Sunday, April 25, 2010
Back To Athens!
Wow, crazy things have been happening. Surprise! I'm no longer in Cyprus. I'm in Athens again... Cyprus has an issue with American missionaries so a bunch of Cyprus missionaries were changed and will be changed. I didn't have long there, but at least I was granted the time that I had and had the experiences I had. I'll definitely miss it very much. So as you might have guessed my mailing address has changed yet again back to the Panayias Eleftherotrias 9 address that I had before. I'm getting a new companion as well. His name is Elder Hall from Boise, Idaho. He's a really good missionary and an excellent Greek speaker. I'll learn a lot from him.
I miss Cyprus very much already. I feel as though I've left home again. I suppose there are many times in our lives when we think we know exactly what should happen, but in reality, it's the Lord who is the decision maker.Though the thing that's happening to us in the very time and place may be hard, or painful, we can know that if we have faith in the Lord, He will deliver us into happiness. He can bear our grief and carry our sorrows. He is filled with a perfect love for every individual, so much that even when we stray from the paths that He has set for us, He always provides a way back. I want whoever is reading this to know that I have a sure testimony of the Savior Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice. And I'm not just saying this thing because I've heard somebody else talking about it, or because that's what mom and dad have taught me since birth; I'm saying it because I've felt the difference and have come to know for myself that this thing is truth. He is the great Mediator, Messiah, and Brother who has plead our case before The Father since before this world was. He is always going to be there when we fall, or feel alone. When our hearts ache, He's there to whisper soothing words of peace. He came to this world for a purpose and He accomplished that purpose perfectly. He entered the garden of Gethsemane for me and for each of us individually and took upon himself my pains and my sorrows, my sins and my temptations, that He might weep alongside me out of understanding what I feel and that He might have the power to break the chains with which Satan has me bound that I might enjoy redemption and rejoice in eternal happiness one day with the people I love. How much do we owe Him? How much are we in debt to Him? We will never be granted the ability to pay Him back, and yet He still asks for one thing in return: Our hearts, our love, our faith. They're all the same really. The one Being that had everything chose to give up everything for us. I know that we are never lost because of our Savior. He is the Christ. The King of kings of which prophets have prophesied since the beginning of the world, the Prince of Peace, the Great Messiah, the loving Brother and God, the Healer of Souls. You may think it strange that I can believe such things. Most of the world, after all, seems to think that religion's a joke, a fraud, a lie. It's not true. I have felt the difference between faith and rebellion and I can say from personal experience that there is a God, and happiness comes only through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ and in no other way.
Have a great week everybody,
Yeia Sas Oly kay Cronia Polla!!!!
So begins the largest celebration of the year in Greece: ee megalee evthomatha (the big week) which leads up to Paska! (Easter) It's a pretty big deal if you remember from last year. Olga invited us over for Easter dinner, but she hasn't called in a while. I'll have to call her today.
The musical celebration is coming along really well! The missionaries are beginning to catch the vision and sound really good. The actual performance will be on the 10th and the 11th of April. I'm glad and excited to be doing it, but man is it stressful!
Good news!!!! We have investigators!!!! We met a girl sitting in front of the Panepistimio (university) and did a survey with her. We told her about how we were teaching people about a prophet that God has called today. She got really excited! "A prophet?! That lives today?! What has he said!? Where is he!? How come I've never heard of him before!? The people need to know about this!!!" Were some of her words. She's really a great girl. Her name is Evangelia (Ev-an-gel-eea). She's currently celebrating the Easter week and paska in her horio (village). We met with Hope as well and she's doing very well! She still has her Book of Mormon from last summer and what to start meeting again and coming to church as well as the musical presentation. She's way cool, I'm glad we found each other again. Elder Hall was able to get in contact with a family he used to teach who have interest in learning again. They live in a village on the Peleponese called Patra. Will be driving over there in two weeks the day of the musical celebration. It's a three hour drive, that'll be fun just before a performance. blah. But I'll get to see scenic Greece! The Peloponese is the large peninsula that makes up the bottom third of Greece, and is supposed to be the most beautiful part of the country, the place around which ancient Greece was centered. So yeah! I'll keep you guys posted on how those people are doing!
This last week we took Manolis out for gyros to celebrate Greek Independence Day, the day the Greeks rebelled against the Turks who had occupied the country for many years. He's doing really well! The gyro shop is in Aigaleo, so w had the chance to walk through the city and he remenised about the first time he met the missionaries and even pointed out the spot in the large Plateia in the middle of the city. It was a great experience.
Anyway, it's always great to hear from you guys. Have an awesome week! Kalo Paska!!!!
Yeia Sas Everybody!!!
Wow, what a tiring week! I'm about to fall asleep just sitting here writing this e-mail. Paska was great!!! The whole week was great, really. This last Friday we celebrated something called the Epitafio. Every day in the "Holy Week" celebrates a different event of the Savior's last week. The epitafio represents the crucifiction. The woman and children made a big funeral bed out of flowers inside the church. Everyone gathered within and without holding lit candles while a very joyful woman weaved through the crowds sprinkling the hands of all with a sweet smelling ointment, symbolic of Mary's contribution to the Christ. Evening mass started the event as the Papas chanted mourning hymns. When he finished the funeral bed was carried out into the streets. As it passes the masses of people, they threw white flower petals on it. As it continued down the street, the crowds follow it as one lonely bell sounds in the bell free. Winding though the dark streets, the procession passed opened windows and doors illuminated by candles and insense placed on windowsills gave a sweet scent to the air. People were now throwing the white petals from doorways and balconies onto the moving bier. The streets were paved with carpets to show honor the moment and to bless the homes of the owners. The procession eventually made a circle and ended up back at the church.
The next evening was the larger celebration: Ayio Fos or (Holy Light) The celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. My companions and I climbed the slopes of Lycavitos, a prominent hill in the center which is the highest point in Athens. We were joined by a thick crowd. Like the previous night, this one was started out by chanting from the priests. At midnight, a light was lit within the church which then spread to every individual's candle. I stopped to reflect on the symbols and wondered how many people understood the meaning behind the action. Nearly 2000 years ago, death was overcome from within the tomb at Jerusalem. Jesus Christ resurrected and gave likewise to us the gift of resurrection, of life. As midnight struck, the bells in the bell free of the hilltop chapel peeled in celebration, and fireworks were seen shooting up, illuminating the night sky of the once dark city. Joyful faces shouted in unison, "Xristos anestei!!! Alythos anestei." "Christ is risen!!! Truly, He is risen." Families and loved ones kissed eachother on the cheeks and the priest then led the crowd in the singing of hymns. As the mass ended, everyone carried their still burning candles down the mountain paths, creating streams of light which melded into that of the city's. Having returned home, Greeks would then break their 40 day fast from everything that comes from animals and would feast.
The next day was Paska, or Easter Sunday. We actually didn't end up going to Olga's. She's not doing very well right now. I didn't understand all that her husband was telling me, but I did understand that she's spending long hours in the hospital every night for something that could be fatal. When I heard I made them a large pot of bean soup and a huge ring loaf of their traditional Easter bread, Tsoureki. Olga wasn't there when I went over to give it to them, but Yianni expressed his gratitude in her behalf and she called this morning and invited us over this Saturday for an Easter feast. I told her that she shouldn't in her condition, but she's too Greek, she insisted. Anyway, back to Paska. We started it out by going to sacrament meeting. I sang a song in a quartet, the song being "It Was for Me". After that, the senior couple in the center had a huge Easter dinner layed out for the missionaries after church consisting of various salads, rolls, green beans, and chicken casserole. After that we all headed up to the top floor and watched Ben Hur while eating apple crisp and Milopeta (Greek apple pie). We then all headed to the northern chapel to watch Sunday morning's live session of conference finishing off with that amazing talk given by President Monson. It was a really great day, an Easter that I won't soon forget. It was a time to reflect specifically on that last and most important week of the Savior's life. As He demonstrated when He cursed the fig tree that Monday morning, He had the power to crush His enemies with just the thought; so why didn't He demonstrate His power while being whipped by the roman guards? Why didn't He crush the mocking crowds which defamed him? Why didn't He save Himself from the cross which he hung from? Why? Because such is the love of God. He had power to destroy His enemies;but He didn't, because even though we sin, even when we disgrace Him and mock Him by our actions and ours words, even though we cause Him pain, we are still his brothers and sisters. That's also why he allowed himself to suffer on the cross, so that we could have life. Even as the city was illuminated by candlelight which came from a single flame, so shall all be made alive because of Him, whether they understand it or not.
Well you guys, I hope you had a great Easter! Until next week!
Yeia Sas Everybody!
Whew. What a week!!! When I say that I think particularly of yesterday. Elder Hall has some investigators in Patra, so we left early Sunday morning and drove there with the AP's. Wow. What an amazing drive!!! Patra is Greece's third largest city and it's situated on the north coast of the Peleponese peninsula. The road takes you through Corith and along the coast of the Corithian Gulf, winding along green mountain cliffs coated in wildflowers which drop down into those famously blue Greek waters. Small villages lined our path clinging to mountain sides, their terracotta tiled roofs reflecting the sunshine, making the villages shine. It reminded me a lot of the drive along highway 1 in California. It was very relaxing. We reached Patra and as we were driving into town the family we had the appointment with canceled on us. Who does that? We drove 2 1/2 hours to see them and then they just bail? No matter. We went and visited another lady who one of the AP's had known. She was very surprised and pleased to see us. She's been taking care of her 98 year old mother. She was very grateful for our surprise visit. After that we decided to drive up into the mountains above Patra, to an ancient village called Clauss. A German man founded it and the first winery in Patra. It was extremely beautiful. Vineyards tiered the mountain side. We parked next to one of them and had had the sacrament using a bottle of water and a muffin. It was one of the most peaceful sacraments that I've ever had. I wish I could do justice to the scene, but I can't in writing. We headed back into the city and stopped at Ayios Andreas, the 2nd largest church in Greece. It was very impressive. It's named after the apostle Andrew who was crucified on the site. Fragments of his cross are inside the church. From there we headed back to Athens. We arrived another 2 1/2 hours later and we had to head straight to the church to begin practice for the presentation which would start in an hour's time. I was dead tired and had a pounding headache. That soon departed as adrenaline and anticipation set in. The chapel filled up! There were many, many more people there this time. The missionaries took courage because of it and nailed it! Everything went very very well in my eyes. The best part about it was the presence of some particular people in the audience. Apparently, that morning, some ladies were walking in the center and saw the posters for the performance that was to take place. They found one of the Elders in the church and he told them how to get there. They got lost on their way, so they asked an orthodox priest who was passing by and he showed them how to get there! They really enjoyed it. The sisters spoke with them and got their number and will begin teaching them soon. A professional Greek singer also came. He really enjoyed it as well and wants to meet with us to learn more. It was worth it! Those people make it all worth it.