Yet again, God blessed us with another day!
One of the goals of this Real Break Thessaloniki trip was to not treat the city as a museum but as a culture that is very much alive. From traveling to the high cliffs of Meteora where Heaven meets Earth to the deep caves of Delphi and original ground floors of Churches and even a river St. Paul baptized the first European St Lydia, we had a chance to see many “places and things.”
Today we had a chance to also meet some very saintly people who make these holy places come to life because of their Christian hearts. We were able to hear some words from Archimandrite Gervasios who is 86 years old and over the past 40 years has traveled to 90 countries helping serve and care for the forgotten and often ignored prisoners and helping release them from prison and if not physically, then spiritually. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 and has raised over 4 million Euros used to help those behind bars where He met with them and saw Christ in them when they could no longer see God in themselves. He shared a story of meeting a man who killed 6 people and of his story of repentance. At the Fr. Gervasios’ Prison Ministry center, there is considered the only church attributed to the Repentant Thief who hung from a cross to the right of Christ, we visited this sacred and special place of worship filled with the icons of many saints who were great sinners and found Christ and new life in Him.
Fr. Sypridon guided us today also and he too is a Christian with a great heart of love for those who have been marginalized, the deaf community of Thessaloniki. One day a parishioner asked if he would give the blessing to have an interpreter sign the Divine Liturgy and over time many deaf people began to attend his parish’s services and he was asked if he wanted to learn. After four years of studying Fr. Spyridon has become quite fluent in signing and offers Orthodox spirituality classes without words. He brought us to many places today sharing words of wisdom and a joke or two along the way with his very jovial and yet prayerful personality.
Please enjoy the photos of the churches and monasteries we experienced today, many this week have foundations from the 600’s and layers of iconography from various centuries to some being finished as we speak. Here are a few words from our students about how the have enjoyed their pilgrimage so far:
Sophia Kyrou: "One thing I found about icons that really stood had to do with the images of the martyrs. I felt overwhelmed by many emotions, seeing what the martyrs experienced, and in retrospect something so amazing about icons: they reminds us about our faith being so active. To fully understand Christ and Orthodoxy, we really need to be active in our faith and to seek out opportunities to understand it better and more fully. We need to know more about the people who make up the Church, not just the history. We learn the most not from merely spoken or written words but from peoples lives.
Tim Paproski: "I was impressed by those who taught - people other than Bishops and Priests. At St. Stephan’s monastery, we met Sr. Haralambia who was so profound in her teachings about the icons. At home there are parishioners and women who can help teach also. There has been a theme we see here in the city, that the lay folk are first in their knowledge and experience with the local customs, history and faith. I think this is something we should be comfortable with, being teachers of and with our faith in America. I think we are afraid to do this."
Noah:"We need a balance in life, a balance in-between being a community and being isolated, having an even pace, slow and steady wins the race. In addition to that , you are most comfortable when its not too hot and not too cold. God calls us to be steady and well balanced and even, and on Meteora the monks and nuns are up high enough they are between Heaven and Earth and right in the middle there. Its all about being well balanced."
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Our gracious host, Fr. Spyridon, leads us in morning prayer on the bus as we set out early
Together in the beautiful caves of Eastern Greece, where cave formations millions of year old demonstrated God's living creation
We traveled to the ancient monastery of Panagia Eikosifinissa, a living community of 1,500 years
The exterior of the Church at the monastery demonstrated the wealth of iconography this monastery holds
Fathers, leaders, and students gathered together to behold the beautiful iconography.
Students offered some assistance at the Monastery
Students & leaders were treated with great hospitality
Students & leaders were treated with great hospitality
Fr. Spyridon made journeys through the bus conversing with students and leaders
We traveled together to the archaeological site at Phillipi, the location where St. Paul was imprisoned (Acts 16:16-40)
Immediately following, we visited and prayed at the site of the Baptism of Lydia by Paul, his first European baptism
The interior of the Baptistry was immense, covered in gorgeous mosaic iconography and marble
To complete the evening, we traveled much further to the site of the Prison Ministry Organization, headed by the Nobel Prize-nominated Archimandrite Gervasios Ioan Raptopoulos
On site is the only known chapel dedicated to the Holy Thief of Golgotha, crucified with our Lord. As the thief on the right repented, so does the prison ministry assist others in repentance and recovery, knowing Christ to be for the sinners first.
Archimandrite Gervasios shared with students and leaders details of his ministry, of the 90 countries he has visited in over 40 years of service, and of the love of Christ he has come to know through the prisoners he has served
Archimandrite Gervasios and Father Spyridon share a quick embrace of words
Students and leaders were blessed to receive some gifts to bring home with them, including a book describing the ministry and an icon of St. Xeni