After Fr. Matthew Harrington arrived in Thessaloniki, we spent a few days in the city visiting various churches and venerating the saints of the city. Then we headed to Mt. Athos together.
Morning has broken, at Grigoriou monastery
First stop was Grigoriou monastery, where we spent time with old friends, Fr. Damianos, Fr. Pavlos, and Fr. Neophytos.
From there we traveled to Simono Petra, where I hoped to visit old acquaintances of mine. I hadn’t seen Fr. Iakovos in years, and hadn’t seen Fr. Maximos since his days as a teaching assistant at Holy Cross in 1996. Since then, my youngest son, Michael, had studied with both Fathers during his time at Hellenic College. Unfortunately, Fr. Maximos was still in the USA and Fr. Iakovos was on a brief trip into Thessaloniki, so we missed them both.
Looking up to the majestic Simono Petra Monastery
Our final stop on Athos was at the Monastery of Vatopaidi.
The ancient Byzantine monastery of Vatopaidi
And finally, after leaving Mt. Athos, we traveled to St. Nikodemos monastery near Greece’s border with Bulgaria. This monastery is a metochi (daughter monastery) of Simono Petra.
With Fr. Matthew
Unfortunately I do not have my laptop with me, neither do I have wifi at the moment so I am unable to post any pictures yet. That will likely have to wait until I return to Nepal. Fortunately my dear friend, George Karampatakis allows me to use his computer while I stay in his family’s home, which after so many years of visits here has become “my home” in Greece.
I’ve just returned to Thessaloniki after 2 weeks at Vatopaidi monastery. What a blessing, not only to be back at that wonderful monastery, but simply to be in an Orthodox temple, worshiping with my fellow Orthodox believers. It has been far too long. I was blessed to concelebrate the liturgy with Abbot Ephraim and the hieromonks of the monastery one Sunday. During the small entrance, each of the priests carries one of the reliquaries of the monastery. With wonder I stared down at the relic in my hands, the skull of St. John Chrysostomos. Amazingly the ear into which his disciple beheld St. Paul whispering to St. John as he wrote his commentaries remains incorrupt over 1600 years later.
Let me share what the Vatopaidi Fathers refer to as “a small miracle.” Every year on the eve of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, which we just celebrated on Mt. Athos, a small bowl of water mixed with flour is placed under the large cross in the entry of the main monastery church. It remains there overnight and at the conclusion of the Festal liturgy a monk retrieves the bowl. Several of us gathered to see what always happens by the conclusion of the liturgy. One clearly sees the yeast which has formed on top of the thick mixture of just flour and water. The appearance of yeast can only be explained by the grace of God. This then becomes the starter for all bread that is baked in the monastery kitchen for the following year until the miracle is repeated during the next Feast of the Cross. So in a way, every time we eat a piece of the monastery bread, we are participating in a small miracle. Thanks be to God!
Several people with strong interest in mission work in Nepal learned that I was coming to the monastery and so made a point of remaining longer than intended so that we could meet together. It was a great encouragement to me to meet people, previously unknown to me, who pray for me and for Nepal every day. One of the monastery fathers whom I know well, Fr. Charalambos, has prayed every day for me since my first visit to Nepal in 2006. He was a treasure trove of contacts, iconographic information, and much else. May God bless him for all he has done and is doing to help me in my work.
Now I await Fr. Matthew Harrington’s arrival on Thursday. I will show him around Thessaloniki and then take him out to Mt. Athos to some of the monasteries. It has been years since his last (and first) visit here when he was a layman and newly converted to Orthodoxy. After many years in the Church and now a priest, he will see things with new eyes.
I look forward to posting pictures of my stay here once I return to Nepal. Please pray for me as I travel. May God bless all of you who are contributing your prayers and finances to this ministry. – Fr. S.
I have just returned from a wonderful evening together with a fellow Orthodox Christian. Yesterday I received an email from Alexandros Lordos. Alexandros is from Cyprus and is in Nepal for only 1 week on a short work project here in Kathmandu (he teaches at one of the universities in Cyprus) . I had been referred to him by the fathers of the Machairas monastery in Cyprus. Some years ago I was in Cyprus to give talks on evangelism and mission work and visited the monastery. For those of you who have read the book “The Mountain Silence” you will be familiar with Metropolitan Athanasios (in the book he is called “Maximos”). Metropolitan Athanasios is responsible for having renewed the Machairas monastery when he returned to Cyprus from Mt. Athos. The fathers gave me such a warm reception and after speaking with them for a time, as one they all walked me and Presbytera Marilyn and my sister Xenia to our car. We were so blessed by their love and hospitality that we didn’t want to part from them and I have longed to return to them for a longer visit.
Unfortunately I failed to get a picture of Alexandros. These were taken during a previous visit.
So through their kindness, Alexander was able to contact me here and we arranged to meet this evening at Cheenos Cafe. I typically eat at Cheenos about once a month as a treat. I have always gone in the afternoon to Cheenos so this was the first time to eat dinner there. After being seated at our table outdoors and talking for a bit, I glanced around and saw that sitting at a nearby table was my fellow American, Fr. Cap Miller. Fr. Cap is a Jesuit priest here in KTM and has lived here for over 50 years. He is in his 80’s now yet amazingly energetic. I went to the table to greet him (he had just returned from a visit to the USA) and he introduced me to his two companions, Fr. Lawrence, a priest from India, and Charles, a layman from the West. When I returned to our table, Alexandros jokingly said “so you’re meeting people you know here. You’re part of the local scene!” Ha.
Words can’t express what a blessing it was to have a couple of hours with my fellow Orthodox believer. Even though we were meeting for the first time, and although we come from different countries, nevertheless we immediately felt our unity in Faith and the love of Christ. The time with Alexandros made clear to me just how starved I am for Orthodox Christian fellowship. I realize as well that for this mission to be established and survive, there has to be a team of Orthodox here even if only on a short term revolving basis.
So both Alexandros and I are determined to try to help others catch the vision of participating in mission work here in Nepal. We would like people to think about the amazing opportunity of being a part of establishing the first Orthodox church in a Hindu nation. It is not often that one can be a part of establishing the Orthodox Church for the first time in a country. Fr. Daniel Byantoro has accomplished such a work in Indonesia. More recently the first Orthodox churches have been established in Pakistan. We now have the opportunity to do the same here in Nepal. It is not something I can do alone. As our Lord Jesus exhorted his Apostles, “Pray the Lord of the harvest that he would send workers into the harvest.” – Fr. S.