A Weekend in a Women’s Monastery
CYA Spring ’18 student Megan Davey reflects on her weekend in the Holy Monastery of St.John the Honorable Forerunner, Mt. Kissavos, Greece.
The first time I was woken up, it was by my 3:18am alarm. I rolled out of bed, threw on a long skirt, and sleep-walked to the chapel. The prayer service lasted until 5am — one and a half hours. I stood (the whole time) while the hum of Greek prayers, songs, and incense filled the room.
I asked a novice why they choose to start so early every day. I expected a profound answer; she shrugged, “I guess we like to pray in the dark, without any people.” That’s asceticism.
The second time I was woken up, it was by the gentle knocking of a precious nun at 8:28am, just two minutes before my alarm. I put on a long work skirt and walked down to the kitchen. I was met with spinach pies and hand-written directions to make Greek coffee. The sky was bright blue. I questioned whether I’d actually been awake four hours prior.
A sister showed us around the monastery. We saw the restored old monastery, lots of animals (and their springtime babies), the cheese kitchen, the soaps, icons, woodworking, and mosaic workshops, and lots of smiling nuns.
Then, we were put to work. We sifted through stones and dirt to get to the fine soil proper to layer over the grass. Lots of shoveling. Lots of wheelbarrowing. Lots of heavy lifting. It was repetitive and quiet…like a prayer. All of the nuns were out doing their share of chores; all with big smiles. Sisters are walking billboards for joy, asceticism, and hope. They radiate Christ so unapologetically.
A book at the monastery read, “The contemplative is the one who, like Moses before the Burning Bush, takes off his shoes — that is, strips himself of the deadness of familiarity and boredom — and who then recognizes that the place where he is standing is holy ground.”
It’s easy to recognize the holiness of the monastery’s grounds; maybe it’s the morning liturgies or the smells of incense or the sisters’ smiles or the silent mountains. But am I recognizing the holiness of my grounds in Athens? Am I listening to the soul’s movements despite the disruptive traffic, the weekly studies, the new friendships, and the busy travels? Am I noticing the grace all around me?
Read Related Stories:
Sister Theoterpi, née Christina McFall CYA Spring ‘06 – Alumna from Grinnell College resides at the Holy Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner which she discovered while studying abroad in Greece. Read her story: