Summer vacation: On our way to the Greek town of Kalabaka and the area of the great Meteora Monasteries, Alex, our guide, told my daughter Elizabeth and me that when we arrived, he had a surprise for us. He drove us through the town, which was located at the foot of these huge and towering rock formations called the Meteora. These rocks are remnants of river sediment
that were deposited on what was once part of a prehistoric sea. They were formed some 25
million years ago and within them are caves, which were used as early as the 10th century by what’s described as religious hermits. Eventually great monasteries were built on the tops of these rock formations. At one time there were 24 different religious communities located at the top of these rocks. Now, I believe, there are only eight and we visited three of them.
But, as stunningly beautiful as the rock formations are — they were not the
surprise Alex had in mind. The surprise was at the foot of the Meteora. We wound our way up some very narrow side streets and stopped in a parking area outside of a small church, the Byzantine Church of the Assumption of Virgin Mary. The locals call it the Church of the Panagia. It was built between the 9th and 11th centuries on the ruins of an early Christian basilica that was built in the 4th century. Before that, an ancient Greek Temple of Apollo was built on that site. The frescoes that were painted on all the walls and the ceiling of the church were painted between the 12th and 16th centuries.
Alex wanted us to take in, with all of our senses, the beauty and the sacredness of this ancient small church at the foot of those towering rock formations. And so we stood in that 1,000 year old structure and quietly walked about, looking at the beautiful frescoes and the carefully painted words written in a calligraphy style that is a preferred style of writing in Greek Orthodox churches.
We would see other churches and holy sites that were larger, more ornate, with more icons and candles and incense burners. But, I must tell you that as soon as we walked into that small church, I could feel with a powerful certainty that we were standing in a holy place and that God was very much present with us. At one point that feeling was so strong I was moved to tears. I am still awed by the thought of being in that place.
I am so grateful that we were given the gift of being brought to this place and discovering the gifts that were waiting there for those who wished to enter and receive them. Our entire trip was filled with moments such as these. Each place we went offered us an opportunity to discover something new and different, something we could not have known we would find before arriving there. And, as I’ve thought of the time we spent in the Church of the Assumption and in the other sacred spaces we found ourselves in, I’ve thought over and over again about the abundance of these gifts that were given to us each day. The first verse of our text today (James 1: 17-27) is the truth: ”Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
Truly, the Father of lights was present and offering to us in abundance the rich and invaluable treasures that awaited us each day. I hope that we can all step forth today knowing that gifts await us and that they have been generously given by God for each of us to discover and claim as God’s beloved children. Step forth today knowing that you are, indeed, a beloved creation of the Father of lights, and that you can be a blessing to others when we share the Good News and the love of Jesus Christ.
I wish you peace.