My visit to Crete happened by accident. During the planning of our trip, we were hoping to visit at least one Greek island by ship and Santorini was the first choice. However, we had to change our destination after looking at ferry schedules, prices, and times, and eventually settled for Crete Island.
What a great opportunity it was! A domestic airline offered a good deal - $130 bucks per person for two ways and one-hour flight to get there. Immediately after booking the tickets, I realized that Crete has an intriguing history related to Paul. Thanks be to God!
Your Spirit guided our step!
Crete’s connection with Christianity is through Titus.
Titus was Greek and mostly likely a convert of Paul’s mission. Paul referred to him as “my true son in our common faith” (Titus 1:4).
When Paul went to the Council of Jerusalem in about 49 CE, he took Barnabas and Titus along. After Paul’s persuasion, the Jerusalem apostles accepted Titus as a true believer, even though Titus was not circumcised.
Titus accompanied Paul on his journeys in Greece and Asia Minor. During Pauls’ worst troubles with the church in Corinth, Paul sent Titus to represent him
(2 Cor. 2:13; 7:6-7, 13-15).
After his release from his first Roman imprisonment, Paul briefly visited the Island of Crete, then entrusted Titus with the difficult task of organizing the first Cretan Church. He wrote to Titus: “The reason I left you behind in Crete was to organize whatever needs to be done and to appoint elders in each city” (Titus 1:5)
As our flight arrived in the Crete airport late at night, pleasant southern wind welcomed us. Thanks to our small rent car, we were able to pass through very narrow back roads of the old town “Heraklion” and find our hotel.
We fell asleep immediately.
Next morning we took a morning walk and found the church of Titus
in downtown of Heraklion. It was remarkable! When we entered the gorgeous building, I felt something different from other Orthodox churches. Unlike many others that were mostly tourist places, this church seemed to be a worship center. In the sanctuary, I perceived the flow of the Spirit and sensed the liveliness of the congregation life. “Thank you God, that you dwell in this space!”
On the left side of the church entrance was a small chapel where the holy relics of Titus were preserved. According to a local tradition, they had been transferred from a grand basilica in Gortys (erected in the early 6th century in the southern part of the Island) to this new church in Heraklion dedicated to Titus in 961 CE.
Upon the fall of the whole Island to the Turks in 1669, the valuable articles of the church were secretly taken to Venice for safety and the building was transformed into a Muslim mosque for almost 350 years.
In 1922, following the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey, the church building was rendered to Orthodox Christian worship and it was inaugurated on May 3, 1925. The Skull of the Titus was finally brought back to this church from St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice on May 15, 1966.
What a great opportunity to see the relics of the first century saint! I was extremely thrilled. I was greatly thankful for the moment. A famous wisdom came across my mind: Seeing is believing; To see for oneself is worth all the books of travel!
Meteora Monastery: As soon as we returned to Athens, we drove up to central Greece. Our next destination was Kalambaka, near Meteora.
The Meteora is famous for Greek Orthodox monasteries built on the top of immense, hill-like rounded boulders. As early as the 11th century, monks occupied the caverns of Meteora. In 1344, a monk named Athanasios Koinovitis from Mount Athos brought a group of followers to Meteora and established a retreat place.
At the end of the 14th century, as the Byzantine Empire was increasingly threatened by the Turks, the hermit monks found inaccessible rock pillars of Meteora and build 24 monasteries on the broad rocks.
Access to the monasteries was only available through two ways; either long ladders latched together or large nets used to haul up both goods and people (in the words of UNESCO, “The net in which intrepid pilgrims were hoisted up vertically alongside the 373 meters (1,224ft) cliff. . . ” <Quote from Wikipedia>).
It was Sunday morning when we entered the town of Meteora. Instead of sitting in a church, we climbed up among hundreds of pilgrims to the largest monastery, the Monastery of Great Meteoron. Taking hundreds of stairs toward its top, I felt as if I was walking toward heaven. I said to myself: “this is my Sunday worship, praying with my whole body toward God’s place.”
Sunday morning hiking to the monastery was the most memorable experience in my life. The process of reaching there was more impressive than looking around the monastery on the top.
Overlooking the unique, fascinating panorama of Meteora, I respected the early monks’ wisdom and insight that saved them from political upheavals and religious persecution. We greatly appreciated their passion for preserving a valuable tradition and culture of faith.
During my visit of the monastery, however, I could not escape from these questions: What role did those monasteries play for the Greeks in the past? What is the meaning of the existence of these monasteries at the present time?
According to internet information (Wikipedia), the Monastery of Great Meteoron had only three monks in residence and the Monastery of Varlaam only seven in 2015. It is a painful reality to accept. I questioned whether the sad reality was the consequence of their escape from the society and worldly affairs.
Surely, the awe-inspiring beauty of those monasteries will draw more millions of people every year. But I am dubious about the life of their Christian community.
My pondering came back to Vermont and raised the same question:
What is the reason of the existence of our church in our community?
Should we be separated from the society like the monasteries? Or should we get involved in and accept the change of society and culture? Is there a way of in-between impossible?
It is a very tough question for us. No one can boldly say that one is right and the other is wrong. The answer is in God’s hands, I believe.
The only thing we can do is to keep seeking God’s will and follow his direction individually and cooperatively!
Your Pastor, Kyu