ΓΕΙΑ ΣΑΣ, ΦΙΛΟΙ! I apologize for the fact that I haven’t blogged in a few days, so I’m going to take the time now to catch up on what’s happened!
The day started off beautifully with Arkansas defeating St. John’s to qualify for the super regionals. Not too long after that win, we docked in Piraeus and immediately found our bus. We stopped at a rest stop for breakfast and then continued on to the Hosios Loukas Monastery. This monastery is famous for its frescoes, and these didn’t disappoint! Rachel gave a report on them as we went through the church. The church is named for St. Luke. He lived in the 8th and 9th centuries and was blessed with the gifts of healing and prophecy. His most famous prophecy was predicting the reconquest of Crete 20 years before it happened. His remains are still in the church (as well as St. Barbara’s). Several of the mosaics have interesting features. One where Jesus is washing the disciples’ feet shows both of everyone’s eyes besides Judas. In a crucifixion scene you see the blood of Jesus washing away Adam’s original sin with John and Mary looking on. In Christ Pantakrator you see Jesus holding the New Testament with one hand and making a sign of teaching with the other. In a resurrection scene, you can see Jesus pulling Adam and Eve out of their graves as well as trampling the gates of hell with David and Solomon looking on. In a baptism scene you see Jesus being baptized by John, but there is a river god looking on which shows the crossover between the Christian and pagan faiths. Finally in a fresco of Joshua, he is depicted dressed like a Byzantine emperor because that’s what they imagine when they think of a conquering military hero. We enjoyed a snack and then I gave my report on the Triumph of Christianity. Christians experienced mass persecution under Diocletian but then once Constantine took the throne things got better. Constantine sympathized with the Christians and did good works in the name of Christ. His most defining moment was seeing the cross in the sky before the Battle of Milvian Bridge – an important battle. He won that battle and from that time on he put the Chi-Rho on his men’s shields and they never lost again. This change wasn’t without controversy, though. Three councils had to be called. The first council was the Council of Nicaea where they determined that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit were all equal and wrote the Nicaean Creed. The second council was the Council of Ephesus and they determined that Mary was the mother of God, not just the Christ-bearer. The final council was the Council of Chalcedon where they determined that Jesus was both fully divine and fully human. I could go into more detail, but those are the high points of my report. Our final stop of the day was at Distomo – the site of a massacre by the Nazis during World War II. On June 10, 1944, the Nazis were fired on in a neighboring town. They went to Distomo and rounded everyone up and started executing them. They killed everyone they could find and then burned the whole town. 218 civilians were killed that day. This was an extremely sobering place. We then went to Delphi and our home for two nights. We walked down the street for dinner. I had a delicious lamb cooked in lemon sauce and served with fried potatoes and rice. The professors ended up paying for our meal which was totally unexpected but still very nice. I went back to my room and crashed because I was exhausted after another great day in Greece.
The monastic church
Relics of St. Luke
The beautiful mosaics of Hosios Loukas
Relics of St. Barbara
Monument at Distomo
Today we spent the day in Delphi. Of course, everyone knows that Delphi is famous for its oracle, so we went there first. Before we started, I drank some Kastalian Spring water which supposedly purified me. Going up to the temple, you see many interesting ΘΕΣΑΒΡΟΣ (thesaurus – literally translates to treasury). Many different city-states had them, and some had very interesting stories behind them. For example, Corfu’s treasury featured a bronze statue of a bull. As the story goes, the people of Corfu saw a bull bellowing. They went down to see what he was bellowing at and saw a school of tuna swimming by, but when they tried they couldn’t catch them. They consulted the oracle which told them to sacrifice the bull to Poseidon. They did that and caught all the tuna and used a tenth of the proceeds to make this bull statue and another bull statue in Athens. Another interesting story was that of the Spartans and Tageans. The Spartans set up a monument to their victory over the Athenians, and 40 years later the Tageans set one up immediately across from it to commemorate their victory over the Spartans. The Sikyon treasury housed the chariot of Kleisthenes – one of the victors of the first Pythian games. The treasury of Siphnos was the most ornate treasury because the people used a tenth of the proceeds from their gold and silver mines. We continued to work our way up and saw a column base for the Naxian Sphinx which is now housed in the museum. The island of Naxos gave this Sphinx and were granted promanteia (that is, they were allowed to go to the front of the line). We also saw an Omphalos, or a belly button, because people believed Delphi was the center of the world. We came to the Temple of Apollo and the Oracle which was of course fascinating. Kathryn gave an excellent report on it. The oracle spoke cryptically. The one given to the King of Lydia made him think he would win a battle because it just said a great empire would fall. He took that to mean the Persian Empire, but it really meant his. One of my favorite parts was her discussion of the last oracle given to Julian. He was trying to revive paganism, but this oracle basically told him that Christianity had triumphed. My other favorite part was the poem at the end written by Cavafy where he talks about the oracle given to Nero. This poem talked about the oracle that said “beware the age of 73” but Nero wasn’t worried because he was just 30. Little did he know that Galba, a 73-year-old man, was drilling his troops to eventually overthrow Nero (and he was successful later that same year). We eventually made it to the top of the climb and saw the stadium for the Pythian Games, one of four Panhellenic Games (the Olympics were the most famous). These games were dedicated to Apollo rather than Zeus. There was a cool inscription up there that read “It is forbidden to carry wine outside of the stadium. If he carries it out, so that the god for which the mix is made may be appeased, let the malefactor make an offering and let him pay the punishment of five drachmas and of this half to the one that denounced him.” We looked around the museum for a little while, enjoyed a gyro for lunch, and then moved on to our afternoon activity – a hike to the Corycian Cave. This was so beautiful. The cave is on Mount Parnassos, so Dr. Levine started the hike by saying “Let’s get our asses up Parnassos” so of course we cracked up at that. The cave was incredible. We saw an ancient inscription dedicated to ΠΑΝΙ ΝΥΜΦΑΙΣ (Pan and the nymphs) which made sense because this was a sacred cave to Pan. Going down, we came across goats and sheep being led by a shepherd. This was so cool because we could think of Pan and say that he was smiling on us, but I looked at it and saw Psalm 23. I saw how the shepherd treated his flock, and saw how God treats us. It was so cool because I thought back to Emily’s lesson in Wesley on Psalm 23. This was a cool moment. We got back and enjoyed dinner. After dinner I went for a walk and enjoyed the beautiful night in Delphi to end another day in Greece.
Temple of Apollo and the Oracle
Stadium for the Pythian Games
The Corycian Cave
Inside the cave
Sheep and goat crossing
Today was a fairly short day. We left the hotel bound for Thermopylae – site of one of the most famous battles of the Persian War. This battle was immortalized in the movie 300. We started our visit by going and seeing the hot springs for which Thermopylae gets its name – Thermopylae means “hot gates” so the hot comes from the springs and gates comes from the fact that it was a very narrow mountain pass (now the sea has receded some so it’s not as narrow). We moved on to the museum where we learned about the battle. We learned that the Greeks were doing well even though they were outnumbered, but then Ephialtes committed treason and showed King Xerxes and the Persians another mountain pass that they used to surround the Greeks. The word “Ephialtes” now means nightmare in Greek. King Leonidas of the Spartans sent everyone away, but his 300 men plus 700 Thespians stayed with him. They were surrounded but refused to surrender, instead taking Persian lives until all of them were killed. Even though the Greeks lost this battle, it helped them eventually win the war because it took a lot of Persian lives and also boosted Greek morale. There are now statues for the Spartans and the Thespians. The one for the Spartans reads “ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ” which means “Come and take” showing the Spartan refusal to surrender. The Thespian statue reads “ΕΠΤΑΚΟΣΙΩΝ ΘΕΣΠΙΕΩΝ ΜΝΗΜΗ” which means “To the memory of the 700 people of Thespia.” We then climbed the short hill where the Spartans made their last stand. Dr. Levine told us that the Spartans refused to surrender because the oracle of Delphi had said that either they would lose their king or Sparta would fall, so Leonidas sacrificed himself for his homeland. Up here we saw one final inscription that read “Oh strangers, announce to the Spartans that here we lie, obedient to their commands” showing that the Spartans never quit until they were all dead. After we were finished at Thermopylae, we went to lunch where I had some excellent fried fish. We then went on to our hotel and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. I went for a swim, and then we met downstairs for a complimentary buffet dinner. I then sat outside and enjoyed the evening to finish another magnificent day in Greece.
Statue of Leonidas
Statue for the Thespians
Inscription commemorating the battle at the top of the hill reminding everyone that the Spartans fulfilled their orders
Today we saw the floating monasteries of Kalambaka. The group is called the Meteora which means “things in the air,” and this description fits them perfectly. They are absolutely incredible and are built on top of giant rocks. Our first stop of the day was the Grand Meteoron which is the biggest in the collection and therefore gave its name to all the others. It was founded in 1344 by St. Athanasios. One of the most striking things that you immediately notice is the wooden overlook tower that was used to bring people up. They would drop a net and haul the people up. We know many of the stories through Lord Curzon, who came to the monasteries to try to take some of the hand-copied manuscripts which are priceless treasures. The church in this monastery was called Church of the Transfiguration, and one of the most intriguing things about this particular church was their Greek Orthodox-style cross that included the letters INBI which stand for “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” and are likely what would have been written on the cross itself. We also saw the ossuary which is where the skulls of former monks who have passed away are kept. Dr. Levine referred to this as the alumni association. We then took a path down to the monastery of St. Varlaam. There wasn’t as much to see at this one other than All Saint’s Church which didn’t have any striking features. After a quick lunch and rest, we headed out to the final place in the group – this time a convent called St. Stephen’s. Their church is named after St. Charalambos who protects people from plagues and pestilence. The church houses his skull, and I really wanted to get a picture of it, but the sign in the church says no photography. When the guard looked away, though, I snapped a quick picture because I’m a rebel. Since this convent is only women, they don’t have anyone to perform the sacraments since only men can be ordained in the Orthodox Church. A nun told us that a priest comes in from Kalambaka to perform the sacraments. We moved on to a museum where we found an Australian nun. This was so cool because she spoke English so we had a captive audience to ask questions about the convent. It all started when I didn’t see a Bible so I asked Dr. Paulson why they didn’t sell them in any of the monasteries, and she heard me speaking in English. She said that she just dropped her whole life and came up here because she was searching for God, and she’s only been back to Australia once, and that’s because someone in Greece didn’t file her papers properly. From there we went to the gift shop where I purchased a New Testament written in Greek that I’ll hopefully be able to read someday. We went back to the hotel and had dinner, and I turned in early to finish another great day in Greece!
Fresco in Grand Meteoron depicting the Council of Nicaea
Monastery of St. Varlaam
Imagine going up there in a net
St. Stephen’s convent
My illegal photograph
The rocks that the monasteries sit on
And with that I am caught up! ΓΕΙΑ ΣΑΣ!