MY TRAVELS – Chiefly to Greece and Saint Nektarios
Let’s go traveling without leaving our computers and smart phones. Let me take you with me on my almost-annual trips to Greece and Saint Nektarios between 2002 and 2015. Some western European countries will be thrown in occasionally. Sometimes my wife Dianna and I traveled together. Other times she let me go off and explore by myself. These articles are based on trip reports I made to my people at Saint Nicholas Church – revised quite a bit to update them, make for easier reading and eliminate some repetitions. (We clergy do tend to say the same things over and over, don’t we?) So you won’t get weary from too much traveling at once, many of the trips will be serialized into more manageable segments.
In these Orthodox travelogs, I will describe and reflect on things which I found interesting, edifying or instructive, from the perspective of an older American Orthodox priest, a convert from Anglicanism in 1989. Though I visited many churches and monasteries, for the most part I did not do the typical “clerical tours.” I usually traveled anonymously, as I’ll explain, and I tried to understand what I saw and heard. As time went on I gave attention not only to things Orthodox but also to the state of society. I think this was because:
1 Orthodox Christianity is remarkably consistent, doesn’t vary a lot from place to place. After a while there’s not much new to say about it, as you will read for yourself: “Oh, look! There goes another Great Entrance procession!”
2 The differences between Greece, America and western Europe are striking in many ways, and I couldn’t help wondering why this is so.
3 Greece has changed over the years, first because of prosperity and their inclusion in the European Union, then because of their recession.
4 Orthodoxy has led me to look beyond the Church – not in opposition to Orthodoxy but because of it. We believe Christ our God is present and at work in all places, not only in the visible Church. Someone said that our job is not so much to think about Orthodoxy but to think about God’s world in light of Orthodoxy, and I naturally found myself doing this. Please don’t take any of my amateur analysis as “Gospel truth”. I was just wondering and speculating. I still am.
Preparing these travelogs has been a wonderful experience for me, filling my heart and soul with joy, reliving each trip again: the blue, the white, the almost palpable holiness in the churches and monasteries, the piety and warmth of the Greek people, the church bells and the bells on the censers and the tinkling goat bells, the noisy chaos of Athens, the silence of the countryside, the rush of the sea, the smell of the herbs and the incense – and the Greek light, that all-penetrating, all-illumining light.
I’ll try to tell you about it all, but I’m no poet, so you’ll have to use your imagination a lot. You can go to Google Images and see much of what I’ll describe, insofar as little pictures can do it. On You Tube you can hear many goat bells and some Greek church bells.
Here, for example, are the wonderful bells of Philotheou Monastery on Mount Athos:
I’ll explain the odd clacking at the beginning when we visit Mount Athos in a few weeks.
You want goats?
Too bad they haven’t invented Google Smell for the scent of the herbs and the incense – not the goats.
And… and… oh, let’s just go to Greece and see for ourselves.
Next time: 1985 – My First Trip to Greece and my First Encounter with Saint Nicholas