The narrow streets of Thessaloniki with their identical low-slung buildings seemed to lack landmarks. I thought that if I got lost there, it would be difficult for me to figure out my location. Thessaloniki is located in a seismically active zone, which has its impact on the city architecture.
Surely, our visit to this city did not go without amusing incidents. First, the guys from Mouzenidis took us to a rather large church and said that we were about to see “the one and only” icon of the Mother of God called the “Three-handed”. According to my information, that icon (the one associated with St John of Damascus) is kept in the Hilandar monastery on Mount Athos. But the confidence of our tour guides made me doubt that. Entering the church, we reverently crossed ourselves. Trying to keep up with the brisk pace of our guides, we followed them into a small side chapel. There was a large silver-plated icon of the Mother of God on the wall opposite the entrance. I came closer and (Lord forgive me, a sinner), instead of praying, began to look for a third hand on the icon. It was nowhere to be found, and the Greek inscription on the right side of the icon read “Κύκκος” (Kykkos). In all likelihood, it was a copy of the Kykkos Merciful icon (the original is in Cyprus). I walked out of the church confused and I remembered with shame that I did not even pray as I was venerating the icon of the Mother of God! Returning to the church and approaching the image, I involuntarily began to look for the third hand again. What a temptation! In the meantime the guys from the touring company continued to insist that it was the “Three-handed” icon. To change the subject, I asked them where we were going next. They answered that we were going to the relics of the holy great martyr Demetrius of Thessaloniki. The bus pulled out into the street, and I noted having already seen a monument that we were passing.
Entering another big church, we were greeted by gypsy beggars. It was quite crowded inside. First, our guides took us to the place where the great martyr was executed, and then, pointing to a silver reliquary, they left us alone.
Making the sign of the cross, I held my breath asI approached the shrine. Ignoring the people passing by, and the pain caused by the leg, bruised before the pilgrimage, I got down on my knees and prayed with my forehead pressed against the cold glass. After finishing my prayer, I walked around the canopy covering the reliquary and found out with surprise that, while praying to the Great Martyr Demetrius, I was venerating someone else’s relics. At that moment I was really beginning to doubt the competence of our guides. Using my modest knowledge of the Greek language acquired at the seminary, I managed to read the tablet and found out that the relics that I had been venerating belonged to the Martyr Anisia of Thessaloniki. She lived a
her short life as a pious Christian, and was killed one day as she was on her way to church. At that time, the killing of Christians by the emperor’s soldiers was an ordinary thing. Saint Anisia refused to go to a pagan holiday, after which a warrior, tearing off the veil from her head, tried to force her to go. She boldly professed her faith. In a frenzy, the warrior stabbed Anisia with his sword.
I looked around and saw the ciborium where the relics of the great Christian saint rested. Entering the shade and bowing to the ground three times, I forgot about everything in the world. I addressed the Great Martyr Demetrius who was invisibly present with all who turned to him. I asked him for strong faith. I asked to love God. I also asked that no torment could separate me from Christ. Holding the icons purchased in the church shop against the relics, I knelt down and prayed that God’s grace would abide with these images that I would take to Levkorosia (the Greek name for Belarus – Editor). We were in no hurry to leave and walked down to the crypt (the lower underground part of the church), where there is a massive chalice containing the fragrant myrrh from the relics of the saint. It had previously been exuded so abundantly that the Great Martyr Demetrius was also called Demetrius the Myrrh-Streaming. We venerated the relics at least four times.
Looking out of the bus window, I once again noticed the familiar monument with a figure on a horse… We continued our pilgrimage and after driving along the narrow Thessaloniki streets stopped near a church located in what I defined as lowlands. The palm trees beautifully framing the territory of the ancient basilica looked huge to me. According to our guides, we had come to the relics of St Gregory Palamas. Taught by our previous experience, we went inside and carefully began to move counterclockwise in the church space. After completing the full circle, we venerated the relics of St Basil of Thessaloniki, but we could not find the relics of St Gregory anywhere in that church. I went up to the man in the gift shop and asked him in broken Russian (it seemed like foreigners understood it better) where the relics of St Gregory Palamas were.
“Two streets down”. That sounded like a brief and clear answer. Passing by the monument “with the horse” at least four times that day, we finally found the Church of St Gregory…
And yet, we were very grateful to our tour guides. After all, they are more used to tourists than pilgrims…
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds