Was the trip to Europe something you had been planning for a while?
Yes, I like to go to Essex (England) every year or two as I was tonsured to the great schema there.
Why those particular three locations?
I have always wanted to make a pilgrimage to St. Nicholas and the flights were not expensive. Istanbul was a bonus as there was an inexpensive flight from Bari Italy to JFK with a 24 hour layover in Istanbul (Constantinople).
Describe any impressions (ongoing work, visitors you saw, services, etc.) of the monastery in Essex.
The monastery is permeated with the presence and life of Fr. Sophrony and his vision which is the vision of the uncreated Glory of God. Everything reflects this transformative experience that Fr. Sophrony had and the community life is oriented in such a way that it facilitates insight into this reality of the Kingdom (in a way specific to Fr. Sophrony and his community)..
How does life in the Essex monastery differ from St. Tikhon’s?
The typicon or daily life there is ordered more after a hesychastic skete whereas St. Tikhon's is a traditional Monastery/Seminary typicon for services and work.
Impressions of the Bari/St. Nicholas shrine.
St. Nicholas is a great tree under which we are sheltered...his roots reach every part of this world and visiting him reminded that he is always present with us, attentive to our needs and a great helper in time of trouble.
Impressions of Hagia Sophia
The great empire of Byzantium and the Christian East fell more that 500 years ago. The glory of the Byzantine empire was tremendous but now only a small fragment remains. The immense beauty and profound depth of the Church is still apparent there but there is a sense of sadness that pervades the "Crucified Church" of Constantinople.
What is the Ecumenical Patriarch doing, strategy wise, to prevent its conversion into a mosque again.
Unknown. The Turks will do what they are going to do.