'WHAT THE HELL IS IN THERE???' is probably not the first thing you say to a group of serbs upon exiting an orthodox monastery. furthermore, you may want to 'exit' discreetly and respectfully, not come running out like the devil was in there chasing you. which is almost exactly what the serb suggested, as i approached the wooden bench upon which he waited for me, tears streaming down my face.
it was monday, and we had driven up into the mountains of galicica, on the opposite side of lake ohrid from the city of ohrid. it's up in the mountainabout 700 km above sea level, and boasts the black dream springs as well as the monastery of st. naum. he was the student of cyril and methodius (their statue is pictured below), inventors of the cyrillic alphabet used throughout the balkans.
we exited the car on the roadside halfway up galicica just in time to see some paragliders taking off in flight. the view of the lake from this point was absolutely incredible. we took loads of photos, and commented on how lucky we were to have skype, without which our relationship never would have survived long enough for us to get here... heaven.
after a boat ride through the black dream springs,
we went for a walk through the park, where dozens of little architectural jewels nestled, including several monasteries. i always go into the orthodox church with the serb, who's very religious, very connected to his faith and his church and his saints. normally, we just go inside, do a few hail mary's or whatever, light a few candles (i always light on specifically for my 97 year old grandma, who for some reason, i always think of inside the orthodox church). but of all the times i've been inside of the orthodox church, i don't remember feeling anything other than peace. the peace that tradition tends to bring. but i cannot remember the last time i felt touched by christianity. really soul deep, touched. not since i was a kid.
the day before, a sunny sunday morning during which the streets were filled with people, i asked the serb why these seemingly, very religious folks were in the cafés instead of the church. he said, 'the priests speak in the old slovenian language which nobody understands, so we don't go.'
though not understanding the words has never kept me from liking or understanding anything, i get it. at the very least, a kind of disconnect from the real world it's parishioners live in, for all their differences, the catholic and orthodox churches have in common. i was baptized catholic, which having committed the grave sin of being deathly boring, i've moved on from, towards the greener, less blood-filled pastures of buddhism, and esoteric thought.
by the time we got to the monastery dedicated to st naum,
i'd already been inside of a few exceptionally beautiful ones, and had decided i'd rather sit outside, and watch the old women in traditional dress, shuck corn or whatever it is that they were doing. then the serb approaches and says, 'really, you should go see it. it's beautiful.' i leave all of our bags and things with him on the bench outside, everything very mundane and pedestrian. very everyday. i walked in, looked at the paintings on the walls, some saints. some biblical scenes. which specifically i cannot remember, and i'm not even sure that i was able to see, as my eyes filled up with water.
the serb's brother's girlfriend later asked me what it was i felt. maybe overwhelm. gratitude. i remember walking in and thinking, 'thank god'. that's it. i said to myself, 'thank god'. then i started to cry.
i tried to view some of the other rooms, but i couldn't see anything in my condition. also i was scaring the two young macedonian boys who were exploring the monastery with their dad--some strange black girl with strange hair balling in the chapel--and scaring myself, too, just a little.
the serb at first made a joke about me perhaps being the devil and needing an exorcism, which knocked (most) of the emotionality right out of me. but later, he became confessional, 'i didn't really know how to react. should i be scared, or worried, was it a good feeling or a bad feeling... or maybe i was a little bit jealous. because i feel something, but not like you. and i suppose that that spirit comes to you because you're a better person or something.'
'better' is not what i would consider myself vis-a-vis everyone else who enters the monastery at st. naum, or chants with monks for money in thailand, and doesn't melt into a balling mass of emotions. i've heard that this level of emotion and release is how you're supposed to feel when you've come upon that path in life that's meant for you. i remember my life changing drastically in the year following my experience in bangkok. before that i was living in my parents home, had never really had a meaningful relationship with a man, and was dreaming of returning to europe, and traveling the world. ALL of that has changed since. and now i'm waiting, bated breath, for the transitions that this experience will usher in.
what i found in thailand wasn't buddhism, per say, but rather, another little piece of myself. another little piece of the world. and here in macedonia, yet another. in more ways than one, this. trip. rocks.