The Great Divide

July 16th, 2016 Sections: From an Expat, Religion
Meteora - Holy Trinity AgiaTriada

The Monastery of the Holy Trinity in Meteora ,,, in Greece … not Kyrgyzstan

Maxim, (when he’s not taking photographs), is studying Tourism … I have no idea why – he chose the course himself without me trying to exercise any influence whatsoever … and even if I had offered some advice, he would have listened and said “Thank you”, but would have still decided for himself.

For one of his assignments he asked me if I had ever heard of Meteora … and was surprised when I said, “Yes, I’ve been there.”

“What?!” he exclaimed, “Is there anywhere you haven’t been?”, to which I replied “Yes, lots of places, … “, and started rattling off a list of places: Sary Chelek, Aktyn Arashan, Lake Kel Tor, Batken, Khan Tengri, Safed Bulan,  …

for the record, they are all here in Kyrgyzstan.

When he realized what I was doing, he asked about other places – not in Kyrgyzstan … so I added “Stonehenge, Aberystwyth, Land’s End and John O’Groats, Hastings, Milford Haven …  ”

for the record, they are all in Britain

… and when he worked out what I was doing he rephrased the question asking about other places “around the world” … so I added: “The Amazon Rain Forest, The Argentinian Pampas, the Pyramids in Egypt, Mediterranean islands like Cyprus and Malta, Poland and the Baltic States, the Forbidden City in Beijing, Ayers Rock in Australia, The Grand Canyon …”

for the record, they are places I really would like to visit – places that might make it onto my Bucket list when it’s time

… and then, finally: the Moon

for the record: that’s my usual riposte when people say they would like something that, I think, is unrealistic … “Yes, and I want to go for a walk on the Moon … but that’s not going to happen either!“.

Now, I think the assignment was to take a tourist destination , attraction, or whatever, and write a report or presentation about it … what it had to offer and who it would appeal to; an analysis of the facilities and infrastructure …  the strengths and weaknesses, the opportunities and threats to its further development … and so on.

Anyway, having got the nonsense of my mischievous and sarcastic answers out of the way (… or so he thought …) he proceeded to ask me what I remembered most about my visit … what had made the biggest impression on me?

For those who don’t know … Meteora is a place in Greece with a collection of Orthodox monasteries (some dating from as longo as the ninth century) set atop a numer of collosal monolithic rock pillars (comprised of sandstone and conglomerate) … the second most important eclesiastical sites inOrthodoxy (after Mount Athos).  At one time there were 24 monateries – but now there are only six.

They are very spectacular … the scenery is very dramatic with the traditional mode of access was to sit in a wicker basket and be pulled as by attendants in the monastery pulling on the rope attached to the basket and passing through a block of pulleys (fortunately, these days, there are footpaths and bridges to make access a bit easier for visitors … but the monks still use the wicker baskets!) …

It provided a backdrop for the culminating climax of the James Bond film, For your eyes only, and everyone kept referring to the film … which onlys served to confuse me because I hadn’t seen the film … and did get to see it until several years later … and, IMHO, although it was watchable, it wasn’t a classic film and, (once again – IMHO), didn’t do Meteora justice.


I am sure Maxim was expecting me to refer to the outstanding landscape, the stark rock formations and the awesome achievement of construction …

… I don’t think, however, that he was expecting the answer I gave him: a passage in a guide book book that I had bought as a souvenir, and which had been written by one of the priests …

What ?!

… it was scathing with its outlandish, vitriolic vehemence in an attack on the Catholic Church, and the ‘heretic’ that sat on St. Peter’s throne in the Vatican … and more … much more, … all in the same tone.

It reflected a dispute that, literally, had its origins a millenium before.

The Great Schism between Orthodoxy and the Catholic Church began in 1053 which had led to the closing of many ‘Latin Churches’ and came to a head on 16th July 1054, when envoys sent by the Pope, Leo IX, sent to the Patriarch in Constantinople in order to resolve the conflict, failed in their mission and declared that he had been excommunicated – expelled from the church.

Four days later, the Patriarch responded by anathematizing the Pope and his legates.

The Schism actually had many contributing causes, differences in ritual, dogma and ethics … not forgetting a number of property disputes, as well as the power struggle between the two for supremacy over Christian priests.

To be fair … it wasn’t exactly a clean break … the seeds of the schism had been long in arriving at their eventual culmination … and the mutual excommunications were only the opening shots in a struggle that was to last several centuries … indeed, it was some time before the implications would be evident … but the die had been cast … and the two churches were, each, to go their own way.

There were local attempts to forge a reconciliation … and in 1965 a joint declaration by Pape and Patriarch weere to nullify the anathemas and and bring about a repproachment …

… on the other hand, the author of this guidebook didn’t seem to have got the message.

I showed it to one of my fellow holidaymakers, a lapsed Catholic, who thought it was hilarious – but I couldn’t get past the thought that this was supposedly a ‘man of God’ … a representative of the church that emphasized the supremacy of ‘love’ and ‘forgiveness’, who was attacking another ‘man of God’ who also represented a church, (albeit a different tradition) that professed the same principles.

What is really sad, IMHO, is that we seem to see the same pattern of intolerance and arrogant animosity emerging again and again throughout history … an inability to accept diversity and pluralty but an insistence on conformity and polarization … whether in terms of the Reformation and the Inquisition, Macarthyism versus Communism, Sunni and Shiite, Red Hats and Yellow Hats, Racism and Homophobia, Liberals and Conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, between belivers and non-bleivers …

How much harm and suffering have been created because we don’t recognize tht people are all different … and instead of celebrating that diversity … insisting, instead, on conformity.


When I think of Meterora … of course I remember the stupendous landscape, the monumental achievment of constructing the monasteries, the phenomenal devotion and sacrifice exhibited by the small number of monks and nuns that still inhabit these magnificent ‘museums of the faith’ … but I can’t help thinking, also, of the ‘lesson of the guidebook’



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