Trip Start Sep 05, 2005
42Trip End Nov 30, 2005
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The rock formations are riddled with caves, and these were first inhabited by ascetics in the 9th century. Not long after that, these people began to come down out of the caves to worship on Sunday mornings. We saw some of the scaffolding they built to stay up in the caves, and it was crazy. It was really high and not very sturdy looking. In the 14th century, somebody said "hey, instead of going down to church on Sundays, let's just build one up here!". So that's what they did. Monasteries (in Greece these refer to both monasteries and convents) began to pop up on top of several of the rock formations. Eventually there 24 cliff-side monasteries only 6 of which survive and are still in use today. The monasteries we visited were from the 16th century. In the 15th century, the Ottomans closed down the monasteries, and it has only been recently that many of them have been reopened.
The first monastery (actually a convent) we visited was The Holy Monastery of Saint Barbara Roussanou. There is now a road that leads close to the top of the rocks, but it used to be quite a climb to get up there. We still had to climb quite a few steps to get to the building. In the old days, they lowered a net and hauled you up. We saw one of these nets in another monastery, and I would take the steps any day especially considering the fact that they did not change the nets until they broke
As we entered the church, Katorina our guide lit a candle. Orthodox people do that to honor God and deceased family members. There were three rooms in the sanctuary, one where the unbaptized people used to be confined, one for the baptized people, and one just for the priest. Now all Greek Orthodox are baptized as infants, so there is no need for the first room, but they keep it as a tradition. There are no musical instruments which I thought was kind of cool. The walls are covered in frescos from the 16th century. In the outer rooms, they are all of martyrs and people being persecuted for their faith to help remind the monks and nuns of everything they are giving up for this lifestyle they have chosen. In the inner rooms, the frescos are of Jesus, the apostles, and the saints. I'm not a big fan of the Byzantine art style, but it was neat just because it was old. Three nuns live in this monastery and take care of the upkeep now.
Second we went to the monastery Varlaam. This monastery was very similar to the first except the inner frescos were painted by a famous Italian artist
Next we got to drive by and take a picture of the monastery where the James Bond movie "For your Eyes Only" was filmed.
Overall, I was impressed with the monasteries but also confused. It must have taken some amazing skill and dedication to build those up there, but I do not understand that lifestyle. I know that those people want to be closer to God, away from the world, and completely holy, but from my reading of the Bible, it seems to call us to do something completely different. Contact with other people and the world seems to be a vital part of Christianity and the church, and I cannot see how someone could come the conclusion that the monastic life is what God wanted from them. If nothing else, the landscape around the monasteries is beautiful.