We arrived on Skopelos island on Friday afternoon. It was a short sail from Skiathos to Skopelos. Skiathos is a tourist island. There is an airport and an extensive walking mall of stores and restaurants that service the sizable tourist population that comes from all over Europe. One of my students remarked thst they heard more English than Greek here.
Skopelos on the other hand is quieter, more scenic, and more of a local destination. Most of my last visit to Skopelos was spent on a beach because I had sprained my foot on Skiathos so I was looking forward to getting to see more of the island. The movie Mamma Mia! was filmed here which means that at times being on Skopelos feels like being in a movie.
(It is a near requirement that students watch the movie before arrival. I already had fulfilled the requirement)
On Saturday, the students had a free day which also gave me the opportunity to explore Skopelos. Most of my students went to a beach, but I decided to set out alone and hike into the hills surrounding Skopelos port.
Leaving the road, I found a trail that weaved through the hills and took me to a few Eastern Orthodox monasteries. The first two looked closed, but I was able to enter the third.
He invited me to enter the church, which though simple for an Orthodox chapel, it was still quite ornate in comparison to my American utilitarian sensibilities. Though the Eastern Orthodox ways of worship are still quite foreign to me, I could not but reflect on the Gospel as I saw the various icons and images of Christ.
Leaving the chapel, I struck up a conversation with the monk in residence. He lived there alone, but told me that the monastery had once served nuns rather than monks. This was his 10th year living as a monk but had only been living there for about a year.
I found out in the course of our conversation that he was also an iconographer. This must be a common vocation for monks as there is no deficit of icons for sale in Greece. Given that I had recently read a paper by a friend of mine on the Orthodox and icons, this was particularly interesting to me.
Creating icons in Eastern Orthodox thought, so I am told, is part close obedience to the tradition and part the individual expression of that tradition. It is not the creation of art, per se, but the portrayal of metaphysical realities that mediate the presence of those represented.
I am not so mystical as the Orthodox. Yet still the beauty of these representations and the people represented were beneficial as a reminder of the Gospel mystery of Christ’s Incarnation. They exist because Christ in the flesh exists.
After leaving the monastery, I spent the hike down reflecting on the past couple of years. The past couple years have been rich in blessing not least of these being the presence of Christ through my church community in Hyde Park.
This perhaps is the reason that I am not so mystical as the Orthodox. The representation of Christ and the saints in my life is primarily in the local church-the brothers and sisters, mothers, and fathers that I have at Holy Trinity Church-Hyde Park. It is through these rich relationships of love and accountability in the regular rhythms of common worship and devotion to the Word that I have experienced Jesus Christ in ordinary daily life.
This is a timely reminder as I will close my time teaching 1 Corinthians over the next couple days covering Paul’s image of the church as Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12) and his exposition of love (1 Corinthians 13). These iconic passages are instrumental for understanding the meaning of the church, essential for the vitality of every Christian community, and contain good news for the whole world.