Sunday, September 19, 2010

A "Come Pray With Me" Rally Comes to My Hometown

I spent so long churning out my travel posts, that now they are complete, I am at a loss as to what to write about. One could well advise me--as I used to admonish my son--that it is okay to have an unexpressed thought. He did not take my advice either.

I decided to ease back into regular blogging by addressing this piece of fluff (h/t to Kirk for the suggestion.) Our local paper carried a lengthy article on a "Come Pray With Me" prayer rally to be held tomorrow. No doubt there are good reasons why I should not write about this event. As an Orthodox Christian, my time would be better spent in prayer myself and trying to acquire a little humility along the way, rather than poking gentle fun at the public prayering of others. But on the other hand....there are some events that simply demand a you can't be serious? response. And this particular prayer extravaganza--far removed from the guidelines of Matthew 6:6--seems to fit that category. Also, the whittling-down of my vices can charitably be characterized as imperceptible. If any progress is made, however, I expect that I will probably cling to sarcasm the longest. Finally, this rally is being held in my very own neighborhood. How could I possibly not comment on that which comes to my little community?

From what I read, over 50 churches from all over East Texas are planning to rally in Bullard. The organizer is pastor Dan Cummins of the "interdenominational" Bridlewood Church in Bullard. Frankly, I have never understood the difference between nondenominational and interdenominational. "This is promising to be the largest prayer rally in East Texas history," according to Cummins. That is no small claim for our area. More than 2,000 people are expected at the local Bushman Celebration Center. The prayers will be interspersed with "performances by a community choir...a mixture of patriotic and spiritual melodies." The Color Guard for the Sons of the American Revolution will also perform.

To be expected, the promoters are billing the event as nonpolitical, simply "praying for the direction of the nation." Around here, if an event proclaims itself nonpolitical, you can rest assured it will be anything but. But by stating this, they can at least claim that they are something more than the Teapublican Party at prayer.

I was intrigued by Cummins' motivation to host the event. Most preachers behind these "Wake Up America" rallies draw from the well-used well of Revelation, or perhaps Ezekiel. This one, however, found his inspiration in I Samuel (I Kingdoms.)

Cummins believes there is a strong correlation between what is happening in America now and what was happening in Israel 400 years after the Biblical exodus from Egypt. While studying less than two months ago, Cummins noticed the parallel between the Old Testament story, found in the first 11 chapters of the Biblical book of Samuel, and America's situation today.

"My jaw dropped," Cummins said.

"Here's your sign. Pay attention, wake up America."

Israel was facing "a fundamental transformation in government, redistribution of its wealth, a cry for globalism, a war on terror, the moral failure of a politically correct clergy, judicial legislation, the absence of God's presence in the town square and no Ten Commandments," Cummins said.

Really? That's an awful lot to get out of I Samuel. I have not spent a great deal of time in these passages through the years. But I have read them. Somehow I missed the verses about activist judges, the war of terror, socialism and globalism. This reminds me of a scene from Tuna Does Vegas, the last play of the Tuna Trilogy, a satirical look at small town Texas. Finding themselves in Sin City, Vera Carp quickly succumbs to the lure of the slot machines and blackjack tables, while Bertha Bumiller vainly tries to make her see reason. Having run through all available cash and credit, Vera frantically calls home, instructing Mr. Carp to sell her great-grandmother's china to raise more money. Bertha finally pulls out the religious argument, admonishing Vera that gambling is a sin--it's in the Bible. Vera looks at her suspiciously and asks, "Where?" Bertha replies, "Oh I don't know. It's in there somewhere." To this, Vera quips, "there's a recipe for tuna salad in there if you know where to look for it," as she resumes her slots. Maybe pastor Cummins just knew where to look for the war on terror in I Samuel.

But there is more.

Cummins believes America is facing many of the same issues today.

Jamestown was founded in 1607 -- 403 years ago -- and the stock market crashed on Oct. 9, 2008 -- the Day of Atonement that year.

Cummins believes all of these dates are significant.

"History repeats itself because we don't learn from it," Cummins said. "To expect a different result from the same behavior, that's madness."

Of course! It is a mystery to me why no one has never before connected the dots between the founding of Jamestown, the stock market crash of October 9, 2008 and the Day of Atonement, and drawn the obvious parallels between those events and Israel 400 years after the Exodus. This also causes me to wonder what believers in other nations do when they read I Samuel? By this, I mean how do they interpret scripture that was clearly written for us, the good ole U S of A, the new Israel? And let no one doubt that the rally has God's blessing, as He had apparently spoken to pastor Cummins about the matter. A fellow pastor assured us that "when I heard Dan's heart for the rally -- If I had ever seen anyone God had spoken to about something, it was him."

Seriously though, I should not be waxing sarcastic about this rally which, when you get right down to it, is really rather silly. And the abject shallowness of our Americanist public religion has been exposed time and again, by those much more eloquent than I. Piling-on yet more evidence takes no great skill, and if anything, showcases my own spiritual immaturity. And yet, this sort of thing continues to get under my skin. Individualism, patriotism, capitalism, conservatism (as understood), moralism, our national exceptionalism--it's all there, except perhaps the one thing needful.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

2010 Travel Notes #18: Back Home Again

Coming home has got to be the best part of any extended trip. From the way I carry on about traveling, one might think that I am just a vagabond, ready to go any where, for any length of time, at a moment's notice. While there may be some truth to all that, I am actually very grounded to a particular people and place--my wife, son and nephew, and an old house on a dead-end street in a quirky neighborhood of a small East Texas town.

I used to like to have some fun with my in-laws when I would return from overseas. None of them have ever been the least bit interested in where I have been or what I have seen. Usually I am gone for about two weeks before any of them notice my absence. Invariably upon return, I will hear--"Well, I guess you're glad to be home." Translated into what they really mean, it would be--"Well, I guess you're lucky to be back from whatever god-forsaken place you've been to this time, and hopefully you've learned your lesson going places where you don't have any business and that you've got it out of your system and you'll stay put from here on out." Whenever I would hear that, I would deadpan that yes, I was glad to be home. I had to come back and wash clothes before I could go somewhere else.

I would never let on (to them) just how excited I was to be back. And of course, it is the little things about being home I cherish--watching my wife sit at the kitchen bar, patiently listening to her hypochondriac cousin go through her daily litany of how she is "slipping away," all the while rolling her eyes and pantomiming being hung; listening to my wife discuss the prospect of this year's pea crop; sitting in my favorite chair in the sun room on Saturday morning, trying to get a couple of cups of coffee down me and the paper read before my son arrives; my dog who is content to be in whichever room I am in, where he can just look at me, except of course on Saturday mornings when I must drive him through the bank drive-through because he knows they hand out treats; walking down the darkened hallway that slices through the middle of our house as if passing inspection of my ancestors and in laws whose portraits line either side; reading in the study which juts out from the front of the house, enabling me also to keep tabs on developments on three blocks; walking in the yard at dusk and looking back at the flickering lights within the house. Yes, I am so glad to be back home.

This is the last post in this series. I hope they have been enjoyable and profitable. And I do appreciate your patience and indulgence.

2010 Travel Notes #17: Winding-down in Greece

On an overcast and drizzly Wednesday prior to my Friday departure, I set out to visit two monasteries--that of St. Arsenios the Cappadocian, and the new Soumela Monastery. Both destinations represented a bit of unfinished business from earlier trips. Soon after my chrismation in 2005, my priest suggested I read the biography of St. Arsenios the Cappadocian by Elder Paisios. I found his story a compelling one and have since recommended the book to others. St. Arsenios labored for decades in Farasa, his remote village of the far fringes of Cappadocia. In the population exchange of 1923, they were all deported to Greece. St. Arsenios shepherded his flock safely there, but prophesied that he would die 40 days after their arrival, which in fact did occur. Interestingly, St. Arsenios was the spiritual advisor to the family of Elder Paisios, and baptized him as an infant.

In 2006, I traveled in central Turkey, and sought out the old village of St. Arsenios. This took some doing, as Farasa was quite remote. My account of that visit can be found here. In recent years, a monastery has been constructed about 60 miles east of Thessaloniki, and the relics of St. Arsenios have been moved there. I located the site without undue difficulty, but discovered it to be locked-up, with no entry within the walls possible. And so, I had to turn around and retrace my steps. I was disappointed, to be sure, but thought no more of it. Monasteries are not, or should not be, tourist attractions. If one is locked, I am sure there are good reasons for that.

My other destination was the new Soumela Monastery, located past Veria, in the opposite direction from Thessaloniki. The original Soumela Monastery is in the mountains of Pontus, southeast of Trabzon (old Trebizon.) I visited there in 2006. The old monastery is truly one of the wonders of Turkey, or anywhere else, for that matter. The buildings seem to hang to the side of the cliff and appear to float in the low-lying clouds so characteristic of the region. Sumela was founded in the late 4th-century and enjoyed a continuous existence up until the population exchange of 1923, when the Turkish government closed the site and banished the monks to Greece. Through the years, old Sumela suffered mightily from neglect and vandalism. But in the last decade or so, Turkey has awakened to the tourist potential of these ancient Christian sites. Now a national park, Sumela receives a steady stream of visitors--Muslim and Christian alike--who work their way up the misty trail to the monastery.

Sumela has recently been in the news. The Turkish government permitted the Ecumenical Patriarch to celebrate a Litury at the monastery on August 15th. Clearly done with an eye towards public opinion in the West, this is a small bone indeed to be thrown to the put-upon Orthodox Christian remnant in Turkey. But, Christian worship has been permitted in a few other old churches in Anatolia within the last year. The list of grievances is still lengthy, Halki is still closed, and the long-standing problems with the government are still unresolved. This may, however, signal a glacial softening of attitudes, both officially and within Turkish society in general. We shall see. (The best and most comprehensive coverage I have seen of the event is John's post at Mystogogy blog, here.)

Before they left in 1923, the Sumela monks buried their most prized relic--an icon of the Mother of God, the icon of the Panagia Soumela. Traditionally, this was one of those painted by St. Luke himself. There had been a continuous record of the icon at the monastery from its very founding. In 1931, some monks received permission to return to Sumela and retrieve some of the liturgical items they had buried. At this time, the silver-encased icon was recovered and transported safely to Greece. In 1952, the icon was given to the recently constructed Monastery of the Panagia Soumela in Macedonian Greece.

The new Soumela Monastery is high in the mountains, just like the original. A large parking area, several cafes, and an abundance of souvenir kiosks outside the gates indicate that this site receives many pilgrims. But I was alone the day I visited. The church itself is quite beautiful. I have since learned that though this is classified as a monastery, there are no monks or nuns in residence here. I was able to light some candles and venerate the Icon of the Panagia Soumela alone. I was glad I came.

Leaving here, I made my way back down out of the mountains, and before returning to Thessaloniki, I drove over to Veronia to visit King Philip's tomb. This was my one and only nod towards visiting any sites relating to Greek antiquity. The exhibit halls and excavations are all located underneath the tumulus. The artifacts were certainly impressive. Reading the explanations of the exhibits, I was amused to see the great pains taken to ensure every visitor knew that Macedonian=Greek.

My last full day in Greece started out with an interesting twist. I was stuck in the elevator at the Makedonia Palace Hotel. I was there about 20 minutes before a technician could arrive to extract me. I had something to read, so I was not particularly put out by it all. By this time, I was just ready to get home, and was not particularly interested in seeing anything between Thessaloniki and the Athens airport. But I had a day, and was loathe to waste it. I contemplated trying again to find the Monastery of St. Ephrem the New in Nea Makri. I decided instead to visit the Monastery of Ossias Loukas, said to have some of the most sublime mosaics in Greece. Along the way, I passed by Mount Olympus. It is easy to see what the big deal was with this mountain and the ancient Greeks. Low-lying coastal clouds completely obscured the upper reaches of Mount Olympus. I stopped along the highway and had lunch at one of the ubiquitous food vans one sees in Greece. The proprietor fixed me a sandwich, with the french fries between the buns as well. Nice. I should not be too critical of Ossias Loukas. I was tired and ready to go home. But I was not as impressed as I was with others. The institution seemed more of a tourist destination. There were no candles burning, nor any place to purchase them. The mosaics were beautiful, but I was more attracted to those of a more primitive nature, located in a side chapel. I guess you could say that by this time I was about monasteried-out.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

2010 Travel Notes #16: Those Noble-Minded Bereans

These were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. (Acts 17:11)

Before returning to Greece, I was unsure whether I would stay in Thessaloniki, or Veria, or someplace in-between. The larger city won out, but Veria was still an easy jaunt from Thessalonika, about 35 miles west, at the base of the mountains. Veria is a small, bustling, modern city, though it is chock-full of historic churches. My interest here, however, lay in the fact that Veria is the very same Berea of old, the city commended by St. Luke in Acts 17.

I actually saw little of Veria, as most of that particular day was spent in transit between an unsuccessful attempt to visit the Monastery of St. Arsenios the Cappadocian and a successful one to the Soumela Monastery. The city streets were narrow, with heavy traffic and little room to park. But I did visit the site where St. Paul preached. The steps have been preserved since those days, and in recent years, a shrine has been constructed around it. In keeping with the scaled-down realities of my travel, this was enough for me. Significantly, I was there on the day after the Apostles Feast.

The passage from Acts 17 was what motivated me to visit Veria in tandem with Thessaloniki. Before being received into the Orthodox Church, I was a member of the Church of Christ, an American restorationist group. Acts 17:11 was one of our golden verses, a passage we would refer to time and again. I imagine it was equally important to Evangelical churches as well. [Verses like 2 Peter 1:20 received considerably less attention.] For the Bereans went to the Scriptures to verify that which St. Paul was preaching to them. Now even we realized the context here--the Scriptures they were searching were those which we now refer to as the Old Testament. And yet, the principle was the same. For what the Bereans did is that which we believed we had done--we had searched the Scriptures, and in so doing, had "restored" the Church of the New Testament. Those Protestant groups who differed from us...well, we believed that they had not searched the Scriptures as diligently as we, for if they had, they would agree with us. And we believed some religious bodies (the Episcopalians, for example) were not searching the Scriptures at all.

And so, this Scriptural contrast between Thessalonica and Berea had real meaning for us--but only in the abstract, a hermeneutic principle, if you will. (On of the great joys of being Orthodox is never having to hear the word "hermeneutics" again.) Most members of my old church would have been surprised to learn that these cities from Acts 17 have existed down to the present day. And they would have rejected the notion that the church has been a living, breathing reality there through all centuries since. This would have been explained-away by the fact that everyone knew that the church "fell-away" into Apostasy soon after the death of the Apostle John. What continued on, past that era would not have been considered the real church. [This is not taught as openly as it once was in Churches of Christ, but without it, their fellowship, as well as much of Protestantism, makes absolutely no sense at all.]

If this belief sounds silly, blinkered and narrow...that is because it is. But this is no straw man I have constructed, to demolish with cheap shots from my side of the fence, where the grass is lush and green. Rather, it is the generally accepted position within my former church. Back in November, 2007, I posted here about an experience of my son's. While visiting in a Church of Christ, he overheard one of the preachers smugly describe to the church how a fellow minister had established a congregation in Thessalonica, so that once again there were Christians in that city. My son-- not yet Orthodox--was so disgusted he started to walk out of the assembly. To the speaker, everything between Acts 17 and then was apparently just a gaping void. When he spoke of "Christians," he meant members of the Church of Christ. The term is not used when referring to other believers. And this was no poor, rural, backward congregation. This was at the big, moneyed establishment church downtown, with attendance ranging between 600 and 700. The preacher saying what he did would have been totally accepted, given the historical blinders in place.

I recall a similar instance myself. In 2004, my son accompanied me on a return trip to Bulgaria, as well as Istanbul, Ephesus, Patmos and Athens. This was my last summer in the Church of Christ, and I guess you could say things were beginning to fall apart in that area of my life. I was asked to give a few lessons for the Wednesday night "Auditorium Class," tying my recent travels to some familar Biblical themes. There was no great interest in where I had gone or what I had seen, only that Wednesday night teachers were notoriously hard to come by. So, they humored me. Anyway, I had just finished up with my last presentation, centered around St. Paul's sermon in Athens. In fact, a panoramic view of the city from the Areopagus was still on the screen. The bell was about to ring, so I opened it up for questions. One man asked, "Are there any Christians in Athens?" My face flushed because I knew what he was asking, and I decided I was not going to play that game. I replied that Greece was overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian, and I pointed to the screen at the score of church domes peppering the skyline. He replied, "No, no, no. I mean are there any New Testament Christians in Athens?" I just looked at him. For in Church of Christ parlance, the word "Christian" always applied to members of the Church of Christ only. Others were considered questionable, at best. The Orthodox--had they even known what they were--would have been completely beyond the pale. [In my defense, I never bought into any of this, and never played those word games. I never uttered the words, "Lord's Church," which was our code for the Church of Christ. Later on, a former preacher told me that I was a poor fit for the Church of Christ. I have to agree.] After a long, awkward pause, I simply said that I could not answer the question in the way he wanted it answered. Then a woman spoke up: "I happen to know that there are Christians in Athens. The Sunset School of Preaching in Lubbock has a campus there, so there must be a few Christians in the city." I was left speechless, and luckily it was time to end the class.

I have wandered far afield in these reminiscences, and I hope I have not soured the mood of these travel logs with such recollections, ones that still leave a bitter taste in my mouth. But I believe I had to explain why it was so important to me to set foot in both Thessaloniki and Veria, two cities where Life in Christ has a 1,950 year-old track record--a living, breathing, continual existence witnessed by the saints and martyrs and the faithful of all the ages. And while I never bought into the institutional ignorance and arrogance I have described, I did not contest it, either. I played it safe. I never made a bold enough stand that the issue ever had to be forced. In short, I was a coward. Perhaps in some strange, convoluted way, my coming to these two cities is partial penance for the system I upheld for so long. I find it hard to explain, but I know my coming here was needful. Once I had decided on Greece, I never considered not coming to these cities.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

2010 Travel Notes #15: On to Thessaloniki

I re-entered northern Greece on a Monday morning prior to my Friday flight back home. My original plan had been to "tag" Thessaloniki and go on to Skiathos, the island home of "Greece's Dostoevsky," Alexander Papadiamandis. As it turned out, I spent the rest of my trip based out of Thessaloniki. In my view, Greece's second city is an absolute delight.

The border crossing between Bulgaria and Greece is now open, so I was just motioned-on through without stopping. One soon sees why Thrace, and this part of Macedonia, has always been so coveted. The mountains give way to fertile river valleys, with lush, irrigated fields stretching as far as one can see. My original plan was to find a place to stay out on the highway somewhere between Thessaloniki and Veria (Berea.) As it turned out, there were no places "out on the highway." Veria did not seem to provide a good base of operations, so I resolved to find a room in the city, even though I had previously checked online and was alarmed at the prices listed for Thessaloniki hotels.

The city is magnificently situated--strung out along low hills that wrap around a wide, sweeping harbour. Consequently, from most anywhere in city, one has a view of the sea, as well as the benefit of the sea breeze. An expansive concrete promenade separates the city from the water's edge. This serves the same role as Central Park in New York--a pressure valve for the stresses of city life. The park easily contains the walkers, joggers and bicyclists who flock here--with plenty of room left for all sorts of other activities. One of Thessaloniki's main thoroughfares divides the boardwalk from the city proper. Immediately inside this clogged traffic artery is block after block of outdoor cafes facing the sea. They are generally crowded with young Thessalonians--smoking, chattering away, and nursing their frappes. I took the exit off the E95 into the city, and before I knew it, I was stuck in traffic on this very street, between the cafes and the sea. I was searching for a hotel, and I would occasionally see a sign for one up one of the side streets--itself clogged with traffic. Working my way around to the establishment and then finding a parking slot would have been horrendously difficult (only later did I learn the bus drivers were on strike, which may have tremendously aggravated the traffic flow in the city.) I was still not well, and was becoming weary. Off in the distance, next to the sea, I saw a gleaming high-rise. As I inched closer, I was able to make out the sign over this shimmering oasis: The Makedonia Palace Hotel.

The Makedonia Palace Hotel was decidedly not the kind of place I had been frequenting on this trip--valet parking, doormen, a gleaming marble lobby, bellhops, a bar/lounge. Nor did I particularly look like their normal business traveler--a bit frazzled, shirt-tail out, backpack over one shoulder. I went up to the front desk and simply asked if they had a room. When they said they did, I replied, I want it. Did I want a room with a balcony overlooking the sea? But, of course. The room was every bit as nice as the public areas of this hotel implied they would be. The cost came in at 89 euros ($110) a night, which I considered a tremendous bargain, given the location. The breakfast buffet was not included, but by this time, I was ready to splurge just a little. I ended up staying here three nights, and by the time I had left, felt better than I had in weeks.

Thessaloniki is a modern city, primarily due to a disastrous fire in 1917 and Allied bombing during World War II. I did not find the modernity to be as oppressive or soulless as I experienced in Athens, or say Patras. Even so, Thessaloniki has a rich, eventful, often violent history--and it was this I came to explore. Reaching the city centre was a bit of a walk from the Makedonia Palace, but strolling along the seashore promenade made every step of it enjoyable.

My goals for the day were modest: the Haghia Sophia, the Basilica of St. Demetrius, the Metropolitan Church of St. Gregory Palamas and the Byzantine Museum. The Haghia Sophia is not as old as once thought, but still dates back to the 7th or 8th century. From the outside, it is imposing and blocky. From the inside, the three aisle church is quite beautiful. There are no remaining frescoes or mosaics on the walls of Haghia Sophia, which are covered with geometrical designs, instead. The church was converted into a mosque in 1585, heavily damaged by a fire in 1890, rebuilt by the Turks between 1908 and 1910, and only restored to Christian worship in 1912. There are some hanging icons in the church, all in a very westernized portraiture style. One has to look up to see what does remain--in the dome and in the apse. The mosaic of Christ Pantocrator, surrounded by the Theotokos, the Archangels and the Twelve Apostles is absolutely stunning. The mosaic of the Virgin with Child above the apse is equally impressive, indeed, remininscent of the Haghia Sophia in Constantinople. Scholars date these mosaics to the 9th-century. I also enjoyed the nearby Church of the Panagia Achieropoietos. This is one of Thessaloniki's oldest churches, dating to the mid 5th-century, now far below current street level of the city. The Church of the Panagia Achieropoietos is a simple three-aisle basilica, with timbered ceiling. Panagia Achieropoietos has the distinction of not ever having been structurally altered during its long history. This was the first church converted to a mosque when the Turks conqured the city in 1430, and remained so until the liberation of Thessaloniki in 1912.

When I came back up to street level, I noticed several motorcycle policemen on the corner. Soon, they were joined by others. In the distance, I could hear the sounds of chanting and bullhorns and drums. Curious about what was happening, I moseyed back down to the street corner. Two blocks up, I could see a demonstration heading my way. At long last, I was seeing that which supposedly was keeping so many travelers away from Greece this summer. The marchers soon reached my street. They were orderly, chanting in unison to a beat. Many looked like college students, in shorts and tee-shirts. But many more were middle-aged and you might say, well-fed. I saw one Communist placard, and one I assumed to be anti-American. But like I say, there were an orderly crowd--hardly a mob that would instill alarm. Indeed, no one paid them much mind, no one got up from their frappes in the cafes. I later learned that the bus drivers and hospital workers were on strike while I was in Thessaloniki. I am all for a lifestyle centered around sitting in the shade, smoking, and sipping on a frappe--as long, of course, as there is someone to underwrite it. That seems to be where Greece is today in its economic woes. They have cultivated a decidedly first-world lifestyle, with a crush of civil servants and generous pensions, but underneath is a second-world real economy.

I walked further up into the city, and had to wait on yet another street demonstration to pass. Once the marchers were out of the way, I passed the ruins of the old agora and made my way to the Basilica of St. Demetrius. The church is immense--a 5-aisle basilica with 2 levels of balconies on each side. The original church was constructed soon after the martyrdom of St. Demetrius in the early 4th-century. Through the centuries, the church has been reconstructed many times due to fire, earthquake and conquest. The structure served as a mosque for many centuries, until restored to Christian worship after the reconquest of 1912. The Basilica of St. Demetrius was largely destroyed in the fire of 1917. But in the rebuilding from that, many theretofore unknown mosaics from many centuries were uncovered, and are restored today. I spent quite some time here, both venerating the relics of St. Demetrius, exploring the church and crypt.

By this time, I was already exhausted again, so I walked no further up the hill. I angled down to the Church of St. George, or the Rotunda. No one is quite sure what this building was originally intended for, though it was most certainly attached to the Galerian Palace, whose ruins adjoin. But in time, the pagan edifice was converted to a church. The rotunda contained 8 recesses. The one facing east was extended and converted into an altar. During the Turkish occupation, the structure became a mosque, with a minaret added to one side. Today, the altar remains in place, but the building mainly serves as a museum and art exhibit hall, with displays of early Balkan photographs occupying the other 7 recesses.

I left there and walked underneath the arch of the Kamara--the ruins of the old Galerian palace. Had I still be interested in antiquity, I would have lingered longer here. As it was, I was running out of steam. I spotted a likely outdoor cafe, and settled down to rest a bit. I spent about an hour here, enjoying my frappe, my water and my snacks, as well as watching the world go by. I see how a Greek frappe break could be habit-forming. The other customers who were there when I got there, were there when I left.

I continued down the hill towards the sea. Along the way, I passed by the 12th-century Church of St. Pantaleimon, as well as the tiny 14th-century Church of the Metamorphosis of the Saviour. My last stop was the Metropolitan Church, with the relics of St. Gregory Palamas. I was surprised to find the church closed. So, I stopped by a barber shop for a quick trim, and then made my way down to the sea walk. Here, I headed east, past the statue of Alexander (who, in a bizarre art imitating life sort of way, does look like Brad Pitt), past the White Tower, and then inland for a block or two. The Byzantine Museum was my last stop of the day. I had been traveling for three weeks and had so far managed to avoid all museums. But I was anxious to see this one. What impressed me most were the displays showing personal and/or everyday items such as rings, jewelry, glassware and beautifully painted ceramic plates. One display noted that Byzantine matrons liked to display their plates on shelves in their home. This last Spring, the wife and I went on a tour of homes in the "Azalea District" of the city near where we live. Reading this, I thought of those homes where the Junior League wives would have a de rigueur Welsh cupboard prominently located, lined up with Spode and/or Blue Willow plates. Nothing new under the sun. But anyway, I got my money's worth at the Byzantine museum. I looked at every single display. When I finished up here, it was only a short walk back to the sanctuary of my wonderful Makedonia Palace. Here I could collapse onto a soft bed, and should I so desire, open the drapes and watch the sun set over the Aegean.