By Vasiliki Anagnostopoulos
Over the last couple of days I have experienced a whirlwind of excitement—liturgies, meals, hikes, lectures, and of course, “tech lab” time. We began learning about the history and customs of the monastery through enlightening lectures given by the more experienced graduate
students. As most of us have been accustomed to learning in a classroom, this experience is truly unique and stimulates both our minds and well as our bodily senses. As we learn about the history of the monastery, we are able to immerse ourselves in this holy atmosphere and see, touch, taste, smell, and hear things that we would never be able to experience otherwise. Nebojsa, one of the graduate students, revealed his knowledge about the world of narthexes as we stood in the very areas he was discussing. Physically being in the area being discussed allowed for a deeper understanding of the material being studied. As Nebojsa explained how the narthexes could have been arranged and their possible purposes, we were able to observe the evidence and follow the logic behind his conclusions.
As a Greek-American, I am more familiar with the customs, food, and language than most of the other students, which to my surprise has led me to have a different experience than I had imagined. Attending Greek Orthodox liturgies, eating Greek food, and speaking Greek have all been part of my life since I was born and many of the activities I encountered here were familiar to me. However, interacting with other students of diverse backgrounds in this environment was a treat because it led to some fascinating realizations.
Yesterday, for example, a group of us trekked across mountains and even encountered a snake while attempting to reach a small church in the rocks just a couple of miles away from the monastery. Upon arriving at this church, my first instinct was to cross myself before entering the sacred space. As we all investigated the inside, a student asked if he could enter the space behind the templon to take some pictures. Without hesitation I reminded them that this was not allowed. My understanding of the customs associated with the church have enabled me to reinforce our leaders’ directives to be respectful of sacred places – namely the sanctuary space behind the iconostasis – where only select people are allowed to go. As the days pass by, I am discovering more and more about myself that I never noticed before and I, as well as my fellow classmates, are coming to a better understanding of the history and reasoning behind the customs of the Greek Orthodox Church that we were previously unaware.