Saturday, May 17, 2008

Dear Friends,

Christ is Risen!

As promised, I am writing (although very late) to share with you from some of my experiences in Greece this past spring break. In March I was bless to serve Christ and His Church on a RealBreak trip to Greece with over 20 other college students. We traveled to central Greece to help at some monasteries there for one week.

I suppose this trip to Greece meant more to me than just a service trip. I thought about studying there, and thought it would be nice to have this opportunity to experience Greece before I made any decisions. It was truly a blessing!

The moment we arrived at the monastery, we were graced with the prayerful presence of the nuns who lived there. They greeted use with exuberant ringing of bells, angelic smiles and hospitable "welcomes" and hugs. Before we had even step foot on the monastery grounds, and met one monastic, I think we would all agree that we were "home."

The week proved to shock most of us. We were utterly flabbergasted by the nuns' hospitality, love, humility and joy. They radiated the love of Christ to us, and we melted in their presence. We helped them paint rooms, organize workshop spaces, build paths, clear brush and much more. We ate with them, prayed with them, worked with them, spoke with them, laughed with them and cried with them...all in one week!

We experienced Greece in its holy splendor by visiting the ancient monastic community of Meteora. Perched high above stunning tube-like rock formations, the millennium old cluster of monasteries reflects the awe and majesty of a life absorbed in the Creator of this beauty. We toured countless ancient churches and holy sites, one of which included a unique 4th century design, where the enormous pulpit was built in the center of the Church. We were told that the Emperor would come to this church and speak from this pulpit in the 4th century! It was quite the blessing to be able to sing hymns to Christ, the Theotokos and all the saints in a church such as this.

Our finals days in the monastic dwellings were certainly bitter-sweet. We were left with a feeling of apprehension as we prepared ourselves for life back in the "world." What was only a week, seemed to stretch itself out to become more like a year. We had all gained so much in the way of spiritual lessons from this trip, that we all agreed how diligent we would have to be when we arrived back home. Many people used "life-changing" or "the most amazing" as descriptors towards the end of the trip.

I imagine as a whole the trip served more to educate, inspire and form us, rather than as a service trip to these monasteries. Don't get me wrong, we really did work hard. But as usual, the tables were turned, and we found ourselves overwhelmed by the blessings we had been given, and not by what we gave.

Greece is a wonderful country. Its rich and ancient history, especially being the home to so many Orthodox saints and martyrs, emanates from its many spectacular sites, and from its even greater (though not as apparent) holy men and women.

This was not, I pray, an experience that will remain "in the past." My desire is that it will serve to remind me of God's amazing Grace, working through those who serve Him. Glory to God for all things