The Monasticism at the Holy Meteora and its living witness over the centuries
The monks’ love of God and of monasticism and asceticism formed the impetus for this miraculous way of life on the rugged spires of the plain of Thessaly. Monasticism is the highest calling and the path that leads most directly to holiness. It is the complete devotion of the human person to the triune God. It is the imitation of the angels in divine love, chant, obedience and the ministry of souls, which is why it was called ‘equal to the angels’ and an ‘angelic state’. The entire life of a monk consists in fully opening the heart to God and keeping His commandments, in constantly striving for sanctification and praying continually. Whether working, studying or in the stillness of prayer, the monk is unceasingly crying out to the Lord in the heart with the brief prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon us”.
Over the centuries the Meteora monasteries were seed-beds of holiness for a multitude of monks, a bastion of faith and civilization, treasuries of the values and virtues of the Greek Orthodox spirit. Here, the unparalleled natural wealth of Meteora coexists in absolute harmony with discreet human intervention; intense spiritual striving and devotion to God is juxtaposed with a love of beauty and culture; the harsh ascetic way of life stands side by side with the refinement of art and artistic creativity, with the sole purpose of glorifying the Creator.
The monks’ ascetic struggles were characterised by heroism, their spirituality by a spirit of self-sacrifice, self-denial and support to the troubled souls who sought refuge in these strongholds of Orthodoxy. Thus the monasteries of Meteora became the watchful custodians and guardians of tradition: they became schools for the Greek children under Turkish rule and a refuge for the persecuted, they offered provisions to the freedom fighters and at the same time gave an education in holiness and salvation.
The valuable ascetic tradition of Meteora, the large number of saints who have lived on the hallowed spires, its rich liturgical life and many relics, which are its most precious treasures, together make the monasteries vital centres of Orthodox spirituality.
Meteora is a holy land, a sacred space created and guarded by God, its cliffs and caves and ravines sanctified by the host of holy ascetics and martyrs of the Greek Thebaid who have inhabited them. A contemporary saint, St Porphyrios, used to say: “I speak with the rocks, for they have so much to tell of the ascetic life of earlier fathers”.
Over the last fifty years a remarkable programme of restoration has been carried out to the monasteries of Meteora, as a result of the hard work and tireless efforts of the energetic and worthy abbots and monks, the watchful care and blessing of Metropolitan Seraphim of Stagoi and Meteora and the excellent collaboration of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Larissa (formerly of Trikala). This major undertaking includes extensive reconstruction work, the preservation of frescoes and treasures in the monasteries’ collections and improvements to the surrounding space, making Meteora one of the most spiritual and attractive destinations in the world.
The monastic communities of Meteora participate in liturgical life and attend to the many visitors with love and sensitivity. In addition they preserve and maintain the sites, paint icons, embroider with gold thread, create miniatures, produce beeswax candles, incense and small icons, cultivate the monastery gardens and keep bees. Their publications include studies in history, theology and hymnography. However, their primary purpose is to offer a living witness of Christ in an age which is spiritually barren, when people have lost their sense of national and religious identity and are experiencing a crisis that is not only economic but also spiritual. The monks strive to preserve the precious legacy of their faith and rich tradition and to highlight their inestimable value in modern times.