By Reginald Galloway
In anthropology, the term “focal point” refers to “a central location place in the fieldsite where ideas, artifacts, or people converge" (p. 501). As a student entering this culture from an "etic," or outsider’s, perspective it has been challenging to identify the monastery’s focal point. At first glance, I believed that the institution’s church served as its focal point. This would be an appropriate focal point as the majority of the monastery’s rituals occur within the church’s sanctuary. Additionally, the church houses the majority of the monastery’s material culture, which the nuns, priests, and visitors utilize on a daily basis in order to worship. An example of this practice occurs every Sunday as families enter the church and venerate the saints in the form of icons.
This past Sunday, I was privileged to witness the baptism of a newborn baby boy in the church. The baptism began at outside of the church in the portico and progressed inside to the structure’s center where the baby was dipped into the baptismal pool thrice (one time for each person of the Holy Trinity). Following the baby’s initiation, the baptismal audience, which included the baby’s immediate and extended families, return to the portico for a brief reception. This event is evidence of the church’s role as a focal point within the monastery; however, it also exemplifies the monastery’s role as a focal point – a central point of convergence for Serres’ religious community. The Hagios Ioannis Prodromos Monastery is an essential element of many individuals’ religious narratives as they were baptized inside the church, come to the liturgy each Sunday, and receive spiritual guidance from the Abbess. Case in point, I observed a good amount of socialization amongst the monastery’s various visitors before, during, and after the Abbess’ “name day.” In Orthodox culture, a community celebrates an individual’s “name day” which is the feast day of the given saint for which he or she was named. After the abbess’ name day liturgy, the monastery’s hundreds of guests socialized with one another and were treated to snacks and meals by the nuns.
As I have identified the church and monastery itself as focal points, I am compelled to suggest one other possible focal point: The Hagios Ioannis Prodromos community. I believe that the abbess, nuns, workers, worshippers, and other visitors who compose the monastery’s community are in fact a living focal point. It is the community that has restored, utilized, and maintained this space for years. Furthermore, the community holds the monastery’s institutional knowledge and oral history which will be transmitted to future generations. It has never occurred to me that people could serve as focal points – but this type of enlightenment is what makes this experience so unique.