Sunday, May 3, 2009

Spring in Greece!

Eric's Birthday(March 14): Heyyyy everybody!!!!!!

Hmmm, what happened this week that you would want to hear about... oh yeah, I turned 20 on Saturday!!! And what a day it was! To start off, in the morning I was woken up by a call from Elder Enslin, my first companion. He sang happy birthday to me over the loud speaker. We had an appointment up in the hills of Ayia Varvara early in the morning, but when we got there, we learned that the mom (our main investigator for the family) was in Thessaloniki for a couple of days. We didn't have anything else planned so we decided to hike further up to check out the view. We were crossing a plateia (square) and three old men called us over from a bench. They asked us where we were from and all that, and we had a good conversation. They told us that if we wanted to get a good view, we should hike up to a cafe that was higher up the mountain side. So, we did, and it turned out to be AWESOME!!
The view was amazing, amazing! and it was the perfect weather. Elder Monks and I had both skipped breakfast to make the appointment, so it was a good opportunity to enjoy what we found. We both got the nutella covered waffles with cream and strawberry milkshakes. It was a little pricey, but whatever, it was my birthday!!! So we took plenty of pictures, and videos, so I can show you what it was like! I liked it because it was nice and quiet up there, the sun was shining, and we were surrounded by pine trees, out of the city. It was very relaxing. So the waffles were kinda like my cake, they were massive!!! That was definitely a highlight of my day.From there we headed to the Acropoli building for a choir practice for the celebration. It went very well! The elders can pick up on the music fast. Most of them didn't know it was my birthday, but that changed quickly. They all sang happy birthday at the end of the practice.From there we headed home to get some lunch before heading out again. Nothing special, just Pasta Bolegnese and Bruscetta with a Balsamic reduction. haha, I made it by the way. From there we went over to Xristos' house to pick him up to go to Outreach. Do you know what Outreach is? Every Saturday night, young single adult members and non-members alike come and play games, listen to a lesson taught from the Book of Mormon, have a pancake dinner, and then dance until the morning. So we brought Xristos last Saturday and he loved it.We then feasted on pancakes made by the American senior couples. Oh my word!!! They were so good! I hadn't had anything really American up until that point, and you can't get much more American than pancakes and syrup. Yes! Yeeeees!!! So I obviously enjoyed the pancakes, but what made it even better was that I was with all my favorite missonaries and Xristos, the tightest greek dude ever. He didn't know it was my birthday either until Elder Monks told him while we were eating pancakes. He starting singing happy birthday in english. hahaha. It's funny because he can't speak english, and greeks have really funny accents.
Once we were home, I opened the dear elder package and the letter that Glenna and Larry sent. The M&M's were most enjoyable! I went to bed a happy elder. It was a great day!!! And what made it even better was knowing that on the other side of the world, there were others celebrating my birthday as well. Thanks guys!

Hang'n with Flat Stanley:I got a letter this last week from a Hayley Johnson. It didn't register at first who it was, but then I remembered shes my cousin. She sent a paper doll named Flat Stanley, who can travel anywhere in the world because he's flat. It's for school. The kids color their own flat Stanley's and send them as far in the world as they can. I'm supposed to take him around on one of my days now and e-mail back what Stanley and I did, send pictures, and other memorabilia if I'd like. I'm going to try to take Stanley up on the Acropolis and maybe take some pictures in front of the Parthenon. Maybe I'll stick him somewhere in the choir for the musical celebration too. They'll like that I think. Don't tell them though! It'll be a surprise.
So, Stanley and I are having a rockin time touring around Athens, Greece! We took a bunch of pictures and videos this last weekend showing what we saw and did: took a tour around Zeus' Temple and Hadrian's Arch, played some basketball, celebrated my birthday, taught some lessons, and sang in the choir. We didn't get the chance to go up on the Acropolis, but we got some pictures in front of it. I hope she likes it! It was definitely a lot of fun helping her out. So Sydney's doing the same kinda deal huh? Send him on over! We'll have a blast.
Yeah, I got Sydney's Stanley now and I took him with me to Delphi. It was a lot of fun doing Hayley's, and the other Elder's had fun too!

Zone Trip:

Yeia Sas everybody!!!

So today was a very good day. I forgot to tell you last week, but today was the zone trip day for the transfer. We got to go to one of the most beautiful places in greece, the ancient sanctuary of Delphi. It was an important place for all the rivaling greek city-states of the time: Athens, Sparta, Thebes. It was a place of neutrality. The most important aspect to the ancient greeks was that Delphi was the home of "The Oracle", a priestess who would predict the future and advise city-states on what coarse of action to take. No wonder it was destroyed. It's an amazing sight sitting high up on a mountain slope. We started out by going to check out the Tholos, a round columned building where the oracle may have made her prophesies.
. We then checked out the gynasium where you can still see the running track still partly lined with ancient columns. The Castilian Spring still runs though Delphi, once filling baths for the athletes. I got to sit in an ancient and massive jacuzzi. It was dry of coarse because the spring has been redirected. The greeks were genious! You can see how the baths were fed by small canals edged in the rock. From there we headed further up the slope, taking time to drink from the Castilian Spring, pure water just pouring out of the mountain side. The spring had a lot of significance to the ancient greeks too. Anyone who wanted to enter the sactuary had to first cleanse themselves in the pure water because Delphi was very sacred to them. We then saw the once grand temple of Apollo, the ancient ampitheatre, and the stadium where sporting competitions like that of the olympics were held.After Delphi, we drove about 20 minutes further to the 4th largest Byzantine monastery in greece, Osios Lukas. It too had amazing views and the architecture of the complex was amazing. Greek Orthodox churches are very impressive in general, but this one blows them all away. Vaulted ceilings supported by pillars, and ancient fading frescoes painted everywhere, the most impressive being of Christ and His apostles painted on the dome of the ceiling. Oh yeah, and there was a dead Poppas (Orthodox Priest) laying snow white style in a glass box. Most of him was covered, but it was still way gross.
At the very end, I had the chance to spend 5 minutes lying in the flowers soaking up the sun. It was much needed. So, really, I got to see what greece looks like beyond the borders of Athens. It is spectacular!!!! No, really, it's AMAZING!!! Rolling green hills with shepherds and their flocks resting on them, olive groves with spring flowers blooming everywhere, lakes, small red tile-roofed villages nestled in valleys and against the slopes of snow-capped mountains. INCREDIBLE!!! I literally felt like I was in a movie or something, like Frodo making my way to Mordor. haha. It was definitely Europe, the real deal, untouched and perfect. haaaa. So today was a very good day.

Six Months!:

I miss California!!! But, I'm far from ready to come home. I had another bad dream last night. My mission was over and I really wished that I could go back. I can't believe it's been 6 months already. My mission is 1/4 over! That's insane how quickly it's all gone by. My mission has kind of gone through chapters so to say. I guess every time I get a new companion another chapter begins.
Again the transfer is coming to a close and the possibility of me leaving Aigaleo is visible. I don't really want to leave, and I don't want Elder Monks to leave either. We've got a good thing going here.
So, I bet you're all anxious to hear where I'll be serving for the next two months. The answer is: Aigaleo! I get to stay in Aigaleo making it a full 6 months I'll have been there. It's pretty safe to say now that after these next two months I will most definitely be moving. I wish I could say that Elder Monks is staying too, but he's not. He's being set to kavala, a village on Greece's Northern coast. He doesn't seem too excited. I know he'll have a great time though. He'll make it happen. My new companion is an American from Idaho by the name of Elder Southwick. I hear he's a very hard worker. That's good! Aigaleo needs him right now. I don't know what to expect because I've never met him before, but I'm sure we'll get along swimmingly. haha. Today is our final hours together, Elder Monks and I. Today at around 3 p.m. we'll drop him off at the train station and I'll go and stay with Elder Enslin in Pangrati for the night, then tomorrow we'll meet Elder Southwick (coming from Kavala).

Hey!!!! KALO PASKA!!!!! (Happy Easter!!)

Hey everybody! How's it going? I'm doing very well. We just experienced Greek culture at it's best. It was Paska this last weekend. Here, they follow what happened on the last week of the Savior's life. Friday night was Epitafiou. We gathered with hundreds of Greeks at a Greek Orthodox Church. There they sung dirges and everyone lit there own candles. They made a big funeral bed out of flowers (symbolizing the death of Christ) and at the end they marched with it through the streets in silence, except for one bell ringing in the church bellfree. The next day is known as the Anastasy (the Resurrection) and that night, To Ayio Fos (The Holy Light). We were allowed to go to Ayio Fos (it takes place at midnight) and it was awesome!!! We went to the biggest church in Athens which is called Metropoli. This is the highlight of the whole celebration. Everyone brings candles. A flame is lit within the church and lights every candle spreading through the square in the front of the church. A Papas comes out and sings until midnight, when all the church bells break out, everyone shouts "Christ is resurrected!!!" and they all kiss each other on the cheeks. It was pretty cool. I've become a pro at that by the way, the whole cheek kiss thing. I've gotten a lot of practice on Olga, a 70 year old woman. Hahaha. Anyway, the whole celebration represents the light, or life, that comes from the tomb in Jerusalem. Everyone then walks home with their Ayio Fos still burning and scourches a cross in the threshold of their front door. The next day (Sunday) we walked to church passing families with massive rotisseries out in front of their homes getting ready to roast whole lambs. We had a great sacrament meeting focused on the resurrection of the Savior.
That night, we were supposed to have dinner with Olga and Yianni, but they were invited to another family's celebration, so we went contacting in the Park. Not having much success, we decided to sit down for a bit. An older man walked up to us and asked if he could sit with us. I don't know why, usually people turn and run when they see us coming. He was very upset about something, throwing out comments about how the world doesn't contain good people anymore. We were able to share a very good message about how if we want to find good in other people, we have to be good ourselves by helping those around us and bearing them up. He agreed with us in the end and we left him with a pamphlet and a flier for the musical presentation. He said he'd like to come to church sometime. I hope he comes. So that night, we made our own greek feast. We bought some rotisserie lamb the day before and made Pastitsio with it (layered noodles, meat sauce, cream mixture, and cheese, baked), with Greek salad and rouille dip and bread on the side. It was suprisingly really, really good! We could here from our appartment the parties happening around us. Greeks throw the best parties. They put on Greek music with Bazouki's (guitars with thin strings) and drums. Oh my word, Greek music is tight! And they gather around in a circle and do these cool dances, everyone shouting, laughing, clapping in unison. I LOVE GREECE!!! The culture feels like a mixture of European and Pacific Islander. It's so cool what they do! So, today, since we didn't get to see Olga yesterday, we had a PHAT Paska afternoon meal with her. She always makes twice as much as we can eat: Lamb, orzo pasta, greek salad, bread with feta cheese and tzatziki, boiled eggs all dyed red... and then the main dish: It looked like artichoke hearts in spinach at first, so, very contently, I shoved a chunk of lamb heart into my mouth! SICK!!! It was a mixture of lamb heart, lung, and kindney, sat there all served up on my plate, in a particularly large portion might I add! It wasn't so disgusting that I couldn't eat it, but it still felt very wrong. They dont waste any part of the lamb, that's the way way things go in Greece I guess. But besides the lamb guts, Paska is the best!!! I don't think anywhere else in the world do they celebrate Christ's resurrection more than his birth, and really, Paska is bigger than even Christmas. The symbolism is intense and it all points right back to Christ. Seeing all these traditions has really reminded me of what Christ has done for us all. The deepest symbol I saw, that many might not have, was the fact that the light from the church, or the tomb at Jerusalem, lit every individual's candle. The fact that Christ was resurrected means that everyone will be resurrected one day. The power of the atonement has broken the bands of death like it says in The Book of Mormon, giving life, immortal life, to all men. What would be the point of life if we were to spend our time here and then just pass away? No, God has a plan, and that plan includes life after death. How that life will be, however, is up to us.
Well, I guess I'll wrap things up. From Athens, Greece: Elder Mortensen signing out!
Have a great week!

Presvyteros Eric (: