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.
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
Walking along the main road leading to the harbour, I could hear 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 enhance my reverie.
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 smell of burning wood permeated the cool winters morning. Besides the numerous cats relaxing in the sunshine, there was a strange but welcome stillness, so profound that all ones sense were enhanced. Passing the stone courtyard a flurry suddenly caught my eye, or was it merely an inner sense; looking towards the upper level of the monastery I caught the glimpse of a monks’ flowing black robes as he disappeared into the dormitory. I looked for a few more moments yearning to catch another rare glimpse of the unknown monk; turning around I walked a few steps and came across a staircase. Archaic and worn with the passage of time it was nevertheless beautiful to behold in its antiquity.
Looking up at the archaic wooden door of the monastery, I read with a sense of awe 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 as the wind danced amidst the treetops, I was all alone. As the sun hid behind the clouds I gazed upon the facade of the church wall. Forlorn, decaying yet defiant in it’s timeless beauty it captured my imagination. An inscription carved in the entranceway of the monastery in ancient Greek read, “Let the love of Christ be the light of your life that guides you” seemed to have presented a mirror mirror before me.The words “What is the meaning of life and what is my purpose”? seemed to echo within the depths of my soul.
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 his boat alongside the quay. 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 heart, and in this man I sensed a deep sense of humility and serenity despite providing for his family in difficult times. Never before had I experienced such hospitality amidst suffering. I told Harris “May God bless you and always be with you”. Harris responded with a sad smile of conviction. “And that’s the greatest gift that one can ever wish for in life”