at our times, will ask each other, “What AILED those folks?”

The Benaki Museum in Athens did the same stupid thing, by the way; interspersed with the ancient masterpieces were silly little modern mobiles, papier-mache thingies, and other trivial, uninspired objects any kindergartner could have made in an hour, with a little help from the teacher. They only detracted from the exhibits.

Art has to be much more than merely original, dear reader! It has to display some more than ordinary skill. And it has to be beautiful. I don’t need any artist to show me the ugliness of this world; it already intrudes too much. Much less (good heavens!) do I want to see the ugliness of the artist’s soul. My own soul is ugly enough. That ugliness is not edifying and is meant to be healed rather than exhibited any more than I can help. No, I need the artist’s sensitive eye and keen perception to help me see the beauties my gross soul may miss. I once met an artist, a Russian woman named Galina, and she was always saying things like, “Look how the sunlight shining through those branches makes the pebbled driveway look!” and it was wonderful to see the world through her eyes.

Or show me your true sorrow and anguish, but do it with actual talent, skill, instead of mere “difference”, and for heaven’s sake express it with beauty instead of ugliness. True sorrow, as distinct from self pity, does have a beauty to it, as for instance when it arises from the love of a departed one. Love and beauty are synonymous. Don’t make us a tangled black mass of rags to show the wreck of your soul; paint or carve or write us a loving and poignant portrait of the deceased.

Anyway, Sylvia and I trudged dutifully through the museum, and if she remembers anything of it perhaps she will share it with us.

Dwight had the good sense to wait for us in the lobby after a short look around.

In the evening, Mena came in her car and took us all to the kastro (“castle”), meaning the ancient fortifications at the top of the city, on the hills above. It’s more than walls, it’s towers and forts and there’s a prison up there, too, not used today, although it was during the time of the Junta in the ‘70s.

So we had a wonderful time poking around the fortifications and taking pictures of one another there, and then we all went to the Hotel Philippos, a posh hotel from the ‘60s, where people stay who don’t care about the cost of driving from there to – well, anywhere. It’s isolated in a forest atop a ridge of mountains. We had a drink there, by the swimming pool.

Then Mena drove us all to Manolis and Vasilea, in the country, for dinner.

The menu for tonight started out as a joke. Last time we were with Manolis and Vasilea for dinner, and everyone was congratulating Vasilea on such a splendid feast with so many dishes, somebody said we were lucky it wasn’t pigs’ feet. Mena cried, “What do you mean? I adore pigs’ feet!” And that’s how the talk began of having pigs’ feet next time. I didn’t think Vasilea would really do it, but yes, she did. She made it into a soup that tastes pretty much like vegetable soup with bacon in it, and very small pieces of pork. It wasn’t bad. Mena, the connoisseur (connoisseuse?), pronounced it, “Perfect!”

Of course there were other things to eat, such as lambs’ heads. Yes, lambs’ heads. You chop them off at the neck and split them in two, skin them, season and roast them, and that’s all.

Dwight tucked into both the pigs’ feet soup and the lambs head without any visible hesitation; Sylvia, too. They ate the lamb’s tongue and brains and eyeball and all. Afterward I asked if they had known what it was and they said yes, they had, but it was worth a try. All part of the adventure. (I didn’t sample the lambs’ heads.)

It was a truly marvelous evening. The Greeks seemed delighted to have the Americans along – part of their adventure! – and Dwight and Sylvia weren’t at all shy. People spoke enough English to converse quite well with them. And of course, with these people, you are instant friends. They will love you, and show that love, immediately.

Every once in a while Demetrios would nudge me and point to Dwight, who was literally glowing the whole evening. Seeing his delight alone would have been enough to make it, for us, the highlight of our guests’ visit.

“Do you see that man over there?” I whispered to Sylvia. “His name is Demetrios, and I’d bet a dollar he has his harmonica in his pocket.”

He actually had two harmonicas in his pocket, which came out quite soon after the dessert, and everybody began to sing.

Manolis always ends his parties by taking his guests to the church on his property and singing, “O Gladsome Light.” Tonight we did a longer thing, saying numerous prayers, concluding with that quiet hymn that somehow removes the party spirit. By the time it’s over, the evening is over, too, and everybody just knows to get in their cars and go home.

THANK YOU, VASILEA AND MANOLIS!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Chronicles of the Visit of Dwight and Sylvia, Part 4

Tuesday, June 09, 2009
Touring Thessaloniki Day


The new kitchen was at long last installed today! Demetrios stayed home to supervise the workers while Sylvia and Dwight and I set out for a tour of Thessaloniki.

We started with the triumphal arch of Galerius Maximianus Caesar, simply because there’s a bus stop right there. Some of the stone carving on it is fairly well preserved. You can’t touch it as you could a couple of years ago, as it is roped off, but you can get very close and you can walk under the arch. Sylvia got some good pictures.

Next, we saw the Rotunda of St. George. It was built in 306 A.D. by the Emperor Galerius Maximianus, then only a tetrach, who moved the capital of his province to Thessaloniki. Galerius intended the Rotunda to be his tomb. I don’t know why it isn’t. Maybe he changed his mind when he became Emperor, and thought Rome would be a more appropriate location for his gravesite.

It is a round structure, 75 feet in diameter, with walls more than 13 feet thick, and is crowned with a dome more than 90 feet tall at its height. The early Christians converted the Rotunda into a church named for St. George. The Turks converted it into a mosque, building a minaret beside it. When this city was liberated from the Turks, on the feast her patron saint, St. Demetrios, 1912, the process began of restoring the building to a church.

It has magnificent mosaics with lots of gold and azure tiling. They are in the process of being restored to their original bright, shiny condition.

If you stand in the center of the Rotunda and tap your foot, the tap echoes around the room: tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

Today there was scaffolding in place that blunted the effect; you heard only one or two echoes instead of a whole volley.

The great earthquake of 1978 did a lot of damage to the Rotunda, most of which has now been repaired.

From there, we went to the late Byzantine Church of St. Panteleimon. It was built in the 1200s and, like most Byzantine churches here, was a mosque during the Turkish reign and is now again a church.

There we met two Greek women who appeared to have been tending to the beautiful garden and potted plants. Maria and Margarita were very kind to us and recommended we should go next to the church “Theotokos, Made Without Hands,” which was visible a couple of blocks away. “Made Without Hands” has a double meaning. It refers to an icon of the Theotokos which simply appeared one day, not seeming to have been made by anybody. But more importantly, it refers to the Theotokos herself, who became a temple of God made without hands.

The church “Theotokos Made Without Hands” dates from circa 450. It is the first church built in Thessaloniki. In 1430 it became a mosque, and in 1930 it re-opened for Christian worship.

One of the columns still has a Turkish inscription on it: “The Sultan Murad Han captured Thessaloniki in the hegira year 833.” (That’s 1430 on our calendar.) Some of the original mosaic work is visible, and splendid. Again, the mosaic workers seem to have been fond of turquoise and gold.

In 1345, some members of a political movement known as “Zealots” were slaughtered in this church.

Our next stop was the White Tower, which Thessalonians flatter themselves is to their city what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. That is, it is the emblem of the city. It is part of the ancient fortifications, which stretched from the mountains behind the city all the way down to the sea. The White tower is at what used to be the intersection of the sea wall with the east wall. It is 34 meters high, so something over 112 feet, and 22 meters in diameter, making it somewhere around 70 feet wide.

Inside is a broad, stone staircase you can climb to about six different levels. Did I mention Sylvia always makes me climb high places? And did I mention it’s all part of – yes, I did.

The inside is a museum of the history of the city, with sound and light shows, most of which we did not understand.

Sylvia climbed into the bay of one window and noticed a pigeon’s nest containing one egg. Later she saw the pigeon sitting on the egg. She took a picture, which I will post when I get it, if it turned out well.

There are wonderful views of the city, naturally, from the top of the tower. There is also a little café where you can get a cold drink. You’ll need it.

By now, it was already after 7:00 in the evening, and we had agreed to meet Demetrios at 7:30 in front of St. Sophia, considered the most important church in town, probably because it is a Byzantine Church and partly because it is (I believe) the largest of them – and partly because of its central location. In fact, it used to be the cathedral church in ancient times, until its conversion to a mosque in 1524. For a while before that, it was even used as a Roman Catholic Cathedral during the Frankish occupation (1204-1224), a.k.a. Crusade. It became an Orthodox Church once again in 1912.

So to St. Sophia we headed next. It’s actually Holy Wisdom (Agia Sophia), a reference to Christ, the Wisdom from on High. It is supposedly a copy of the great Agia Sophia in Constantinople, but on a smaller scale. I haven’t been there, so I can’t personally tell you how good a copy it may be.

It has, above the apse, the most beautiful icon of the Theotokos I have ever seen, although in the evening light it wasn’t clearly visible.

It was built probably somewhere between 714-741 on the ruins of an earlier church of St. Mark which was probably destroyed in the great earthquake of 620. (It seems this town is always having great earthquakes. What are we DOING here?)

Next we walked over to the Church of St. Demetrios, this city’s patron saint. You shouldn’t visit Thessaloniki without going there!

Holy myrrh (scented, oily stuff) used to flow from the body of the Saint, for hundreds of years, until the relics were stolen by the Catholics. (What’s this? How did they manage to feel comfortable with their stolen booty for several centuries? Did they think of it as “Holy Loot”???) When the relics were returned in the 1980s, if memory serves, they were no longer putting forth the myrrh. That should have told the Catholics a lot.

The myrrh used to flow from the sepulcher through a pipe constructed for the purpose to a pool also specially constructed for the purpose, and from there to two side pools, where people used to help themselves to it. From there, through channels, it flowed out of the church and down to the sea. Today the sea is a mile and a half from the church, but it was considerably closer then.

All these things are in the crypt of the church, although what we today call the “crypt” was originally the ground floor. Anyway, it wasn’t open. Only the main church was, because a vespers service had just concluded when we arrived. We had just time enough for a look around the nave and to venerate the holy relics of the Saint.

Our next stop was the ruins of the palace of Galerius, that same Roman tetrarch, eventually Emperor, who built the triumphal arch and the Rotunda. His palace (circa 300 AD), occupied now by feral cats, is an outdoor archaeological site about a city block square, it being understood that this is a very large city block. It’s of brick and during the daytime (but it was nearly dark by now), you can walk around inside the ruins. It has a throne room and storage rooms and baths and I don’t know what all, very complex. You can see remains of floor mosaics and catch a glimpse of the splendor that once was here.

Near here, but unexcavated, lies the ancient hippodrome (race track, as in horse races). It’s under modern buildings which cannot be destroyed. Someone once told us that some test digging had been done at the hippodrome but the partial excavation showed nothing of interest or of value, so the dig was filled in again. Nothing of interest? Here is where St. Nestor, with the blessing of his teacher, St. Demetrios, fought the anti-Christian giant, Lyaeus, in a gladiatorial contest, and won! That infuriated the Emperor, who had backed Lyaeus, and who promptly had both Nestor and Demetrios executed.

We also saw the ancient agora, market, also dating from Roman times. It’s another big city block full of ruins, including an amphitheatre, rows of shops, a public square, a mint, archives, etc.

Sometime in the midst of all this touring, we also had supper, but I no longer even remember when or where.

I do remember coming home, late, to admire my new kitchen! It looks very much as it originally did, except it is no longer a place for midgets. It’s a couple inches taller than it was, much more comfortable for me. And there are about 6 more inches of counter space than there used to be, and there’s one more drawer.

Sylvia and I thought of putting things back into the drawers, but decided it could wait until morning. We settled for just bringing in our laundry and hanging out the next load before falling into our beds, dog tired but happy.

Chronicles of the Visit of Dwight and Sylvia, Part 3

Saturday, June 06, 2009
A “Take-it-Easy” Day


We breakfasted late and sat around our table for a very long time, trading stories and generally enjoying ourselves. Breakfast at the Hotel Arethusa is lousy, although the hotel itself is rather nice, but of course, it’s all part of the adventure, isn’t it?

Demetrios and I went back to the Benaki Museum and saw all the fabulous treasures we had missed the first time. It wasn’t free this time, though; it’s only free on Thursdays. That’s okay; the admission price was well worth it. Six Euros each, I think.

Sylvia and Dwight found a beautiful public garden where they wandered. It had various domestic animals in it, and there was a stone structure that looked just like an igloo, which turned out to be a goat house. Many flowers are currently in bloom, notably the bougainvillea. There;s a lot of flamouria, too, whose English name I've forgotten, but to me, this is the most sweetly scented of all the flowering trees. The Laburnum has started, too.

We met at the museum for a long, lazy, late lunch, which we ate at the museum’s café, out on the terrace. Sylvia commented that we were “eating our way through Greece,” but as I’ve already noted, it takes a large supply of calories to support the hard-driving kind of touring we do!

Demetrios said he’d just go check at the train station to see if we could possibly get an earlier get a train after all; the one we were scheduled to go on would depart at 9 p.m. and arrive in Thessaloniki at 2 a.m. When he came back, he said, “If we hurry, we can catch a train in 20 minutes!”

There was no discussion, just “Let’s do it!” We jumped up from the table and ran, literally ran, to the hotel, some three blocks away, where two of us retrieved our luggage while the other two hailed a cab, and off we raced. Sylvia said we looked like a bad Keystone Cops episode.

The train pulled away just as the cab arrived, but we still managed to get one that departed at 7:30 instead of 9:00. We enjoyed the mountainous scenery part of the way, until it grew dark outside. We got home at midnight and into bed just before 1 a.m.


Sunday, June 07, 2009
Pentecost


Today was a “down” day, a day to rest and recover.

We went down to the sea in the early afternoon and just sat there, admiring the water and the sky and the green trees and the busy sparrows. Other than that, we just lazed around.

Kitty did fine without us. He still had some food and water left when we got home. Christos had come to check in on him.

Dwight is teaching the kitten bad manners, hand-wrestling with him all the time.

Monday, June 08, 2009
Life in Greece Day


Yes, it’s still Pentecost weekend! Everything is still closed.

This was to have been “Let’s show the guests a typical day of our life in Greece” day, but not quite. We couldn’t go around to the butcher, the baker, the greengrocer, etc. because they weren’t open.

The market at least was still on. It’s what Americans would call the farmers’ market, but here it’s just the market. There are fresh fruits and vegetables and fish, olives and jams, honey and other edibles, along with clothes and shoes and tee-shirts and sunglasses and such. It’s a small market in this neighborhood on Mondays; there’s a larger one on Thursdays nearby.

So we went shopping at the market and had fun looking over the wares.

Then we came home, hung out the laundry (theirs and ours), started another load, and cooked the main (midday) meal. It was vegetarian, as the butcher shop was closed. We had Greek green beans and fried potatoes and salad and fresh bread, with fresh, ripe cherries for dessert.

Then we hung out the next load of laundry and took our siestas. Dwight and Sylvia slept long and hard.

In the late afternoon, we decided to go downtown. Of course everything was closed, and as it was after hours, would have been even if it weren’t a holiday, but at least Sylvia and Dwight got to see the outside of some of our landmarks. Tomorrow we’ll see the insides.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Chronicles of the Visit of Dwight and Sylvia, Part 2

Friday, June 05, 2009
Greek Island Day

We wanted to go to the island of Hydra, which we had heard was very graphikos, picturesque, and upon which there are no automobiles. But by the time we had taken the subway to Pireaus, the town that serves as Athens’ seaport, and had arrived at the harbor, having been distracted along the way by a church or two, all the boats to Hydra had already left for the day. So we went to Aegina, the nearest island, pronounced "EGG-ee-nah," approximately.

The church that mainly distracted us was the Cathedral in Athens, with its blue-veined white marble.

We went to the island of Aegina by hydrofoil! I don’t know how a hydrofoil works, but from the name I assume it uses the water as a foil for air. The boat reaches a certain speed and then just rises above the water, all but a frame under it, and skims over the air. I don’t know whether it’s just air flowing under the prow in a certain way that creates this effect, or whether the boat also shoots out compressed air, but it’s fun, and the boat doesn’t rock when it’s flying. It’s still a bumpy ride, so I don’t know if not rocking cuts down on seasickness; I’m not very prone to that anyway.

The boat ride took about 40 minutes and then we landed in the main town, also called Aegina. Here we were looking at the blue sea, the blue sky, old stucco houses with balconies full of geraniums hanging over narrow, stone streets. Sylvia said, “Now THIS is the Greece of the movies!” (Athens decidedly is not, and neither is Thessaloniki, both being quite cosmopolitan and sophisticated.)

We ate lunch in Aegina and walked around its picturesque streets for a while. We found a stone fort a couple of centuries old. I'll post a photo or two of it later.

Then we had two choices for our afternoon. In one direction was the grave of St. Nektarios. In the other direction was the town of St. Marina, with an ancient temple nearby and pretty beaches. We chose the latter, since our non-Orthodox visitors could have no great interest in the grave of St. Nektarios.

Agia Marina was half an hour away by bus. There were only a few seats left on the bus, so we didn’t get to sit together. I sat on the back set next to an English retired couple. They were from “50 miles north of London.” They were on a one-week holiday in Agia Marina. They had been visiting the town of Aegina for the morning. We had a lengthy and charming conversation, and Sylvia took a picture of us chatting.

The bus landed us right next to a place that sold ice cream, so we stopped there and had some, striking up another conversation with the waitress, and Englishwoman who had lived in St. Marina for four years, but was about to return to England. Why would anybody who had become accustomed to this warm, sunny, friendly place want to go back to the drear and rains of England? She had family obligations. And living and working here was not as wonderful as it might sound. The trouble is, you worked during the summer months, just when you’d prefer to be off, to do some holidaying of your own. And then during the winter, when the sea is gray and the sky, dismal, when you may as well work because there’s nothing else to do, that’s when all the tourists have gone home, and all the summer residents, too, and there is no work. In fact, there’s nothing much going on there in the winter, she told us. Except that there is a rather substantial English community, and they do things together, like have a Robert Burns night when they all wear kilts, and so forth. We wished her luck and went our way.

Demetrios negotiated with a cab driver, who agreed, for 20 Euros, to take us to the temple, to wait 15 minutes for us (“or even 20,” he said when we got there), and take us back to Agia Marina. So we went and climbed around the temple, a copy of the Parthenon on a small scale, and enjoyed our 17 minutes. The cabbie told us this temple and one other, to Poseidon, made an equilateral (or isosceles?) triangle with the Parthenon, and this had been done on purpose.

Sylvia wanted to dip her toes into the sea, at least. We hadn’t brought our swimsuits, so that was about all we could do. So we climbed down a short but steep and rocky path to a small jetty where she could sit and dangle her feet in the water. She didn’t see until too late that the top of the jetty was concave and contained water, so she sat in it and came out looking as if she’d had a bladder control problem. All part of the adventure.

We found the easy path, flat except a few stairs to the sea, on our way back to the bus stop.

Time was up; we had to take the bus back to Aegina, the hydrofoil back to Piraeus, and the metro back to Athens, where more adventure awaited us.

We had supper at a lousy taverna where the food was terrible; I left my moussaka mostly uneaten. Afterward we wandered about in the Plaka again, the touristy district.

In one broad alley, numerous illegal immigrants from Africa were selling their illegal (stolen?) wares, mostly designer purses, or at least designer rip-offs. They were sitting on the ground, their goods spread out on bed sheets in front of them.

Suddenly, as we walked among them, they began to look panicked. There was a loud shuffling sound. They gathered up their sheets by the corners, handbags and other items spilling out, and ran as if for their lives. Four or five policemen came running after them. Passersby began picking up the purses, but in a few more moments, the police were rounding up the loot.

Sylvia observed that if the police had really wanted to catch anybody, they could have come in from both ends of the alley simultaneously and then they would have caught them all. As it was, they all got away and only a fraction of their wares was confiscated.

We passed a stall selling trinkets and souvenirs. Sylvia bought a –, well, I’d better not say what she bought, either, as it may be intended for a surprise. The point is, we began conversing with the vendors, a young girl and her mother. They were from Serbia. We sympathized with them, aloud, over the plight of their country. They were very glad to meet some Americans. They were even more glad when Demetrios told them I was Orthodox. They gave Sylvia more change for her purchase than was expected, and then they gave us each some pretty, sparkly worry beads. We were very touched by their kindness, refugees who had so little.

We were again exhausted by the time we got to bed, sometime around midnight.

Getting Back into the Swing of Things

At long last, I've had enough pause in our adventures to write about them, and have scheduled them as about 6 posts over the next 3 days.

I've also had time to visit one or two of your blogs, and if you haven't already, please read Fr. Stephens posts on the justice of God here and here, together with the many comments. Worth the time!

Seems this topic stirs up more hornets' nests than any other. As he points out, there is a certain lust for "justice" that can become very cruel indeed, and very dangerous, both physically and spiritually. God doesn't have any such lust!

Chronicles of the Visit of Dwight and Sylvia, Part 1

Wednesday, June 03, 2009
In Which our Guests from America Arrive


Sylvia and Dwight landed in Athens in mid-morning! We took a train to Athens and met them at our hotel just after 4:00 in the afternoon. Sylvia was waiting for us in the lobby.

“Syb,” I said, “You do turn up in the most far-flung places!” That was a reference to the fact that this is our fifth trip together. Our first trip, with our two daughters (who were classmates for years) was to London and Paris. Our second was to southern England and Cornwall. Our third was to Hawaii. And somewhere in there we also went to the beach together, on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. So much traveling together, and we’re still friends!

“I’m in Greece!” she exclaimed. “I’m in Greece, I’m in Greece!”

After half an hour for freshening up, we all went back to the train station to see if we all four could get tickets on the same train home. The difficulty was that very few seats were available. There’s an election campaign in progress, and all the parties’ operatives and candidates had taken up all the seats between Greece’s two major cities. Plus, it’s going to be Pentecost, a 4-day holiday weekend, when many people travel. We spent nearly two hours, I think, at the train station, waiting in a long line. I was a little put off by this. Sylvia said, “You always used to say, ‘It’s all part of the adventure!’” She’s right; that’s what I always did say. So I decided to adopt that attitude this time, too.

When we had bought tickets for the late train, we struck out to explore Athens.

The first thing we encountered was the Parliament Building, all lit up. There were guards in traditional Greek costume, brown skirts and shirts, red hats with long tassels, shoes with curled-up toes. Sylvia snapped some pictures of them, which I will add to this account sometime next month.

We asked our way to the Plaka, an old and quaint but therefore very touristy section of Athens. We had fun exploring the souvenir shops and even bought a thing or two, which cannot be specified here as they are to be gifts.

The Parthenon was lit up, atop the Acropolis, so we admired it from below and made plans to go up there tomorrow.

Sylvia had never seen an olive tree and was eager to see one, so we pointed out several to her and showed her how to recognize one, promising her she’d see thousands of them before she went home.

She was also amazed to note that the grapevines decorating the arbors were real. She had to touch them to be persuaded they were not fake.

We ate in a picturesque little taverna in the *Plaka district and then went back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep, knowing the next day would be very full and very tiring.




Thursday, June 04, 2009
Acropolis Day!


Of course the Acropolis is the first thing most tourists in Athens want to do, including us. Sylvia is forever making me climb high places. It’s all part of the adventure.

On our way to the Acropolis, we stopped at an impressive building with a bronze plaque by the door that said, “Onassis Foundation,” and had a picture of an ancient ship. We were just deciding that it must be THE Onassis, and Sylvia had just said, “And look at that wonderful door!” when a stranger’s voice said, “I have a model of it in my museum.” And that is how we met the most charming Professor Andreas, a Greek-American professor of economics in Pennsylvania and Athens. We had such a wonderful talk with him about economics and politics that within a very few minutes we all felt a deep kinship of hearts and minds. He gave us his card and we fully intend to keep in touch with him.

Then it was on to that big hill or small mountain, depending upon whether you are going down or up. We went up the back side, as it were, stopping periodically to let some of us (not including Sylvia) get our breath.

It isn’t just a hill crowned by the Parthenon. There’s much more up there and along the way: amphitheatres and other temples and assorted ruins that are either unmarked or we were too tired to bother finding out what they actually were.

The top, too, is a complex of buildings, of which the Parthenon itself is only the main one. Of course the marble statues are gone, Lord Elgin having removed them and taken them to England. The gold and ivory statue of Athena, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, is also gone. But the main temple still stands. You can almost, but not quite, go inside. You can certainly see inside very well.

The views of Athens are, of course, spectacular. We discovered, from one angle, that there are people who live literally in the shadow of the Acropolis.

We also spotted a tall rock where a number of people were gathered, that we thought would make a nice picnic spot. Turns out to have been Mars Hill, where St. Paul stood when he preached to the Athenians. That was the soap-box provided by nature. The Athenians were very interested in what the Apostle had to say, until he got to the part about the Resurrection. That was too, too absurd; they practically laughed him out of town. (And after all the considerable trouble he had taken to get there, too! If you ever see the mountains he had to traverse, you will marvel at the love that prompted his trip.)

Demetrios and Sylvia went back there to stand on the actual spot; Dwight and I, exhausted, were content to have laid eyes upon it. (Anyway, Dwight only learned who St. Paul was a few days later, so naturally his interest was limited.) We sat and waited for them on a little stone wall, beside an English gentleman who had arrived that morning on a cruise ship. He was from “40 miles north of London,” and he taught me how to pronounce “Scousers.” That’s the nickname for the people in the Liverpool area, where we are headed in three weeks. It rhymes with “trousers,” except the middle “s” is pronounced like an “s” and not a “z”.

What else can one say about the Acropolis? It’s all been said a thousand times. Sylvia took bunches of pictures and we came down, which was the only part she found difficult.

We found a taverna and had lunch, making sure our guests got to taste different Greek food each meal.

After lunch, we went looking for the archaeological museum, but it was our good fortune to find the Benaki Museum instead. It didn’t look interesting from the foyer. There were paintings of prominent figures from Greek history on the walls and I really didn’t feel like spending my afternoon looking at paintings, and said so. Sylvia wasn’t keen, either. Dwight, as usual, said nothing, but I don’t think he had any use for the place. Only Demetrios was keen to see it. Finally I said we could at least find out how much it cost and then decide. It was free. So we thought okay, let’s see what’s here, and if it isn’t interesting, we’ll leave and no harm done.

Well, the Benaki is room after room after room of treasures, dating all the way back to more than 6,000 years ago! It’s billed as an art museum, so what you see are figurines, decorated pottery, carved marble statues and bas-reliefs, carved wood, costumes, jewelry, icons, books, fabrics, beadwork, glass, anything decorative. And the word I kept using over and over was “fabulous,” because that was the most apt word. A close second was, “magnificent!”, followed by “awesome”. Every single item was of inestimable value, priceless, a fabulous treasure. I caqn hardly wait to show you pictures from it, but that will have to wait until mid-July.

The stone-age statuettes drove it home to me that those prehistoric people may not have had as much information as we have and never walked on the moon, but they were the same sort of people we are, even all those thousands of years ago.

The gold jewelry was beyond imagining, so intricate, so extravagant. There were filigree diadems and necklaces and earrings and belt buckles, huge and glistening with gems. There were crowns of laurel or oak leaves, with flowers, fashioned from gold beaten as thin as paper, and centuries old.

There were several rooms of Greek costumes, wedding apparel and court dress, with astonishingly elaborate handmade lace, embroidery, needlepoint. Each costume must have taken years to complete, or else have been worked on by several women at once, still for a very long time. Sylvia took two pictures before she was asked not to use the flash, so had to stop.

There were two complete 18th Century reception rooms on display, with amazingly detailed wood carvings and gilt and frescoes and tray ceilings with 5 layers of depth, stuff to rival any castle or palace in Europe.

The sculpture of Greece’s Golden Age (circa 500 BC) also rivals any in the world at any time. It even rivals Michaelangelo. It’s beautiful. It’s minutely detailed. It’s astonishingly lifelike. It is intended to display the beauty of the human form, and does. The ones most fun to look at were the portraits of real people, because they were clearly individuals, with real instead of idealized features.

Sylvia was the only one who saw it all. Demetrios and I never got off the first floor, the Stone Age and Iron Age and Bronze Age and Classical period items; the rest we only heard about from her. She came down the stairs jaw agape, and said, “All I could think was, ‘We almost missed this! Demetrios had to MAKE US see this!’”

We promised ourselves to come back before we left Athens, and then went out for supper and finally back to our hotel rooms to collapse for the night.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Just Checking In

Sylvia and Dwight are still here, leaving early in the morning. We've been having a great time, but have been too busy to write it down! I will begin doing that on Monday and publish stuff as I'm able. Sylvia took a lot of pictures, so our trip "chronicles," as we've been calling them, will be illustrated for once, but not right away. Sylvia is going to send me a CD of the photos to my Richmond address and I'll add them later.

We spent 3 days in Athens, did the Acropolis/Parthenon, saw where St. Paul stood to preach to the Athenians, went to a fabulous museum, spent a day on the island of Aegina.

Then we spent a few days showing them around Thessaloniki, and finally, we spent two days at Kavala, the ancient Neapolis mentioned in Acts 16. We also toured the ruins of ancient Phillipi, acres and acres of them, including the town jail, the prison where St. Paul and St. Silas were held, which was opened by the earthquake, where the Philippian jailor was ready to commit suicide. We climbed around inside Kavala's castle, wandered along its aquaduct, did many other fun things.

Sylvia, as always, every trip I've ever been on with her (this being the fifth), made me walk at least 5 miles every single day, half of it uphill. We've now climbed the Glastonbury Tor (500 feet at a steep angle), Diamondhead, countless castles in England, our favorite being Tintagel, and now we've climbed the Acropolis and other hills here. (We've been up the Eiffel Tower together, too, but that was on an elevator. We only remembered, as the elevator doors were closing, how afraid we both are of heights...)

It takes a lot of calories to keep up that kind of pace, by the way. We were forced to replenish our calorie supply frequently! (Sylvia says we ate our way through Greece, and that's what she no doubt means.)

Kitty is still with us; once our guests leave I will begin a more concentrated campaign to find him a home. He thinks I'm his mother and tries to nurse on my ear.

More as soon as I can get to it, as in perhaps the day after tomorrow.