The first Greek Orthodox Monastery I ever visited was the Monastery of St. John the Baptist, above Megara, Greece. I was traveling through Greece with my family in the summer of 2003, just a 12-year-old with her mind preoccupied with thoughts of home and concerned about what I would wear for my first day of junior high school upon my return from Greece. When my family got to the Monastery of St. John, we were invited to stay overnight, a rare treat offered to very few people. That night is forever cemented in my memory, and sparked my interest in monasteries. It was at St. John’s where I learned to live in the present.
During our stay, I learned the monastery was founded in 1960 by a nun who was first drawn to the site over two decades prior. This nun would spend her Sundays visiting and praying at local churches in the hills throughout the Megara region, walking great distances from her home and back each week. By the time my family visited, the monastery had expanded into a wonderful place far beyond its humble beginning.
The monastery is now a community of nuns with a resident priest who ministers services. One of the best English-speaking nuns gave us a tour of the spotless grounds, and we were shown a room with special treasures and iconography that not many guests are allowed to see, and where taking photographs is discouraged. That afternoon we were treated to a light dinner–meatless of course because our visit coincided with fasting day–that was delicious through its simplicity. In the middle of the night we woke to the sound of beautiful chanting, harmonized perfectly by the nuns. The service lasted nearly all night, for we were visiting during a most holy time, the Dormition fast, or the fast of the Virgin Mary, who is celebrated on August 15th throughout Greece. I walked by the chapel where the women were chanting to listen closer, and then went back to my dorm for one of the most peaceful nights of sleep I’ve ever had.
My family awoke to bad news—there was a transportation strike in Greece and we weren’t able to hire a taxi back to Athens. The nuns didn’t seem phased, and the head nun quickly instructed one of the sisters to drive us all the way into Athens in the monastery van. It was such over the top hospitality from the moment we arrived that cause my memories of that visit to never be forgotten. And the biggest reason why is that the head nun, Makrini, is my Papou Saltas’ first cousin. She is a gentle sprite of a woman, who sees everything and from whom oozes sincerity and peace. My papou never visited Greece so they never met, but she treated us like our families had known each other for a lifetime and she has done so on every visit since. If you find yourself in the Megara area, take the drive into the hills and visit St. John the Baptist Makrinou, a beautiful monastery overlooking the Gulf of Corinth and led by my dear relative, Makrini Saltas.