Holy Meteora & A Lesson In Community
One of the most dramatic locations I visited during my recent visit to Greece was an area known by the locals as Holy Meteroa, near the village of Kalabaka.
The word meteora means "suspended in air," which essentially describes the six monasteries built on top of the impressive towers of stone that rise majestically from the foothills.
These monasteries were all founded from the 12th to the 14th centuries, but there had been Christian hermits living in caves on the side of the cliffs for centuries.
Each community that occupied these isolated and largely inaccessible monasteries chose the locations because they were isolated and inaccessible. They wanted little to do with the outside world and desired only to focus on worship, work, and devotion to God.
But over the centuries, villages and communities began to spring up beneath them, and the monks and nuns began to serve and be served by the people in them.
Now, their primary source of income is drawn almost entirely from tourism. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and curious visitors journey to Meteora every year to tour the monasteries, attend worship, pray, and buy artifacts, icons, and publications from their bookstores.
Even so, many of the monks and nuns who live in these monasteries patrol the grounds and the chapels with dour expressions, policing what people are wearing, shushing any talk above a hoarse whisper, and chastising guides who allow members of their group to laugh.
As I gazed at all of these beautiful sites high above the world, I thought of how they were a sign and symbol of the very Church itself in our current culture.
The monasteries of Meteora learned long ago that they needed the communities around them, but they still seem to find ways to set themselves apart. It's easy to look down our noses at the nuns and monks there, but we often do the same in our own contexts.
Far too many faith communities have fashioned themselves in such a way that they imagine they are high above the culture and the communities that surround them. They become isolated and inaccessible because of their inward-focused practices and their inaccessible theological location.
Those of us in the Church can easily begin to see the world around us as something to be separated from and can fall into habits that keep us from welcoming others, serving our communities, and existing for the sake of the world.
Or we will say that we welcome everyone, but when people with different backgrounds come through our doors, they often find that though they might be welcomed, they are only included if they become just like everyone else.
We use insider language in liturgy and sermons without acknowledging that there are people in the congregation who may not get it and feel unseen when we do.
Our worship services can become too focused on our preferences and comfort, and, more often than not, we never imagine what they seem like to the uninitiated who visit.
Far too many faith communities adopt a Savior complex when it comes to their ultimate mission, losing sight of the fact that it is Jesus who rescues, Jesus who redeems, and Jesus who saves, not the Church.
Throughout my life, I've heard countless Christian preachers proclaim that Christians should "be in the world, but not of the world," or spout the out-of-context missive to the Hebrew people from the Old Testament, "Come out from among them, and be separate."
Through his teachings and his example, Jesus taught that any kind of "ivory-tower" mentality was not something God desired. Jesus ate meals at the houses of those that everyone else avoided. He proclaimed the Court of the Gentiles outside the Temple as "My father's house."
Jesus taught his followers to be among the people and act as salt and light in the world around them. In other words, he taught them to enhance the God-flavors in the world and help others see God better.
You can't do that from a perch on top of a rock above the world below.
May we follow Jesus' example and resist the urge to withdraw into our own safe little worlds that we often create in our faith communities.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.