Meteora: understanding beauty in the middle of the sky

Hello readers!

If you have ever seen a tourism brochure of Greece, the cover was probably a picture of stunning rock formations, like the ones you will see in the photos below. On Thursday evening my roommates and I decided we would like to see this place for ourselves, so we planned our visit to Meteora, which is the name for the rocks on which six Orthodox monasteries are perched. On Friday we boarded the early train to Kalambaka – the small town that sleeps in the shadow of the rocks. After four hours on the train we arrived in the lovely town for an evening of peace and quiet. On Saturday morning our tour bus picked us up and, to our surprise, we were the only three on the tour. Our tour guide, Dimitris, was born in Kalambaka but worked in Romania for many years. He was a botanist and was very successful, but realized money alone could not make him happy. He returned to Kalambaka and decided to multiply his love for the land by sharing it with others, like us! With every fact he told us, and every feature he illuminated, I could not help but be in awe of the beautiful combination of geography and religious life. Look at these photos and see for yourself:

The monastery pictured here is Agios Nikolaos Anapafsas Monastery (14th c.). The word “anapafsas” means something like “the one who rests.” It is called this because the monastery is always in the sun which was a great relief to the hermits who initially lived in chilly caves most of the year. We went inside this monastery to see the frescoes by the 16th-century Cretan painter Theophanes the Monk. Today only one monk lives there; our tour guide told us he is very tall and only became a monk because he could not make it in basketball. Haha!
The building behind my head is the only convent atop the rocks and is called Agios Stefanos. The nuns were very kind and the chapel inside had an entire wall devoted to icons of female saints. I had read many of their stories before and was happy to see the familiar faces- they were very beautiful.
This is the third monastery we visited – Megalo Meteoro. It is called this because it is the largest and it is on the highest point. This monastery was founded in the 14th century but has been renovated and repaired many times. There were several friendly cats in this monastery.
Even the outside walls of the monasteries are decorated with icons. These were in Megalo Meteoro.
The monastery behind us is called Agia Triada or Holy Trinity. It is the most isolated, as you can see, because it sits atop a rock that is entirely disconnected from the others. (Trivia: part of the James Bond film ‘For your Eyes Only’ was filmed in this monastery.)

After spending the afternoon visiting ornate chapels, hearing monastic chant, and viewing the vast landscapes, I couldn’t help but think of the others before me who made the journey up and never came down, choosing instead to devote themselves to the religious life. The beauty of Meteora is not isolated only to the landscape, but is also found in the reverence and devotion that are practiced here. This beauty elevates us to a heavenly realm, and it is impossible to receive this gift and not thank God.

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