First Thoughts At The Monastery

Yesterday around 5 PM we arrived at the Sacred Monastery of Timios Prodromos on Mt. Menoikeion. We took taxis from our hotel in Thessaloniki to the Makedonia bus depot. From there we had an hour and a half bus ride to Serres, during which I drew a small pen portrait of Kanye, don’t ask me why, I’ll post a pic later. Then we had about a 20 minute cab ride from the Serres bus station to the monastery. Cab ride to a monastery? If you’re surprised by that, so was I, but despite being tucked away up in these really remarkably beautiful green mountains, the monastery really isn’t that far out of the way of “civilization.” Honestly, I expected to be roughing it way more, but these are some really luxurious digs. I won’t go into detail now because it’s almost 1 AM and we have to be up for breakfast at 8 then optional liturgy. Also, the five other ladies I’m sharing a large room (normally used for sewing) with are all trying to sleep and I’m a really aggressive typist.

But here are my initial impressions in my first 24 hours here (I made it over 24 hours without internet but I really wanted to write a blog post–though I have not and will not check Twitter).

  • Monastic life is kind of like summer camp–everyone has to do their part to keep the grounds in top shape; you eat together in a dining hall for all three meals; there are strict rules, a daily schedule, and rituals. I should probably say that summer camp is kind of like a monastery since the latter obviously came first. And I guess it’s also the same with military life. I suppose the order imposed by these lifestyles breeds personal growth and discipline.
  • It’s so clean. It might be the cleanest place I’ve ever been.
  • Rich Americans would pay thousands of dollars per week to do what we’re doing and call it a “retreat.”
  • I can’t get Kanye’s voice saying “I am a god” out of my head and I’m pretty sure that’s very sacrilegious.
  • There are no mirrors here. Which is refreshing. But I caught my reflection in a window a couple times.
  • I feel oppressed…in that I feel like there are a lot of rules that I don’t know about so I’m constantly anxious I’m breaking them. Is this how it feels to be religious?
  • People in any culture use the weather as small talk when the conversation falls flat.

I really wanted to write these all down now because a group of us just chatted with the Abbess and at first I was super intimidated/anxious because I didn’t know what would be appropriate to ask and she only speaks Greek, but what she said was so universally understandable that I began to feel more comfortable very quickly, and I anticipate my thoughts on the monastery to change and grow by the end of our week here. Here are some things the Abbess said (translated, and then paraphrased) tonight that I think will resonate with a lot of us :

  • Everyone has their own struggle. We all have the same magnitude of struggle, just towards different goals. The nuns’ struggle is spiritual.
  • If they kept everyone who came to the monastery wanting to be a nun, they would have over 500 (they have ~30). It’s similar to getting into university. The candidates have to be of sound mind and spirit. They can’t have any mental issues or be on any mental illness-related drugs.
  • The details such as what language a candidate speaks (there are two sisters here who came not knowing any Greek. One is from Texas), are superficial. What matters is the soundness of their spirit, and they more seasoned nuns can just tell.
  • Humility is the most important quality they look for in a candidate and for potential leaders

I really want to find out one of the sisters’ life stories and write about it. Would you buy that book? But like how do you just dive in like that? I guess you don’t. I actually found myself wishing I had already taken my ethnography class for Anthro. Will update later!

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