Meteora. As amazing as it is to me that man was able to build glorious monasteries at the top of sheer cliffs, I have to say that God did an even better job with His (or Her, I’m not particular) build. The mountainous stones thrusting straight up toward the sky are riddled with caves to which hermits and other religious men looking for seclusion first retreated. Eventually, as our guide told it, as people pressed in and even the caves weren’t isolated enough, the religiates ascended to the top of the cliffs and built retreats.
We first visited was the Monastery of Saint Stefano, which is now a nunnery. Actually, the Monastery was apparently closed in the winter in favor of the church dedicated to Saint Charalambos, which was on the same jutting rock. The church was covered in beautiful paintings mimicking frescos in the Byzantine style, complete with gold leaf, walnut iconostaces (wall screens separating the nave from the sanctuary) and icons. In particular, it was interesting in Saint Charalambos’s sanctuary to see the relic box holding his skull, part of which you could see through the top. We learned to tell to whom the church was dedicated—second fresco to the left of the alter as you face it, beside the picture of Mary. (To the right would be Christ and beside him, John the Baptist.)
I didn’t catch the name of the second, smaller church we visited on a separate stone, which had the older, original frescos. It was small, but beautiful, and at both sanctuaries, I was able to light a votive candle for my sister.
Standing atop the towering stones, you could imagine how peaceful and removed from the world you might feel, especially on a day like the one we had, in which the fog rolled in, making it seem as if the world ceased to exist about ten feet beyond your perspective. Thankfully, it did begin to clear and let the sun through so that we could truly appreciate the beauty of the place before we put it behind us to head back to Athens.
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We stopped at Thermopylae to take photos of the monument to King Leonides and the other Greeks (an estimated 300 Spartans and 700 Thespians against one million seven hundred thousand Persians) who died holding the pass after being betrayed by one of their own countrymen who agreed to lead the Persons through the mountain to come up behind the Greek soldiers. His name, Ephialtes, has come to mean “nightmare” and has fallen completely out of use for obvious reasons. Who knows how long the Greek forces would have been able to hold out if Ephialtes hadn’t shown the Persians that path through the cliffs? Thermopylae pass no longer exists, as the land has since built out to the point where the sea is now kilometers off, no longer nearly smack up against the mountain. However, it lives forever through the sacrifice of the soldiers and the monuments built to memorialize them.