Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
32, Monastery of Saint Anastasia, Crete

The Monastery of Saint Anastasia the Roman amid the olive groves on the slopes above Tsesmes and Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During this time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

My photographs this morning (30 June 2021) are from the Monastery of Saint Anastasia, near Rethymnon, continuing a week of photographs from monasteries in Crete.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the start of the Greek War of Independence, and earlier in this series morning reflections, I have also visited Arkadi Monastery (1 May 2021) and the former Monastery of Saint Catherine of Mount Sinai in Iraklion (8 May 2021).

The main church in the Monastery of Saint Anastasia looks largely unfinished (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

From the neighbouring villages of Platanias and Tsesmes, to the east of Rethymnon, the road leads on to the old road to the Venetian village of Maroulas. Another sign points to the road to the Monastery of Saint Anastasia the Roman.

The sign promises it is only a 1.5 km walk, but when I have walked along the mountain track to the monastery in summer sunshine, through the olive groves and the rustic landscape, the distance seems more like 3 km.

The monastery is off the beaten track, down a side road off a minor road. No tourist buses or guided tours ever reach there, and in its simplicity and its stillness I have found a spiritual welcome.

The Monastery of Saint Anastasia the Roman is the first monastery in Greece dedicated to this saint. It was founded in 2008 by a visionary monk from Rethymnon, Father Vassilis, who had spent some time on Mount Athos, and it has been a full monastery – albeit a monastery with only one monk – since July 2009.

The large katholikon or main monastery church is still unfished. Outside, the concrete walls have still not been rendered or plastered. Inside there are no frescoes on the walls and the icon screen has a few simple, modern icons.

The stark simplicity adds to the spiritual atmosphere of the church. Beside it is smaller chapel of Saint Kosmas the Aetolian.

Father Vassilis worked away quietly in the gardens as moved around freely admiring his flowers and plants. There was no museum, no souvenir shop, and nothing to detract from the tranquility and the peace we had found.

But who is Saint Anastasia the Roman?

This word anastasis is Greek for resurrection, and there are three Saint Anastasias in the Lives of the Saints, all three from prominent and famous families and who confessed their faith in Rome.

The first was forced by her parents to marry a non-Christian man. He died a few days later, she lived the rest of her life as an ascetic, giving all her property to the poor. She was martyred by fire during the reign of Diocletian, and is commemorated on 22 December.

The second Saint Anastasia never married and also died a martyr’s death during the reign of Decius and she is remembered on 12 October.

The third Saint Anastasia of Rome, and the one to whom the monastery is dedicated, was a nun, martyred under the Roman emperor Valerian ca 250, and she is remembered on 29 October.

At times, I have been the only visitor to the monastery. The road back down to Tsesmes seems easier and shorter. It is 6 or 7 km round trip. Back in Tsesmes, it is worth stopping for lunch in Pagona’s Bar.

Inside, the unfinished appearance gives the monastery church a stark and simple spirituality (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 8: 28-34 (NRSVA):

28 When he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs coming out of the tombs met him. They were so fierce that no one could pass that way. 29 Suddenly they shouted, ‘What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?’ 30 Now a large herd of swine was feeding at some distance from them. 31 The demons begged him, ‘If you cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.’ 32 And he said to them, ‘Go!’ So they came out and entered the swine; and suddenly, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and perished in the water. 33 The swineherds ran off, and on going into the town, they told the whole story about what had happened to the demoniacs. 34 Then the whole town came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighbourhood.

An icon of Saint Anastasia the Roman in the main monastery church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (30 June 2021) invites us to pray:

We pray for the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) and their work in bringing together diverse communities across the continent. CAPA is an effective advocate for interreligious and intercultural dialogue, as well as a powerful campaigner against human trafficking and gender-based violence.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

In the gardens and cloisters of the Monastery of Saint Anastasia the Roman (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The suburbs of Rethymnon and the Mediterranean Sea spread out below the Monastery of Saint Anastasia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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