Report on the Meteora Retreat
The weekend of 1st and 2nd May was full of arrivals. At the international airport of Athens people arrived from Europe, Asia, South and North America. These were moments of excitement and expectation that were preparing us for the beautiful days that would follow. That afternoon the hotel’s lounge was full of happy faces, some of them not having seen each other from the pilgrimage in Egypt or the meeting in Rome, and other friends participating for the first time. As everybody wanted to have a taste of Athens, we set off towards the center of the city and the garden of Zappio where every year a Book Fair is taking place for 17 days. There, our friends were amazed to see one stand with the sign: “TRUE LIFE IN GOD”. Shelves packed with TLIG books in Greek, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Philippine, Japanese, Arabian, Hebrew, and also books written by theologians about Vassula, booklets with excerpts from these divine inspirations, video & audio tapes, cds and leaflets with information in Greek and English. Vassula was informed about our participation from our annual report and from videos and photographs, but it was the first time she visited our kiosk!
Next morning, 3rd May 2004, a group of 100 people from 20 different countries started their journey to Meteora. Our first stop was at Pnika, just underneath the ‘sacred rock of Acropolis’, at the place where St. Paul spoke to the Athenians about Jesus Christ, the One and True God. Then we climbed to the monument of Acropolis where the temple of Parthenon was constructed in the 4th century BC, and is considered to be a masterpiece of architecture. Our guide made a brief presentation on the history of the ancient exhibits, and added that the Parthenon during the first Christian years had been a temple consecrated to the Virgin Mary. After this tour we continued towards the village of Kalambaka, our starting point for the pilgrimage in Meteora. The weather was sunny; nature all dressed in green and the trip through valleys, mountains and seaside was excellent! In the evening we arrived in Kalambaka. The majestic stones of Meteora hovered over the village. At their top, Orthodox monasteries have been built centuries ago as places of worship, meditation and contemplation.
After our arrival at the hotel, our priests celebrated Holy Mass. Vassula commenced with a prayer, that the Father gave her (15.5.92), thanking Him, and went on with an excerpt from a message of our Lord:“Numerous are My calls and the grace of the Holy Spirit has never been so obvious before than in your times; men of blood can say what they want to say, state what they want to state, but I will go over them and their sayings and their statements, for I am raising apostles and saints who will shine with the grace of the Holy Spirit upon all mankind; I will teach them, Myself, to reach degrees of high holiness despite the emphatic cacophonies of their enemies who will show them neither pity nor charity; I will, though, give them the spirit of perseverance, a spirit so valiant that their mere presence will shake the foundations of hell, since they will be dressed with the glorious splendor of My Son, Jesus Christ, and their tongue will be like a double-edged sword; they will shine brightly on everyone, good and evil men together, to warm their hearts and enliven with My Word all the corpse that are scattered; eternal blessings will come out of their hands; they will free many from the passions of the world that kept them imprisoned and rooted in sin; and the “True Life in God” Ode, will be sung in My Assemblies to turn everyone into gods by participation .” (31.05.03)
Vassula greeted heartily all the participants who gathered from faraway countries to meet there and glorify God. After that, Theodora Konidari, who was responsible for organizing this pilgrimage, welcomed the assembly and read the following extract from a message of Jesus: “Ah…daughter, pray for the house of the East and the West to join together, like two hands when joined in prayer, a pair of hands, similar, and in beauty when joined together pointing toward heaven when in prayer. Let those two Hands, belonging to the same body work together and share their capacity and resources with each other…Let those two Hands lift Me together, Ah…when will those Hands of My Body lift Me over the Altar, holding Me together? ”
Next day, on 4th May, we started early in the morning and after a one-hour journey between green hills we arrived at the convent where the church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary was built. The nuns welcomed us with love and joy, offering us coffee and sweets. Their interest for all of us was great. ‘The way I felt during Mass’ a nun remarked, ‘was extraordinary!’
As we returned to the hotel, Fr. Nikolaos gave a lecture about the history of the monasteries. He told us that Meteora has been described as the second Agion Oros (Holy Mountain/Mount Athos, a number of monasteries located at northern Greece, Chalkidiki, built on mountains), and they continue the monastic tradition for 6 centuries. The first monasteries were constructed during the 14th century. From the total of 26 monasteries, only six are currently in service, the rest of them being uninhabited. Two of them are convents.
Fr. Tony continued with a speech about the splendor of the Cross. In the beginning, he gave to everyone a wooden cross, encouraging us to carry it with us at all times, to hold it, and to ask for His divine help. At the end of his talk he read a prayer that we repeated, asking God to forgive the sins of our ancestors.
Dimitris from Greece, Michelle, from Germany and Saturo, a new friend of TLIG, from Tokyo, set a nice atmosphere with their guitars singing hymns and spiritual songs, bringing moments of joy and warmth among the people.
After lunch, we left the hotel to visit two more monasteries. But the weather had changed from sunny to rainy and it was impossible to do so. Instead we took the opportunity to visit the convent of St. Steven, where the miraculous skull of St. Charalambos is being kept. A young nun told us about the monastery, the treasures and the jewels that are preserved through the years in it, and explained some of the hagiographies (icon-paintings) that covered the walls of the church. We also visited the museum of the convent and we bought incense and other hand-made articles by the nuns.
Back to the hotel, and after a small break for coffee, Vassula started her speech with subject: “Different ascents: detachment, dispassion and impassibility.” She begun by saying that God always manifested Himself to man, not to give us something new, but to remind us of His Word. God, the Creator, makes Himself be recognized, conversing with us and listening to us as friend to friend. The True Life in God messages call us for a radical transformation of self, mind and soul. With the power of the Holy Spirit, God is leading us to the ascent of the deification of man. If we follow and live all that True Life in God is giving us, which is, only a reminder of God’s Word, and observe the Law of God, the Holy Spirit will give us an intellectual light, a deeper and divine understanding of God’s Mysteries and of his Word. The Lord wants to draw us into the three higher ascents of perfection: 1) Detachment from earthly desires, 2) dispassion (a very high level of contemplation, and at the same time a distaste of all worldly things, a distaste of all evil thoughts and evil acts), and finally 3) impassibility which is a detachment of lust and passion, of pleasures and desires of the flesh. But the Holy Spirit will be free to operate in our soul only with a total surrender of will to God.
After Vassula, Fr. Rich continued speaking about “The Spirituality and Unity in TLIG”. The meeting came to an end with a healing prayer from Fr. Tony , Fr. John , Fr. Rich, Henri Lemay and Vassula.
Next day, 5th May, was rainy. After breakfast, the morning prayer was recited, praise and worship and afterwards Rev Tronet gave his speech with the subject: “The Position of the Bishop of Rome during the First Millennium of Christianity.” Next speaker was Fr. Vladimir, who presented the first part of his lecture: “The mystery of the Virgin Mary as a Source of Unity.
At 12.00 noon under a heavy rain, we set out for the monastery of the Transfiguration. The rock that lies underneath this monastery is the biggest in Meteora. This monastery had been located in the 14th century and possesses a remarkable collection of manuscripts, icons and sacred old items. From the spot that the buses left us, our climbing was an adventure because of the wind and the heavy rain. Henri Lemay in his speech about the second Pentecost later on described this rain as a reminder of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We crossed the narrow bridge that connects the two huge rocks walking through clouds and tunnels, we climbed over 200 steps and finally we arrived at the: “Megalo Meteoro” (Great Hovering Abbey). All this tour and the view of the gigantic rocks left us dazzled and in awe of the magnificent creation of God! The church was luminous and full of hagiographies and scenes from the miracles and the Passion of our Lord. That’s the place where we all chanted the: “Christos Annesti!” (Christ has risen). After this tour and a visit to the museum we enjoyed the traditional treat.
We returned to the hotel where after lunch Fr. Nikolaos spoke about “The Fathers of the Orthodox Church and their Relation with TLIG”.A passionate speech about the “Second Pentecost” followed, this time by Henri Lemay. After the usual break for coffee Fr. John continued with his topic: “Consecrated to the Truth.” Holy Mass was celebrated right after his speech.
At last the rain stopped…so after dinner, 30 of us decided to go out for a walk around the village of Kalambaka. What has been a pleasant surprise for the residents was the multinational air of our group. As they are accustomed to tourist expeditions to Meteora, they sensed something different in our company, seeing all these different nationalities and different languages. That is why their usual question was: “What kind of group are you?” “An ecumenical one” we replied!
On 6th May the program began with a speech by Fr. Tony about “True repentance”. Next speaker was Fr. Julio who talked about “Spirituality as an Ecumenical issue”.A very powerful prayer in the Orthodox tradition is the following: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner” which Fr. Nikolaos explained the meaning of in his presentation and then together with the other Orthodox priests blessed us with holy water. The holy liturgy followed.
After lunch we visited the monastery of Rusano. It had been a monastery of monks but now it is a convent. It was smaller than the others and it was consecrated to the Transfiguration of the Savior, where St. Barbara is also honored. A nun guided us through the halls of the convent. After our return to the hotel, Vassula began the program with a speech. The subject was: “Renewal and the teachings of Asceticism”.
Fr. John continued with a very interesting speech with the title: “Spiritual Battle” (The Jezebel spirit).
A moving experience would follow, when 4 people, 2 from Denmark, 1 from Holland and 1 from Japan witnessed their conversion to God. One more time we were amazed to see the wonderful and unpredictable ways that God chooses to approach the souls and lead them closer to Him. After the testimonies we had some time for the adoration of the Holy Sacrament.
During dinner we had the chance to meet new friends of TLIG and reunite with some older and beloved ones. With the grace of the Holy Spirit we shared many ideas on the spreading of the message. But this last dinner in Meteora was special, full of surprises! We had almost finished when Vassula approached the musicians and asked Dimitris: “Are you still eating? Take your guitar and play something to dance to!” which set everyone on fire! The musicians took their instruments and played Greek traditional music, and of course Pop and Latin. The rest of us gave a great performance in singing and dancing. A pleasant surprise was when Vassula (after all our pleading!) also danced some Greek folk dances! Next highlight arrived from Fr. Nikolaos: he brought a basket with 100 eggs dyed red to follow the tradition in which one Christian ‘tips’ his red egg to the one of another person saying: “Christos Annesti!” (Christ has risen) and he receives the reply from the other one: “Alithos Annesti!” (Truly He has risen). If one side of the egg cracks then he must turn it to the other side and tip it again. And so we did! It was an evening filled with joy, the joy that the Holy Spirit brings! Next day we learned from Vassula that our Lord had been especially content and happy from this meeting. That was the reason for her idea to dance!
On 7th May, after breakfast, Fr. Vladimir continued with the 2nd part of his speech: “The Virgin Mary as a Source of Unity”. After his talk we attended Holy Mass. The time for our return had arrived… Before reaching Athens, we stopped at the city of Thebes to visit the church of St. Luke the Apostle. In the church there is a shrine with one relic of the Evangelist. His tomb is right by the Altar, open and empty. We chanted Easter hymns, glorifying and thanking God for the beautiful days He gave us. Late in the evening, we arrived at the hotel in the center of Athens. Everybody seemed pleased and thankful for the gifts and the blessings that we received from the Holy Spirit. Just before the end of the dinner, all the participants received a small icon as a present from the TLIG group of Greece, to remind them of this pilgrimage.
We hope, by God’s grace and your participation, that this gathering will take place again in our country in the near future!
God bless you!