Meteora is a rock formation in Greece hosting the largest and most precipitously built complexes of Greek Orthodox monasteries. The original twenty-four monasteries were built on large natural pillars that dominate the local area. The name ‘Meteora’ means “lofty”, “elevated”, and is related to the word meteor.
Today in Meteora of the original 24 monasteries, only six are still functioning, with increasingly reduced membership. Four monasteries are for male members called monks, and two are for female members or nuns.
Monastery of Great Meteoron
The Monastery of Great Meteoron is the largest of the monasteries located at Meteora. It was erected in the mid-14th century and was increased in size between 1483 and 1552. The main church is consecrated in honour of the Transfiguration of Jesus.
The Monastery of Great Meteoron was first erected at the last years of the Byzantine Empire, which was the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages when it’s capital city was Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). It survived the fragmentation and fall of the Western Roman Empire for an extra thousand years until it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.
Emperor Constantine I (r. 324–337) legalised Christianity, and eventually, Christianity became the Empire’s official state religion, and under the reign of Heraclius (r. 610–641), the Empire’s military and administration were restructured and adopted Greek for official use instead of Latin. Historians distinguish Byzantium from ancient Rome once the Eastern Empire oriented towards Greek and not Latin culture and became dominated by Orthodox Christianity.
Monastery of Rousanou / St. Barbara
The Monastery of Rousanou / St. Barbara was founded in the middle of the 16th century, and today it is a nunnery. The Eastern Orthodox Church places high emphasis and awards a high level of prestige to traditions of monasticism and asceticism. Those who choose this path, separate themselves from the world and live as monks and nuns. This kind of life is often seen as incompatible with any kind of worldly activity including social work, school teaching, and other such virtuous works are therefore left to lay people.
Monastery of St. Stephen
The Monastery of St. Stephen has a church built in the 16th century and rests on a high plain and not on a narrow cliff. The Nazis shelled it during World War II who believed it was harbouring insurgents and was later abandoned. The monastery was given over to nuns in 1961, and they have converted it into a flourishing nunnery.
In 1453, the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottoman Empire, and under the Ottoman rule, the Greek Orthodox Church acquired real power as an autonomous, separate court of law under which a confessional community was allowed to rule itself under its own laws. The ecumenical patriarch was the religious and administrative ruler of the Rûm, which was an Ottoman administrative unit meaning “Roman”, which encompassed all the Orthodox subjects of the Empire.
A monastery comprises the domestic quarters and workplaces of monastics, monks or nuns, whether living in communities or alone as hermits. A monastery generally includes a place reserved for prayer which may be a chapel, church, or temple, and may also serve as an oratory.
Monasteries vary in size, comprising a small dwelling accommodating only a hermit, or in the case of communities anything from a single building housing only one senior and two or three junior monks or nuns to vast complexes and estates housing hundreds.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Church, both monks and nuns follow a similar ascetic discipline, and even their religious habit is the same. The Orthodox do not have separate religious orders, but a single monastic embodiment throughout the Orthodox Church. Monastics live away from the world, to pray for the world.
One of the great centres of Orthodox monasticism is Mount Athos in Greece, which is self-governing. It is located on an isolated peninsula and is administered by the heads of the 20 monasteries. Today the population of the Mount Athos is around 2,000 men and can only be visited by men with special permission granted by both the Greek government and the government of the Holy Mountain itself.
- “My imagination is a monastery, and I am its monk” – John Keats
Greek Proverbs and Quotes
Meteora Monasteries Map
“Happiness can only be achieved by looking inward and learning to enjoy whatever life has and this requires transforming into gratitude.”
– Saint John Chrysostom
Photo Credit: JOM