Christian Jihad at Meteora

Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Greece  , Thessaly,
Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Meteora, like many Greek words, sounds familiar to our ears.  The words shed light on our own words, in this case, the meteor.  Meteora means rocks suspended in the air, which also describs the scene at Meteora, where Greek Orthodox monasteries are suspended high above the plains on rock outcrops.

The rocks rose dramatically from our balcony at Koka Roka.  While Carolyn relaxed, I took a hike around the rocks into the hillsides, watching snakes, turtles, butterflies and robberflies, kadydids, spiders, swifts, swallows, Kestrel, and Peregrine Falcons perform their antics.  The swifts flew in a squadron, parting the air creating their characteristic sound.  Seconds later, a Peregrine Falcon followed them, calling, before returning to the grey sandstone-conglomerate spekkled cliffs.  I walked through the late afternoon air as the sun added yellow to the dark evergreen Mediterranean oaks as Eurasian Blackbirds called to one another.

The monasteries were open to the public, so now were a prime stop on the trails around Greece.  Tourists outnumbered monks about one hundred to one.  This was understandable, and they had their own quarters, closed to the public.  What was open, however, allowed us to understand the life of the monks a little bit: solitary, pious, simple, Christian, the renounced life full of love of God, of Jesus.

One striking feature of the monasteries, after we went to several for comparison, was the abundance of frescoes and scenes of martyrs and holy wars and jihad, if you permit me to use that word.  One painting showed monks with guns fighting the Turkish Ottomans, which they saw as a holy war against the "godless unbelievers."  Many of these perched monasteries were built to keep the faith alive, areas of refuge when a different philosophy permeated the lands below.

In a faith such as Christianity, where Jesus preaches to turn the other cheek and forgive, many many times, without returning any insults, perhaps the holy war is the greatest dilemma.  When your entire philosophy is in jeopardy, do you strictly follow what your faith says or do you compromise those beliefs and fight for what you believe?

The monks clearly saw that the holy warrior spirit was preferrable to extinction as a philosophy as their museum showed the fascists, Nazis, and Ottomans attempting to destroy them forever.  But the monks kept fighting, leading the charge.  Other past saints and monks died as martyrs, preferring to die Christians than to convert to anything else.  The wall frescoes of all the monastery churches showed martyrs being decapitated, sawed in half,
pressed to death, stoned, and more.

This fighting spirit of the martyr kept Greece alive and what it is today, a proud modern bustling state that is 98% Greek Orthodox, where an foreign resident, if they outwardly state their beliefs "they disrespect the flag and will be..." as one man put it firmly, contrasting Greeks with more meek-and-freedom-of-speech Dutch. 

As time in Greece was coming to a close, one thing seemed lacking, however: more meaningful conversations with Greeks.  Most seemed to pay little attention to us tourists, or if they were in the tourist business, they talked the tourist talk and that was that, not unfriendly for the most part.  More time and effort would have helped, along with some knowledge of Greek.

On the way down, Carolyn and I talked about this as well as how much money the monasteries were making, hoping they were putting the money to good use, as Carolyn saw a monk with a cell phone and the monasteries were clearly very rich, despite the individual monk's vows of poverty. 

But the main battles of the Meteora monk are those inside, as a monk, as they say, must renounce and become one with God, fighting the urges of materialism and desires.  Based on the monastery museums and the writings, however, it seems as though the monks are very interested in conveying with their propaganda the "us versus them" fighting and denouncing others as wrong, even "evil" (if you're rational, not faithful), and declaring themselves as right and "transcending above rationalism."

From here, we returned to Athens, where I said goodbye to Carolyn as she headed for the airport and Philadelphia and I headed to the train station and Istanbul.  All in all, a good three weeks of the Greek experience.
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