Greece, Greece, Greece, what have we been doing in Greece? Well, first of all, we have been eating. We have been eating baklava, moussaka, eggplant cooked 100 different ways, lamb, pork, chicken, beef, tomatoes, cucumbers, heavenly olive oil, feta cheese, cheese puff pastries, various varieties of bread, cakes, brownies, gelato, chocolates, puddings, creams, yoghurt (a LOT of yoghurt), tzatiki sauce, more bread, and more olive oil, you name a traditional Greek dish and we have probably eaten it. A friend put it well when she said that while in Israel we ate meals to ready ourselves for the rest of the day, in Greece the rest of the day readies us for meals. This abundance of food can even be seen in the people here. By no means are the people in Greece obese, but they definitely tend to be much plumper than those in Israel or Turkey.
This landscape is gorgeous. Right now I am on a bus driving through Corinth and looking out over a fertile expanse of rolling hills textured by swathes of olive trees that surround picturesque homes overlooking the ocean. Some countries don’t do justice to their photos, but from what I have seen of Greece, it’ll probably fit the stereotypes you already have.
What have we been doing? We have been visiting Churches, archaeological sites, archaeological museums, monasteries, and ancient ruins. We have been playing on beaches, writing papers, reading books, and ultimately moving at a much less rigorous pace than we began with. I find that as my body begins to feel the slowness of this new rhythm it has taken advantage of the time by reminding me of how much work it has been doing these past six weeks. Right now I think, if given the opportunity, I could fall asleep just about anywhere.
But what a pleasure this entire trip has been. I can’t believe all of the places and experiences I have gotten to have. I was reflecting last night on the adventures that I have been given and wondering how I have changed. I realized that the word “change” doesn’t necessarily fit what I am feeling. Rather than having changed, I feel as though the lines that define who I am have become all the more deeply ingrained, giving further precision to who I am and who I want to be. Like the chaco tan on my feet, it was and has been there before, but it has never been this stark, this highly contrasted. I’m sure that these lines and creases will become duller in contrast to others as my life continues, but for now, and in this season, they are fresh.
While visiting a Greek Orthodox Church (I believe Hagia Demetrius) one morning a friend, Shelby Patty, and I were approached by a man in the church. He asked us where we were from, to which I responded perfunctorily that we were from Chicago. He looked surprised and said, “there are Greek Orthodox in Chicago?” Which I responded with, “yes, there are, but we are not Orthodox.” He looked a little confused and so I tried to explain to him that we were in fact non-denominational christian and not orthodox. He again looked confused and so I told him that we were Protestants. He understood that terminology and quickly said, “But, don’t worry, you can be Orthodox, it’s simple.” He told us that Protestants lack the mystery of faith, they lack the liturgy that the Orthodox church can offer. Which, I have to admit, we in many ways are lacking in those respects, I don’t think that we emphasize enough the mysteries of the church in protestantism (if interested, please ask me about this more so when we get together again). He continued to outline for us how Greek Orthodoxy would love to have us enter into their church (which I also found fascinating. As we had previously been taught that the Orthodox tend to favor influence through example rather than proselatizaion). As we continued to talk he told us that the “Papa Catholic” (the pope) was either the anti-Christ or the bringer of the antichrist. On this point he was not very clear. He continued to talk about how it was not good to have one man as the head of the Catholic Church and how it showed that He was indeed the antichrist. He then said that we still had time to convert, but that we should hurry to do so because we were in the time that the book of Revelation was written for. At the end of his talk to us he said that he was not married because the women in that area of Greece were snooty and only wanted to marry a rich man, and that he was not a rich man (mind you, we had asked absolutely no questions as he was monologuing, this is all train of thought). He qualified this by saying that women from other countries were not as snooty or as egotistical (his words); they were humble. He needed to find a wife from another country. And suddenly a long pause was inserted into the conversation as he looked at us …unfortunately we had no more time to explore the reasons behind his singleness because it was (thankfully) time to go back to the bus. It was certainly a singular experience to be evangelized by a Greek orthodox man (whose name I now remember was Demetrius, like the Saint of the church we were visiting) and then to hear about his marital struggles.
Another idea I have been thinking about is monasteries and icons. I am amazed that these monasteries are built so precariously and precipitously upon sedimentary rocks. These places are by no means going to withstand the winds of time (literally) because of erosion. I am impressed that they have lasted this long and I wonder if they have experienced any trouble in the past because of erosion?
Something else I noticed about the monastery was that I was very put off by the icons that were around the churches walls. It was interesting that the first room of the two-roomed sanctuary had floor to ceiling images of martyred saints. Images of men being flayed, people drowning, being burned, being torn by animals, being beheaded (the beheaded ones were morbidly funny insofar as their bodies would be heaped up elsewhere while their haloed heads were lying haphazardly around). I went and sat in the deeper sanctuary of the little church (this one illustrated the stories of Christ rather than the martyrs) and stared at the figures illumined on the walls. As I looked into their faces and examined their features and expressions I discovered the reasons behind my reservations had to do with the messages they were either overtly or inadvertently sending me. Rather than communicating that I was a part of a greater cloud of witnesses, welcomed and encouraged to pursue the faithful life, I found myself feeling condemned for not living a life that was considered worthy. Their faces were rather more condemning than most icons I had encountered. Maybe this was because this church was built during the Arab occupation of Greece and therefore living out the Christian life was a much more serious matter in the face of persecution, but nonetheless, I was put off. This made me think that they held a certain spiritual elitism in their expressions that I greatly disagreed with. If I am made to believe that they are better than I am, doesn’t that in some way lend me a justification to think of myself as better than the Christians around me? I have to work hard not to assume that I am better than others, but to be provided with images that seem so condemning I know that my response would be to justify myself by comparing myself with others. It was interesting to see that the figures of the saints seemed condemning while the figure of Jesus was welcoming and loving. Shouldn’t it, if anything, be the other way around? Isn’t Christ the only one that can truly judge? Because Christ came to bring grace and sanctification rather than guilt not even his face can be one that makes the heart feel unloved. I appreciate icons, but those ones…I don’t know, they made me feel resentful rather than reverential. I wish I had pictures to show you, but unfortunately the monastery we were at didn’t allow photography in those sections. It was one of my favorite moments thus far to have gotten the opportunity to sit in the inner sanctuary and just contemplate the faces of the martyrs around me.
About two days ago we got to climb a mountain! It was the first time in a long time that we got to press ourselves to exertion in order to reach the rocky heights. Each time I go hiking I feel embodied, strong, youthful, feminine (odd though it may sound), and invigorated. I feel my body as it breathes, my heart as it pulses, and my legs as they strain, and I know that it is doing good work. There is an intoxicating amalgamated rhythm created in legs moving, arms reaching, lungs breathing, and heart pounding. Few things bring me greater joy than reaching the top of a mountain and looking out over the earth’s expanse. It is an unfathomable gift to have a body that is healthy and strong. Also, sipping on a peach iced tea while looking up at the climb you just conquered is pretty sweet as well.
That day was probably my favorite in Greece so far. After climbing to the top of the mountainous Byzantine ancient stronghold we were treated to drinks by our tour guide Vullah (as I said, I got peach iced tea). We then headed over to Nafplion, one of the most picturesque little towns in all of Greece.
There, we got to our hotel, donned our swimsuits, and went in search of a rocky beach. As I jumped into the chill water and swam out to the buoys my heart and body were at peace. Having worked hard that day and gotten the opportunity to swim in such a stunning area made me feel overwhelmed and overjoyed. The ocean was surrounded (seemingly) on all sides by mountains. As I laid on my back and felt the gentle movement of the tide move around and encompass me, looking at the blue blue sky, and the ever rolling textures of the mountains, it all made me want to adopt a cloak and knapsack and spend the rest of my life climbing mountains, jumping off of rocky crags into water, and eating a simple diet of any animal I could capture, wild berries, cucumbers, tomatoes, olive oil, feta cheese (could I make cheese as I traveled… I’d need a goat as a companion …and I would call her Horatio. Yes, Horatio the goat would provide me my feta cheese) and honey. I’ll let you all know how that goes for me. But honestly, I loved that day. That night was the Eurocup game of Greece vs. Germany. The city square was jamb packed with people. Huge screens were placed around the square as projections of the games entertained the people that were lounging in the outdoor seating, sipping their beers and wines, eating late dinners (10pm), and savoring their gelatos. It was delightful.
The next day we went to the site of Ancient Mycenae, the home of the mythic Menelaus, the man in the Iliad whose wife, Helen, and her lover, Paris, began the Trojan War. It was a rather small area, but then again it was also very ruinous, so a lot of the grandeur had been lost a long long long long time ago. We then had the pleasure of going to Agamemnon’s tomb and (cheesy though it may be) sang the doxology in the towering bee-hive structure and were amazed at the acoustics.
Tomorrow is our free day in Athens and I hope to get some olive oil and honey before I leave to bring home with me. Greece has been spectacular. I hope to go home and learn to make baklava, good bread, and delicious pita. I cannot wait. Then on Tuesday we fly out for Rome. I gotta dash, but I hope you all are doing well. I can’t believe that by this time next week I will be back in the U.S. Two months really does fly by. It has been such an adventure. Look for my post coming up about Rome. I dont know if I can quite communicate to you how excited I am to see Michelangelo’s Pieta in person! I AM SO EXCITED!! Also, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, oOOOooooo! This is going to be great.