November 26th, 2016| Topic: RaMbLeS | 0


Several months ago, while traipsing around Greece, I had the opportunity to visit Meteora, in Central Greece, with some friends.

Metéora (Μετέωρα = “middle of the sky,” related to the English “meteor” and “meteorology”) has these massive natural pillars and towers. While stunningly impressive, what is even more so is the presence of 700-year-old monasteries on top of several of these natural formations, almost suspended in the “middle of the sky.” There used to be about twenty of these; only six remain. I clambered up three of them. Utterly fascinating!

The largest of the set is the Great Meteoron, established in the mid 1300s by Athanasios Meteorites, a scholar-monk from the other important site of monasteries in Greece, Mt. Athos. Legend has it that Athanasios was brought to Meteora by an eagle that deposited the ascetic on top of one of these rocks. The man then established a monastery there.

In reality, these homes for monks (four of the six for men; two for women) came about in the face of increasing Ottoman persecution of Christians in the Middle Ages. These monasteries were safe and inaccessible hideouts, where inhabitants could carry out their activities unhindered.

How did they get up there? On long ladders lashed together, or in large nets that hauled up goods and people. The ropes for all these ascents, the story goes, were replaced only “when the Lord let them break.” Now, of course, there are roads that lead up to the base of the monasteries and circuitous paths and stairs one has to negotiate to arrive at the top.

Roger Moore (or his stunt stand-in) scaled one of these on a rope in For Your Eyes Only (1981). That was the last time big productions were allowed on site. The monks were disgusted with all the materialism, sexuality, and violence such movies seemed to propagate.

Meteora is now a protected site included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The monks are safe from the Turks now, but not from the over a million visitors that descend (ascend?) upon their safe havens. Only about a dozen ascetics remain in these six monasteries. It ain’t so quiet and peaceful anymore.

Asceticism comes from a Greek word άσκησις, askēsis, from a verb that means ”to exercise, practice, toil, labor.”

Said Paul:

“In view of this, I also labor to maintain always a blameless conscience
both before God and before men.”
Acts 24:16

Askesis is to spirituality what a training regimen is to an athlete. It is a spiritual equivalent to the old artistic idea that talent grows by its very confinement, that the genie’s strength comes from his confinement in the bottle. A rubber band stretched. A spring compressed. Without confinement, without the intensification resulting from compression, there is no energy worth speaking of.

Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.
1 Timothy 4:7

The spiritual disciplines, those are time-tested activities of mind and body purposefully undertaken to bring our embodied selves under greater control with the goal of cooperating effectively and harmoniously with the divine order.

I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that,
after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
1 Corinthians 9:27

These spiritual disciplines may involve giving up certain things—the disciplines of abstinence: solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, celibacy, secrecy, etc. Or they may involve taking on certain activities—the disciplines of engagement: study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, giving.

Excellent exercises to tone and strengthen our spiritual muscles. And guess what? We don’t need to climb up a rock (or hide under one) to undertake one or more of these disciplines.

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