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Real Break Thessaloniki. II - Monday (3/13/17)

Today the Lord blessed us again and first with His light, shining over the mountains this morning in Thessaloniki as we made our way to Vergina to visit the tomb of Philip II father of Aleksander the Great.

Learning about this country's rich cultural history we enjoyed their care for the past. Following a wonderful snack from the woman's group of our hosting parish (food from the Greek Baba's!) we began our ascent up the mountains by a valley that once was the home of 50 monasteries and 2000 monastics, it was here we visited St. John the Forerunner and Baptist's monastery where St. Gregory Palamas lived for five years in a cave praying to God to give light to his darkness.

We were welcomed into the main church by Fr. Panteleimon a monk of the monastery. Here he brought out the relics of many of the Saint John's, from Chrysostom, Climacus to even St. Clement who coauthored the old Slavonic alphabet in the 800's with St. Cyril. With the saints as our relatives in the Faith, Fr. Panteleimon began sharing stories of their lives, as if they were our great great grandfathers having fought in the spiritual war and as atheletes and victors they are celebrated in the icons. Father told us though they look serious in these holy images they are joyful people and he invited us to greet these saints who are very much alive in the house of God and showing reverence we prayerfully made our way to St. Gregory's cave. This area reminded us about Camp Nazareth and the church in Mercer.

We passed a waterfall and winding trails, everything spoke of God's love for us and seemed to have His signature. Though our hearts wanted to stay we continued on even higher into the snowy mountain tops where another beautiful church was built honoring the Virgin Mary and her care for many Greek people who were forced out of Turkey because of the persecutions in the early 1900's. It is Panagia Soumela and again we were welcomed to venerate many relics and the clergy to the altar area where the icons told the story in the dome and walls, the story of God's love and compassion.

After Lunch near by we visited a place where St. Paul the Apostle taught in Beroea as we read in the book of Acts 17:10-15.

We soon came home in a bus of singing college students from America enjoying making new friends, speaking freely of their faith and a desire to know more. Greek Byzantine hymns and a staple Carpatho-Russian prayer to the Panagia were offered in her church filling the space with thanksgiving for such an opportunity.

Our hosting priest, Fr. Spyridon told us just the other day, when we were walking and sightseeing the best sight is the human person, it is the most beautiful sight. This was so true in the Liturgy that began our trip. A Church over 1500 years old was no museum, it became alive when the prayers where offered and the faithful came forward to receive the Eucharist, to light a candle, to honor God.

We are striving to bring this Gift into the streets we walk and God-willing on the plane home back to our families, parishes and communities. Amen!

Fr. Jonathan

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The students were all smiles as they awoke to a new day in Thessaloniki.
Boarding the bus on the way to Vergina.
Fr Spyridon addresses the group.
Entering the tomb of Philip II father of Alexander the Great.
Enjoying the snacks provided by the "Greek Babas"
Enjoying the snacks provided by the "Greek Babas"
Animal Crossing!
Taking a break on the mountainside.
St John The Forerunner Monastery.
St John The Forerunner.
Fr. Panteleimon offers words of welcome in the main monastery Church.
The students were captivated by the inspirational words of Fr. Panteleimon.
Relics of the saints.
Venerating the relics.
Sign pointing to the cave of St Gregory Palamas.
Hiking the trail.
Walking very carefully!
The opening of the cave.
Panagia Soumela Church
Miracle-working precious Icon, Gospel, & Cross, once buried during Turkish persecution, now in the Church for veneration.
"Apostle Paul's Podium" - Where he taught and preached in Beroea.
The RB Team in front of The Apostle Paul Podium.
"Decisions, decisions, so many holy places, where to go first!"