Panagia Laodigitria

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Church of Panagia Laodigitria or Panagia Lagoudiani in Thessaloniki

According to a byzantine legend, a miraculous incident occurred in the place where the church of Panagia Lagoudiani [Rabbit place] or Laodigitria [Virgin Mary the People Leader] is built. A hunter looking for rabbit’s hiding place, put his hands in a burrow trying to cage the small animal. However, he drew up from the hole the miraculous icon of Panagia Tricherousa [the “Virgin with Three Hands] or Oglaitissa. During the Ottoman rule, the monastery was called “Tavsan Manastir”, that is “the monastery of the rabbits”.

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After this incident, a women’s monastery was built on this place and the central part of the monastery is today’s church. In the 15th century, it was the catholicon of a nunnery that was a dependency [Metochion] of Vlatadon Monastery (*)  According to another theory, the church took its name after the owner, Lagoudatos [Rabbit Man], who lived in the 14th century. In any case, this historical church is a rare archaeological gem and a monument of the post-Byzantine period  (1453-1800).

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The origins of the name “Laodigitria” is unknown but many researchers agree on byzantine sources of the 12th century when the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki mentioned the following: “…η Πάναγνος Θεομήτωρ η παρ ημιν του οδηγείν επώνυμος” [Virgin Mary, Mother of God, lead us…” Laodigitria Theotokos, the Leader of the people, became together with Saint Demetrius, the woman patron saint of Thessaloniki.

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During the Turkish occupation, the monastery was offering social work, by granting near Monastery’s properties against symbolic price for the sheltering of poor Christian families. This system was called in Turkish “Itzare”, ie. an once-off symbolic “lump” sum and with the payment of instalments of similarly symbolic sums throughout their lifetime, so that the monastery retained the legal [‘bare’] ownership of the monastery’s real property since they beneficiaries were not allowed to sell them. This measure proved valuable for homeless families in hard times since the number of lodgings/houses was more than 20.

In 1802, the church was restored and renovated (Oct 27, 1802) through the sponsorship of the merchant Ioannis Kaftangoglou and became a three-aisled basilica with wooden ceiling and matroneum [gynaeconite; an upstairs gallery on the interior of a church, originally intended to accommodate women (whence the derivation from “matron”)], following the Macedonian ecclesiastic architectural standards of that era. Its most recent ktitor [ie. the founder] was Christos Georgiou-Menexes, from the province of Agiou Phanariou (Agrafa Thessaly) and from the village Megala Vraniana, +Memory Eternal of his parents. 

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The church keeps a significant number of 18th and 19th-century icons, together with a miracle-working icon of the Virgin Mary. In the chapel adjacent to the southern part of the church, is located the holy water fountain, hence another name for this church, that of the Life-Springing Fountain of the Theotokos (Life-Giving Font of the Theotokos) [Ζωοδόχος Πηγή]. The church celebrates on this Feast during Bright Week and also honours Holy NeoMartyr Alexander the Dervish from Thessaloniki, Laodigitria (+ 1794).

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As of today, the little city hermit will be chanting in this historic church, next to the Wonderworking Theotokos icon, an amazing blessing, honour and privilege. This was the first-ever church I visited as a young teenager, about 14 years old, for Confession, spiritual guidance and holy water, agiasma. + Father Panagiotis of blessed memory was my first priest confessor. So many memories! This church feels so much like home …. This blogpost is also beginning another blog series, that of Paleochristian and Byzantine monuments of Thessaloniki, since lots of fellow pilgrims all over the world are asking me about Thessaloniki’s churches and monasteries.

*. The Monastery of Vlatadon is located on the northern side of Ano Poli of Thessaloniki, close to the castle walls with a magnificent view to the city. This small monastery is built on the site where St Paul is believed to have preached to the Thessalonians, was founded in the mid-14th century and has been in continuous use since then. But more about this byzantine monument at another blogpost.

New Year’s Resolutions

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“Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt” (Matthew 2:13)

“The angel commands us, as he did Joseph. ‘Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt’ (Matthew 2:13). That is to say: renounce your sin and your slackness; take into your soul the Jesus you saw at Bethlehem and Mary, whom you must never separate from her son; flee the evil and the temptations that surround you; set yourself a hidden, retired, silent life, a life of intimacy with the small child and his mother — and also with Joseph”. (Lev Gillet, The Year of Grace of the Lord, p73).

The life of the Holy Family, whether in Egypt or later on at Nazareth — what an inspiration and a model for us! This is a year I truly want to hide and disappear together with Him. God willing, the goal will be the first three rungs of Saint John Climacus Ladder of Divine Ascent: 1.On renunciation of the world–2.On detachment–3. On exile or pilgrimage.

Blessed New Year 2020 to all!

Your prayers

 

 

How to Deal with Someone You Can’t Stand Dealing with

The blessed eldress [our holy mother among the saints, Abbess Makrina of Portaria] always taught her sisters and those who came to her for spiritual advice to give glory to God for all things: for the so-called good and the so-called bad. Here is a story she related regarding this:

In one of the villages near her monastery there lived a pious couple who had a ten-year-old son. Their next-door neighbour was an old woman with an intolerable personality. She was constantly berating everyone, angrily and unfairly scolding her neighbours, and when their son would return from school she would throw sticks and stones at him.

One day the father turned to God with fervent prayer and decided to ask Him how to deal with that old woman’s bad temper. The Lord answered him, “She will live another thirty years!” And what was the man’s response to this news? He unmurmuringly said, “Glory to God!” He shared God’s answer with his wife and she likewise said, “Glory to God!” When the son came home from school and heard the news about God’s answer to his father’s prayer he also said, “Glory to God!”

The next day, total silence reigned in the old woman’s house. She did not go outside to pour out her wrath upon her neighbours. The father went to see how she was doing and discovered that she had apparently died in her sleep. He began to pray to God in order to understand how this could happen, and the Lord said to him, “When you answered, ‘Glory to God!’ I shortened her life by ten years. When your wife gave the same reply I took away another ten years. And when your son said the same thing and also glorified Me, I took away the final ten years of her life.”

 

Source: Lessons from a Monastery

Well done, thou good and faithful servant!

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+ 8/12/2019

Father Efraim of Arizona (1928-2019) has left this world to join his fellowship (Saint Efraim Katounakiotis, Saint Joseph the Caveman, Father Joseph from Vatopedi, Father Haralampos, Father Arsenios). He is at home now in eternal rest with his spiritual father and his Heavenly Father in Heaven. Imagine the joyous welcome he received in Paradise from Christ, Panagia, his mother, Saint Joseph and from all of the Saints!!!  

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Glory to the God who gave us Geronda Ephraim! May we always have his heavenly prayers and intercessions! Paradise rejoices in welcoming you!!! Thank you for sacrificing your entire life and bringing countless souls to Christ!!! Kalo Paradiso!!! 

Like Elder Gregorios Papasotiriou

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γεροντασ γρηγοριοσ παπασωτηριου

Like Elder Aimilianos Simonopetra

υστατο χαιρε γεροντα αιμιλιανου

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So many “losses” in just a few months! May we, their orphans, meet them through their prayers in Heavens! Memory Eternal!

 

End of an era

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Christ is Risen! May Angels accompany you dear Father to your reward.

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The Monastery Diaries 5

A special commemoration diary and photo/video blog

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Dear brothers and sisters, Christ is in our midst.

This is going to be the most difficult post I have ever attempted as it is about the repose of my spiritual father, + Elder Gregorios Papasotiriou, a spiritual child of Saint Paisios, Elder and Founder of the women’s monastery of St. John the Forerunner in Metamorphosis, Chalkidiki.

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Gerondissa Euphemia of St John the Forerunner Monastery, St Paisios in the middle, Elder Gregorios on the right. She was absent at the funeral, other than very briefly to pay her last respects to the Elder, as she is about 90 years old and very frail in her health

+Wednesday 20/11. The funeral service took place in the morning of the following day, after the vigil of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, such an appropriate day for our spiritual father’s departure from this life and entrance into the Heavenly sanctuary.

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St. Porphyrios, when Elder Gregorios once told him that he is well, told him “no, you are not”. “Indeed, I am”, Gerondas Gregorios insisted, but it was St Porphyrios who was right. Later, when St. Porphyrios visited him at his cell in Metamorphosis, his cell exuded a sweet fragrance for six days!

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In God’s kairos, I may write more about my memories with him. His orphans and why it feels this is an end of an era for us. I really ought to start from my University years, when I would take the bus through Polygyros [ie. etymology: lots of curves] notorious curves to the  Metamorfosi village, then walk all the way uphill through olive groves to the monastery of Saint John the Forerunner, meet Gerondas Gregorios for Confession and make absolutely no plans about my stay or who we were going to spend the day and the night together. Quite an adventure back in those days …

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On Thursday morning, the village and the hill were packed with more people than I have ever seen in my life. People from all over the world, clergy, monastics and lay people who had come to pay their last respects to a father they owned more than their lives. And yet all this crowd were my spiritual brothers and sisters, with whom we had travelled in the past a mile or two in our pilgrimage, and we all had so many memories to share. Many of his spiritual children, when he became gravely ill, were “sent” to Gerondas Theoklitos, the Elder and founder of the monastery of St Arsenios, another spiritual child of Saint Paisios. God’s Love unites us all.

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Such a crowd! The police were regulating the parking and the traffic, as only the priests’ and monastics’ cars were allowed all the way up to the monastery. All nearby hotels opened their rooms for free, and local people with minibuses helped people drive up and down the monastery.

The warmth of faith full of the Holy Spirit. Gerondas Gregorios was remembered in the following days at the proskomede and at the great entrance in churches and monasteries all over the world. Memory eternal.

“Christ is Risen!” What bright sorrow, χαρμολύπη! At the end of the Memorial, the nuns and monks present chanted the whole Paschal, Resurrectional Canon of St. Saint John of Damascus. 

“And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.” (John 17:11)

For a video of the funeral, go here

For more video footage and photos, go here and  here  

For some photos, see below

The Vigil and the Four Gospels

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The Procession Around the Monastery Main Church (Katholikon)

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Second on the left is Gerondas Theoklitos, who prayed the traditional 100-knot rope for the departed: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on your servant Hieromonk Gregorios”

The Grave and the Burial

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Elder Euphemius, the spiritual son of Blessed Gerondas Isaac Atallah. He is now the current Abbot of the Skete that Blessed Atallah founded on Mount Athos and the spiritual father of the nuns at St John the Forerunner Monastery.  As a dear Father pointed out to me, “I see him contemplating this holy mystery of Gerondas repose in his eyes and “being with ” Gerondas spirit and not separated from him.”

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Elder Euphemios was the only hieromonk with a purely white epitrahelion and he was leading all the services.

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For more photos, go here and here

 

The Monastery Diaries 2

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Christ is in our midst.

26 — 30 October

A retreat at the monastery of Saint John the Forerunner with Gerondas Gregorios, 45 monastics and about 5 guests. This is one of the most introvert, silent, strict, otherworldly monasteries I have ever been, where the emphasis is on the lesson of repentance. Yet, Gerondas Theoklitos’ word for me upon my return was to go there, only there and not anywhere else, and that as often as I can and as long as I can.

26-28/10

A chain of feasts! St Demetrius, Resurrection Sunday and +The Holy Protection of the Theotokos (28 Oct — Greek, not Slavic calendar) 

This is the third time I am celebrating this feast this year: once at Walsingham (1st October), the second in Holy Land (old calendar) and the third here at the Monastery of St John the Forerunner.

These are all major feasts and day of rest and all monastics have disappeared to their cells for more intensive study and prayer. An atmosphere of utter stillness, silence and quiet. One could hear only the birds and the bees basking in the sunshine. Such quietness and stillness of the day proved essential for my mind. Therapeutic and healing.

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Today was a regular day and after Matins and Holy Liturgy and our meal, we all engaged in various obediences. Mine was to clean both churches and after the second meal, help wash and cut lettuce.  Every day we take the blessing of Elder Gregorios who lives in a separate, remote cell in the monastery. Everything is so orderly and quiet compared to our lives! The blessings of obedience! 

This time, for the first-ever time, I am allowed access to the most ”private” wings and wards of the monastery. I am sure Gerondas Theoklitos’ request must have made a difference. I found this “privilege” very strange and became even more silent. I also felt a bit “scrutinised” by the otherworldly monastics, but maybe, I was too self-conscious. 

My biggest surprise though came after Little Compline when a monastic, Brother Philotheos asked my help in a translation matter! Our discussion soon expanded and lasted long for those very silent monastics. I think he wanted to become friends with me. I also think that I might end up with a new obedience very soon: help with the whole translation of a very long, 300-page book … This American Cypriot monastic ended up here 25 or so years ago… 

I was told that he was the nurse to another monastic I knew intimately for the last months of his life: + Brother Paisios. He spent a lot of time with him and this late brother spoke a lot about me, especially during his last months while I was away in the UK. He told Brother Philotheos that he loved me very much, suffered for my Cross, eagerly awaited my returns and prayed a lot for me, as he keeps praying now for me in Heaven. “Please pray for him as he is doing for you in Heaven.”

What a surprise! I mean I have been praying for him too and indeed was providentially present at his death and funeral (with Gerondas Gregorios by his side) at one of my very brief visits to Greece, but I knew nothing of all this! I had worked with this late brother Paisios on various publication/ translation projects but he was always so silent and immersed in prayer. He never told me anything about himself or asked me anything about myself. How very strange! How did he know things about my life?

Brother Paisios was an Oxford graduate who turned down their job offer to become a monk, a scholarly monk. How moving all this is! Our last project was + Brother Porphyrios’ 3 volume composition: monastic rule for a men’s monastery!

My stay at the monastery is becoming more «interesting » day after day … I am in tears, deeply moved by this message from the “other” side …

30/10

I am leaving early in the morning, spiritually refreshed, stronger, with a long list of errands for the monastery from Thessaloniki. It seems that I have unofficially become their “αποκρισάριος”, a Byzantine term for monasteries’ messengers, go-between, ambassadors, laypeople who undertook errands for them in the world and represented them, but I have not yet found its equivalent in English. Do you know how they call this “title” in English?

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15/11 A reader of this blog told me that the closest word to what I am looking for “αποκρισάριος” is “envoy

 

The Monastery Diaries 1

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Dear brothers and sisters,
Christ is in our midst!
My life back in Greece is still quite chaotic and hard, but Our Lord is showering me with His blessings. I got the blessing from my English little spiritual father, whose idea that blog was, to begin with, to share with you my life back in Greece, especially my monastery stays. So many of you wanted to know more about my life here. He told me “Yes, may it be a blessing for others”. Please forgive my unpolished style and my language errors but here is what happened on my first Sunday after our pilgrimage to Holy Land:

My new « parish » and my new « home » — Sunday diary 19/10/2019
So much and heavy housework and office work in-between!!!!
A humble antidoron to your many heart-warming emails:
“St. Arsenios’ monastery is currently 9 monks and one novice since they keep on recruiting new monasteries all over Europe. All the Fathers are very kind, most humble and hospitable. When I arrived at 5am the stillness and beauty of the night outside their katholikon was so full of holiness that it was spellbinding! One of the fathers, Fr. Nicodemus was leaving the monastery to serve a neighbouring village, and when he saw me like this, he gave me his blessing and told me to “put” all this nature doxology and beauty as the basis, the “ison” for the church services that were unfolding inside! On my way from Thessaloniki, I was saying the supplication to St. Arsenios and all the time in the monastery, I never stopped thanking him and St. Paisios for their hospitality. Both Saints are so alive and present here. Many faithful have literally seen them during vigils praying and St. Paisios is always kneeling before St. Arsenios, his spiritual father!
The services were of ineffable beauty and when they finished at about 9:15 am we all went inside the arhondariki for the homily of Gerondas Theoklitos, who thank God looked noticeably stronger now back at the monastery because I was really concerned with how frail and exhausted he looked during our pilgrimage. We must have been about 70 who stayed for the homily, although certainly a lot more for the services. Of course, when it is summer, the number doubles, triples…Then, at 11:00 Gerondas met some for Confession, and we were waiting for him together with a few more faithful, most of whom looked monastic oriented as if they were monks in the world or some in search of a monastery. While waiting, I met so many of the faithful we used to go on pilgrimages together 15-20 years ago, and our reunion was so moving! Again, more tears! They were asking me what had happened to my life, where had I disappeared?… As if I knew how to answer their questions! At some point, at about 12:30 Gerondas Theoklitos emerged out of the Confession chapel and made arrangements for our trapeza together. All the other monks had already had they Sunday meal while their Gerondas was doing Confessions. At first, this meal was very embarrassing as Fr Synesios was serving all 5 of us, a most humbling experience I can assure you, although I am sure a joy for him! The meal, a proper Sunday festive one, was in complete silence and at its end, Gerondas offered more words of spiritual guidance to us, and then the monastery fathers asked us to do a little Diakonia for them, so we all cleaned green beans together with Gerondas Theoklitos while reciting in turns the Jesus prayer! 2 big baskets of runner beans for the monks although father Synesios insisted we take all we want and just leave for them whatever remains!! What a beautiful holy Sunday! I feel so undeserving for such blessings!!! We left at about 3pm to allow some time to the Fathers to rest although they were so keen to offer us more hospitality and would not let us go … In the end, Gerondas Theoklitos asked each one of us 4 if we wanted to see him in private and one went inside the Confession chapel with him, but I told him that I did not need to because I had seen him yesterday. But what an opportunity to seek more guidance this way, every week! Oh, how much am I looking forward to all this for the coming Sunday! I cannot stop asking myself this question: why are we, me especially, offered so much love, why is God showering us/me with so many blessings, me the most undeserving one? I feel so humbled by all this experience! All that was prepared for me by God before setting my foot back here. Some pilgrims I met during this last pilgrimage in Holy Land told me about the possibility of sharing Sunday agape meal with Gerondas Theoklitos at his monastery. I have known Gerondas Theoklitos for over 20 years and have been together on a number of pilgrimages, but I was not aware of this possibility. Amazing divine providence!
My love and poor prayers in Christ
* Names and certain details have been changed for obvious reasons for all involved . All photos are from The Ascetic Experience blog… Please forgive me for this little “deception” and pray for me