When the sun rose over Kalambaka, the sky was perfectly clear, the air was crisp and cool, and we were greeted with a spectacular landscape. From the right location the unique rock formations that cradle the monasteries of Meteora could be seen against the backdrop of the Pindus mountains with snow-capped peaks on the distant horizon.
There are seven monasteries around Meteora. One is never open to visitors and each of the others is closed at least one day a week. You can never be certain which monasteries will be accessible until you arrive. As it happened, we got to visit two.
The first we visited was Stephanos, the newest and most accessible. A few days earlier at Patmos we had a hard time appreciating the iconography we saw. Stephanos gave us a fresh perspective. The walls were covered in (relatively) recent iconography portrayed in vibrant colors, and it made it easier to imagine how the icons we saw at Patmos might have looked. The scenes were much easier to distinguish at Stephanos, sometimes from scripture, sometimes from Christian history, including occasionally gruesome depictions of Christian martyrdoms. The churches do not allow photography, though, and we will not be able to show you pictures.
The second monastery we visited was the sixteenth century Varlaam, accessible only by a wooden bridge that led to a long, winding staircase clinging to the side of a steep rock face. We also got to see the precarious rope elevator driven by a wooden wench that used to be the only means of access.
After seeing a brief demonstration of icon construction at a craft shop in Kalambaka, we had lunch and began the journey to Beria (biblical Berea). There is very little left of the ancient town of Berea although modern Beria is a thriving city on the same spot. However, we know Paul visited and we know the Bereans were particularly receptive (Acts 17:10-14).
There is a relatively recent monument to Paul’s ministry there, and the iconography is accessible even to Protestants unaccustomed to interpreting it. The central component is a full-scale icon of the apostle Paul standing above a set of ancient steps discovered somewhere in the vicinity of Berea. A separate panel to the left depicts Paul’s vision summoning him to Macedonia, complete with the Greek quotation, “Come to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:6-10). Another panel on the right depicts Paul preaching and the Bereans studying scripture.
After a short stop in Beria, we were back on the road where our final destination for the day would be Thessaloniki, ancient Thessalonica. The snow topped peak of Mt. Olympus hovered far in the distance to the south of us. Tomorrow we tour Thessaloniki and begin the trek to Philippi.