Our Big Fat Greek Feast

The thought of studying abroad for most students can be quite daunting. Even though we were all extremely excited to be venturing off to this beautiful country, we were also suffering from a mild case of anxiety. We were travelling to an unfamiliar region for two weeks. We were a group of girls who barely knew each other and who had spent very little time together, except in the classroom. This trip was going to be a learning experience like no other, and the true test would come from our ability to keep an open mind and to not only accept, but embrace the unknown.

We decided to put on our big girl hiking boots and set out to enjoy this trip. In order to take advantage of the experience and not feel any more like outsiders than we already were, we made it our goal to immerse ourselves in the culture of Greece as much as possible. So we spoke the Greek language, we danced to Greek music, and laughed. We met some amazing people, some of whom will remain lifelong friends, and most importantly, we ate good food.

For us, each day was spent learning something new as we gathered around nourishing our minds and bodies with great food. We would spend hours sharing memories and laughing as we prepared a meal.  The Greeks taught us that food is an art, a form of expression that translates some of the world’s greatest stories. It provides love, hope and peace as it brings people together. It cannot be rushed to prepare. It must be balanced with time, effort, all your senses, and love.

For many, the idea of spending so much time on preparing a meal is absurd. In Greece, however, the concept of time is not quite the same as in the US. In the US, you are usually on a tight time schedule, making the most of your minutes and bustling about to get to your next destination on time. But in Greece, life is simpler and more laid-back, allowing for time to enjoy what matters. This also translates into their food and eating habits.

Around 2 to 5pm, you will notice that most shops close. There are a few exceptions, mainly the corner stores and some small markets. This is done so that the workers can go and have a long lunch and maybe even nap with their loved ones. The Greeks love to take it easy and put aside time for relaxation and family.

When eating a meal in a Greek home, you will notice that the food is rich, flavorful, bold, and prepared with a special sort of love and thought process. All this helps the food to taste so much better. The Greeks spend a lot of time harvesting ingredients, preparing them, and cooking the foods to make a tasteful, nutritious spread to nourish the soul and body.

Here are a few of the foods that touched our souls and bodies:

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Coffee, pastries, cheese, and assorted fruits… our usual choice of breakfast foods.

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My breakfast one morning, a cheese and ham stuffed fill pastry. Yum! 

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At one of our lunch spots in Athens, we shared appetizers, as well as entrees.  Appetizers include: dolmades, falafel, sliced veggies with taramasalata, spanakopita, bread, dakos, and olives. The entrées  are moussaka (middle left), and pastiche (middle right). There were also lots of potatoes and cheese. 

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We had the pleasure of trying rooster while exploring Stefani. Look at that wing!    

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A close up of toasted bread with olives and feta cheese, one of the side dishes of our meal in Stefani. 

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The “before” of our delicious slow cooked lamb and potato dinner..

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And the “after”! Words can’t describe how delicious and savory this dish was. It was paired with homemade coleslaw, bread and cheese, and wine.  

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Making our homemade coleslaw! It’s mostly cabbage – green and purple – and carrots.  

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The making of spanakopita! This was our first attempt while in Aegina. We started off by wilting the spinach by hand, then made the filo dough, added feta to the spinach, put the spinach mix in the filo, and voila! Our beautiful creation before being baked! Once baked, the crust was a deep golden color, and the taste of the spinach and feta was mouthwatering.  

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Here we have the sweet man who showed us around his pasta kitchen! Paired with pictures of delicious macaroni we ate while in Stefani (we had this with the rooster pictured earlier). 

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The making of vasilopita while in Aegina.

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Breaking news – it’s our beautiful vasilopita at the New Year’s feast! Although it appears to be a decorated bread loaf, it is actually has a delicious citrus cake.  

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Takis showing us how to create a delicious tomato and cheese salad, with peppers and herbs.

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One of our last dinners at Takis’ house – the main event was fried sardines we bought from the market. We had horta, roasted beets and beet greens, a Greek-style salad, bread, skordalia, and potatoes.

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Some of our favorite desserts – Helen’s homemade apple cake, spoon sweets, and yogurt topped with more spoon sweets. Ms. Myhand, we agree!  

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And last but not least… these are traditional Christmas cookies made by just about every household in Greece. Every recipe is slightly different, having been passed down through family. We had the opportunity to sample many different kinds, and were never disappointed!  

We are proud and honored to say that we learned so much and have grown to love and relate to the Greek culture. This is a culture that in some ways is similar to our own. In Greece,  good food, drinks and music bring communities together, but most importantly, it’s a country where prayers and family matter and the only way to succeed is to live as one with nature. Despite our differences and fears, it was the Greek culture that brought us young ladies close together and made our experience worthwhile. Hopefully our journey can inspire more people to be fearless and venture off to the unknown. To be know that life is too short to settle for anything less than what you deserve. Take time to eat, pray, love, learn, laugh, and grow but don’t do it alone. Try to explore this world, change it for the better, step out of your comfort zone, and do not let anyone tell you how it is until you experience it for yourself.

It’s been real, Greece!

Alexis & Mandy

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Southern Hospitality–Scratch That, GREEK Hospitality!

The opportunity to go visit Greece as a Nutrition major is an incredible one. Sitting family style, passing around delicious Greek foods, while learning and discussing how these foods came about with authentic Greek people is truly a blessing. Not to mention, the hospitality from the Greeks made it all the more enjoyable. Even the giggles that came from Greeks when we mispronounced words (plenty of times) were amicable. Throughout all the places we visited, we saw little acts of kindness everywhere.

One of the biggest traditions seen in Greece are the holiday cookies. When visitors come, it is customary to invite them in with cookies and coffee. When arriving in our temporary homes in Aegina, a plate of holiday cookies was waiting for us in our rooms. And when we visited the monastery, the nuns invited us to eat holiday cookies in their home! These acts of kindness were so comforting to us. Since the trip all the way from the US to Greece wasn’t the easiest to make, being welcomed with such hospitality made the transition easier.  However, the biggest example of Greek hospitality that I could give is Helen. This woman could not be anymore kind hearted and attentive to us. She opened up her home, had patience with us while we learned her delicious recipes, and fed us until we were stuffed. I think I enjoyed her company so much because she reminded me of my own grandmother in Honduras. Helen not only made us eat our weight in food, but she made gifts for us before we left Greece!

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Helen made us “good luck rocks” that had handcrafted ceramic flowers on them. Not only did she make this, but a calendar attached to a wooden heart that would hang on our walls back home. She packaged us fresh olive oil, and gifted us spoon sweets to bring back. When I spoke to her (through her son translating), Helen said that cooking and crafting are her passion. She loves it when people enjoy eating her food, and likes to prepare gifts for them too. Helen got her recipes from her mother, like most Greeks do; passing down family recipes is a huge tradition in the Greek culture.

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She met her husband, Takis, at a disco. And together they have three sons. Both Takis and his son, Spiros, showed us around Argolis. Even though we ran into some trouble with the weather, Takis took us to plenty of great sites. My favorite being the castle that was one of the last weaponries built. It took us near to 1000 steps to climb, and Lyell yelling constantly, “Get down from there!! You’re going to fall!!!”, but the view and pictures we took were amazing.

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Takis, acting as our personal tour guide, also took us up plenty more mountains. We were able to go to a family’s restaurant right before we headed to the Natural History Museum. I enjoyed that restaurant, because they were so hospitable. Along the walls were shelves full of things displaying the history of Greece and their family. The kindest woman brought us into her kitchen and showed us what she was cooking. And this was at a restaurant! You would never see this at a restaurant in the US.

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img_2333Along with Takis, we all took a liking to his son. In the end Spiros and all the girls had a book full of inside jokes. He was kind enough to show us around and joke with us as if we were family. This family truly showed us Greek hospitality. Everything from Helen’s “SUPER!” to Max’s playfulness was a thing to remember about our trip. It was a unique experience to be able to share this with my classmates and Ms. Myhand, but honestly what made it better was to be able to be so far away from home, yet still feel welcome in the beautiful places we visited.

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Greece: The Healing Power of an Ancient Time

My trip to Greece was wonderful; friendly hospitality of the people; wonderfully flavorful foods; mountainsides full of dormant olive trees; coastal fruit filled orange groves and the crystal clear blue water of the Aegean Sea.  Wow, what a beautiful country and life giving sight.  With all the sensory riches that this trip offered, thereimg_1636 were two places that stood out for me and “touched my soul”.  This sounds cliché, but the awareness that resulted from the experience changed my thinking in a way I did not expect.  You know what I’m talking about if you have ever participated in the exercise where you are shown a picture of an old woman and then all of a sudden your perception shifts, and the same sketch reveals a beautiful young girl.  In an instant everything you thought you knew got turned upside down and now you see things in a completely different way.  The awareness is there forever, even if you are capable of seeing the old woman again, you will not be able to ignore the existence of the beautiful young girl.  For me, this shift was prompted by a visit to a cave in the southeastern region of Argolis, Greece.  It enriched my perception of time and revealed that the measure of my cultural competence is lower than I would have assigned myself.  More importantly, this new outlook on time was a missing component to increasing peace in my life, a health habit I could benefit from.

I have always viewed myself as being relatively open minded and accepting of people’s cultural differences.  Even though I may not know everything about a culture, I alleged I was open to learning and appreciating their ways.  The Franchthi Cave, an archeological dig site that we visited, revealed to me that this was not entirely true.  The attitudes and judgments I held about the importance and meaning of ‘time’ were not accepting of different cultural views.  Briefly, my attitude could be summarized like this, ”time is mine, so do not waste my time, take my time or ruin my time unless you are prepared to provide something valuable in exchange for my time”.  To me, time is a valuable commodity, one that I can choose to share with others or not.  As well, others’ time must be honored as I would like my time honored.  It is rude to be late, a blatant display of disrespect.  Arriving img_1627too early is just as insolent, it assumes a triviality about the other’s life that they can give you time whenever you present yourself.  The experience that changed my relationship with time was standing just 10 meters above the location of a community that existed “35,000 years BCE”.1,2  It was not just that they existed at that point in time, but they existed from that point perpetually through the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic time periods up to 3,000 BCE, and only ceased to exist there because the cave collapsed and they were forced to find another location for their community.1,4  A civilization that was established well enough to span tens of thousands of years created a glimpse, for the first time ever, of my life in proper scale.  This new perspective made me realized the narcissistic inclination of the culture I was raised in and the inflated view of self which promoted the feeling that I had ownership of the time surrounding my life.

I was able to, or maybe compelled to put myself on the time continuum of the millennia of generations that used the Franchthi cave because of the advanced nature of their culture; it was apparent they were not so different from me. They cultivated crops and animals for food, and crafted tools in order to work more efficiently.  They traded goods with other people, some as far away as the island of Melos, about 150 kilometers to the southeast.  This showed use of seaworthy vessels and the ability to navigate the sea across long distances.  These were not the grunting cavemen I picture when hearing of Paleolithic man.  They were a civilized culture, demonstrating this in the care of the dead with burial sites that were found near the cave, even cremation burials.4

The evidence of diet consumed by the inhabitants of the cave was slightly different through the lithic time periods, but all have similarities to the Mediterranean diet we know today.  Foods of the Paleolithic (33,000 – 9,000 BCE) time included “steppe ass” and land snail as the predominate meat source.  The plants consumed were wild lentil,img_1619 pistachio and almonds.  During the Mesolithic (8700 – 7500 BCE) time period, the meat eaten was expanded to include red deer, pig and fish, including blue fin tuna, which suggested the ability to fish in the deep sea.3   The consumption of large land animals decreased during this period and evidence of plant remains in the cave increased.4   Analysis done on cutting tools found in the cave showed evidence that oats or barley may have been cultivated and cut.  Neolithic (7200 – 3500 BCE) man’s diet introduced domestic herd animals, sheep and goats, as well as domestic wheat, barley and lentils, proving agriculture was present.  Snails were a staple food source through all lithic periods and are thought to have been a cultivated food source in Upper Mesolithic and Neolithic times as the snail shells in the cave were larger than those of the surrounding area.4

Seeing how long the human race preceded me, changed my perspective and simultaneously shifted the importance I held on time.  It was no longer just about me and the length of my life as much as it was belonging to a part of all time.  The only way I can explain it would be using the example of a child around Christmas.  When you are a child, picture1Christmas is important to you. Your focus is on the excitement and joy that day will bring.  Because your age and the length of a year are so similar, it seems that Christmas is a lifetime away.  As Christmas approaches you may attempt to push time by going to bed earlier so the next day will arrive sooner.  A futile effort, yet attempts are still made to push time forward.   As an adult, the amount of time spent worrying about the arrival of certain day becomes less significant and trying to hurry time is replaced with enjoying the time you are passing through in the moment. My view of time was changed when I saw how small a piece of time I actually occupied as compared to the millennia of generations that had lived in the cave.   This realistic scale of self was created by looking back at a 37,000-year-old culture from the cave and identifying with them as my ancestors.  This heightened my awareness and cultural competence concerning time.  Like the child, my desire had been to control time in my life.  Controlling time was my attempt to moved myself more quickly toward the next moment of importance or connection instead of enjoying my life in the moment and appreciating the significance of my past.

picture2The afternoon of that same day, we toured the Sanctuary of Asklepios or Asklepion of Epidauros.  An Asklepion is a healing temple and the Asklepion of Epidauros is the first place Asklepios, son of Apollo, was worshiped as the God of Medicine.  Apollo, the God of Music, Light and Truth was also credited with being the God of Healing and giving the science of medicine to man.  People would travel long distance to have their ailments miraculously healed by the God of Medicine in Epidauros.1,5   The process of healing was a holistic approach, using exercise, rest, cleansing and nourishment for the physical body, wisdom and understanding for the intellect, laughter and entertainment for the emotions and prayer and worship of the Gods to increase faith and spiritual awareness.  It was believed that practicing these activities would stimulate the body’s healing ability and assist the sick in regaining health.1,5

picture3The sick that came to be healed first went through purification in the baths.  The baths were fed by mineral springs in the area.  This was said to be water from the Gods.  This was for hygiene, as well as the mineral water contributing to the healing taking place at Asklepion of Epidauros.   The sick would then rest in dormitories accompanied by the attendant that came with them.  They were fed a ritual diet that varied depending on their wealth.  It is theorized that the poor who came to seek healing from Asklepios would most likely eat a diet of barley paste and greens.1,6   The greens were probably similar to horta still eaten today.  Horta, translates literally to mean weeds, which include, but are not limited to, wild spinach, fennel leaves, stinging nettles, poppy picture4leaves, dandelion greens, purslane, amaranth, and beetroot leaves.7   The wealthy patients who came for healing needed more formal meals and probably shared with the priests, the sacrificed offerings from the altar.  It was written that the thigh bone, entrails and some fat were all that was put on the altar as an offering and the rest was used for food, as well as the non-blood picture5offerings of bread, milk, honey, fruit, grain and wine.6  Once the afflicted were cleansed, nourished and rested, they were entertained with theatrical and athletic performance or participation. Music, singing, poetry, prayer and meditation were other means of soothing and invigorating the healing properties of the body.  Once ready they would enter the Abaton, the sleeping quarters for the sick only.  They would sleep here until they were visited by the Gods in a dream and healed.

DCIM100GOPROThe purpose for the healing environment created at the Asklepion was reestablishing balance in life.  The healing process focused on; resting the body; nourishing the body; reducing stress by putting the sick at ease; bringing them enjoyment and giving them opportunity for fulfillment and reflection on their circumstances and surrounds.  As I have gone through my life I have learned that complete wellness comes from achieving health physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  It was humbling to see this model practiced so clearly back in that time. This further reinforced the feeling from the Franchthi Cave, that these are my ancestors and I am connected to them still. Then the epiphany, we all are connected to them, which makes everyone my family.

picture6I had been blind to this connection.  The ignorance of which allowed me to disrupt the balance and peace in my own life with the illusion of being able to control time and judging others for not.  This is destructive to health and wellness, the opposite of what I was trying to accomplish with my life.  The incongruence of my actions, thoughts and emotions with my stated desire was revealed in Greece.  Then appropriately, at the Asklepion of Epidauros the healing began.  This experience has opened my mind and heart and created a more culturally competent individual, a little less capable of judgment and a better model for health and wellness.

My thanks to you Asklepios, God of Medicine, for all you have given me.

References:

  1. (Takis, personal communication, January 2 – January 8, 2017)
  2. http://archaeology.about.com/od/archa13/a/franchthi.htm
  3. http://www.ascsa.edu.gr/pdf/uploads/hesperia/147874.pdf
  4. http://what-when-how.com/ancient-europe/franchthi-cave-postglacial-foragers-80004000-b-c-ancient-europe/
  5. http://ancient-greece.org/archaeology/epidauros.html
  6. https://archive.org/stream/39002011213262.med.yale.edu/39002011213262.med.yale.edu_djvu.txt
  7. http://greekvegetarian.blogspot.com/2013/03/horta-steamed-greens-with-fresh-lemon.html
  8. http://www.diazoma.gr/300-Diadromes-Parka/ENHANCEMENT-of-the-Asklepieion-at-Epidauros.pdf

Nut your Ordinary Pistachio

On our first day on the island of Aegina, we started it off with a tour of the pistachio corporative. The head pistachio farmer welcomed us into his facility where they store, roast, and package the pistachios. Being led on a tour through the facility, getting to see all the equipment and receiving an explanation of the step-by-step process of a pistachio’s journey from a tree to the consumer, was equal to being on a real life episode of the Food Network television show Unwrapped and this was the Greek edition.

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The farmer points out features of a pistachio tree.

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At the end of summer, in the blazing August sun, it is time for the pistachios to be harvested. On Aegina, the cooperative collects pistachios from different groves all over the island, offering farmers a fair rate for their crop. Then they are placed in a cooler to dry out for storage. When they receive orders, either local or from anywhere in Greece, they are pulled from storage and go through a processing cycle to dry them out and then package them and ship them off. In the first step of the processing cycle, the nuts go through a cement spinner type of machine that tosses the nuts in citric acid and salt for taste and preservation. There are no chemical additives or other flavorings used.

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Next, they go through much larger machine where the nuts are dried out to create the perfect texture. I am not exaggerating when I say other pistachios that I have eaten do not compare to these delicious nuts. The crunchy texture and buttery taste come from the high quality and freshness of the product, which is achievable because it’s a local product with minimal processing. The farmer informed us if we ever had a chewy pistachio that means the nut is stale but that would not be something that would happen with Greek pistachios from Aegina.

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A cracked open nut and shells of the pistachios we sampled during the tour of the cooperative.

On Aegina, the main crop used to be grapes for making wine, but in 1860 they started to grow pistachios because they were a higher profit crop. They removed the grape vines and replaced them with pistachio trees. The rest is history. The pistachio industry plays an important role for the farming community and for the whole island of Aegina. Much of the food consumed on the island is local and seasonal because importing out of season produce is costly and is not environmentally friendly. This sounds inconvenient but there are benefits, such as less processing and transportation required. Also, the farmers have more integrity regarding the food they are farming, knowing it will be feeding members of their own community. A drawback is, if there is a poor season, crops won’t be plentiful and then there might not be enough food available for local consumption or to sell commercially in other parts of Greece. This can be economically harmful to the farmers, store owners, and consumers. The latter happened this past season for the pistachio trees on Aegina. The farmer said it might be attributed to the mild winter that preceded, but it resulted in a small harvest, which was not even half the amount usually produced. Normally, in January, there would still be pistachios in storage, available for big orders, but the week before we arrived they had just roasted the last batch for an order and there were no more nuts left.

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Pastries made with phyllo and pistachios from a bakery on Aegina.

Many of the small shops on the Aegina waterfront sold  the local pistachios, and also, to our surprise we found it in a nut butter and of course in the bakeries sprinkled on cookies or in delicious baklava.

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Aegina pistachios in many forms sold outside a local shop.

 

 

 

 

If you find yourself in a Mediterranean market and see a package of pistachios from Greece, I highly recommend you pick up a pack. You will not be disappointed.

Lights, Incense, Action! A Greek Orthodox Encounter

  By: Lauren Martin         

          Ding! Dong! Ding! Dong! Bleary eyed, I groaned to myself, “What ungodly hour of the morning is this?” as I checked my phone. 7 AM my phone reported. Resigned to the fact that my wakefulness was inevitable, I sat up in bed and realized that these were church bells I was hearing. “Wow, perhaps not such an ungodly hour of the morning,” I mused to myself. “Well, of course,” I reasoned, “I would hear the church bells go off, since we were staying in close proximity to a local church on the island, Aegina.” I silently forgave the church bells for disturbing me, so long as they did not make a habit out of it. Guess what they did? They made a habit out of it. Every morning, whether we were on Aegina or in the small town of Nea Kios, I awoke to the persistent ringing of church bells. I found it quite impossible to ignore, much less to sleep through, the toiling of these bells. I decided to act upon the old phrase, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!” Seven o’clock in the morning is a little early for my own Catholic Masses in Baton Rouge, but we were quite a long way from there.

I had promised my devout father that I would make my greatest effort to attend Catholic Mass on Sundays while abroad, but a Greek Orthodox service would have to suffice. As it turned out, I was actually an endangered species, since Greece is 98% Greek Orthodox! So, on the Eve of the Solemnity of the Epiphany, I marched myself across the town center in Nea Kios promptly after I heard the church bell’s first ring. Herein lies my first error in Greek Orthodox etiquette: no one is ‘on time’ for Greek Orthodox Mass or service, not even the priests! Realizing I had already identified myself as an ‘outsider,’ I discreetly and respectfully sat down in the small, ornate chapel, and quietly waited for the service to unfold. Slowly, as the church bells cycled through their second and third round of chimes, the local peoples trickled in. It was during this time that I observed a peculiar ritual: each person, upon entry, would kiss an elaborately decorated book or icon (it was difficult to discern what it was from a distance) displayed in the center of the chapel, kiss a small cross, placed next to it, multiple times, and then made a small loop around the perimeter of the church’s interior to kiss various icons of Mother Mary or other Saints. The walls and ceilings of this church were covered in Byzantine style mosaics and framed icons. My own ponderings led me to conjecture this was some method of paying respects, but I verified this with the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of America1 to make certain. Their website explains that the kissing of icons is an “acknowledge[ment] that the icon is a reminder that the link between the icon and the person it represents in heaven is real.”Orthodox belief holds that the veneration for the icons (kissing them) will be received by the holy person it portrays.

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[Icon of Mary holding the baby Jesus in a small mountainside chapel near Nea Kios, Greece]

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[Icon of St. George on presentation table]

As the various worshipers entered and made their icon veneration rounds, the presiding priests and deacons carried on the service with much chanting and wafting of heavily scented incense throughout the small chapel. The many candles, the intoxicating burning incense, and the richly colored iconography covering the inner walls from ceiling to floor created an environment distinctly removed from the natural world on the other side of the chapel walls. Indeed, our service was well underway. There were three different men conducting this prayer service. Our guide while exploring Nafplio and Nea Kios, Takis, related to me that there were three major orders which required a special ordination process in the Greek Orthodox church: the diaconate (deacons), the presbyterate (priests), and the episcopacy (bishops).

The deacon ministering during the service wore an ornate gown with a narrow stole over one shoulder and across his body, which the Orthodox Deacons Organizationterms an orarion. The main roles of a deacon during Mass are coordinating and leading liturgical worship, music, and church order. Takis told me that the diaconate was an intermediary stage of joining the presbyterate (priesthood). Though I reserve that it is possible the faith is practiced in this fashion in Nafplio, where Takis is from, the Orthodox Deacons Organization explains that the Orthodox diaconate can actually function as a life-long vocation as well, and that the conception of the diaconate only functioning as a stepping stone to priesthood is a common misconception among their faithful.2

Another presiding minister whose vestments were particularly fascinating was a man wearing a floor length, beautifully embroidered red cape with shiny gold trimming, called a phelonion3. The man vested in this phelonion was a priest, whose primary duty during a Mass is to perform the rites during which transubstantiation (the changing of bread and wine to the body and blood of Jesus Christ) occurs. The third man I observed was an additional, older priest, who wore similar vestments to the man just described, although in white rather than red.

While no bishop was present during the service I attended, there was a bishop present for the traditional Blessing of the Water ceremony on the Solemnity of the Epiphany, a special holy day within the Greek Orthodox tradition. Bishops can be distinguished most easily by their omophorion, a scarf-like vestment worn around the shoulders which symbolizes a bishop’s spiritual and ecclesiastical authority, and the mitre, which is an elaborately decorated headdress.4 Unlike priests and deacons, bishops reserve the ability to ordain other holy ministers. Additionally, although deacons and priests are allowed to marry before their ordination, only priests who elect to remain celibate may be ordained as bishops.

 

deacon

[Deacon]

priest

[Priest]

bishop

[Bishop]

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[Bishop mitre]

If there was anything lacking from this intricate service, it was silence. Never was there a moment when one of priests or the deacon was not chanting. In fact, quite often two of the men were chanting separate prayers or readings in ancient Greek simultaneously! (Add this overlapping speech to the fact that I possessed extremely limited vocabulary in Modern Greek and absolutely none in ancient Greek, and you have one confused LSU student!) Congregational participation was limited to standing and sitting according to appropriate reverence for the duration of the service. For example, towards the end of the service, the congregation stood up while one of the priests, accompanied by the other priest and deacon, walked around the space of the chapel to flick specially blessed holy water onto the congregants. If this holy water were to land upon a Greek Orthodox, he or she would make the sign of the cross three times, starting at the forehead, then the chest, and then the right shoulder followed by the left. Many of the activities the priests and deacon performed occurred behind a wall with a single, centered doorway the congregation could see through. During such activities, we (the congregation) sat respectfully. Occasionally, one of the three ministers would come out from behind the wall to join us in the larger area, to either chant facing us or facing the same direction we were in front of the same book (or icon) each of the congregants had kissed previously. When this happened, we all stood.

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                 [Ex. of wall which separates priestly activities from the congregation. Taken from church located in Nafplio, Greece]

          Throughout my experience, my primary pondering was whether or not this was a Mass or some other sort of prayer service, since there was no indication to either at first. As it turned out, I was partaking in a special prayer service and blessing ritual associated with the Solemnity of the Epiphany. Instead of administering the Eucharist as during a regular Mass, at the end of this approximately two hour service, the three ministers came out from behind the wall with some branches and the same small cross I’d seen the people each kiss upon entering the church. The congregation lined up single file to be individually blessed by the elder priest with this branch, and then step aside to kiss the small cross held by the younger priest three times before either exiting the church or remaining towards the back to mingle with other prayer service attendants.

I attempted to query many of the congregants about what kind of plant this was that the priest was blessing people with. However, none of the individuals who were kind enough to attempt a conversation with me spoke enough English to answer my specific question. In fact, the man who spoke the most English was actually a scholar of the German language. Unfortunately, he was also incapable of answering my question in English, and I certainly was incapable of conversing with him in Greek or German! Though I was concerned my presence would be considered a rude intrusion on their religious practices, I was joyfully and kindly reassured by several of the participants that they were pleased I had ventured into their local church, and especially so, since my intent was to learn more about Greek Orthodoxy’s role in their daily lives. As a gesture of respect, I refrained from taking photographs of the inside of their church, since our language barrier prevented me from asking a priest’s permission to do so. However, I have featured below an image of the outside of the church along with several images of other churches’ and chapels’ interiors open for tourists to photograph that were similar architecturally to this particular church I visited. As I bid many people while leaving this church service, Chronya pola! (Many years!)

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[Exterior of Greek Orthodox church at which I attended the prayer service in Nea Kios, Greece]

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[Interior of chapel within Palamidi fortress in Nafplio, Greece]

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[Interior of small chapel built into side of mountain outside Nea Kios, Greece]

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[Ceiling of Church covered with iconography found in Nafplio, Greece]

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[Icons paneling wall separating priestly activities found in chapel within Palamidi fortress]

Additional Sources:

1: http://www.antiochian.org/icons-eastern-orthodoxy

2: http://orthodoxdeacons.org/node/15

3: http://orthovestments.com/

4: http://modeoflife.org/the-liturgical-vestments-of-orthodox-clergy/

What’s a Spoon Sweet?

 

By: Allison Junca

I had never heard of this delicious treat until I was in Greece. Not long after I heard about it, I had a plate of them sitting right in front of me. The name is self-explanatory; one spoonful of this is enough because of how sweet it is. Spoon sweets are some kind of fruit or vegetable that are boiled in a pot of sugar water. After the fruit/vegetable boils for about 35 minutes, they have to be cooled down. Once cooled down, it is evenly divided and placed into mason jars. The finished product is almost like marmalade, except there are bigger chunks of fruit sitting in syrup. This may seem like something simple and you’re probably wondering why I am writing a blog on this, but this treat is more than what you think.

I consumed spoon sweets almost as much as cheese and bread, which says a lot. What is amazing about spoon sweets is that they can be enjoyed with almost any meal. When I first tried a spoon sweet I was in Aegina. It was a pear and it was eaten by itself. I did not think this was the best one compared to the rest that we had, but some of the others did enjoy it. The next time I ate spoon sweets we were at Eleni Dellagrammaticas’s beautiful home for lunch one day. After our amazing meal, which consisted of bread and cheese, Trahana soup, and leftover spanakopita, three kinds of spoon sweets were brought to the table along with yogurt. The sweets were bitter orange, apricot, and carrot (made by Aliki). At first, I was in love with the bitter orange mixed with yogurt, but then I tried the carrot and I quickly changed my mind. The bitter orange was not as sweet as the apricot and it paired well with the yogurt. The carrot was even better; it tasted like carrot cake, which is one of my favorite cakes. We had the bitter orange and the apricot a few more time in Aegina.  We mostly ate them with yogurt as a snack or for a dessert if we had a sweet tooth after a meal. One of my favorite ways that we ate the spoon sweets was for New Years. Ms. Myhand made everyone pancakes and instead of putting maple syrup on top, we put the syrup from the jar with the sweets and a couple of chunks along with it. We did not have the carrot so I used the bitter orange and it was absolutely amazing. Thank you Greece for introducing me to this lovely treat.

One day we went shopping in Aegina and I had told myself that I could not leave Greece without my own jar of spoon sweets. We went in a store and there was an entire shelf with different kinds of spoon sweets. I decided to buy the strawberry kind since they are my favorite fruit. I have not opened the jar yet, but I cannot wait to give it a try!

After one week, we left Aegina and went to Nafplio where we met our tour guide, Takis and his wife, Eleni. We cooked many things at their home almost every day, but the last night we were at their home I was in for a total surprise. Eleni taught us how to make spoon sweets! The fruit that she used for this was called quince. I was very excited to see this process and actually learn how to make this traditional Greek treat. It was a challenge since Eleni does not speak English, but I was able to learn through hand motions and translations from her son Adrianos. When she was finished making them, she put the sweets in small mason jars for all of us to take home with us! So I got to come back home with two different kinds of spoon sweets. It was a lot easier to make than I thought it would be and I will definitely try to make it one day.

Sip some coffee! Eat a cookie! Relax!

 

What could be sweeter than a 2-week study abroad trip to Greece? Throughout our tasty journey, the delicious desserts that we all indulged in definitely took the cake! I was pleasantly surprised to learn that desserts play a significant part in Greek holiday celebrations, culture, and lifestyle. Not only were we constantly sampling sweets, we also had the opportunity to learn about the traditional baking process. Along with many desserts, I also enjoyed a delicious cup of coffee between meals almost every single day. It intrigued me to discover how different Greek coffee and dessert culture was from America. I quickly discovered that drinking coffee in Greece is not just a habit but also a daily ritual that one can enjoy alone, or among friends in a local café.

greece-16           From the moment all of us arose in the early chilly mornings, we were almost immediately offered a cup of Greek coffee. Similar to Americans, Greeks love to kick start their day enjoying a nice cup of coffee. Our group socialized and got to know each other well by the end of the trip. Most of our conversations and storytelling occurred over daily coffee just as the Greeks would do with their friends and family. Greek coffee is unique because of how thick and strong it is. It is made with a finely ground coffee that is boiled in a pot called a “birki”. A unique factor, that I was initially not aware of, was that Greek coffee is served with the grounds settled at the bottom of the cup. Upon my first cup of Greek coffee, I accidentally sipped some of the grinds and immediately was overcome by a bitter, unpleasant taste. Of course, I was not used to grounds purposely served in coffee so at first, I had no idea what I tastedgreece-coffee. Another quality of the coffee was that it was served in small cups compared to the coffee servings we are used to in the U.S. Greeks are known to slowly sip their coffee at a relaxed pace which makes this ideal for social gatherings. During our travels, it was very common to walk past a group of people sitting at a café or a coffee shop with a drink in hand chatting to one another. One night while we were wandering through Nafplio, we sat down at a local café and ordered some coffee. I quickly drank my coffee and expected to go straight to dinner, but I realized that we were there to do as the Greeks would and take our time. The purpose was to talk to each other about the day and slowly sip our drinks that were served with some delicious cookies and honey balls. Although I finished my coffee, I realized that I should just relax and admire the beautiful scenery around us. This coffee shop had a very cozy patio setting amidst vibrant outdoor furnaces to keep us all warm in the freezing winter weather. We all plopped down like potatoes on two large comfy couches and watched the shoppers in the surrounding square buzzing about. After a while of fun conversations we decided to greece 2.pnggo to dinner, and I noticed that people who had been there longer than we had were still enjoying coffee and chatting. One of my favorite aspects of the Greek culture is that people never seem to be in a rush when they are in the company of friends and family. They love to relax and spend quality time with the people they care about. Coffee is definitely a major part of Greek culture and plays a part in the social atmosphere of Greece.

Another aspect of Greece that was so delightfully different from home was all of the desserts. When we arrived at our hostel in Aegina, we were immediately welcomed with traditional Greek Christmas cookies. The first cookie I tried was called melomakarona, and I quickly realized how sweet and highly addictive this ginger cookie was. The other cookie that was served was Kourambiethes. Similar to a beignet, when you eat this cookie you will end up with powdered sugar all over your shirt and a satisfied, sweet crumbly taste in your mouth. We visited a monastery while in Aegina where we were invited inside the living area of nuns who offered us melomakaronas, kourambiethes, and water to drink.

greece 3.png            These cookies are extremely prevalent in Greek culture throughout the holidays so luckily, we had the opportunity to try them many times throughout our trip. One of my favorite desserts of the trip was the traditional cake served on Greek New Years called vasolopita. After a wonderful New year’s dinner in a quaint restaurant along the sea of Aegina, our waiter shouted a merry “Kali Chrona” (happy New Year) and brought us all out a slice of their delicious New Year’s vasolopita. This traditional cake is a beautiful pale yellow color with the New Year numbers written out on the top of it. We saw these cakes through multiple bakeries and also had the opportunity to bake our own.

Greeks realize the importance of taking a step back, relaxing and being able to treat yourself once in a while whether that be sipping on a cup of coffee, or enjoying a nice slice of cake. They realize it is important to not only nourish your body but also your soul. We were able to live as Greeks do and shout “Kali Chronia!” as the clock struck midnight and confetti went flying everywhere. With the warm comfort of all my new friends, I joyfully dined and indulged in the wonderful vasolopita for the rest of the night. We all took something special away from our marvelous time spent in Greece. I will always remember how Greece taught me to appreciate the moments we have surrounded by the things we love. Sometimes you just need to take a step back from the busy, hectic world and sip some coffee! Eat a cookie! Relax!

By Alexa Bennett