Archimandrite Dorotheos (Dbar) JOURNEY TO ITALY

 

 

Archimandrite Dorotheos (Dbar)

JOURNEY TO ITALY[1]

Background

 

One of the priests of the Metropolis (Diocese) of the Greek Orthodox Church, which I belong to, is raising five children. Three of them are his own children, and the priest (or, as the Greeks say, papulis) adopted two children. The circumstances were as follows: two young women confessed to the priest in the parish church that they were going to have an abortion. In order to prevent such a terrible sin, the priest promised the women that he would adopt their children when they were born. And he kept his word.

The economic crisis has been lasted in Greece for several years and it worsened the life of the priest’s family. Life has become difficult and over the past three years I have been providing him with a little finance assistance.

But my story is not about the priest’s family. In early 2012, the priest’s eldest son won a lottery trip for two people in Italy. However, neither the son, nor the priest had the opportunity to travel and they gave the won tickets to the secretary of our Metropolis, Vasilios, who is studying Italian and has already visited different regions of Italy several times.

However, Vasilios told the Metropolitan that Fr. Dorotheos also deserved that trip (because of the little help that I provided to the family of a priest with many children). So I had the opportunity to visit Italy for the first time.

The day after the patronal feast of the monastery of St. Raphael, Nicholas and Irina, on 18 April 2012, my companion and I flew from the airport of Thessaloniki to Rome. We flew with one of the cheap European low-cost airlines.

The main difference between such flights from ordinary ones is that the seats in the cabin are very narrow, you take an empty seat; you are allowed to have only one bag of a certain size with you, the weight of it does not exceed ten kilograms; no free treats on board; during the flight, passengers are offered to buy souvenirs, lottery tickets, perfumes, etc. This is a kind of attempt to compensate for the costs of an airline that implements cheap flights.

I was satisfied with the flight. I believe that such flights are very convenient for most students, which I am too.

 

The eternal city of Rome

 
In the afternoon we were already in Rome.

It is impossible to say something new about the eternal city. So much has already been written about this city that it makes no sense to repeat all over again. However, I will share some impressions of this majestic city under the open sky.

Having left our things in the room of the pilgrim hotel (by the way, the payment was not high – 30 € per person), we headed to the nearby Cathedral of Rome – San Giovanni in Laterano. The base of the current Cathedral is an ancient basilica, built in the 4th century by the holy emperor Constantine the Great. The first baptistery of the city, where the Romans were baptized in ancient times, is also preserved and it is situated next to the basilica.

The first things I noticed are features of the ancient basilicas of Rome: the magnificent mosaic floor covering, marble columns and mosaic panneau in the altar section. In addition, all the basilicas of Rome have preserved one more feature of ancient Christian churches: under the Holy thrones, where the Eucharist is celebrated on, there are “larnacas” (tombs) with the relics of the holy martyrs. Above the level of the columns, all of these churches are decorated inside and outside in a Renaissance style. Although it is worth to note that the art and architecture of the Renaissance, baroque and gigantomania of the popes destroyed the grace, simplicity and beauty of ancient Roman Christian churches. The huge sculptures of those epochs on the facades of churches have little in common with the exquisite statues of ancient Rome, some of them can be seen in the galleries of the Vatican Museum.

19 April. Opposite the San Giovanni in Laterano Cathedral there is a building with three wide staircases inside. The central one, called the Scala Sancta (Holy Staircase), is the very staircase from the praetorium of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem, which Christ climbed. Traditionally, pilgrims climb this staircase on their knees, saying a prayer on each step. There is a room upstairs called the Sancta Sanctorum (the Holy of Holies), one of the oldest images of the Mandylion is kept there.

Passing through the old blocks of Rome, we saw bas-reliefs and mosaic images of the Virgin, inserted into facades of many residential buildings, with burning electric candles and flowers in front of them.

Surely, we could not help attending a coffee shop. Coffee drinks are as popular and loved in Italy as they are in Greece. There are many recipes for their preparation (that time I preferred to have Сappuccino). I must say that most tourists mistakenly believe that during the first visit of Italy, everyone must try pasta and pizza, the main meals of the Italian cuisine. Of course, the variety of ways of preparing pasta and pizza is very impressive, but the taste and variety of Italian ice cream (Gelato) and sweets (for example, Tiramisù) are not worse.

On the way back, we attended another ancient basilica Santa Croce in Gerusalemme (basilica of the “Holy Cross in Jerusalem»), most of the remnants of the True Cross are kept there.

In the afternoon we decided to take a walk towards the Colosseum. On the way we attended many ancient churches. One of them is the ancient Basilica of San Clemente with stunning marble floor covering and magnificent mosaics in the altar section. The tomb of the enlightener of the Slavic peoples, St. Cyril is situated in this basilica. On the wall above the tomb there are many marble tablets with gratitude inscriptions addressed to the holy brothers of Thessaloniki from representatives of the Slavic peoples and states.
Let me remind that it is known about the existence of the Abkhazian liturgical language in the Middle Ages from the biography of Saint Cyril (Saint Constantine the Philosopher).

The next church on our way was the Church of San Giovanni e Paolo, under the foundation of this church there are the houses of the ancient Romans with partially preserved paintings on the walls. These houses were opened to the public in 2002.

In the famous Colosseum, on the north side of the arena, there is a large cross, reminiscent of the thousands of followers of Christ who were tortured here during the era of persecution of Christians. Every year, on Good Friday, the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the divine service in memory of the ancient Christian martyrs.

From the Colosseum, we headed towards the Capitoline Hill, then passed through the Roman Forum, where a huge number of ruins of imperial palaces, ancient Roman temples and other public buildings of antiquity have been preserved. On the Forum Square, we were greatly impressed by the marble statues.

I think, native speakers of the Greek language were absolutely right that they began to use the Greek word “το άγαλμα” for statues. The etymology of this word comes from the verb “αγάλλομαι” (to rejoice, to triumph, to get pleasure). Because when we look at a beautiful sculpture, our soul gets pleasure. The Greek philologist Giannis Pavlakis notes, that the term – η αγαλλίαση (jubilation and triumph) consists of two words, they are “αγάλλομαι” + “ίαση” (to rejoice, to triumph, to enjoy + treatment, recovery). Therefore, when we look at the works of art, our souls get pleasure and we heal, because our state of mind is directly related to the health of our bodies[2].

From the Forum, we climbed the Capitoline Hill, visited the famous Capitoline Museum, which keep the world-famous art monuments: the Capitoline Wolf, the Colossus of the Holy Emperor Constantine the Great, a monument to Marcus Aurelius by Michelangelo and many others. Next to the Capitoline Museum there is the Victor Emmanuel II National Monument, devoted to the first king of a unified Italy.

In the evening, a good dinner awaited us at the hotel, like lunch, it began with pasta with various sauces (thank God that there was not any pasta for breakfast at least).

On the morning of the next day, 20 April, we headed towards the Vatican, the smallest state in the world.

St. Peter’s Basilica, which according to the legend was erected on the site of the martyrdom of the Apostle Peter and is the largest Christian church in the world, but it did not make any impression on me. Entering into the cathedral, you do not feel the greatness of the building. In the middle of the cathedral, the largest Christian churches in the world are indicated on the floor (about ten, I do not remember exactly). The list of these churches begins with Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. Three months ago I visited the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (Constantinople) and I was amazed by the talent of the architect who was able to build this temple in the way that everyone who attends it, feels a huge space around him.

In St. Peter’s Cathedral, I also drew attention to the fact that no matter which direction you turn, you see the faces of the popes in front of you (on sculptures, images, etc.), but not the face of Christ!

We visited the central Vatican bookstore. Carefully looking through the shelves with religious literature, I noticed the absence of patristic literature (I am not talking about the Eastern Fathers of the Church, I mean its Western Fathers).

Neither in this Vatican bookstore, nor in the church shops of Rome, I have found the works of the Fathers of the Western Church, which I was reading when I was a student. Except the works of Saint Augustine. But in bookstores there is a lot of literature dedicated to the biographies of the popes, especially of modern times.

By the way, the famous Vatican Library is located in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. I forgot to say that when we visited the Capitoline Museum, there was an exhibition of materials from the Vatican’s Secret Archives called “Lux in Arcana”. It should be noted that very interesting documents were exhibited. I bought a wonderful catalog of this exhibition there.

From St. Peter’s Basilica, we headed to the Vatican Museum – one of the largest and most famous museums in the world. Except the murals of the Sistine Chapel, everything impressed us a lot, especially the sculptural works of ancient Rome, exhibited in several galleries and halls of the museum.

On the fourth day of our stay in Rome, April 21, in the morning we went to the ancient basilica of S. Agnese. A wonderful mosaic has also been preserved in its altar part. Part of the catacombs of Rome is located under the foundation of this church. A guide took us through the labyrinths of the catacombs. I noticed that she was Chinese. Near some of the burials of ancient Christians, there were small ceramic or marble tablets with inscriptions. One of these tombstones depicted a cross with the Greek letters Α and Ω (the initial and final letters of the Greek alphabet). It meant that for Christians the end of life (death) is the beginning of life. In another inscription, the date of death was indicated as the date of birth for Eternal Life.

The Roman catacombs show the special attitude of ancient Christians to the bodies of the dead. The ancient Christians considered only the burial of the remains of the dead acceptable. Cremation, which is widely discussed today in the modern Christian World, was not acceptable for the ancient followers of Christ.

Next to the Basilica of St. Agnese, there is the mausoleum of Constantine the Great (S. Costanza), it has a stunning mosaic on the ceiling.

From the mausoleum, we took a trip to another famous Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, on our way we visited several more ancient Christian churches in Rome. The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore keeps pieces of the Holy Nativity scene of Christ, brought from Bethlehem. Therefore, the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore is also called the “Bethlehem of Rome”. There is also one of the tombs of St. Matthias (not Matthew the Evangelist). Some Christian sources inform that St. Matthias died and was buried in ancient Sebastopolis (contemprory Sukhum). In 1908 V. Chernyavsky published an article in the “Novoye Vremya” newspaper. The article was dedicated to the destruction of the grave of Matthias the Apostle in Sukhum. In addition to the tomb in Santa Maria Maggiore, there are two more revered tombs of Matthias the Apostle: in the Santa Maria monastery in Trier (Germany) and in the Basilica of Santa Justina in Padua (Italy).

From Santa Maria Maggiore we drove outside the city walls of ancient Rome and went to the huge cathedral in honor of St. Paul the Apostle. Part of the iron chain that he was chained with is kept in the cathedral, built on the site of the martyrdom of St. Paul the Apostle.

Returning by underground (by the way, I did not like the Roman underground at all) from the Cathedral of St. Paul to the center of Rome, we walked through the Circus Maximus, where the festive events dedicated to the foundation of Rome were taking place. Then we crossed the bridge to the other side of the Tiberius River and saw a number of ancient monuments and churches. We visited the Pantheon, a Christian church in our time, and several famous central squares of Rome with fountains. The Church of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church is situated in one of these central squares.

Thousands of coins that tourists throw into city fountains, as I understood from the words of my companion Vasilios, are regularly collected by the city authorities and sent to the state revenues.

The next day, April 22, early in the morning, we took off from Rome for Venice.

 

Beautiful Venice

 

From Venice airport, named after the famous traveler Marco Polo, we took a bus to the Grand Canal (Canal Grande), from there we sailed to the city center (to Ponte di Rialto) by boat, our cozy hotel called “Al Graspodeua” was located there. It was Sunday afternoon, we left our bags at the hotel and went to the Orthodox church of the Greek community of Venice, built in honor of St. George the Victorious.

In Venice, the Greek diaspora has existed for over 500 years (since 1498). The Greeks in this city own a small quarter (Calle dei Greci): Church of St. George the Victorious, a huge bell tower, the building of the Metropolis (Diocese) administration, a monastery, the Greek Institute for Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Studies and the Museum of Byzantine Icons.

The Institute for Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Studies, founded in the 50s of XX century, is the only scientific center of the Hellenic Republic abroad. Since 1962 the Institute has been publishing the periodical Θησαυρίσματα and the series Θωμάς Φλαγγίνης[3].

In addition to the Greek church community, there are Russian, Ukrainian and Romanian Orthodox communities in Venice and the city’s suburbs. They rent Catholic churches and hold divine services there. Among the Orthodox clergy there are several native Italians, as well as among the parishioners there are Italians. The services I took part in were held mainly in Greek and Italian.

After the Divine Liturgy in the church of St. George, protosyncellus of the Metropolis, Archimandrite Evangelos invited me for coffee. Then we walked through the center of Venice, visited the famous Cathedral of St. Mark. This is the only church in the world with the largest number of Byzantine mosaic paintings preserved on its walls.

The main shrine of Venice is the tomb with the remains (relics) of St. Mark the Apostle, which was taken out in 829 from Alexandria of Egypt. Mark the Apostle was the founder of the Alexandrian Church. He also became the patron saint of Venice.

The symbol of Venice is a winged lion and one of the four evangelists Mark the Apostle is depicted on icons and frescoes with this winged lion.

Venice is also home to many cultural monuments and Orthodox shrines, taken out from Constantinople (currently Istanbul) and other Christian centers in the East.

Very interesting manuscripts are kept in the library of the church of St. Mark. For example, the so-called Codex Cumanicus, which is very important in the study of the language of the “Cuman” people (they are also Kipchaky and Polovtsy). This is a mixed Latin-Persian-Cumanian text, dated back to the end of 13th century. According to the Codex Cumanicus, some of the “Cumans” who migrated to Western Europe, accepted Christianity [4].

The manuscript, entitled “The Book of Knowledge about All Kingdoms, Countries and Possessions in the World …”, written in 1350-1360 by monk from Spain (kept in the National Library of Madrid), informs that among the main population of the “Kingdom of Sant Estropoli”, that is, the capital of Abkhazia, Sukhum, there are “Christian Comany” and numerous Jews who are also Christians.

While walking around Venice, it becomes clear for everyone that inhabitants of Venice take really good care of their city’s heritage. Looking at the picturesque paintings of Canaletto[5], one can see that since the time of this famous Venetian artist, nothing has changed in this city, except that the clothes of people and motors appeared on boats.

Unfortunately, thousands of tourists from different countries of the world do not allow to enjoy the beauty of Venice, its churches, palaces, canals, bridges, squares and other cultural monuments. Most of them take interest in taking a ride on a gondola (boat), taking pictures in front of palaces, dine in restaurants and buy branded Italian clothes in luxury stores.

The next day, April 23, was the feast day of the cathedral church of St. George. The divine service was led by the Metropolitan of Italy and Malta of the Ecumenical Patriarchate Gennadios (Zervos). The service was attended by Orthodox clergy from different cities of Italy, among them were Greeks, Italians, Moldovans, Ukrainians, as well as a lot of parishioners. During the Divine Liturgy, exclamations were pronounced in different languages, I exclaimed in Abkhaz. The choir was headed by Archimandrite Nikodimos Kavarnos (Νικόδημος Καβαρνός), famous figure in the Orthodox world. In those days he was in Venice. His Byzantine singing reached everyone who was present that day in the Orthodox church in beautiful Venice. After reading the Gospel, Archimandrite Evangelos noted that among the participants of the festive event there is also a guest from distant Abkhazia. Frankly, I was touched by the attention to my homeland.

After the Liturgy, Litany with the icon and holy relics of St. George was performed. Then in the courtyard of the church the preparation of goat meat and other roasts began, Greek sailors took active part in it. Everyone was invited to the table, including Metropolitan Gennadios. During the feast, Greek songs and dances were performed, the foreigners liked them a lot.

In general, Greeks and Italians are very emotional and noisy. If they are in cafes or restaurants, representatives of other European nations cannot bear the manner of their communication for a long time. But for me everything was ok, because we Caucasians, are no less temperamental and noisy.

Italian journalist Nadia de Lazzari attended the celebration dedicated to St. George. She represented a large illustrated magazine L’illustre (Venezia, idee, stili e storie). She was invited by one of the Italian priests, who is also a professor at the local university. The journalist took interest in Abkhazia, and I told her about the historical ties of the medieval Italian republics of Venice and Genoa with the countries of the Black Sea Coast, including Abkhazia. I also talked about current problems that my compatriots have to overcome. In general, we talked with her for a long time.

Italians like us. Perhaps, it is a blood kinship. It is known that in the XIII-XV centuries Genoese merchants exported many people from Abkhazia to Italy and those people became citizens of the medieval Italian republics.

The next day, April 24, early in the morning, my Greek friend and I went by boat to Torcello. This is a sparsely populated island in the northern part of the Venetian lagoon. We visited the church of St. Fosca (Santa Fosca), XII century and the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. The last church with a baptistery was built in the 9th century. Byzantine mosaics of 12th century has been preserved on its walls. These mosaics are the best in northern Italy.

After lunch we returned to Venice. The weather was rainy that day and I caught a little cold.

At midnight of the same day, we went to the all-night vigil in a small church under the administration of the Greek Metropolis (Diocese). Among the clergy, several Greeks, a Moldovan, a Ukrainian, four Italians and I, an Abkhaz, took part in the service. About ten laymen were at the service.

It was amazing! We served in a small church without an altar barrier, in the twilight. There was a feeling that we were transported for a while to old times, when Christian communities of Venice were just being born.

After the all-night vigil, my friend and I walked through the narrow streets of night Venice. That was wonderful too!

Mosaic Ravenna

 

The next morning, April 25, we took a suburban train to Ravenna, a city in the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna, located ten kilometers from the Adriatic Sea, connected by the Candiano Canal with the Adriatic Sea. As you know, Ravenna was the capital of the Western Roman Empire, then the capital of the Ostrogoth state, the Ravenna Exarchate and the Lombard Kingdom. Eight Ravenna monuments dated back to the late antiquity period are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Eight monuments in one city! The purpose of our trip was to visit these famous monuments of Ravenna.

We rode in a comfortable double-decker train, admiring the amazing rural landscapes of Italy.

In Ravenna, we rented a room in a small hotel near the train station, and then went to the historic part of the city by bus.

We attended the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, the Mausoleum of Theodoric, the Neonian and Arian Baptisteries, the Archbishop’s Chapel, Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, the Basilica of San Vitale and Sant’Apollinare in Classe. These are Christian monuments of the 5th – 6th centuries. The interior decoration and mosaic panels in the above monuments are fantastic!

By the way, most of the Ravenna cultural monuments are surrounded with green lawns. It seems to me that this approach, which exists in Abkhazia as well (for example, Pitsunda Patriarchal Cathedral), would be good to keep in the future.

It is interesting that in the historical part of the city, modern tablets with the names of streets and squares are made of mosaic. I was also struck by the number of people using bicycles to move around the city.

We spent a lunch break in one of the local pizzerias, the walls of this place are decorated with images of buffaloes in bright colors. My companion Vasilios admitted that all the days of our stay in Italy, he did not treat me to pizza, because pizza like in Ravenna is not prepared anywhere else. So we tried the best pizza in Italy. In Ravenna, we visited the National Museum, and again were greatly impressed.

Returning to the hotel in the evening, I immediately fell asleep, was tired a lot. Vasilios found the strength to have an evening walk in Ravenna.

I would like to remind that the famous Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni directed his first color film, Red Desert (ll Deserto Rosso), here in the industrial area of Ravenna in 1964. In the same year, Red Desert was awarded the Golden Lion at the 25th Venice Film Festival.

After this ancient and stunning beauty what I have seen, I was thinking of the progress of human activity over the last 15 centuries, it is growing and growing, and it turned out to be possible to create an ugly industrial landscape right next to this beauty. We saw the industrial districts of Ravenna, which the Italian director described very well in the aforementioned film.

It is not easy for me to agree with the idea of Antonioni in this film that the industrial landscape is a world transformed by man, filled with its specific kind of beauty and humans have to accept it.

I don’t think anyone will go to Ravenna in order to see its industrial landscapes.

 

University of Bologna

 

The University of Bologna is a special topic. First, it is the oldest university in Europe, founded in 1088. Secondly, it is the best university in Italy.

About two years before my trip to Italy, I discovered in one of the main newspapers in Greece an article entitled “The Best Universities in the World” (“Το Βήμα”, October 9, 2009). The article was compiled on the basis of data published in the British newspaper the “Times”. It listed the 200 best universities in the world, indicating the assessment of the quality of educational activities and student preparation.

The top ten, as one would expect, were headed by American and British universities: Harvard ranking first (USA, 100 points), then Cambridge (Great Britain, 99.6 points), and so on.

In general, the list of 200 best universities in the world includes 54 American, 29 British, 11 each from Canada, Japan, the Netherlands and China, 10 German, etc. Two universities each from India, Norway, Russia (Moscow State University in this list ranked 156th with 60 points, St. Petersburg University ranked 170th with 57.4 points) and Singapore.

I think it will be interesting to know what is the number of represented universities from small countries in this list: Switzerland – eight, Belgium – five, South Korea – four, Israel – three, Ireland – two. Southern European countries, such as Italy, Spain and Greece, are represented in this list by only one university: Barcelona (Spain, 171, 57.2 points), Bologna (Italy, 174, 56.9 points) and Athens (Greece, 178th, 56.7 points).

The famous Italian scientist, philosopher, specialist in semiotics and medieval aesthetics, cultural theorist, literary critic, writer and publicist Umberto Eco has been a professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna since 1975 (semiotics, or semiology from Greek σημειωτική ancient Greek “σημεῖον sign”, that is, Semiotics is the study of signs and sign processes).

In one of his famous novels “Baudolino” Umberto Eco devoted a whole chapter to Abkhazia. This chapter is called “Baudolino in the Darkness of Abkhazia”. What kind of “darkness” is he talking about? This is an interesting question! But this is a topic for a separate article. I would like to note that the Italian writer for writing the novel “Baudolino”, including the chapter on Abkhazia, used the composition of XIV century, “The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, which reports on “The Land of Darkness”.

The old building of the University of Bologna with gorgeous lecture halls amazed me with its beauty. By the way, the first dissection of a human body for the purpose of medical education took place in the Anatomical Amphitheater of this university. It happened in the first quarter of 13th century.

Returning to the railway station, we saw two famous “falling” towers made of bricks. The highest of them is 97 meters!

Taking things from the luggage room, we went by bus to Bologna airport. And there an incident happened to us. Although our suitcases looked rather small (we could have only hand baggage, because our tickets were cheap) (my friend Vasilios put books bought in Italy into them), they were very heavy. The Italian customs officers revealed our “trick” and made us pay for the overweight. It is a pity, but education and science, for which our books were bought, worth it!

In the afternoon we landed successfully at the airport of Thessaloniki.

Thessaloniki (Greece),

May-June 2012

 


 


[1] Первая часть данной статьи («Вечный город Рим») впервые опубликовано под названием «“Римские каникулы” архимандрита Дорофея» в газете «Христианская Абхазия», 2012, № 8 (64). Остальные части публикуются впервые.

[2] Παυλάκη Γ., Ο μεγαλύτερος Θησαυρός, η Γλώσσα μας! // Artion Magazine, Φεβρουάριος 2012, τεύχος 5, σ. 48–49.

[3] См. Παπαδιά-Λάλα Α. Κιβωτός μελέτης ελληνισμού στην Βενετία // Η Καθημερινή, 7 Απριλίου 2013, σ. 9.

[4] См. Σαββίδη Α. Οι Κομάνοι (Κουμάνοι) και το Βυζάντιο. 11ος – 13ος αι. μ.Χ. // Βυζαντινά, 13 (1985), σ. 936–955.

[5] См. Βιβλιοθήκη Τέχνης. Οι μεγαλοφυΐες. Federica Bustreo. Cannaletto. National Geographic. Αθήνα, 2013.