Day 46, Thessaloniki & Ouranoupolis
Photos by Fr Michael Butler, Jun 29, 2011Vodpod videos no longer available.
[Thursday, 30 June 2011]. I slept in a little this morning, and after bathing very carefully in the shower-without-walls-or-curtains, I had breakfast with an American who had grown up in Thessaloniki and learned a great many things about the city from him. (Also, one very good traveler’s tip: put your clothes on the shower floor when you bathe; the soap and shampoo will do them good, and they’ll get clean as you stomp them. They’ll only need a good rinse at the end.)
I walked around the city this morning, going first to the “Metropolia,” the cathedral church of the city, which is dedicated to St Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki (died ca. 1360). Liturgy for the Synaxis of the 12 Apostles was in progress, but I found the chapel with the reliquary of St Gregory Palamas, paid my respects, and then, once the Liturgy was finished, took pictures of the church.
I then walked up Hagia Sophia Street, where I found the Church of Hagia Sophia, which housed the relics of St Gregory the Confessor, Archbishop of Thessaloniki; and the similarly ancient church of Panagia Acheiropoietes (dedicated to the Icon of the “handless” Mother of God; Google it for the story). Here, there was only a Cross in the apse of the church, not an icon, and I tried to ask the man who was cleaning the candle stands if the Cross dated to the Iconoclastic period (when the Cross was the only acceptable decoration). He led me to the parish priest, who spoke good English, and who served me traditional hospitality: Greek coffee, a glass of water, and a cheese pita he had handy. I learned some things about the church, and that all the churches in the city had been turned into mosques for 500 years by the Turks. I received a few small Icons as a parting gift and made my way back to St Demetrios’s Church.
The crypt in St Demetrios was open, and I went down. It seems the most ancient shrine to the Saint was the prison cell where he was stabbed to death on the emperor’s orders, and there, directly under the altar of the present church, is the place they believe it took place. The church was built over the site some 200 years after his death, but an ancient “ciborioum” was apparently found, and this marks the traditional spot of his martyrdom.
After paying my respects to St Demetrios in his reliquary up in the church one final time, I packed what I needed for Athos into my backpack, left my suitcase at the hotel, took two buses out of town and some 3 ½ hours later arrived in the port city of Ouranoupolis, where I now sit in the paradise of a Greek resort town, with a room overlooking the ocean. I have located the Holy Office where I will get my papers at 7:30 in the morning, the dock and the boats to Athos, where I will board at 9:45 am, and from there will be on my way to a week on the Holy Mountain. I don’t think I’ll have any means of communication while I’m there, but, who knows? God may provide. I arrive back in Thessalonica on Thursday evening, 6 July, and will doubtless post something then, if not before.
Be well and pray for me, as I will pray for you, on the Holy Mount Athos, the Garden of the Theotokos, whose protection may we enjoy.