Oct 30, 2010

Meteora Monasteries: Agios Nikolaos Anapafsas

Founded in the early 14th century, Agios Nikolaos Anapaphsas is a monastery in the Meteora notable for its unique construction and splendid frescoes by the 16th-century Cretan painter Theophanes the Monk.

Hermits seem to have first occupied this rock in the early 14th century, as evidenced by remains of frescoes in the Chapel of St. Anthony. The present monastery was founded in 1510 by St. Dionysius, Metropolitan of Larisa, and Nikanoras, priest-monk and exarch of Stagoi. The name "Anapafsas" is of unknown origin; it may be the surname of an early monk or founder.

The monastery was abandoned by 1900 and fell into disrepair until it was renovated in the 1960s by the archaeological service. It was then inhabited by Father Palamas until 1982, after which the monastery closed. In 1997, priests of Kalampaka began to open the monastery to tourists every summer. Today, one monk lives at Agios Nikolaos, the abbot archimandrite Polykarpos Venetis.
What to See

Since the top of this rock is limited in size, the monastery buildings had to be extended upward instead of outward, rising three stories high. The smallkatholikon of St. Nicholas occupies the second floor. Its dome has no windows because of the floor built on top of it and it has an irregular floor plan in order to fit on the rock. A larger narthex extends to the west.

The frescoes of Agios Nikolaos are some of the most important in the Meteora, as they were painted by the celebrated leader of the Cretan school,Theophanes Strelitzas. He painted them in 1527, when he was probably a monk here. These frescoes are the first to bear the signature of the artist ("Ch.M.") and are among his earliest works of this magnitude.

Depicting such scenes as the Passion of Christ, the Virgin Mary praying, Jonah and the Whale, the Liturgy of Angels and the Last Judgement, the frescoes demonstrate the characteristics for which Theophanes of Crete became famous: delicacy of line; vividness in imagery; and bright colors.

The first floor of the monastery is occupied by the tiny Chapel of St. Anthony, which contains some early 14th-century frescoes, and a crypt where relics and manuscripts used to be stored.

The third floor contains the old refectory, decorated with frescoes and recently renovated for use as a reception hall, the ossuary (for storage of bones), and the renovated Chapel of St. John the Baptist.

In a previous post, I mentioned the Meteora Monasteries. I am devoting a post to each of the six monasteries that are a part of this group in Greece.

If you want a satellite view of the area, click here.

Oct 29, 2010

Meteora Monasteries: Agia Triada

Made famous by James Bond, Agia Triada (also Ayías Triádhos, Ayia Triadaor Aghia Triada; "Holy Trinity") is probably the most dramatically positioned monastery of the Meteora. It is perched atop a slender pinnacle and accessible only by 140 steep steps, making it one of the most peaceful monasteries as well.

Hermit monks may have lived here beginning in the 14th century, but the present monastery was built between 1458 and 1476. Until the 20th century, monks, pilgrims and supplies reached the monastery only by means of rope-ladders and baskets. But in 1925, access to the rock was eased by the addition of rock-hewn stairs. Agia Triada suffered greatly in World War II and the German occupation, during which virtually all its treasures were looted.

Few tour buses stop at Holy Trinity Monastery, so it is comparatively peaceful and some semblence of monastic life is able to continue. It is inhabited and maintained by just a few monks. The courtyard displays old farm implements and the old winch for hauling up baskets (a funicular now carries supplies to the top), as well as inspirational quotes from 1 Corinthians 13 (e.g. "Love is patient"). The monastic buildings are attractively half-timbered. The small church (1476) has an exterior of brick and tile and is augmented by a large, unattractive narthex (1684). It has two domes, reflecting two building phases. The frescoes in the church date from the 18th century and the those in the narthex from the 17th; they have been well restored. The church contains one of the few portable treasures that survived the 20th century: a Gospel bookprinted in Venice in 1539, with a silver cover. Carved into the rock off the passageway into the courtyard is a round Chapel of John the Baptist (1682), which may occupy the site of an early hermitage. Holy Trinity owns over 120 religious manuscripts copied by its monks over the centuries, but for practical reasons these are kept at Agios Stefanos Monastery.

Source of information: Sacred Destinations

In a previous post, I mentioned the Meteora Monasteries. I thought I would devote a post to each of the six monasteries that are a part of this group in Greece.

If you want a satellite view of the area, click here.

Standing and Prayer

Like sacramental actions, methods and gestures in prayer must also be meaningful, that is to say, the body must reproduce visibly what is taking place in the soul. As it is understood in the Bible, standing to pray is the bodily expression of the profound reverence of the creature before the exalted majesty of its Creator, in whose presence even the angels stand (Luke 1:19, "The angel answered, I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you."). 

For the inferior stands up to greet the superior and remains standing as long as the latter is present. Thus, for example, Abraham stands before God when the latter speaks with him, knowing full well that he is only "dust and ashes". (Genesis 18:27)

The outward posture, however, does not only give bodily expression to the interior attitude, it also has an immediate effect upon this disposition. Without the effort of standing - and of the other prayer gestures...- our prayer will never attain the proper fervor, said Joseph Busnaya, but will remain "routine, cold and shallow".

~ Fr. Gabriel Bunge, Earthen vessels, pp. 145-146.

Thanks to Vicar Williams, The Orthodox Pathway, for this quote.

Oct 28, 2010

Keep Looking Up!

The Royal Doors open and the priest appears in the sanctuary...

Why, though, doesn't he look at us, but looks instead to the sanctuary? When the priest stands in front of the altar, he is praying, and imploring, and calling upon Christ as our intercessor. And, afterwards, when the priest makes the Entry, he will again pass through our midst without so much as glancing in our direction. It is he who goes ahead of us, who ascends, who leads us on the road to heaven.

What is the significance of this behavior? Why does the priest always go in front of us without looking at us? Pay attention to this in order to understand.

Have you ever been up to the monasteries of Meteora? Have you gone, for instance, to the Monastery of the Great Meteoron? In the old days, people had to be pulled up there in a net. The gate-keepers would put them in it, close [the visitor's] eyes so they wouldn't get dizzy, and the monks would haul them up with a winch. Later on, they built a little path, extremely narrow, and wedged tightly up against the rock, which ran in the direction of the Metamorphosis mountain. So when a visitor came, how did he manage to climb up this very narrow pathway? If he looked down, over the edge of the precipice, he would surely have collapsed and been lost. But in those days a monk used to come down, and he would offer the visitor his cassock to hold and say to him: "As I climb up and look upwards, you hold on to me. We'll go up together. But don't look down. If you look down you'll fall, and you'll pull me down as well". And so the monk would take him up the narrow, little path, with the visitor's heart pounding, because he knew that below was the abyss. [The monk] took [the visitor] up, circling round and round, and when they arrived at the summit, [the monk] would say: "Ah! Here is Christ!"

This is precisely what the priest does. He takes us up the narrowest pathway. Be careful. Don't look down, lest something earthly should lead you astray. Keep your heart on high, your mind like an eagle, so that it can cut through the clouds and fly up into the heavens! Land animals can't fly, so be an eagle! Look up!

- Archimandrite Aimilianos (Vafeidis) of Simonopetra, "The Divine Liturgy: The Window of Heaven", a sermon delivered in the church of St. Nicholas, Trikala, Greece, 31 January 1971 in The Church at Prayer: The Mystical Liturgy of the Heart, ed. The Holy Convent of the Annunciation, Ormylia, Greece (Athens: Indiktos, 2005), pp. 76-77.

Oct 27, 2010

Another Name

"It isn’t Narnia, you know," sobbed Lucy. "It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?"

"But you shall meet me, dear one," said Aslan.

"Are...are you there too, Sir?" said Edmund.

"I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

~ C.S. Lewis (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)

Quote found on Christ is in Our Midst 10/19/10