By Sarah Lynch
We arrived on Mount Menoikeion to the sound of prayer. Struggling down the hill with luggage and backpacks, there was a pause, a moment of disorientation as the motor of the bus died in the distance and the Greek chants echoed off the stone walls. For those of us here for the first time, there was a moment of wonder, and apprehension, of being so far from the familiar – language, custom, habits, and manners.
In reality we are merely a fifteen minute drive from Serres, a small city in Northern Greece, but the Prodromos Monastery seems more distant in both time and space. Going up the mountain is truly a trip into a sacred, and other, space. But the nuns are gracious, and greet us wish smiles, genuine affection, and even English. The fundamentals of being human are, it turns out, universal, and with a generosity of spirit that is apparent in every interaction, the sisters of Mount Menoikeion welcome us into their community. To make us feel more at home, our first meal is ‘comfort food’ for Americans, that is spaghetti, and afterwards some of us help with the dishes.
In the courtyard after dinner, we stay talking until late, getting to know each other, and trying to get a feel for the monastic life. A thunderstorm is only soothing noise, and waking the next morning at the call to prayer seems natural. In observing the liturgy, and more remarkably, the activity of the church (my first Orthodox service ever), I am even a bit overwhelmed by the sense of community that pervades this space. There are numerous young families, and the Greek tolerance for other activities during the liturgy, such as candle lighting, private prayer, and venerating icons, seems better suited to the active young children in the congregation than the usual western model, and it only seems to add to the beauty of the singing rather than distract from it.
My impressions thus far have been sketchy and preliminary, as this environment and way of life are entirely new to me. I have admired the scenery, observed solemn ritual, eaten unbelievably well, and rested. I hope what the coming days will bring me is a better understanding of the life here, and a better relationship with the remarkable women who make up the Prodromos monastery.