Chapter 5: The First Trip to Greece

As we said, George came to the monastery with $700, and in the year 1966, when it was determined that he had the potential to paint icons, Fr. Panteleimon used the $700 to buy him a ticket to Greece so he could learn some basic iconography with Basil Lepouros, a Greek man in Athens who was crippled from the waist down. This Basil was blessed by visits from the famous iconographer Fotios Kontoglou, who gave him some pointers.

The abbot had left for Greece earlier with one of the novices, John (the future Fr. Isaac). John visited New Skete on Athos, while Fr. Panteleimon attended to certain business elsewhere. The abbot intended to meet George at the airport upon his arrival in Athens. However, George‘s flight was terminated at Sofia, Bulgaria. At that time, the Junta (a political takeover by the military) was in power in Greece. They were criticized by the Greek Archbishop Iakovos of America, and since the flight that George was on was a charter flight sponsored by the Greek Archdiocese, it was prevented from landing in Athens as a response to his criticism.

George therefore landed in the small airport of Sofia, Bulgaria, and all the passengers were put on a train, a very slow, slow train that went from Sofia to Athens. All in all, it broadened the horizons for the young man who had never flown on a plane or even been on a train, other than a subway train.

Going through the farmlands of Bulgaria and Greece and seeing the conditions of the countryside was a learning experience, one that gave occular proof of the terrible devastataion wrought by communism.

When the train arrived in Athens, the station was overrun with a great volume of people, friends and relatives who had come to meet the train. George wondered how he would find his abbot among such a throng of people. It turned out to be easy, though, because Fr. Panteleimon was the only one dressed in monastic garb, and was easily identified. He ran up to him with great joy, as one could imagine, but there was not even a smile on his abbot‘s face as he told him, “Get your things and follow me! We‘re late!” Dutifully, George said, “May it be blessed!” There was no conversation because the abbot apparently had other things on his mind.


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