The Paregoretissa has to be one of the most unusual Orthodox Churches I have visited. The structure is unlike any I have seen in all my travels. The Italianate influence is clearly evident in this design, constructed in the late 13th-century, during the reign of Nikophorus I Angelos Komnenos Doukas. A straight-forward, square 3-story building, the only things that gives it away as a church are the 5 domes atop. From the outside, it is a striking building, yes, but not a beautiful one. Once inside, however, I was a bit awe-struck. Standing in the nave, I looked up to the Pantocrator. The ceiling was a full 3-stories above...and then the dome. Paregoretissa is simply magnificent. The iconography is in a fair state of preseveration, as well.
Leaving the church, I walked across the street to a park, where I could sit and rest--and watch my car. By this time, I was feeling particularly unwell and I made a decision to forego the Church of St. Theodora, as well as the Panaghia Vlacherna, and push on to Ioannina. I now regret not making more of an effort here. Theodora was the long-suffering wife of Despot Michael II Angelos Konemnos Doukas--one of our few married women saints. I learned of her life from Mother Nectaria's Evogleite. Her story is a compelling one. I realize that I gave Arta short shrift. Should I ever return to Greece, I hope to remedy that situation.
I pushed west until I crossed the Louras River. Here, I turned north and paralleled the river. Along the way, I passed by the ruins of the Pantanassa Monastery. The monk Job Melias, in his 13th-century biography of St. Theodora, relates how her husband, the Despot built two monasteries as a gesture of repentance for the shameful way he had treated her. Pantanassa was one of them. The site was completely obscured by overgrowth until 1970.
A few kilometers further up the road, I pulled in at a restaurant, wedged between the river and the road. I chose an outside table near the water, between the trout tank and restaurant. A German couple occupied a spot a few tables down. How do I know they were German? One just knows. This late lunch came just in time, and the fresh trout went a long way towards restoring my spirits. The one problem, however, was the "mountain greens." My waiter suggested this option, a local staple, instead of a traditional salad. I was a bit suspicious, as it sounded very much like turnip greens--something I have never yet been hungry enough to eat. When he brought my food, I quickly saw that turnip greens by any other name are still...turnip greens. Not wanting to disappoint my waiter, I made a valiant effort at eating some of this huge mound of greens. I chewed and chewed and chewed and forced down 3 or 4 mouthfuls. My waiter noted that I had left most of them on the plate and I made the best excuse I could--that they had simply given me way too much to eat. We talked a bit. He had been to the U.S. before--New Jersey, I think. I explained, the best I could, about Texas. He encouraged me to visit the churches in Thessaloniki, and I assured him I had every intention of doing so. I lingered here for quite some time, listening to the rushing water of the Louras River. My German neighbor had stripped down to his Speedos and was splashing around in it. I looked upstream.
Ioannina was only a few kilometers further on. The city sounded inviting, as it lay on the shores of a large natural lake. Many of the historical sites there are associated with the Ali Pasha (1740-1821,) a flamboyant autocrat who ruled the more or less independent of the sultan in Constantinople. McLees tells of the fascinating story of his favorite wife--a Christian--the beautiful Kyria Vasiliki. The Kastro is right on the waterfront, as is the old mosque. Ferries ply the waters across the lake to the island village and monasteries. As interesting as all this would be, I particularly wanted to visit the relics of St. George the New Martyr (thanks to John at Mystagogy for post, here .) In Evlogeite!, Mother Nectaria gave no directions, but suggested to stop and ask for its location. This did not sound good. I asked my waiter, and he had never heard of the church. I left the restaurant and drove on into Ioannina. I stopped for gas and asked again. They had never heard of the church at the service station. I drove into the city and found it to be as beautiful as described. Ioannina was much nicer than Arta, even without considering its prime lake-front location. I drove around a bit, hoping to see the church, but without any success. If it had been earlier in the day, I would have taken a ferry out to the island. As it was, I decided to push on to Thessaly and Meteora and the hopes of a soft bed.