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Stairway to Heaven by Daniel B. Wallace

Categories Old Testament Guest Posts

Meteora is one of the most stunningly beautiful and other-worldly places on earth. Over a millennium ago, monks traveled throughout Greece in search of a place where they could get away from it all. Ultimately, six monasteries were established there, all but one perched atop stone pillars rising hundreds of feet above the plain below.

Metéora (Greek: Μετέωρα, ‘suspended rocks,’ ‘suspended in the air’ or ‘in the heavens above’) is one of the largest and most important complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries in Greece, second only to Mount Athos. The six monasteries are built on natural sandstone rock pillars, at the northwestern edge of the Plain of Thessaly near the Pineios river and Pindus Mountains, in central Greece. The nearest town is Kalambaka. The Metéora is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

OK, I confess. The previous paragraph is lifted verbatim out of Wikipedia. But it’s a decent geographical description of the place. Photographs do not do this site justice, but below are a couple that at least give you a glimpse of what these natural monuments are like:

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one of the smaller monastaries of Meteora 

 

Of the six monasteries that still exist, five are inhabited by men, one by women. The largest monastery, Metamorphosis, is the one that most pilgrims visit. It has an eerie ‘skull room’ where many of the former residents still find their abode—at least, in part.

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skull room at Metamorphosis

One of the great ironies of Meteora is that the monks who came here centuries ago sought an ascetic life, away from people. Now, the monasteries have become a tourist attraction, and the town of Kalambaka below the pillars that reach as high as 1400 feet above has grown up to accommodate visitors. There are plenty of hotels, coffee shops, restaurants, trinket-shops. Meteora has become exactly what the original monks did not want.

Meteora from Kalambaka copy

the stone pillars of Meteora from the town below

This was my third trip to Meteora, but my first visit to the Monastery of St. Stephen. This is the only monastery inhabited by nuns.

There are dozens of Greek New Testament manuscripts in Meteora, most being at Metamorphosis. The Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung (INTF) in Münster, Germany has catalogued these. There are 45 at Metamorphosis, 9 at Barlaam, and 9 at Stephanou (total: 63).

Of the nine NT manuscripts at the Monastery of St. Stephen (Stephanou) that INTF has catalogued, the earliest is from the 11th century. A four-man team from the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts visited the monastery in May, 2010. In our visit, we came across two others, prominently displayed in their museum. See the detailed report, “Uncatalogued MSS at Stephanou, Meteora” posted at www.csntm.org, for information on these manuscripts.

Daniel B. Wallace (PhD, Dallas Theological Seminary) is professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is a noted textual critic, serving as head of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, and is author of Greek Grammar beyond the Basics, Basics of New Testament Syntax, and (with Grant Edwards) of A Workbook for New Testament Syntax.

 

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