Day trip to the Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner at Serres (II)

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The courtyard behind the main church

Photo Gallery (II) – Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner – Serres, Greece

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The bell tower

In the bottom of a ravine on Mt. Menikion, 8 kilometres north of Serres lies the Monastery of Timios Prodromos (Venerable Forerunner). Since 1270 when the monastery was founded by Saint Ioannikios from Serres and later taken over by his nephew Saint John, this holy monastery has offered tremendous help in the spiritual and ethnic struggles of Hellenism.

A University school operated within the monastery for 300 years where many people graduated as doctors, teachers, priests, etc. The first Patriarch after the fall of Constantinople, Gennadius Scholarius, lived as a monk in the monastery and remained there until his death. His grave is found in the Mesonyktiko of the monastery’s church.

A great deal of the monstery’s destruction was caused by the Bulgarians during their raids in 1917 and in 1941. Most of the monks were killed, and the consecrated vessels and a vast array of manuscripts and books were stolen. Recently the stolen treasures were found in Sofia, Bulgaria, but have yet to be returned to the monastery. After the second raid and the killing of its monks, the monastery was left in ruins. However, with God’s help, the monastery became a convent in 1986. From then onwards, the new sisterhood has continued the Orthodox tradition passed on by the Fathers of the monastery, not only in the restoration of the ruined buildings but even more, in offering the pious people who visit, all the spiritual aid they yearn for.

 

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The bell tower

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A smaller church

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Another small church

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In front of a kelli, ie cell

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Old doors

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Unrestored area

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Area under restoration

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The museum of the monastery is rich, in spite of the pillage of 1917

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Ecclesiastical items from the museum

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Old kitchenware

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Bells and cowbells

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Old chests and irons

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Bakery tools

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The main entrance of the monastery

 

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For Day Trip, Part I, go here

 

 

 

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Day trip to the Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner at Serres (I)

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The Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner is 7 miles away from the city of Serres, in Northern Greece. The monastery was founded by Saint Ioannikios, an athonite monk, at the end of the 13th Century.

A photo gallery of a day of blessed fellowship at the Timios Prodromos Monastery together with friends, which were spiritual children of + Elder Eusebios Vittis . Memory Eternal +

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To all my New Calendar friends: Happy Synaxis of St John the Baptist.
To all my Old Calendar friends: Merry Christmas. с праздником. 
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The Serbian armies partially destroyed the monastery in 1345.

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Saint Gennadius Scholarius, Patriarch of Constantinople, retired here between 1457 and 1462. The school of the Monastery was famous and the library was so rich in manuscripts that the monastery was called “of the Grammarians”.

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In 1917, the Bulgarian Army pillaged the monastery, stealing over 200 manuscripts, 1800 old printed books and other treasures, now found in museums all over Europe.

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After the Second World War, the monastery became deserted. It got repopulated by nuns in 1986. In 2010, part of it burned to the ground. The reconstruction work still continues to day.

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Pavilion with old fountain with holy water, now serving as flowerpot

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Old inscription

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Old relief

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There are many springs redirected to the monastery courtyard

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Twelve kilometres northeast of Serres, to the west of a deep ravine Mountain Menikiou, is located the Monastery of St. John the Baptist, one of the historical monasteries and most beautiful monasteries in Macedonia, Greece and one of the major centres of Orthodox monasticism in the Balkans. The natural beauty surrounding the monastery is just breathtaking. The Holy Monastery of Timios Prodromos of Serres is a pilgrimage of stunning beauty.

The establishment of the Monastery in 1270 and its long history testifies the culture, tradition and the rich spirituality of Byzantium, and is an astonishing monument of Byzantine art.

The monastery was built in 1270 AC by Ioannikios, who served as bishop os Ezeve (Dafni). Afterwards, his nephew, Joakim Metropolite of Zihni, during the year 1300 surrounded the nunnery with high, solid walls and endowed it with royal donations (monastery dependency and land).

In 1345 AC the land belonging to the nunnery was almost destroyed by the invasion of the Serbs. Only due to Helen wife of the Serbian Krali Stefanos Dousan, the area wasn’t destroyed.

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The main church (the katholikon) is devoted to Saint John the Forerunner

During the Turkish domination, the nunnery had the great honour of welcoming the first Patriarch Gennadios Scholarios after the fall of Constantinople. According to history, Gennadios was Patriarch for three years, from 1453 to 1457 and then he resigned and came to the Nunnery. In 1462 he was invited to the Patriarchal throne for the second time, which lasted only for one year. In 1464 he returned to the Patriarchal throne for the third time, but he was replaced by Joasaph the 1st, not having even completed one year and as a result, he returned to the Nunnery, where he died in 1472. According to tradition, Gennadios grave was in the middle part of the Catholic church of the Nunnery, close to the graves of the founders. The removal of his relics took place in May of 1854 and now are placed in a box. Close to the tomb there is a marble sign, engraved with an honourable epigram by the poet Helias Tantalidis, which was sent by the Patriarchate of Constantinople, at the time of the removal of the wise Patriarch’s relics.

The nunnery has been the centre of a constant painting movement. There are icons of the 14th century, some of the most interesting in our country and also beautiful wall paintings from the year 1630. There is also an incredible icon screen made out of walnut wood and very artistically engraved in 1804.

In the square ancient tower of the nunnery, that was converted into a library, there were 100 hand-written volumes in vellum, 200 hand-written volumes in paper, 1500 volumes of different kinds of books, 4 golden bulls of Byzantine emperors, in vellum, 5 patriarchal sigils, 4 old codes and many other religious articles that were stolen by the Bulgarians during 1913 and 1917.

Since the early years of its establishment enjoyed the favour of the Byzantine emperors. With donations and the grants acquired considerable wealth and quickly developed into an essential monastic centre.

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The narthex of the katholikon

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The narthex of the katholikon. Carved detail.

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The narthex

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Postbyzantine fresco from the narthex: The Life giving Spring

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Postbyzantine fresco: The Last Judgement

The main temple is stone built, and there are many Byzantine frescoes. The iconostasis is carved and dates back to 1804. In the cathedral, magnificent frescoes are preserved belonging to different chronological phases and in various stylistic trends from the 14th century onwards — a living museum of Byzantine and post-Byzantine art.

The Cathedral is a monument of Byzantine hagiography, whose frescoes are attributed to Macedonian hagiographer M. Panselinos. Along with the surviving pictures, heirlooms, manuscripts and other objects of miniaturisation, they all give a complete picture of the artistic and intellectual radiation experienced by the monastery since its inception to date.

The operation of a Greek school since 1825 and a Seminary from 1869 confirmed the name rightly won as a “Monastery of Literature”.

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The entrance to the nave

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Inside the main church

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Jesus Christ the Saviour, icon fom the iconostasis

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Mother of God, icon fom the iconostasis

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Fresco from the main church

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Christ before Pontius Pilate, fresco from the main church

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The Burial of Christ, fresco from the main church

The age of the monastery, the permanent residence of thirty nuns and the large turnout of believers led to the need for reconstruction of the new Catholic, built in the architectural standards of the Byzantine monasteries.

Since 1986, there have been nuns in the Monastery,  mostly university graduates who chose poverty, chastity and obedience over careers, relationships and motherhood, who came from the Monastery of Panagia Odigitria of Volos and are under the obedience of Elder Efraim of Arizona. The life of nuns is dedicated to worship, reading, and working in the monastery. In addition to their attendance at church, the sisters spent several hours in private prayer and meditation. Often people struggle with the idea of a young woman, even a college graduate, entering religious life: “It seems so different to be readily accepted by others. For several years my parents didn’t recognise it… However, it was a conscious choice through internal need” (Νun Iosephia).

The monastic community is engaged with various daily work and chores: cooking, raising the necessary supplies of vegetables and fruits, producing wine, oil and honey, embroidery, iconography and so many others.

The fraternity under the guidance of Αbbess Fevronia makes every effort to reconstitute the complex with remarkable results. The old distillery of Monastery wine now forms a small cosy museum. On December 13, 2010, the monastery was hit by a fire that destroyed the hospice, the old showroom, the guest room and other buildings. The 30 nuns are trying hard to reconstruct the building complex of the Monastery which was ruined in 1986. Since then, the monastic community in cooperation with the Authority of Byzantine Antiquities in Kavala has undertaken the work of conservation and restoration of the monastery.

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Saints Archangels Michael and Gabriel, old tempera on wood

A Brief History of the Timios Prodromos Monastery

The katholicon (main church) was built in the 14th century and belongs to the single-aisled domed type with lite, narthex, exonarthex and an oblong roofed portico on the south side (Makrynariki)

On the north side are two chapels and the belfry. The rest of the buildings are organized around the katholicon: cells, abbot’s quarters, school, refectory, library, hostel. The wall paintings of the katholicon were executed in 1300-1333 and were continued in several periods, by various artists.

The monastery was founded in 1275-1278 by Monk Ioannikios from Serres and a few years later it was renovated by his nephew, Ioakeim, bishop of Zichne. It soon developed to an important monastic centre with great financial prosperity, because it was favoured by the Byzantine emperors. Patriarch George Scholarios (Gennadios) died here and was buried in the katholicon.

As the spiritual centre of Hellenism in eastern Macedonia, during the Balkan wars the monastery of Timios Prodromos (Saint John the Baptist) provoked the fury of the Bulgarians, who took pains to strip it of its historic treasures. Greek historical documents and in particular the monastic library were carried off to Sofia in their entirety in 1912. The quest for these invaluable sources of Macedonian history has since occupied, as it continues to occupy, much scholarly research.

The monastery, still functioning today, acquired its final form with the addition of many buildings during the Turkish occupation.

In the years between 1972 and 1986 the roofs of several buildings were repaired. Since 1986 restoration has been carried out at the cells of the east wing and at the north wing.

This is the most important monastery of Serres (Serrhai).

 

 

Pilgrimage to Evia

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Synaxis of All Saints of Euboea (Evia)

Blessed New Year 2019! May He who is the Alpha and Omega Christ our True God grant us every strength and all virtues necessary for our salvation in this year of His grace 2019. May we honour our calling and chosen way as Christians. Soon, I will start uploading lots of stories and photographs from a recent pilgrimage to Euboia.


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St. Iakovos Tsalikis and St. David of Evia

Monastery of Saint Hilarion, Bishop of Meglin

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Back to Greece, for yet another long pilgrimage. And yes, Greece can be foggy like England. 

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Our pilgrimage starts at a historic monastery, dating back to  the 12th century, located one kilometer from Promahi village (Aridaia, Greece), founded by St. Hilarion of Meglin (Feast Day – October 21). 

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St. Hilarion was born of eminent and devout parents in that same village of Promahi, in the late 11th century. His childless mother had long prayed to God that He grant her a child, and in accordance with her prayer, the Most Holy Theotokos appeared to her and comforted her with the words: “Do not grieve, you will give birth to a son and he will turn many to the light of truth.” When Hilarion was three years old, the hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth!” was constantly on his lips. He was well-educated, was tonsured a monk at age eighteen, and founded this monastery dedicated to the Holy Apostles, based on the Rule of Saint Pachomios.

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These days, the monastery is an austere women’s monastery with 5 nuns under the obedience of Hieromonk Paisios, a spiritual child of St. Paisios. Vespers here is otherworldly in its beauty.

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Saint Hilarion of Meglin’s lifelong struggle and contribution to the Orthodox Church was against the Bogomils. Because of Hilarion’s prayers and exhortations, many of the Bogomils abandoned their teachings and converted to Orthodox Christianity. It is noted in the thirteenth century Markianos Code, Codex 524, that during his burial service, myrrh streamed continually from his eyes and that he later appeared on many occasions in visions to the monks of the monasteries to strengthen them in their monastic duties.

O Venerable Father Hilarion, intercede with Christ God to save our souls.

Born to Hate Reborn to Love

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A Spiritual Odyssey from Head to Heart

The Incredible Tale of Klaus Kenneth

(Not for the faint-hearted) 

A friend recommended this book and its author last Sunday, and I have no words to describe the experience! I am half-way through the book and still reeling from the shock of the reading experience, chapter after chapter. And I believed that “The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios” by Dionysios Farasiotis was scary… Nothing had prepared me for this. Klaus Kenneth, emotionally and physically abused by family and priests, a gang leader at 12, a terrorist at 22 and a junkie at 25; then, a Buddhist monk, a Hindu mystic and an occultist in Central America, and this is only a chapter in his life. In his sincere search for escape from rejection and abuse, Klaus found himself on an odyssey that took him around the world several times, lured him into a vortex of pleasure and power, and initiated him into the great philosophies and religious traditions of our times. Having tried it all, and reaching the very brink of the abyss of despair and the desire for nonexistence, Klaus encounters the One whom he had never thought to look for, the One that he had always discounted: the great I AM, the God of Love and healing, the God of regeneration and eternal life.

“Do not fear!” “In my Name you will always be stronger!”

“To this day, I have never again experienced fear or doubt, and certainly no real despair.”

In that whirlwind of spiritual seeking, in all this frenetic searching for something more in his words, I believe he elaborated on his darker moments a little too much. I understand that he was trying to make his life an open book, but some of his experiences of power that he gained from Satan could serve as a temptation to readers. Eventually, Mr. Kenneth made right with God and we learn that he ultimately became an Orthodox Christian. At least, “The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios” is written with more restraint. I am honestly not sure if that is a book to be recommended, as the first part of his book reads like a visit to Hell in graphic detail. Or, like “the difficult road out of hell”. It has honestly scared me. I mean, it is certainly most encouraging that after his conversion and Christ’s promise to him “Do not fear!” “In my Name you will always be stronger!”, Klaus “to this day, has never again experienced fear or doubt, and certainly no real despair.” Yet, the reading is not for the faint-hearted. Half-way through the book, I am certainly looking forward to his extended talks with Elder Sophrony. In fact, it was under the guidance and prayers of Elder Sophrony that this version of his book came to be published, so who am I really to voice any objections for certain parts which I have found disturbing … Have you read this book and what are your views?

Another thing which I made me uneasy was all this personal, Confession tone of the narrative, something that one does not find in Orthodox discourse where a person’s personal experiences are not the centre of the discourse, but the church experience instead. This personal tone may be quite common in Protestant discourse but not in Orthodox. However, if we approach all this with positive thinking, there is so much for us to profit. Yes, Klaus Kenneth may be extreme, but so is Elder Sophrony, and so many other Saints.

For an interview with the writer, go to Journey to Orthodoxy here and for his precious talks with Elder Sophrony here.

Monastery of St. Savas the New of Kalymnos

I discovered Saint Savas and his monastery during my recent pilgrimage to Kalymnos. It is an awe-inspiring place , a place one step below heaven. Iconography beyond aesthetic, historical and religious value and the Saint is so alive! The patron saint of the island, Agios Savvas, has performed miracles and has blessed homes all over the world.

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Inside his cell

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For two episodes from his life and his special relationship with Saint Nektarios, go to my previous blog post, Holy Father Savvas the New of Kalymnos 

 

 

Holy Father Savvas the New of Kalymnos

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During my recent pilgrimage to Patmos, on my way back through Kalymnos, I venerated the incorrupt relics of an amazing ascetic and Saint of the “latter days”, our Holy Father Savvas the New of Kalymnos. I even spoke to people whose parents confessed to him and remember with tears his love, compassion and angelic purity. 

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I would like to share here two episodes from his life which made a big impression on me (recorded in the monastery’s edition of his life):

 

In Athens he met the acolyte of Saint Nektarios, who informed him that Saint Nektarios was looking for him. Based on this fact, it is assumed that the two saints had met before; in fact, most biographers agree that St Savvas was St. Nektarios’ spiritual child. Therefore, he went from Athens to Aegina in 1919, where he was with Saint Nektarios until he reposed. There he served as a priest in the Convent of the Holy Trinity. He taught the nuns iconography and ecclesiastical music. Upon the repose of Saint Nektarios in 1920, Savas witnessed the first miracle of the Saint when, after his repose, St. Nektarios leaned over so that St. Savas could attire him with his epitrahelion [ie. stole], and then the Saint returned back to his previous rigour mortis (ie. postmortem rigidity). St. Savas performed the funeral and for the first three nights he continued his communication with St. Nektarios over his grave, asking him a number of questions and listening to his answers! St. Savvas’ biographers have recorded those facts from first-hand witnesses and the stunned nuns’ testimonies.
Then, St. Savas enclosed himself in a cell for forty days where he lived in strict prayer and fasting, and emerged holding an icon of Saint Nektarios he had painted, which was the first icon of the Saint to exist. He gave the icon to the abbess ordering her to offer to the faithful for veneration. The abbess told him that this was not possible, as St Nektarios had not been yet officially canonised despite his numerous miracles from the very first moment of his repose and that such an action was not prudent and might get them in trouble with the ecclesiastical authorities and even cause the shutting down of the monastery. But St. Savas insisted that “You must obey. Take this icon and offer it for veneration and do not scrutinise God’s Ways”.
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The second episode too happened again in Aegina. A young nun, Nektaria, wanted to see for one last time the face of St. Nektarios after his repose and started digging stealthily his tomb. The other nuns caught her in the act and reported her to the Abbess. She rebuked her and then sent her to St. Savas. He too rebuked her sternly and told her that her action was called grave-robbing and she should not receive Holy Communion until Holy Thursday. The young nun started to cry and beg for forgiveness, telling St. Savas that she did not know that what she had been doing was wrong and sinful. As soon as she left St. Savas’ cell, St. Nektarios appeared to St. Savas, smiling,  and told him: “Elder, forgive her. She is very young. She didn’t know, she didn’t know that this was a sin. Offer her Holy Communion on Holy Thursday. Actually, offer her Holy Communion before Holy Thursday. Did you hear, Elder? Have mercy on her. She did not know. Did you hear? Thank you.”

 

 

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Let us faithful praise Holy Savvas, the glory and protector of Kalymnos, and peer of the Holy Ascetics of old; for he has been glorified resplendently as a servant of Christ, with the gift of working miracles, and he bestows upon all God’s grace and mercy.
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Today the island of the Kalymnians celebrates your holy memory with a rejoicing heart; for it possesses as truly God-given wealth, your sacred body that has been glorified by God, O Father Savvas, approaching which they receive health of both soul and body.
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Rejoice, thou new star of the Church, the offspring of Thrace and the beauty of Kalymnos, O God-inspired Savvas, fellow citizen of angels and equal of all the saints.

 

 

You contended with the saints of old Savas,
And are glorified with them by your numerous miracles.

This angel on earth and a human in heaven was born in 1862 Herakleitsa, Eastern Thrace, Ottoman Empire and reposed in our Lord on 7 April 1947 (aged 85). He lived as a monastic and practiced the arts of Iconography and Ecclesiastical Music in the Saint Anna’s Skete (Mount Athos), the historic Monastery of Saint George Chozeba, the Convent of the Holy Trinity (Aegina), the monastery of St John the theologian and Evangelist (Patmos) and the Convent of All Saints (Kalymnos) and a number of caves and hermitages all over the world.  His feast day is 7 April (25 March), The Fifth Sunday in Lent and was canonised in 1992.

For those who have never heard of him, a synopsis of his life can be found at the Mystagogy Resource Page.