Walking along the main road leading to the harbour, I heard the gentle lapping of the waves against the wharf in the distance. After a brief walk, the main road suddenly opened up into a beautiful Venetian harbour. To my utter wonder, I was greeted by a splendid panorama of buildings arrayed in an myriad of earthy hues. As the first rays of sunset shone forth the splendour of renaissance facades sparkled before me. I paused and looked out in silence; for to truly acknowledge beauty one must be silent. Somewhere in the distance a church bell rang; the sound merely enhanced my reverie.
Walking along the Venetian harbour, I felt at ease. The sun cast its radiant glow over the blue water lapping against the yellow sandstone walls. The picturesque walk was complemented by a lone man selling sea sponges on a boat bobbing gently in the water. From early morning to late afternoon, he would be ply his trade; despite rarely ever selling anything he was blessed with a radiant smile full of joy. I was drawn to this man with whom I struck up a friendship, talking to him every day. Harris as he was known was a sailor, having travelled extensively around the Greek islands, and settled long ago on Crete where he had raised his family. He had seen times of prosperity and more recently adversity. I offered to pay Harris to take me around the Greek islands, knowing that he had difficulty making ends meet, however he answered, “My boat is in disrepair, nevertheless I would take you around for no money whatsoever”. One cold winter day he asked me if I wanted to have a drink of schnapps with him. Out of respect I said yes. I admired the heart of this man, even though schnapps was not to my liking. Harris then proceeded to order a couple of drinks from the restaurant across the street from where his boat was moored alongside the harbour. I was deeply touched yet saddened, as Harris was willing in a moment of sheer hospitality to spend several days wages on a couple of drinks in order to please me. I remonstrated with him not to order any drinks, as I thought that he had the drinks within his boat. He asked “Why not, it’s fine! Are you worried about the money?”, as he noticed the concerned look on my face. After reassuring him that it was okay he finally relented. Suffering had merely tempered his beautiful heart, and in this man I sensed a deep sense of humility and serenity despite providing for his family in difficult times. How could one not love such a man? Never before had I experienced such hospitality amidst adversity. I told Harris “May God bless you, and you forever trust in Him ”. Harris responded with a sad smile of conviction. “And that’s the greatest gift that one can ever wish for in life”
The faint echo of my footsteps disappeared into the profound silence that manifested an aura of sanctity about the monastery. The buildings seemed archaic, yet the passing of centuries had merely enhanced their beauty. Decaying yet dignified, the monastery walls and church were marvellous to look upon in their simplistic beauty. As I stood looking upon an archaic facade, a monk with flowing black robes suddenly came up to me full of joy and smiling. He talked in such a beautiful melody, rich and resonant. I could not help but look upon his face in wonder. The thought crossed my mind “Is he slightly mad?”. After a few moments, looking upon the purity of his disposition, I felt ashamed of my thoughts and merely stood in silence. The monk radiated a childlike innocence and joy, yet his words were filled with wisdom and love as he gave me his blessing and wished me well upon my journey. I stood for a long time in silence, not wanting to leave, sensing that I was in the presence of someone special. It was with a heavy heart that I eventually walked away deep in thought. I often think of this unknown monk. The purity of his warm eyes and loving words have left me a lasting impression. A monk living a simplistic life dedicated to prayer and fasting yet somehow filled with profound peace and joy.
Looking up at the archaic wooden door of the monastery, I read with a sense of reverence the ancient Greek and Latin inscriptions chiselled into the archway. Eventually passing through the doorway I felt an immense sense of tranquility, as though I had stepped from modernity into a bygone era devoid of constant and superficial distractions. The monastery emanated serenity and an aura of reverence. Besides the rustling of leaves and the wind dancing amidst the treetops, I was all alone. As the sun hid behind the clouds I gazed upon the facade of the monastery. Forlorn, decaying and defiant in it’s timeless beauty, it captured my imagination. An inscription carved in the entranceway in ancient Greek read, “Let the love of Christ be the light of your life that guides you”. I stood in awe and silence. The words resonated within the depths of my soul and my heart stirred with sheer love for whom I loved most, Christ Jesus.
The soft sound of my muffled footsteps upon the stone courtyard, punctuated the stillness of the air. The monastery was silent, yet there was a profound beauty in such silence. I stood in awe surrounded by sweet solitude and serenity. Before me beautiful archaic facades of paved courtyards and roman arches, met my childlike gaze. Although well worn, their vibrant earthy colours filled me with wonder. I paused by a wooden door on the side of the monastery wall beneath a stairwell. A bell hung nearby, rung to call the monks to prayer and celebration of the divine liturgy. After long moments I pondered in awe recalling the psalmists words “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)
The trials that we face in life are many, varied and at times seem insurmountable, threatening to engulf us. The narrow path however difficult and fraught with sacrifice is the mirror that reveals what we believe in and what we live for. Pain and suffering strip away the mask that represents the fragility of our lives. Life has taught me that there is beauty and grace to be found even in the most difficult of times. A gentle word, a kind thought or an act of compassion during such trials manifests a spirit of hope and gratitude. The ability to love with courage beyond human strength and understanding, to show fortitude in times of adversity reflects what, and more importantly for Whom we live for. Yet how many pause to acknowledge that silent voice that forever knocks at the doorstep of our hearts, that has always beckoned us stirring at the depths of our soul.
“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”.”
The Venetian bay was calm, as the sun cast forth its luminous rays upon the quiet town stirring in the early hours of the morning. The beauty of the Renaissance era was manifested splendidly against the calm deep blue of the ocean. I paused in awe and looked out yonder in profound reverie. In a moment of serenity, I pondered at how the creative beauty of mankind blended so perfectly with the majesty of nature
Gazing out towards the endless beauty of the Aegean Sea, I slowly looked back. The simplistic beauty of a white domed church perched on the cliff edge overlooking the town was at once perfectly balanced with the warmth of the morning sun and blue sky. The beauty of Greece experienced in my travels pierced me with profound clarity. This ancient land and its people, despite many hardships over the centuries, had the courage to treasure its traditions and gift of hospitality. It seemed that adversity was balanced by a spirit of hope and fortitude. The character of the nation was reflected in the land and its architecture; faded and worn yet proud, warm and truly beautiful to behold.
Walking along the path overlooking the ocean I peered over the whitewashed sea wall. Carefully embracing the domed church and buildings perched along the cliffside, it extended beyond as far as the eye could see. In reverie I gazed for a long time at the simplistic architectural beauty of the church before peering over the wall. White wisps of clouds floated effortlessly across Heaven, contrasted with such amazing beauty against the blue skies and water. The gentle lapping of distant waves below, mingled with the cool wind upon my face created a profound sense of immense joy within the depths of my soul. As if from an inner silence words slowly formed with within my mind
“The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.”
The winding cobblestone streets of the medieval old city were a delight to explore. Colourful crumbling facades adorned with vibrant bouquets and and painted wooden doors were everywhere to be seen. The locals walked about the streets looking to their daily chores with radiant smiles beautifully complemented the chatter of voices and traditional music emanating from the numerous cafes and stores dotted along the streets. Occasionally the serenity was punctuated by the surprising madness of scooters flying effortlessly through the meandering narrow streets, hilariously at odds with the otherwise relaxed atmosphere of this tranquil town.
The walk down the cliff face was arduous. Several hundred deep stone steps hewn out of solid rock, formed a long meandering path from the cliff edge to the shoreline. The muscles in my legs burned with the intensity of effort, nevertheless I carefully descended the stairs full of anticipation and joy. After reaching our destination I paused briefly and looked back from whence we came. Blue domed churches amidst white washed buildings overlooking the caldera captured my imagination, an awesome display of sheer beauty.
Walking along the cliff edge overlooking the caldera, my heart was full of joy as the sun’s rays peeped over the horizon, illuminating the earthy colour of the stone houses perched along the cliff face overlooking the ocean. The sweet smell of baked bread permeated the morning air. A few more steps and I entered a bakery barely visible, a hidden gem amidst a sea of white washed buildings. An elderly lady looked at me with big beautiful eyes, warm and pure with a childlike innocence yet sad with wisdom born of pain and suffering of years gone bye. She fixed her eyes on me, and for a few seconds all I could do was look with reverence at her face. Eventually I spoke in basic Greek, “Good morning aunty”, a term of respect and reverence for elderly women, reserved even for strangers. “Good morning and how may I be of service to you” she replied with a warm intonation looking into my eyes while smiling. We spoke at length exchanging pleasantries before I politely asked for some bread. After paying, I noticed some sweets and looked at the change in my hands. “Aunty how much are the croissants?” She looked at me with compassion “Please take one my behalf”. I was deeply touched and responded “Aunty I have money to spend please, I would also like one for my wife. She responded without hesitation “Then take one more for your wife and don’t worry about money” I was deeply touched in my heart, and I walked up to her pleading “Please aunty I would prefer to pay”. She looked at me with those warm beautiful eyes “You have a good heart that much I can see; please take what I offer with all my heartfelt pleasure. I responded “No aunty it is you that has a beautiful heart and not myself; I pray that God blesses you in every way”. Slowly, she came out from behind the counter and reverently pulled out a bible and said with her warm voice, “This is what I read in my spare time; the grace of God is what grants me hope and strength to continue in life”. My soul stirred and my heart rejoiced with sheer joy. Holding this beautiful person at arms length I embraced her and kissed her cheeks. This elderly lady whose face manifested hardship and suffering had the capacity to love a perfect stranger. “God bless you aunty, and may the love of Christ sustain us in all things” I uttered while holding her within my arms and resting my head against her beautiful face. Her arms clasped me lovingly as if I were her own son.