Backpacking with Bill: Berea and Meteora
Today we visited two very different places, both rooted in deep traditions, both expressing two different paths of Christian resistance. We began our day in Berea (pronounced “Very-uh” by the locals.) After lunch, we climbed 182 steps to one of two Orthodox monasteries perched atop the rocks of Meteora.
After being driven out of Thessalonica, Paul traveled the mountainous Egnatian Way, a 2-3 day journey (about 25 miles) to the agricultural village of Berea. Located in Western Greece, Berea was home to a thriving Jewish community in Paul’s day. (In the modern period, Jewish communities thrived in Berea until the Nazi regime.) They gathered in a local synagogue on a daily basis. They heard the Septuagint– the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures– read to them. When Paul arrived, the Bereans welcomed the traveling apostle. Most versions of Acts 17:11 tell us that the Bereans “examined the scriptures to see if what Paul said was true.” The word examined is a forensic word used primarily for testing witnesses at trial. In the ancient world, the word is never used to examine a thing. People are scrutinized to study the veracity of their claims.* More than likely this verse means that the Bereans examined Paul’s use of the scriptures. They tested him, and the scriptures became a mirror to the Bereans. They reflected on themselves and believed that Jesus is the Messiah.
As most people know, most Baptists and other modern pietists and evangelicals treat Bereans like ancestors. As people of the book, we like to think of ourselves as modern day Bereans by examining, studying, and reflecting on the scriptures daily. If that is the case, the Bereans would remind us that we are to let the scriptures examine our lives (rather than the other way around). The Bible calls us to testify about our faith. The scriptures probe our hearts and invite a response. Two hours away, a group of faithful monks and nuns responded to God’s word by withdrawing from the world.
Mt. Meteora is a series of rocks and caves that look like meteors rising from the earth. The naturally flat surfaces at the top are perfectly designed for monasteries. The caves in the rocks provided shelter for hermits from the 14th century onward. Monks and nuns retreated here to get away from the corruption of Byzantium. When Turks conquered Greece, the monks also played an important role in preserving ancient texts and teaching young students by oil lamps. They defied the occupational forces of the Ottomans by passing their faith along to future generations. Even though practicing their faith was against the law, the monks resisted, training their students by the light from oil lamps in caves in the middle of the night.
There are two monasteries and nunneries that remain from the fourteenth century. We visited one where only seven monks still occupy the place. As recently as the 1960’s, the only way to reach the monastery was by rope. The monks lowered a hammock-like basket to the base of the mountain and hoisted their residents up to their home. Today the steps provide much easier access, but the lifestyle is very rustic.
You couldn’t find two more contrasting examples of faith, obedience, and even resistance. Berea was a place of engagement. Jewish people welcomed Paul; he engaged them in the scriptures; they examined his interpretation of the Bible; and their faith in Jesus as Messiah began. When Thessalonians tried to oppose Paul, the Bereans resisted the Thessalonians by welcoming him, receiving Christ, and sharing their faith openly with their community.
Meteora is a place of withdrawal. In hopes of preserving the authentic faith of the Greek Orthodox church, the monks and nuns withdrew from the world. They resisted corruption by focusing on the Lord. They bear witness today to an ascetic life, a hospitality to strangers, and a longing for Christ’s kingdom to be revealed on earth as it is in heaven in its fullest form.
Whether in Berea or Meteora, they resisted evil by building their lives on the solid rock of Jesus Christ.
*See Roy Ciampa’s excellent study “Examined the Scriptures”? The Meaning of άνακρίνοντες τας γραφάς in Acts 17:11” in the Journal of Biblical Literature 130:2011, 527-541.