Nov 11, 2010

Meteora Monasteries: The Great Meteoron

The Great Meteoron (a.k.a. Monastery of the Transfiguration of Christ) is the highest, largest and oldest of the six monasteries of the Meteora. Founded in the 14th century by a monk from Mount Athos, the Great Meteoron is still impressive and important today. If there is only time to visit one monastery in the Meteora, this is the one to choose.

The Great Meteoron was established around 1340 by St. Athanasios Meteorites, a scholarly monk from Mount Athos. He ascended the highest pinnacle - legend says he was carried up by an eagle - which he named Megalo Meteoro ("Great Place Suspended in the Air"). He first built a small church and modest lodgings for monks, dedicating them to the Virgin Mary. Later he added a larger church dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ, which became the primary dedication of the monastery.

Athanasios' successor was Saint Iosaph, a Serbian king formerly known as John Uros who abandoned worldly power to become a monk here in c.1373. Over the course of his 40-year life at Great Meteoron, he rebuilt the Church of the Transfiguration (1387-88) and added monastic buildings including monks' cells, a hospital, and a cistern. The Patriarch of Constantinople granted the monastery independence in c.1415, and its leader was officially designated an abbot (hegoumenos) in c.1482.

The Great Meteoron reached its peak in the 16th century, when it received significant imperial and royal donations. The nave and narthex of the Church of the Transfiguration were rebuilt in 1544-45 and the monastic complex was expanded later in the century with a new kitchen, a tower, a home for the aged, a refectory and several chapels. The church was repaired and enlarged after an earthquake in 1544.

Platýs Líthos ("Broad Rock"), the rock on which the Great Meteoron stands, rises over 2,000 feet (615m) above sea level. The original hermitage of St. Athanasios Meteorites, a simple building carved into the rock, can be seen on the left of the staircase leading to the monastery entrance. Within the monastery, a shady courtyard provides a pleasant place to rest after the ascent.

The Church of the Transfiguration consists of the katholikon built by Saint Ioasaph in 1388 and a nave and narthex added in 1544-45. The katholikon has a Greek-cross-in-square floor plan, with a 12-sided central dome resting on a drum. The icons adorning the iconostasis date from the 14th to 16th centuries.

The adjacent kitchen is still blackened with smoke and contains the original bread oven and soup-hearth. The wine cellar, full of wooden wine barrels and other agricultural supplies, can also be visited. For many visitors, one of the most interesting stops outside the church is the sacristy, where skulls and bones of previous residents are neatly stacked on shelves.

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.

Nov 6, 2010

Baseball Cards and God's Love

As I was listening to NPR's Morning Edition this morning, one story caught my attention:

An order of nuns in Baltimore is almost a quarter of a million dollars richer this week because of an old baseball card. The brother of a nun of the School Sisters of Notre Dame died early this year, leaving an old baseball card in his safe deposit box clipped with a note: "Although damaged, the value of this baseball card should increase exponentially throughout the 21st Century!"
It was a 1909 Honus Wagner card. Mr. Wagner — a Pittsburgh Pirate and one of the first members of the Baseball Hall of Fame — was renowned for his grace and kidded for his barrel-legged physique. But what makes his 1909 T206 baseball card more valuable than gold, inch for inch, is that only about 60 are known to exist. Wayne Gretzky, the Hall of Fame hockey player, once owned a mint-condition T206 Wagner card that sold for $2.8 million, more than most diamonds. The Wagner card stored in the safe deposit box was creased, clipped and laminated, but still sold at auction this week for $262,000.
"Heavenly days!" Sister Muller of the Sisters of Notre Dame told The Baltimore Sun. "I just couldn't imagine it. I had never even heard of Honus Wagner!" The nuns say money from the sale will help support their teaching missions around the world.

"What makes something valuable?" posed NPR host Scott Simon. Basically, "The value of an item amounts to what someone is willing to pay for it."

"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:6-8)

The Saints

St. John of Kronstadt
"What does the daily invocation of the saints signify - of different ones each day, during the whole year, and during our whole life? It signifies that God's saints - as our brethren, but perfect - live, and are near us, ever ready to help us, by the grace of God. We live together with them in the house of our Heavenly Father, only in different parts of it. We live in the earthly, they in the heavenly half; but we can converse with them, and they with us. God's saints are near to the believing heart, and are ready in a moment to help those who call upon them with faith and love." 

- St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ

Nov 2, 2010

What Do You Possess?

Do I possess the house in which I live?  No, it is only on loan to me from God while I remain in that place.  Do I possess the clothes I wear?  No, they are on loan to me until I wear them out, or until I give them away to someone in greater need.  Do I possess this body that you see before you?  No, it was lent to me by God when I was born and he will take it back when I die.  Do I possess the mind that is composing the words that I speak?  No, that too was lent by God at my birth and will go when I die.

So do I possess anything?  Yes, I possess the virtues which during my life have grown and flourished within my soul.  Inasmuch as I have grown in love, I possess love.  Inasmuch as I have grown in faith, I possess faith.  Inasmuch as I have grown in gentleness, I possess gentleness.  These things are immortal; they are divine gifts which God will not take away, because he wants heaven itself to be filled with virtue.  And, of course, I possess my soul, in which these virtues have their roots.

- St. John Chrysostom, On Living Simply

A thank you to Fr. Ted for posting this quote on his blog.

Nov 1, 2010

Meteora Monasteries: Agios Stefanos

The only monastery in the Meteora visible from Kalambaka, St. Stephen's was founded around 1400 and is now a nunnery. Although less spectacular than the others, it is the easiest monastery to visit and the nuns are welcoming.

Moni Aghiou Stefanou was founded by St. Antoninus Cantacuzene, who is thought to be a son of the Serb ruler Nicephorus II of Epirus, in c.1400.

The monastery suffered much damage in the 20th century: it was bombed during World War II and desecrated during the subsequent Civil War. In the latter period, most of the frescoes were defaced by Communist rebels.

St. Stephen's was virtually abandoned until 1961, when it became a nunnery. It is currently inhabited by 28 nuns led by Abbess Agathi Antoniou.

The old katholikon, which was rebuilt in 1545 and frescoed shortly thereafter, still stands. The new katholikon of Agiou Stefanou was built in 1798 and is currently being frescoed by a modern artist. It is dedicated to the martyred St. Charalambos, whose head it contains.

The refectory (15th century) has a surviving fresco of the Virgin in the apse. The monastery contains a small museum of vestments and other religious objects and the nuns sell handmade embroideries and other trinkets.

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.