This monastery is in central Greece and some years ago we went to stay at the invitation of one of the monks. We arrived on 1 May, a feast day of its founder, the 12th century St Klemis (Clement) and went along to the special evening service. It concluded with the saint’s silver encrusted skull being brought out and everyone present was invited to come forward to kiss the skull. Being very much a product of the Church of England I had a rooted suspicion of relics and even more of kissing them! But I did not want to offend our hosts and so I took part. It proved to be a very memorable moment; an unexpected and very strong sense of continuity, of connection over the centuries, of a relationship with Klemis and all those who had lived, worshipped and prayed there. That sense of continuity with the past is something almost every professional or amateur archaeologist also feels when they dig up something that was last seen and held by someone hundreds or thousands of years ago. I recently came across a poem which sums up that experience beautifully. It tells of the accidental discovery of a Viking burial under the kitchen of a Hebridean croft house and concludes with these words:
Their own under-floor Viking,
An unsuspected silent witness
To long centuries of habitation,
To the generations’ ebb and flow,
To each current and cross-current.
And now at last they meet up,
As the penannular centuries
Converge, close and connect.
St Klemis’s monastery sits on top of a high and isolated mountain with magnificent views over the fertile fields that spread in all directions. It’s a breathtakingly airy place where it’s easy to become aware of another connection, that sense of being at one with the whole world, the whole universe. No wonder Klemis and hundreds of followers chose to live and pray there. Down the centuries the monks built the Catholicon, the main church, and like most Orthodox churches it is designed and decorated so that to enter it is to be surrounded and enfolded by icons, frescos, mosaics – visual glimpses of eternity, of the colliding and collapse of our distinction of time into past, present and future.
All these are moments of connection or places of connection – and there are many other, different examples. Such experiences are pointers to a deeper connection to that which lies both within all and also behind and beyond all, to God.
At this time when the more normal connections of meeting and greeting, talking, praying and worshipping, sharing in the Eucharist together are on hold, it can help to recall our past experiences of connection and to seek out those which are still available to us and thus renew our connectivity in order that, as Eunice Tietiens put it;
Yet having known, life will not press so close,
and always I shall feel time ravel thin about me;
For once I stood
In the white windy presence of eternity