In a country that is struggling economically and politically, the Greek people practice a favorite quote of mine:
"I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare." -C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
While visiting my cousin, Julie, in the town of Trikala, Greece, I had the privilege of experiencing both the generosity and strength of the Greek people. Julie's in-laws made sure my stomach was filled with enormous slices of cake, along with second (and third and fourth) helpings of pastitsio (a Greek version of lasagna). They kissed my cheeks, grasped my hands, and told me they would pray for me to find a good husband- absolutely precious.
In addition to eating a mountain of food (including discovering that my 30 years of despising tomatoes was a lie; Mediterranean-grown tomatoes are phenomenal), I went with Julie to some of the most inspiring locations on the planet. These sacred places reflect the the multi-dimensional beauty of the souls who were here before us, hundreds and thousands of years ago.
The Meteora Monasteries
The monasteries were founded in the 14th century by monks whose desire was to grow closer to God, and there are still monks that live and practice their faith here. When we reached the Great Monastery, I felt wildly breathless. The spiritual strength residing in these walls was almost tangible. Inside, the walls are covered with colorful paintings depicting Biblical characters and saints. In the Greek Orthodox faith, an individual crosses themselves, offers up a prayer, and kisses the icon (a religious painting or relic) of the sanctuary. To some, that may sound very unsanitary, but if there's any place where God himself will reach down and zap the germs right out of your body, I assume it would be here.
Proper attire is required to visit the monasteries. Women must wear knee-length skirts, and men must wear pants. Shoulders must be covered at all times. Photos are only allowed on the outside of the monasteries.
Archaeological Park of Dion
How would you like to see the home of the Greek gods? How about standing on the very same ground as Alexander the Great? "Nah, maybe later," said I.
Located in the shadow of Mount Olympus (where Zeus himself hangs his hat, lays his head, and hurls all the lightning bolts), Dion's history can be dated back to the 5th century BC. Within the ruins, there are remnants of temples to Zeus, Asklepios, Athena, and, due to the influence of Alexander the Great, the Egyptian goddess, Isis. I'm about to fall out of my chair in complete and utter awe while typing this- which is impressive because I'm sitting on a bed, not a chair.
While wandering the worn-down roads, I began to envision life back then: streets bustling with merchants and buyers, soldiers eyeing the people warily, ornately carved statues, and mosaics and tapestries adorning buildings supported by thick Grecian columns. I found myself getting frustrated because it was not possible to relish the moment any more than I already was. Enjoy figuring that out.
While there's nothing wrong with dreaming of the beautiful islands of Greece, allowing that to be our only impression of this country would be a sad disservice. It has seen thousands of years filled with war, defeat, victory, wealth, poverty, success, and failure. Yet it's still here.
One of my favorite stories from modern Greek history is the holiday "Oxi Day," or" 'No' Day" on October 28. When Italy's dictator, Benito Mussolini, requested permission to occupy Greece in order to develop a stronghold for the Axis Powers in World War II, the Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas refused. This stubborn refusal launched Greece into the war, but their stand against Italy gave the world hope that the Axis Powers could be defeated. I cannot imagine a more beautiful incarnation of that stubborn, indomitable, beautiful Greek spirit. Give freely- beyond what you can spare, but also refuse to back down from the things that are truly important. May we all try to be just a little more Greek.