Our four hour drive from Delphi to the magnificent monasteries of Meteora, set high above Greece's granary Plain of Thessaly, took us through fields of corn, sunflower, cotton, watermelon, lentil and wheat, and then into mountains speckled with fig trees and wild foliage. A family of storks, which migrate from Egypt to Europe, was seen nesting in a church bell tower.
Meteora (Μετέωρα), the 'middle of the sky', is one of Greece's largest complexes of orthodox monasteries. Monasteries were places of scholasticism, service and safety. Contemporary Christians (and perhaps more specifically Protestants) are largely ignorant of the influence of monks and monasteries in the history of western and Christian history.
Benedict of Nursia (c. 480—547) is the most important figure in the history of monasticism. His monks rescued Europe during a time of social and spiritual collapse. Unlike the Mycenaean Greeks who suffered the collapse of their civilization in the 12th Century BC which resulted in three centuries of the Greek Dark Ages, the monks of Europe, in response to the barbarian invasions, preserved the literature and learning of the Graeco-Roman and Judeo-Christian world, established schools, and laid the foundations for the universities. To the monks we owe the continuity of thought and theology of the ancient world through the Middle Ages to the modern age. Monks practiced charity. Benedict's Rule stated that 'All guests who come shall be received as though they were Christ.' Monasteries served as inns, providing a safe and peaceful place for pilgrims and the poor to rest. Monks also laid the foundation for the development of agriculture and technology. They turned disease ridden swamps into fertile agricultural land, introducing crops, breeding cattle and horses, and developing corn, cheese making, salmon fishing and vineyards. Put simply, Europeans had food to eat, in large part, due to the monks. The monks were 'the skillful and unpaid technical advisers of the third world of their times —Europe after the invasion of the barbarians.' In northern England they even developed furnaces for extracting iron ore which paved the way for the later Industrial Revolution. In the words of Thomas Cahill, speaking of Ireland's monks, 'Without this service of the Scribes, everything that happened subsequently would have been unthinkable. Without the Mission of the Irish Monks, who single-handedly refounded European civilization…..the world that came after them would have been an entirely different one—a world without books. And our own world would never have come to be.' That was the world of orthodoxy, but what of the word!
When Paul writes to Timothy he uses first century images of soldiers, athletes, prisoners and farmers to describe the Christian life. Specifically, he urges Timothy to 'Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.' (2 Timothy 2:15) The one approved (dokimon) by God is the one who correctly handles (orthotomounta) God's Word. From this we get our English word 'orthodox'. Like the precise masters of marble who built the Parthenon, Paul says the truly orthodox person is one who can 'cut' the Scriptures 'straight', knowing and telling what is true. Can you? Do you?
It is no exaggeration to say that the Western world in our day and age has entered another era of moral and spiritual darkness. One hundred years ago G. K Chesterton wrote in his book, 'Orthodoxy', that the modern European 'has come to one particular class of conclusions - the material origin of phenomena, the impossibility of miracles [and] the improbability of personal immortality.' But the orthodox believer who cuts the Scriptures straight, understand that the cosmos is God's creation, the earth the place of redemptive intervention, and the soul of man eternal. In Meterora's mountains we are reminded that there is more than meets the sky.