At any given moment, life is completely senseless. But viewed over a period, it seems to reveal itself as an organism existing in time, having a purpose, trending in a certain direction.

    - Aldous Huxley

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Gregory Meets His Match

St. Gregory The Theologian
Gregory, one of my companions on the trip, is a veritable font of knowledge when it comes to church  and secular history. It was common for him to add valuable commentary and detail to questions that came up during our travels. There seemed to be nothing that he couldn’t make an intelligent comment on; it was quite impressive really. A memorable event  occurred during our stay at Vatopodi Monastery that was the one time he was left speechless. 

Fr. Peter had left us to return home the day we went to Vatopedi so we had no translator.  We were fortunate to meet a monk at Vatopedi who was an American, Fr Mathew.  It turns out the Fr Mathew was from outside of Bellevue.  Fr. Mathew, about 45ish and a monk there for 12 years, was a soft, yet well spoken man who spent about an hour with us telling us the history of the monastery and other facts.

The Incorrupt Hand of
St John Chrysostom
After Vespers and the evening meal it is the practice at each monastery to bring out relics of various saints in the main church for visitors like us to venerate. For the non-orthodox reader this may seem like a very odd practice. A thorough explanation is beyond the scope of this site but you can read about it here. Elsewhere we had already venerated a number of important relics including pieces of the "True Cross" ( including one piece that had a spike hole), John the Baptist, St Basil the Great, Lazarus, the Belt or Sash of the Mother of God ( Virgin Mary), the incorrupt hand of St John Chrysostom, the skull of the same saint with an incorrupt left ear, among many others.   At Vatopedi the priest brought each relic out one at a time. After bringing out several relics, he comes out holding a reliquary (usually an ornate silver box) with a skull fragment of St Gregory the Theologian. Gregory is named after the saint and was so shaken by the relic that was before him that I had to steady him a bit and actually push him forward. He was in total shock and remained so for quite some time.

A Piece of The True Cross of Christ
Mt Athos is full of unexpected surprises like this. In our travels we have seen many church treasures including ancient hand written liturgical texts, liturgical clothing embroidered with gold, hand carved crosses with detail so small and refined that it is hard to see with the naked eye, and of course ancient icons to name but a few. At a number of monasteries these treasures have in recent years been professionally organized and are now displayed in small museums under controlled conditions in order to insure they remain for future generations to learn from and enjoy.

The images you see in this post are not taken by me but are from cards we were given at the monasteries. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photos inside the churches ( quite understandably) and were very limited in what we could take within the grounds of the monasteries . Our general rule was to take a few photos inside the grounds until we were told not to (is that cheating?). We never used flash. The only monastery that allowed us to liberally take photos was Gregoriou.  I do have a number of photos of church interiors from our visits to churches in Thessalonki , there we were allowed to do so. In fact, at one church a man came up to me when I was shooting and spoke to me in Greek. I assumed that he waschastizing me for taking pictures, it turns out he was asking me if I wanted the lights turned on for better lighting.