Tuesday, September 27, 2005

September 27, 2005: Serres (the Ancient Monastery of St. John the Baptist):



Yesterday, I made an afternoon trip to visit an old friend and novice at the convent of St. John the Baptist in the town of Serres. It's an ancient Byzantine monastery founded in the 13th century nestled in the peaks above the city (see photo), being restored by the sisterhood slowly and protected by the state as a historical site. The monastery was originally populated by men until the monks were all martyred by Turks and Bulgarians in the early 20th century. I was impressed by the care that has been taken by the sisters to clean and place the bones to rest in the monastery ossuary (which is where the bones are kept after they are dug up to make room for new burials in the monastery cemetery—see photo). Archaeologists feel that it is the best representation of Athonite architecture, layout/design, and art outside of Mount Athos (because the monastery's founder was originally an Athonite hermit before he had to return to care for his orphaned nephew). The two original icons of Christ and the Virgin from the church's iconostasis have become widely circulated as prints and are amazing examples of traditional Byzantine iconography (I'll try to scan these in as well in the future), and their icon of John the Baptist is miracle working. I've included a photo of 16th century icon on front porch, using original natural pigments made from precious & semi-precious stone…e.g. the blue comes from topaz). I highly encourage anyone who comes to Thessaloniki to take the short side trip to stop by this convent, which is under the guidance of Elder Ephraim, because it is well ordered and has a very fruitful spiritual life! My visit and catching up with my sister in Christ was very nice and as always seemed too short when you haven't seen someone in years….

Today I'm off to Romania by bus for 26 hours…Thank you to those who have kept in touch via e-mail or telephone, that is much appreciated because I miss you all! Those in/from the Houston area let me know how you are holding up! Please keep me in your prayers and may an abundance of blessings and grace be showered upon you!

--Justin

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