Symphony in la Serenity – The Monastery of Stayades.

Posted: May 14, 2019 in Evan Iliadis, Trveling to Greece
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May I have a bit of your time? Ready for a journey to this part of Greece where I’m born? Sit back and relax, free your mind for a moment and travel with me; for you to discover, for me to revive my recent Pascal journey there. Click on, watch, then, read the story.

Symphony in la Serenity the monastery of stayades

Central Greece, Region of Thessaly, year 1975.

Up in Andihasia, on the right side of the road that goes From Kalambaka to Grevena, there is a village among the pine trees, set off by some fifty whitewashed houses: It’s called Stayades. From Kalambaka, it takes about an hour and a half for a car, groaning and grinding as if it is about to fall apart, to get near the village. The trip is marvelous though. Leaving the car there, one has to continue on foot or, if already arranged so, on a donkey all the way to Stayades.

Built on a rock at the very edge of the village, is the cluster of Stayades Monastery, its majestic brown mass almost covering the entire region around. With its significant presence dating back to 1004 A.D., both as a building and a cultural center, this monastery has found its permanent place in history, or, to put it better, made the history of this place.

That’s where I once spent a few summer days early one August. Days of peace, rest and joy, fruitful in meditation and spiritual uplift. Never before in my lifetime had I felt such peace of mind, such vigor of thought, as I had during those days. I had broken away from that land of barbarians, called city and civilization, to find myself aloof for a while, upon a mountain, together with two Brothers Masons from my mother Lodge.

The locals told me their village is built 2,500 feet above sea level; but if you compare how high you are with how close you feel to God, then you will have to consider that that village and this city, whichever it may be, are entire miles apart. But is it Stayades that seems so elevated? Or is it maybe the place we live in, as well as any other place thriving in today’s society, that keeps falling lower and lower?

Sitting in a monastery room, I am enjoying the tranquil and unspoiled nature outside. Grassy hillsides encompass me, by turns light green with the spots of pine-trees in a clearing, and dark green diversified by the black, patch-like shadows of the drifting clouds. The eye is pleased to travel over there, where green meets with blue, where the earth touches the sky.

on-the-doorwayOn the doorway of this earthly world, on the highest peak of the mountains, there sprout up some trees like symbols. Having cut loose from their mother earth, they break through the skyline and enter a different world. True symbols of those who managed to firmly stand on their feet, reached up high and joined the heavens, holding their mind in one hand and their heart in the other.

It is those few who always find themselves struggling for higher peaks and have to wrestle with the earth that keeps them down. But little by little, they soar sky-high to become heroic, celestial symbols, not pieces of earth any longer.

How glad and proud I am to look at those few trees; rolled up in the sky, cut off from here, and already saved. Moving my eyes across the mountain slopes, it seems as though there is a multitude of people laboring their way up. How many of them will reach the top, and how many of them will take root there, happy to have come that high. Little people, turning their weakness into faith.

“We are not cut out for higher. This rock is our mountain. We got to the top of it. Let us now stop and refresh ourselves. Let the sweat on our bodies dry, and the pain on our feet be allayed.”For if someone should point to the others, who keep going up, they would respond: “There is no end to be seen anywhere. Even those still going higher, are not to reach any special top. One day they’ll see this way is endless, and they’ll stop where they are to their despair. We knew that all along.”

“Yet people passed from here, managed to go up, and walked this road through.” “No,” they will argue, “those people were not like us. They had the seal of God upon them. Just look around you; look at us all. Do you see any seal anywhere? No. Then settle down beside me, make yourself comfortable and rest. You should be thankful to be here and not in that smothering ravine back there, where we could still be.”

Alas, there’s so much weakness, such frivolity behind  the veneer of certain victory. They’ve only failed and abandoned God, stifled His quivering within them and in His attempt to break free, ascend and reach.

The !’top” is the same for everyone. You are a human being and you begin your path in life: only one path -only one direction -upwards. And the end of it is still one top; but the last one is the highest. You can’t see it yet; it’s covered by the clouds. But as you move on, the higher you are, the clearer you’ll be able to see and, thus, envisage the glow of the final crest. You’ll be dragging on your feet, climbing with your hands, crawling on your belly, aching and bleeding. For you, too, are on the bloodstained track of someone else, who went up to Calvary first.

I am scanning the mountain slopes, wondering which tree I should identify with. Could I be that one deep down in the ravine, where smoke, voices and songs muffle the sound of money and passion, where no amount of perfume is enough to drive away the scent of the  human beast? Or maybe that tree upon the hillside which travelers labor up? Or am I, finally, that one up there, where a faint hope flickers? If only I could reach that cloud, which seems as though it’s veiling the mountain under it, however difficult, and rough, and murky crossing it may be. Then I would hope that, past the cloud, some sort of end could be discerned which would embolden me to go on. Or could there be more clouds further up?

A flock of sheep upon the mountain are grazing in the warm sunshine, while, in the hospitable cool of the monastery, I’m contemplating how far away we’ve strayed from God, as our overgrown technological civilization keeps building crowded towers, noisy freeways, fast-moving people. A new Babel.

And the higher the tower, the thicker the barrier between us and God, which means that the divine flame dips deeper within us, until it’s finally forgotten completely. Living in cities takes a lot effort, a lot of suffering among the voices and the frustrating rush for the soul to soar and meet with God. Yet here in the wilderness, God is around us. You can feel it. All you have to do is whisper His name and He will come. For everything here is His; and in every tree, in every stone, even in the chirping of the birds and the cat’s meowing, there is a piece of God arising. He is no more the God “in the highest,” but the One “on earth.” But then, is it that He has descended, or is it that we’ve let our hearts fly up to Him?

The Abbot came up to me and we were talking. He said, “As far as conscience is concerned, people are divided into three categories: First, those who, having become totally callous, are never bothered by their conscience; second, those who are being bothered by their conscience; and, third, those who are not bothered by it, because they do no harm anymore and have Soared high.”

I told him about the trees I was looking at a while ago, comparing them to three categories of people. He smiled: “you can read in nature,” he said, “what we read in books. This is how books are written, too; they express the silent speaking of nature. For nature speaks, only we do not understand it.

I left the place after a few days. Back to civilization. As I was entering the city, I felt my heart wrench. I felt like one who’s late at a concert. From the noise around me, I understood the concert had long since begun.

And it was then I read the symphony name on the program; the same old symphony

before I left, while I was away and now I’m back. The same symphony with thousands of variations on the same theme, and all its movements in Allegro con Brio: the incomplete symphony in C-sharp major, known as the symphony of madness.

I returned to my seat in the large concert-hall called society, moving my hands, legs, tongue, and brain to the beat of modern music, coming out from that gilt organ called civilization. So I left my heart un-tuned until it was lost deep inside me.

At times I look around me and I see large, motionless eyes. I look deep into them but there is no discerning any traces of life, except the same reflected glare of civilization’s gilt organ. Expressionless faces looking so very alike, that there is no more distinguishing between one man and another. 1’m looking for a spark of warmth in their eyes, some expression of kindness on their faces, but I don’t see any. And so I’m scared; I’m afraid that if I look into a mirror, I might not see my old self, but those same eyes and face everyone has. Now I think and smile bitterly at the thought, now we have all become brothers at last, from the same father whose name is hatred, and from the same mother whose name is greed. I feel as though tied to my seat, trying harder and harder to set myself free.

I want to get on the stage, cross to that shiny, mesmerizing organ, called modern technological civilization, give it a bash, and so break its shining mask. Perhaps that might set us free and enable us to see the real meaning of our civilization behind toppled mask. A civilization that will keep sending the animal-man to the stars, but will also keep leading the God-man to his throne. And then, maybe in the same hall, the second part of the concert could begin. Its sound is to restore the warmth in our eyes, and the human expression on our mesmerized faces. And that is the symphony in A-flat, known as the SYMPHONY OF LOVE.

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