Good morning! What an amazing sabbatical we have been on. Each day is a new adventure and we are truly feeling so blessed to be on this journey. I miss home, friends, and family, but want to enjoy every single minute of this gift.
Today begins the second day that Brent is on Mount Athos and I am in a beautiful hotel. Brent has texted me a few times and is enjoying his time on the mountain. He is housed in a monk’s cell or small room and it is hot. No air or fan. Better for praying. 🙂
I am enjoying my time here in my Thessaloniki hotel. It has a large outside pool and is along the Aegean Sea with a beautiful walkway. I maybe outclassed myself. Being away from home for two months and living out of a suitcase has had its challenges. Today I am hoping to get a pedicure and do something with my hair. Brent was a great hair dresser last time but I think I will try something different today.
Brent was correct in packing light. I have way too much stuff! Thankfully the hotel in Athens was willing to hold two of our suitcases while we traveled north. One is filled with scubaneers (sourvenirs). Gracie calls them scubaneers – and I love it. We have washed out our clothes in the bathroom sink and hung them out to dry. I am really sick of my outfits and definitely tired of Brent’s three shirts. Look back at the pictures. He has a black t-shirt, a pink button down and a beige/green/grey shirt that is back in Athens. Gotta love the guy! Two pairs of pants and a swimsuit. He is set. I think he was actually meant for a monastery.
The weather has been hot and dry. Not one day of clouds or rain. Our skin is brown and we are still excited to wake up each day. On the 15th we head back to Athens, repack, and on the 16th head off to a tour of the Peloponnese portion of Greece. Here are some of my secular surprises:
- You can usually find someone who speaks basic English if you try hard enough. But don’t assume. People appreciate when you say the basic phrases in Greek.
- Brent was a Greek minor and history minor. He enjoys reading Greek out loud – every billboard sign, menu, advertisement, etc. He peppers our guides with historical questions and can’t seem to get enough of the culture. He is fun to travel with because of his natural curiosity. (The reading out loud can get a little annoying)!
- The food is good. I’m not a real adventurous eater and I’m not always sure exactly what I am eating.
- We get minimal English on TV. We usually have one channel of English and sometimes BBC. I have watched some old episodes of Castle and Scandal. 🙂
- I have lost three pairs of glasses already. Thankfully, not my prescription ones which are back in Athens, but sunglasses, and two pairs of reading glasses.
- Life here slows to a crawl between 4:00 and 7:00. It must be “Siesta” time. Dinner begins around 9:00 and the towns seem to come alive. Young families are out and about, walking and talking with friends and community. It is quite a fun atmosphere, with small kiosks for selling items like cotton candy, corn on the cob, water, and nuts.
Brent is back!
My big adventure to Mount Athos. When I work up at 4:30 on Monday, my backpack had a few items of clothing and my paperwork for access (thank you Bishop Clements for your letter to the Ecumenical Patriarch to help me get access to this place) and a few books to read. This was a big adventure because it was not a given that I would gain access to Athos and I only had sketchy info on where I was going.
I took a taxi to the bus station and got a bus ticket and rode for two hours to the port city of Ouranopoli where I followed monks (they are easy to pick out of a bus) to the Mount Athos Authority where they reviewed my paperwork which was in order! Thankfully, I met a man from Lebanon who spoke English and he showed me where to get the ferry ticket (I had no reservation) yet I got on the boat. We traveled by Sea for an hour before it was my stop at the Xenophontos Monastery. This place is over 1000 years old located right on the Aegean Sea. I hopped off with about 6 others, none of whom spoke English.
I followed them to guest house and after 3 hours of waiting, I got a small cell/room by myself with a single bed with one stiff sheet, a pillow, a small desk and a chair. The room was 6 x 6 with a small window looking into a brick alley. A monk told me the schedule: today – prayers in the church at 6 pm, followed by prayers in the small chapel at 7 pm, dinner at 8 pm and evening prayers at 8:30 pm. Tomorrow, prayers begin at 4 am – 7 am; followed by prayers in another chapel at 7-8 am followed by breakfast. BTW – how did I wake up for worship at 4? First they ran a bell at 3:50 am. Then at 4:00 am, a monk walked around the campus making a knocking sound by hitting a board with a wooden mallet. Then he returned using mallet and board every 30 minutes there after.
What did I do besides this? Few people spoke English so that was out. It was hot outside and almost as hot in my cell so I stayed in my cell, read, prayed and journaled. This was a time of soul searching for me as well as time to reflect on this sabbatical thus far. To be honest, I was miserable at times because I was so sweaty and hot. By the second day, journaling was very helpful and I am beginning to feel renewed in my relationship with God! This was my purpose in coming. At times this felt like a desert or wilderness and at other times an oasis. In the end, I was so blessed to have come to Xenophontos.
On the last night I did make some new friends from Athens and from Slovenia: an emergency room doctor, a corporate and criminal lawyer with his own firm, and a manager of the parking garages in Athens. Waiting for the ferry to leave on Wednesday, we grew in our friendship and I rode back to the hotel with them, telling stories, laughing and singing songs.
A quick word on meal time (8 am and 8 pm each day): the first dinner was warm peas, all food and drinks served in metal bowls and cups. The salad was the same each day, cold cooked zucchini cut up and in a bowl. There was day old sour dough bread and water to drink. Breakfast was couscous and rice putting. Yes, no meat at any meal. No talking as we sat on benches while a monk read scripture in Greek.
When I look back on my adventure I see how God helped me find just enough people who spoke English and knew where I was to go for each step of the way, and I made it there and back again. Will I ever do it again? Maybe. I learned some things about myself that need changing and I was reminded of some things about God I had lost touch with as well as some new things in our relationship. I could not ask for anything more!