When was the last time you saw something that literally made your jaw drop? Something so utterly “other worldly” your mind had a hard time taking it all in? Something so “out there” you weren’t sure you were grasping it? We recently had one of those moments in Northern Greece. Let me describe what we saw…
Six monasteries, all in the same neighborhood.
Big deal you say? Let me tell you a little more.
In this particular area of Greece, there are massive rock formations that tower above the land below. They are spectacular in their height and their mass. In the middle ages it was believed that these rocks literally fell from the sky (like meteors). Thus the area is called Meteora. As these massive rocks ascend to the sky, they are pockmarked with little caves.
In the 11th century, pious Christian believers (hermits) decided to separate themselves from the rest of society (the world) and began to live in these little caves. Alone. Just them and God. For the rest of their lives. To get inside their cave they had to first use nails and wedges to climb up, and from then on to ascend/descend with ladders and ropes, all hundreds of feet above the ground below. Through the heat of summer and the cold of winter, that’s where they lived – in a shallow cave.
Then, in the 14th century, a Serbian King decided to become a monk. Monks followed the lead of the hermits, but weren’t necessarily opposed to being in community with other like-minded followers of Jesus. They would cloister together in a monastery. So this king-turned-monk decided to build a monastery at the top of one of these rock formations. The idea caught on. Between the 14th and the 16th century, 24 other monasteries were built, all on the top of these massive rocks. Hundreds of monks now lived up on top, isolated from all life below. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, during the time of the Ottoman Empire, 19 of these monasteries were destroyed. Today, there are only 6. But they are MIND-BLOWING! One of these was even the setting of the James Bond movie “For Your Eyes Only”.
When a monk desired to join one of these monasteries, he had a four year “trial” period to check it out. If afterward he still wanted to join, and if he was accepted by the other monks, he dedicated the rest of his life to the monastery. Many died during their time there (referred to as ‘glorification,’ not death). There is even a room that holds on shelves the skulls of the past monks who dwelt there (I’m not making this up!).
Today, when you climb the steps (added much later to give access for the less brave) to the only monastery open to tourists, you are treated to an amazing experience that mixes the past and the present (it’s still an active monastery). You can’t help but marvel at it all.
As I walked through this monastery, there were numerous questions that went through my mind.
- How seriously do I take God?
- How much am I willing to be inconvenienced to serve him?
- What does it really mean to be dedicated to God?
- Is a monk’s life the life that God desires for us?
- What has our pursuit of comfort done to our faith?
- Could it be possible that there really is more to life than me?
When you expose yourself to the history of Christianity, you begin to realize the lengths believers have gone in pursuit of a deeper relationship with God. This is both convicting and humbling.
How high are you willing to climb in pursuit of him?