Tuesday, July 03, 2007


The last days with the nuns were revelatory, and a simple lesson emerged. Monasticism is a higher form of life. If you don't believe me, visit Prodoromos monastery. To paraphrase Thomas Merton (I think he said it in Seeds of Contemplation), monastic life is easier than lay life to lead poorly, much harder than lay life to lead well... and the nuns of Prodromos lead it well. These are extremely able women, some with advanced degrees, some who left fortunes. In obedience to the abbess they are able together to run a full time farm, constant liturgy, produce food that would impress a Manhattan restaurant critic, and consistently reach out to both their city and pilgrims from around the world, not to mention us.

The sermon in the last liturgy was as vivid as the previous one I described, but was the first one I understood in its entirety. This was because it was 1 Corinthians 13 recited in Biblical Greek from memory with passion and conviction as a charge to the nuns and all present. The nuns may be able to do a lot, but they know without agape it's worthless.

After a sad good bye I took an overnight train to Istanbul, or as the nuns insist on referring to it (which I don't quite mind), Constantinople. I proceeded then to lose my Byzantine virginity, and see Hagia Sophia. Since I've been blazing through the classic guidebook which is exhaustingly thorough, but rewarding.

Like Athos, Istanbul has already offered the extremes of rudeness and kindness. Unfortunately, on my first day I ran into some calculated unpleasantries. I can't imagine how (I blend so seamlessly), but a skilled scammer picked me out as a tourist and, with some help from other skilled scammers, scammed me quite well. I'll spare you the details, but I've since read up on Istanbul scamming and realize it could have been much worse, and have kept to myself.

However, the next day as I went to visit the Kalenderhane Mosque, I was invited for Coke and conversation upstairs by the Imam. I figured no one would be so dedicated to scamming to have rented out a mosque and large accompanying family, so I went up. I received a full tour in broken English, was declared a kardesh (brother) even though I am Christian, and was strangely given several bear hugs that lifted me clear off the ground. Theological differences matter deeply, but this is still a strategy I recommend for all future Muslim-Christian relations.

More to come.