The Abbot was dressed in all black: a robe covering his body from shoulders to ankles, and a headdress draped down his back, revealing only his long white beard and his wrinkled forehead. He was a Greek-Orthodox-Gandalf, of sorts. He was also bit of a grandpa, and by that I mean that he was snarky and sweet, but also incredibly wise. He didn’t have to say a word, but you just knew he’s been to the edge of the universe and back.
When we parked the bus, he met us at he gate of his monastery. Dedicated to the Transfiguration of Jesus and built in the 70’s, the compound—with its high concrete walls and it’s white washed exterior—was intimidating. We had no clue what was coming, either; but I’m not sure any one of our group had a comparable experience to help prepare us.
I imagined finding something like those Tibetan monks with their dwelling in the mountains, their shiny bald heads and the humble orange robes, cross-cross-apple-sauce and humming. The Greek Orthodox monks were very different, though; and, from what I’ve heard, those in Ναυπακτίας (Nafpaktos) were an exception to the rule. Apparently most monks are quite uninviting; but ours were the opposite—we were thrust into a monastic phenomena of smiling old men with long beards and flip phones—a crossroads of cultures—all claiming to possess a spiritual age of 17, while merely inhabiting the bodies of aging men. They lived like it, too. They would wink at each other and giggle when out of sight of their spiritual father, Gandalf the White; and they would wave at us and hold doors for us and extend silver platters of gummies, rolled in powdered sugar. They were true, ascetic, and disciplined servants; but they were kids, too: better at it than we, I think.
I imagined Paul telling the Corinthians that they were eating spiritual milk and had not yet graduated to meat; and then thought “These monks are drinking spiritual Sunny-D and are drinking way too much of it.” They were warm and generous and surprisingly normal; and, while we all felt very much out of place (a consequence of our tradition, I think), by the time we left that place, huddled between the mountains and the glittering Ionian, we all were positive that “Every HUG group needs to come here.”