This year’s conference offered courses on acquiring the proper tools to achieve our greatest potential as Christians: communion with God. Keynote speakers included Dan Christopulos and Dr. Kyriacos Markides. Held at Antiochian Village in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, from October 30 through November 2.
Mr. Anestis Jordanoglou: My name is Anestis Jordanoglou. I work with Dr. Vrame at the Department of Religious Education of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in Brookline. It’s really a thrill for me to be able to introduce to you Dr. Markides. I’m sure you all have heard of him or read his books, but his bio is so rich that I’m going to have to read it. If I were a Hindu, it would take me two or three lifetimes to do all the things he’s done.
Dr. Markides is a professor of sociology at the University of Maine, an author of nine books published by leading publishers in the United States and the United Kingdom. Six of his books, including The Mountain of Silence, Gifts of the Desert, and his latest, Inner River: A Pilgrimage to the Heart of Christian Spirituality, feature Christian mystics, spiritual guides, and elders of Eastern Christianity and are published by Random House Image Books. His books have been translated and published in 12 other countries and languages.
Professor Markides presents regular lectures and workshops around the United States, Canada, and overseas, and has appeared on national and international television and radio programs. He is the recipient of the 2002 Best Professor Award in arts and science at the University of Maine, and he was awarded the 2006 Presidential Research and Creative Achievement Award at the same university. He lives in Stillwater, Maine, with his wife, Emily Markides, who is an adjunct assistant professor of Peace and Reconciliation Studies at the University of Maine. So I’m very thrilled to introduce to you and have Dr. Markides come and give us a wonderful talk on a terrific theme which he’s perfect to speak on. Thank you. [Applause]
Professor Kyriacos Markides: Thank you, thank you. It’s a privilege and pleasure to be here with you tonight. I will explain what this image is later on, two or three… at the end. But what I would like first to do is to thank the people who invited me here. Carole Buzela, Rosemary Shumski, Leslie Atherholt. I know that setting up a conference like this requires a lot of work, and my wife just finished one at the University of Maine in reference to how to bring modern cities, starting with her own city which is now under Turkish occupation, in Famagusta, Cyprus. So it was a very interesting conference, but really she spent a whole year trying to get people together, so I thank you for the effort you have made to make this possible. I also want to thank Father for giving me a lift from Pittsburgh. We had two fantastic hours of Orthodox discussion, both positive and some of the problems.
I think I will tell you a couple of stories, because I like to tell stories. When the conference in Maine ended, I had to take one of the luminaries to the airport. He was—he is an engineer, related to the Engineers Without Borders. So he has read one or two of my books, and on the way he started confessing to me about the extraordinary experiences that he had. Here is this engineer, very rational human being, who told me that he speaks to angels, that he had contact with Jesus and he feels guided, and he said, “You know, I never said anything like that to anybody, because if I say it publicly, it will give me a stigma mentally, and nobody will take me seriously.” But because he has read a couple of my books, he felt comfortable to reveal what goes on inside himself. Really I feel greatly privileged that people like that come and tell me their secrets that otherwise they wouldn’t even talk about it to their best friends, because we live in a world where spiritual experiences are suspect. We have so much invested in our rational side of our brains that anything that comes from the other side, we dismiss it as nothing more than chemical problems in the brain.
Well, this gentleman—very nice person—he was telling me that he was attracted, he said, by the Sufis. I said, “Why the Sufis?” Because the Sufis, he said, speak about love, about Christ—excuse me, about God in very erotic terms, but the Christians, he said, are too much into their heads. I said, “I don’t agree with you.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Have you ever heard of St. Maximus the Confessor?” He said, “Who is he?” So I started telling him a little bit about how the Orthodox tradition basically is essentially a very erotic theology; in other words, the whole aim is how to unite with the Godhead, with God, and that many of the Fathers wrote in very erotic terms, in terms of their relationship with Christ, so much so, in fact, that one of the elders that I met on Mount Athos, as he was writing letters to some of the nuns that were under his spiritual guidance, somehow the letters were found by conservative kind of clergymen, and they concluded that he had some kind of an illicit relationship with them. So he had to clear his name, because he’s writing style was very similar to that of Maximus the Confessor.
So I wanted to share this story with you. As I mentioned to him about St. Maximus the Confessor, that the Orthodox tradition has this element in it. In fact, I told him that the Sufis probably got it from the hermits in the Middle East, because Islam came after Christianity, and in fact I have a suspicion that the minaret has its roots in the stylites, those hermits who were climbing up at the top, and the ordinary Muslims considered that the higher you go up there, the closer you are to God, so they started building minarets.
The other story, I just read about it in the latest book by Robin Amis, the late Robin Amis. He wrote a book on A Different Christianity. And he is relating a story of some European or some pilgrim who went to Mt. Athos, and he was walking from one monastery to another, and he got somehow lost. He was hungry; he was thirsty. He passed by an abandoned hermitage, and there was an orange tree there. So he thought he would pray to the late hermit who was considered to be holy; maybe he can help him get one of those oranges so that he can nourish himself. Well, he was praying and praying, but nothing happened. So he eventually found his way to the next monastery. When he was about to embark to go back to civilization, to the world, as they say, right at the point when he was about to get on the boat, an elderly monk came running and offered him an orange. Then before he had a chance to come to his sense, he disappeared in the crowd. So his prayers were fulfilled.
Well, what I think I can tell you today, tonight, is to share with you some of my journey from a naïve believer to a skeptic, back to my roots, and what happened in between that led me to reconvert or rediscover my own tradition. Before I say anything further, I must tell you that I am not a theologian. I am only interested as a layperson in theology. My training is in sociology, therefore I also have a sociological kind of perspective in understanding the world that I find myself in. At the same time, I am very interested in my Orthodox tradition, and I’m very happy that I found my way back to it, and I will tell you why.
Certain points to keep in mind: Orthodoxy has really played no role in modern academia, the kind of world that I found myself [in] for the last 40 years. What am I talking about? More? But I will tell you more, because I don’t want to shock you. [Laughter] I came to the United States in 1960, on a boat actually, because at that time, that’s the way to cross the Atlantic, because only the very rich came by plane. So I came here with the idea that I would spend four years and go back to Cyprus. I had no idea—in fact, if somebody had told me before I embarked on the boat that I would not go back to Cyprus, I would never have come here, because I thought it was going to be a major sacrifice, coming to the United States for study and taking four years. At that time, you couldn’t go back and forth all the time. You came here, you studied for four years, and then you go back. Actually, I was able to go back to Cyprus after six years. By that time, I was beginning to become Americanized. I fought this tooth and nail, not to become an American, but here I am—God bless America. [Laughter]
My vantage point in tonight’s discussion is… In addition to our Orthodox tradition and how I got there, I would like also to share some of the social changes that are happening or that have been happening since the ‘60s, that eventually influenced me and led me back to Orthodoxy, because I believe that we do not live in a world that is becoming more and more secular. I think we are becoming… We are part of a world that is beginning to truly discover the very nature of reality. Instead of science being the enemy of the spiritual, it has come around to be the ally of the Spirit of God. For me, coming back to Orthodoxy came via science and via exposure to other traditions other than Orthodoxy. This is what I want to share with you, so that we must be very careful not to assume that we know how the Spirit works, because we don’t know, even in situations where it may appear to be contrary to spiritual kind of developments.
As I mentioned, it is easier… There is no… In the American university, Christianity has lost any credibility. It is easier to offer courses in Buddhism, in Hinduism, in shamanism, but if you say you’re going to give a course on Christianity, automatically the mind of the average academic goes to fundamentalism, goes to intolerance, narrow-mindedness, xenophobia, all of these things. These are things that we have to deal with. I think there is an opening now, but the fact is that the tradition that the French philosophers have given to the West was a very anti-clerical and very anti-Christian kind of perspective.
The reason, of course—there are historical reasons for it: the Catholic Church and the struggle to establish democracy in Europe led to those fights that led the culture of academia to become thoroughly secularized and to reject religion in its totality. So remember that Orthodoxy was not part of this dialectic. It was Catholicism versus science. It was Protestantism versus Catholicism. Eastern Orthodox Christianity was cut off from the West because of the Islamic takeover, and later on with Communism. It is only now that I think our services are called for, at a time when the West has reached a point where its paradigms are leading humanity to a dead end.
What kind of world existed before the 1960s? Some philosophers and historians today claim that the ‘60s was the equivalent of the decade that preceded the French Revolution, that somehow the ‘60s were a turning point in modern history, not only in terms of the civil rights movement, the upheaval thanks to the war in Vietnam, the influx of all kinds of people from different traditions, but also in terms of what was happening in science.
So what happened before the ‘60s? Before the ‘60s, the dominant perspective among the social scientists was that religion is finished; religion is going to eventually disappear, because that’s what the paradigm of 19th century philosophy and science was leading us into. So the dominant thinkers of the 19th century were very much against religion, whether it was Marx: “Religion is the opiate of the people,” whether it was Nietzsche: “God is dead,” whether it was the anthropologists who were saying that religion is the result of primitive peoples’ inability to explain natural phenomena; Freud equated religion with a form of regression or stagnation to the infantile stage. These are the things that we have been studying and reading and critiquing. Nobody during my ten years of studies gave me a book about St. Maximus the Confessor or St. Isaac the Syrian or any of the great philosophers of mystical Christianity. None of that was part of our religious or our intellectual environment.
There were people all along who were offering opposite perspectives, but they were in the underground; they were not really in the forefront of our awareness—including people like William James, the founder of psychology. There is a Williams James Hall at Harvard, because he’s considered to be the father of American psychology. Here is a man who argued that eventually psychology ought to follow a spiritual path. He was never listened to, so psychology was taken over by positivists, by reductionists, behaviorists. So academic psychology today is far remote from what William James had in mind, namely, the study of the soul.
Well, what interests me is what happened in the ‘60s that I lived through. I lived through the civil rights movement; I lived through the agonies of Vietnam. I had to deal with issues that led me to conclude that, in fact, God is dead, or at least this is what my professors are saying. So when I came here, I came very—what am I to call it?—a very naïve believer, because I grew up in Cyprus, a very homogeneous society; everybody was Orthodox that I knew. There was no questioning of the validity of Orthodoxy.
Coming to America was a major shock; a major shock in the sense that I encountered a very multicultural, heterogeneous world where all of my certainties were simply challenged one at a time. I came here as a fanatical nationalist. We had to fight for the union of Cyprus with Greece at that time, and it didn’t, of course, lead to anywhere. And I thought Greece was the best country in the world, and that the Greek flag was the only flag that was worth saluting. So I come here and the Americans feel the same way about their own country. [Laughter] So something is not right. It took me very… not long to conclude that nationalism is really not a healthy kind of motion, that it is a form… a kind of an idolatry. Anyway, I had to overcome that.
Then, when I came here, I came here to study business. In fact, my first degree was in accounting. And the reason was that I wanted to get a degree and go back to Cyprus and make a living. I was never… It was not in my wildest imagination that I would go, that I would study sociology. I didn’t even know what sociology was until accidentally I was talking to a senior in sociology, and he was telling me what they were learning in their sociological theory at the time. And I was so fascinated with what he was telling me; I said to myself, “My God, why am I wasting my life counting numbers when there is so much to know about the world?” That was the first thing that came to my mind, and perhaps he played an important role in my later decision to become a sociologist.
I became a sociologist thanks to Mrs. Bodhi, the chair of the sociology department at the time at the university, when I went and complained to her that I was in the wrong field and that I don’t know what to do. She said, “Why don’t you apply to graduate schools in sociology?” “But I don’t have any background in sociology,” I said. “Apply anyway.” “All right.” I had a good relationship with her, because I took one course from her. [Laughter] I applied during my senior year, and I was getting accepted, but no financial assistance. There was no way I could have done it on my own.
So I went to her, and then I said, “I am giving up. I just have to follow what path that is set up for me, and I will stay in accounting.” I said, “Here, I have these application folders from Bowling Green State, but I don’t think I’ll bother because all I get are rejections.” She said, “Go home and fill out those forms, because you are losing your chances!” I said, “Well, I’ll do it for you, but I know that I’m not going to get anything for anywhere.” A month later, I got a call from Youngstown State, offering me full assistantship to continue for my graduate degree without any background in sociology! [Laughter] I mean, those were… If there is a miracle, there it is.
The reason why I went into sociology is because I was challenged by what I was being exposed to in American society. Then by the time I finished with sociology, with a doctoral degree, and became an agnostic… You know what an agnostic is? [Yes.] Somebody who sits on the fence, right? [Laughter] I just couldn’t say that I was an atheist, but everything else that I was reading, all the people that I admired, they were all materialists, with the exception of one sociologist that I have never met, but I have [written] an article about him in my graduate course. And I owe him—I owe to his spirit, because he is gone—the fact that I did not become a complete atheist.
And that was Pitirim Alexandrovich Sorokin—I wrote about him in one of my books—who was the chair of the sociology department at Harvard. Harvard invited him to set up the sociology department during the ‘30s. He was a refugee from the Russian Revolution. The Communists sentenced him to death because he was secretary to Kerensky, and the day before his execution he was given pardon and he was let go. Now here is somebody who was expecting his execution, and the next day he is free! What happened was: one of his former students intervened with Lenin and pleaded for Sorokin’s life, and that all happened. So he came to the United States, he made a big name for himself, and Harvard invited him.
But Sorokin came from a different cultural tradition. His father was an icon-painter, or he was fixing icons, and the family was moving from village to village. So he was self-taught. He went directly to the university. He was a real genius. I am very happy to say I have a letter from Sorokin. I wrote him. When I wrote my paper, I wrote him a letter asking him what he was doing. He was—at that time he was 79, and he… I was so pleasantly surprised. He sent me a letter that he typed himself, very badly typed, and telling me what he was doing. [Laughter]
Now, why is Sorokin important to me? Because he left the door open for me to consider the reality of the spirit. How? With three ideas that he was suggesting. He said that, number one, religion is not on the way out, that religion is going to come back; there will be a spiritual renaissance, because the materialist worldview has reached its ultimate point of development, and it is coming in the opposite direction. He was writing that during the second World War, when Europe was on fire, and he was talking about the researching of spirituality. Also, he said that human beings do not only have a conscious mind and an unconscious, as Freud pointed out, but also a supra-conscious, as he called it: the source of real intuition and real knowledge. Those were revolutionary ideas that were hidden in some of his work, but because I wrote that article about him…
And I wrote that article about him because he was the only one left on the list that the professor gave us to write papers on. [Laughter] The more studious students took Marx, Weber, Durkheim, the big names in sociology. Who is this Sorokin? That was the only one left on the [list]. And I owe to him the fact that intellectually he gave me the green light to explore phenomena that otherwise I may have felt unable to follow that path.
Well, when I looked back into my life during the ‘60s, I came to the conclusion that what I was learning in terms of my worldview was a syndrome, a syndrome that was in every textbook that we were encountering. That syndrome was that the only world there is is this physical universe, the physical universe. Let’s call it reductionism. Everything is reduced to matter. So people like Freud, like Marx, they were militant reductionists, you might say, just like the new atheists today, like Dawkins and his group. So that was the framework. I have never encountered, other than Sorokin, a professor who was really spiritual. Now we can say we are spiritual but not religious, right? That’s the fashion today. So when they ask me, I say, “I am spiritual, but I am also religious,” and then I explain to them what I mean.
The second characteristic of this syndrome is that the only knowledge is knowledge that comes from experimental studies—science, in other words. That brings to my mind something that Huston Smith once wrote about. He said, “We can study only those things that are below us; we can never study things that are above us.” In other words, if there are angels or gods or archangels, we cannot study them. We can only study things that we have control over, like mice, like pigeons, right? Most of psychology is based on the study of monkeys, mice, and pigeons. [Laughter] And that’s a problem. [Laughter]
So I have so much fun knocking down this perspective with my students, and here I am in the heart of the secular university, and they don’t do anything to me because I have tenure. [Laughter] No, actually, I should not complain. The work that I’ve done, I’ve had to pass it as academically legitimate, so the only way I could have done so is to present them as participant-observation ethnographic research, and that was okay. If I called it a religious kind of thing: “Ah, this is unacceptable.” But my colleagues at the university played also an important role in my path towards discovering Orthodoxy. I’ll tell you in a minute.
So reductionism. The other is scientism: the only knowledge is that which comes from the laboratory. No mystical knowledge that comes from higher intuition, as Sorokin would point out. The other one is that there are no true values, no norms, no morality. All morality is socially constructed. Here, we sociologists talk about norms as socially created. Therefore, whatever is moral is what society says, right? Of course, there is this contradiction: how can you judge people for crimes against humanity, if we limit that to the tribe?
Then the last of this syndrome is the notion that we as human beings are nothing more than the sum total of our genes and our cultural conditioning. So this is a syndrome that, consciously or unconsciously, we have absorbed in our education, because the education that we’re exposed to would not allow the reality of other realities, right? So it was a kind of closed system of materialism. And that made me very depressed, to tell you the truth, because I did not know about Dostoyevsky at that time, but I said, “If there is no God, then anything goes.”
So that was in the back of my mind when I went to Maine as an assistant professor. Now, I didn’t know at the time that the ‘60s were also percolating a new perspective on the world that would make this syndrome of modernity irrelevant in the long run, I believe. What was that? There were changes in cosmology. In the ‘60s for the first time we hear that the universe had a beginning—the Big Bang. Have you heard about it? Did you hear what the pope said the other day, that he accepts the Big Bang? The Big Bang raises some very interesting philosophical questions: What preceded the Big Bang? In fact, the question itself may be absurd, because time itself was created with the Big Bang.
I was sitting with my wife having coffee at a local coffee-shop, and then one of the astronomers at our university walked in: David Batuski. His name was one on the Guinness Book of Record because he discovered a galaxy. And I said, “Dave, how many galaxies are up there?” And he said, “Well, as far as we can extrapolate mathematically, at least 100 billion.” 100 billion galaxies. I heard recent estimates that goes to something like 200 billion galaxies. And every galaxy has billions of stars like ours. So it’s an unimaginable thing, the universe we live in, and until the earliest part of the 20th century, we thought that the whole universe was just the Milky Way, and now it is just one of billions of galaxies.
Now this is a major breakthrough in cosmology. A philosopher pointed out that anybody who contemplates the Big Bang unavoidably has to become an idealist. An idealist, meaning that you cannot be a materialist; you cannot really assume that the only reality is this physical matter. But guess what? the cosmologists are telling us that these 200 billion galaxies are only three percent of the universe out there. 95%, they call it dark matter, and we don’t know anything about it. Now, isn’t that amazing? It is amazing to me. I learned about these things towards the end of the ‘60s. Now there was another revolution going on on the subatomic level, the quantum field. You go all the way down and you find empty space. So these are much more fascinating than any kind of Stephen King novels or Halloween things.
There are parallel to cosmology, parallel to physics… I went to my wife one day as I was contemplating about these things. I thought, “My God, I think we’re going to discover God in the laboratory.” [Laughter] That science is going to bring us back to God. That was the beginning of my real evaluation of the things that I learned during the ‘60s, that we can no longer operate with paradigms that were relevant in the 19th century. Unfortunately most of our social sciences are still stuck into 19th century physics, and we want to imitate those physics that were prevalent in the 19th century. Those were the thoughts that were coming to my mind, and I began reading, reading in the areas of all kinds of worlds.
I have to mention another important development during the ‘60s. A book came out by Thomas Kuhn, another, a historian of science, and he wrote a book that was revolutionary all the way to the present. It’s called The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. How many of you have heard of that book? Okay. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: he was saying that scientific breakthroughs do not happen incrementally, but rather through the abandoning of old ways of thinking and the creation of new ones.
I remember it was one of the books that I was assigned in one of my courses. At the time I read it, it was a very difficult-to-understand book in terms of the physics and so on, but later on I realized the importance of that book that was being debated on and on since then, namely that nothing in science is absolutely certain, because it changes all the time. Therefore we cannot assume that scientific knowledge gives us absolute knowledge about the world. Anyway, if we look at other fields, like psychiatry for example, anthropology, all of these things were undergoing very rapid changes, leading to questioning the kind of imitation of the hard sciences of the 19th century.
I went to Maine, and I went with my wife. Then I said to myself, “All right, I wanted to get a doctoral degree, I got it. I wanted to get married to a woman that I love, I did it. But I am going to die, and therefore what’s the meaning of it all?” I went through a kind of an existential crisis, that no matter how well you have it, eventually you’re going to die. Therefore, all of this knowledge that I’m struggling to acquire and so on, it’s going to go with me into the grave if there is nothing beyond it. So I was introduced accidentally to transcendental meditation.
A colleague of mine, another sociologist, who was vibrating on the same frequencies as I am… [Laughter] But he was part of the counter-culture of the ‘60s. I was not part of the counter-culture. I never smoked pot. [Laughter] Although I breathed it. [Laughter] In fact, I breathed it one evening—I wrote about it, in fact, in Inner River. These are the coincidences that can change our lives. I was struggling to find the theoretical framework to write my dissertation. I had good data, but I did not have the theoretical framework, and you cannot write a dissertation unless you have a theory! And I struggled and I struggled; I couldn’t find one. And we were talking about several months. Then I gave up.
It was midnight, July. I went into the middle of campus, and I sat on a bench, and I looked up and I watched the stars, just surrendered. I said, “Okay. Let it be.” Then a hippie came and sat next to me. [Laughter] And he started smoking. He was smoking; I was inhaling. [Laughter] Then as we were talking… We were talking about the stars and the galaxies and so on, and all of a sudden, I said, “O my God, I’ve got it.” It was as if I was hit on the head, and I felt like running around campus screaming, “Eureka!” [Laughter] I saw in my vision the whole dissertation written in the theoretical framework. I didn’t know anything about mystical experiences, but it was a peak experience, to use Maslow’s term. It was a peak experience. So I ran to my advisor the next morning—I couldn’t wait until morning to tell him about it—and he approved it, and that’s how I ended up with my dissertation which I tremblingly wrote up as a book which gave me tenure at the University of Maine.
So I started meditating. He convinced me that meditation was good for me, that you work hard, but you work harder if you meditate: you lower your metabolism, all of the… He gave me all kinds of scientific studies that show that meditation is good for your health, and it will help you work better. Getting tenure, for example. I was doing that for seven years, and in the process of doing it, I was getting to know other religious traditions. I got into Hinduism; I got into Buddhism. Not that I was converted. Once you are a cradle Orthodox, you can never be anything else. [Laughter] I mean, it’s… You take your religion for granted; it’s part of your identity. You cannot imagine being a Hindu. I’m not a Hindu; I’m not an Indian, but I am interested in what these people believe. Religion gives us our sense of identity. That’s the sociologist speaking.
In fact, there is a story—this is a footnote—there is a story that Peter Berger was saying that a terrorist stops a pedestrian in North[ern] Ireland and asking him, “What are you? Are you Catholic or are you Protestant?” And the frightened pedestrian said, “I am neither. I am an atheist.” “Ah, but are you a Protestant atheist or a Catholic atheist?” [Laughter]
So I was Orthodox, but I was not a practicing one, because it was part of my own identity. As I was exploring Hinduism and Buddhism, I was fascinated. I was fascinated because, for the same reasons that Western intellectuals are attracted to Hinduism and Buddhism since the late 19th century… In other words, American intellectuals, Western intellectuals, from Yeats to T.S. Eliot to other luminaries who were fed up with rationalism that led them to this dead end, they were looking for an alternative, and they couldn’t look at rationalistic form of religion that was dominant in America at the time, and they looked towards the East, to the Himalayas.
I was also of the same kind of persuasion that if you really wanted to understand, to search for some kind of deeper understanding of reality, you have to go to the yogis of India or to the lamas of Tibet. Also I started reading about Native American shamanism. That’s why I’m telling you the university is very open to Buddhism, Hinduism, shamanism, Native American spirituality—not to Christianity. It’s beginning now, because Christianity is thought of as those people who come in front of the student union and scream with their Bible waving that if you do not believe, you’re not going to heaven. And that’s a put-off for most students. [Laughter] I would say the overwhelming majority. So this is the cultural baggage that I think we need to overcome, and I think Orthodoxy has a very important mission to play in what I consider as the emerging synthesis of religion and science, in spite of what Mr. Dawkins is saying.
My exposure to Eastern religions began to chip away [at] my materialism that I have inherited from the 19th century, from the ‘60s. This is what happened to me when I had my first sabbatical, and I was about to write a book on international terrorism, because I was a political sociologist, and I thought I was going back to Cyprus since I had written already a couple of books on Cyprus, to write a book about those who participated in the movement against the British that the British called “terrorists.”
So I went there—and I’ve said it before, those of you who have heard me speaking before—I accidentally met someone who lived only a couple of miles from my house as I was growing up, but we were told to stay away from him. Namely, somebody that I gave the name “Daskalos,” meaning, “Teacher.” He was a layperson. He considered himself Orthodox Christian, but he had very unusual abilities; that’s what we were told when we were young. I was very curious to meet him. I met this friend on the road—we hadn’t met for about ten years—and then, through our conversation, I realized that she was a follower of this person. So I said I would like to meet him. She said we’ll go there and we’ll see him.
I went there and I thought I was going to meet a ferocious sorcerer. Instead, he was a very human kind of a guy, with a down-to-earth kind of approach to life. During our conversation, I realized that he was possessor of uncommon knowledge, and I… Some night… Again, here is another of those things. I was between awakening and sleep, and then a light hit me on the head, and I woke up, and I said, “My Lord, why should I study terrorists? He looks much more interesting.” [Laughter] “Why don’t I become a participant-observer in his circles to see what is going on there?” So I decided to go and study him. I was warned that he would not allow anybody to study him, and furthermore I had people telling me, “Why do you want to go and spend your time with somebody who is suspect?” “Charlatan” if you were on the scientific side, “instrument of the devil” if you were on the religious side. But I was a sociologist, and I was in the middle. I had the justification of investigating somebody like him.
In spite of all wise advice, I went ahead. At that time, my wife was worried that I was throwing my career away, that I was dealing with crazy stuff, but I went ahead, not because I was too courageous—I was not. You see, I went into sociology because I already had a degree in accounting, and I didn’t have to starve. I felt secure. So, I had tenure; therefore they could not fire me if I did this research. [Laughter] And I plunged into it, and I spent the next ten years, on and off, studying this group. I came up with a trilogy before that.
Things happened, and I saw things that could not be explained in any other way as paranormal. Paranormal: unusual phenomena, of healing, of clairvoyant sight. I thought that science needed to investigate these phenomena because it can open up possibilities to expand our understanding of reality. I was beginning to realize that there is more to life than this physical universe. I am not questioning the origin of his experiences, but the fact is that from my point of view, an individual could not possibly tell me what the problem was of someone 7,000 miles away is about her health, and be right on the mark, something that medical doctors could not possibly find.
And I have witnessed that time and again, to the point that I came to the conclusion that Sorokin was right. Sorokin, you remember, who said that there is that supra-conscious, and some of these phenomena that we associate with it, like calculating boys, people who have kind of a computer mind and they can tell you the square root of something that would take hours of research to find out and they came up with it, individuals who cannot even add two and two, like Rainman, Dustin Hoffman, remember? Well, it was based on a true story.
These are phenomena that are happening in our culture, but science doesn’t pay any attention. Why not? Because of the 19th century paradigm that is dominating our textbooks. We are all subject to cultural conditioning, and once our mind is conditioned in a certain way, we cannot see things that are outside of that conditioning. It takes a lot of work, a lot of experiences, to go beyond this framework. It’s like getting outside of the solar system of our way of thinking.
So I thought this was something that was worth exploring. I had a psychology professor who was wondering or worrying about my career. He was like a kind of a mentor to me. I worked with him to bring Greeks and Turks together on the Green Line, to solve the Cyprus problem. And the thought that this kind of work they are doing is really not wise. I said, “Why won’t you come with me? I’ll introduce him to you.” Then he scratched his head. “Well, he’s, you know… I am a psychologist. I ought to be interested in these phenomena.” I said, “Of course you should.” And we went there and we had a couple of hours of conversation. He was very impressed.
As we were walking out, he said to him, “By the way, professor, you have an infection on your liver, and I recommend that you do not drink from now on. Don’t worry; you are not going to die.” And then he mentioned the disease. “But you should never give blood to anybody, because you will always be a carrier.” Well, he said to me, “What is he talking about?” I said, “I don’t know.” He said, “I just had a physical and I’m perfect.” I said, “All right. Then don’t worry about it.” We come back to the States. Three months later, he calls me up on the phone, from Yale, and he said, “Do you remember what that healer of yours said to me?” I said, “Yes, I have it on tape.”
He said, “Well, I went to the doctors, and the doctors found that in fact I have hepatitis Type B”—exactly what he’d told him. “It’s not life-threatening, but you should never give blood to anybody.” “When I told them about what that healer had told me, they said: Impossible.” Why? Because the virus takes about three months to incubate, but there was no medical instrument to detect it. And he saw it. So guess what, next year Leonard comes to Cyprus to find out how on earth did he know? [Laughter] Then we had a very long conversation about it.
So these are just a few of very many. Was he working with angels or the devil? I don’t know. What I know is what I have observed, and that what he was teaching was not really that much different from what Orthodoxy is teaching, but with some other stuff. We don’t need to go into that. Well, I have witnessed a lot of this phenomena, and I could no longer believe the textbooks that were telling us that those things were impossible or childish.
Then, of course, in order to convince myself that I was not into some kind of illusion, I wanted to meet other anthropologists who had similar experiences. I went to New York and I met Michael Harner, the anthropologist. Have you ever heard of him? He wrote the book, The Way of the Shaman. Michael Harner, like me, went to study a tribe in the Amazon, and he wanted to study their medicinal culture, because anthropologists—medical anthropologists—believe that tribal people may have secrets about how to cure diseases that we need to know before the forests disappear, because the forest is really our great pharmacy.
Well, he went to the Jivaros, and the Jivaros told him, “Look, if you want to understand our medicinal culture, you have to become like us. Are you willing?” Well, he was willing. And what did they do to him? They gave him some heavy drugs. Forest mushrooms. So he almost died, and if it wasn’t for them, he wouldn’t [have] come back. So Michael Harner comes back to New York as a bona fide shaman now. I was at his office—in fact, I went to see him in New York—and as I was walking up the steps, I saw a friend who I knew from before in the political science department, and she said to me, “What are you doing here?” I said, “I want to go and see Michael Harner.” She said, “What do you want with him?” I said, “Why not?” She said, “He’s one of… He’s strange. He does strange things.” [Laughter] She was a thorough materialist herself.
So Michael Harner was into alternative healing, the stuff that led to the creation of the Office of Alternative Therapies of the Institute of Health. That was created in 1993, precisely because some people are experiencing this phenomena, and they put pressure on the government to create an Office of Alternative Therapies. Anyway, when I was there, Michael Harner got a phone call from some television company, saying, “We would like you to come in our program to debate somebody on the opposite side.” He said, “Well, I would be willing to debate him, assuming that he comes and takes a course of mine and he brings along his drum.” [Laughter] He was guiding people into this kind of alternate state of consciousness with drumming and so on—not mushrooms. [Laughter] So I talked with—I exchanged notes with Michael Harner, and he experienced similar things in the Amazon.
I was invited to go to the inaugural opening of the Office of Alternative Therapies because of my study of these healers, and I met more people of this kind, along with scientists. Why that office was created at the National Institute of Health? Because Berkley Bedell, a congressman, was declared by traditional doctors in America that he had about three months to live—he had a kind of an incurable illness—and a friend of his said, “Why don’t you come with me to Canada. I will bring you in contact with some healer there. Maybe he can help you.” Usually people, after they exhaust traditional medicine, then they go to these alternative healers. And there are a lot of charlatans out there, to be sure.
So Berkley Bedell goes to Canada and then comes back, healed. The cancer went into remission, and as far as I know he is still alive; I don’t know if he is. But anyway, with Harkin of Iowa, they pressed the Congress to set up a small budget for the study of phenomena like the alternative therapies. Here is another interesting development in our culture that not many people know about. So I was there when this thing took place, and it was a mixture of alternative therapies, of research scientists, medical doctors, and it was quite a fascinating… I was the only lonely sociologist there. [Laughter]
Again, there were some demonstrations of people who came from the Far East, showing certain unusual abilities of the mind, like Qigong. I’ve witnessed this with my own eyes in what was happening.
To make a long story short, I have no doubt in my mind that mind is non-local, to use the scientific term that they are using today. What do I mean: “the mind is non-local”? It is non-local, because our brain is only a vehicle of the mind. That’s what science teaches us today with experiments, but the mainstream will not accept it at this point. There are people who had near-death experiences; you have heard that, right? I had the honor of meeting Raymond Moody a few times, and what he has done, really, is opening up all kinds of possibilities within science for the study of death.
And what is he finding out? That a lot of people who have “died,” and their body was declared dead and the doctors were signing the death certificate, they came back, and they came back with all kinds of stories, that somehow they were fully conscious while they were out of their bodies. And there are all kinds of very interesting encounters when they were… They knew what the doctors were talking about in another room as they were signing the death certificate. Nobody, of course, died and came back to tell us about it; these are near-death experiences. This is a very important scientific breakthrough, I believe, that sooner or later we have to incorporate into our understanding of what a human being is.
But here is how this relates to our beliefs: that life continues after death, that death is only the dropping of your physical body, but you as you continue to be. If somebody put a gun on my head and told me whether there is life after death or the opposite, I would say, “Yes, there is life after death,” because the evidence is just overwhelming—if you have the eyes to see and the ears to hear. That’s why I’m saying that science is bringing us back into the spirit, and that’s where Orthodoxy can play a role, in this kind of encounter.
Well, after I exhausted my studies with these healers, what happened? As a result of other coincidences, I discovered Mount Athos. A friend of mine invited me to join him on a trip to Mt. Athos. I was reluctant to go, because I was still carrying a prejudice in my mind that if you wanted, if you wished to find authentic spirituality, you had to find it outside of organized religion. This, by the way, is a prejudice in our culture today: “I am spiritual, but not religious.” It’s the product of our multiculturalism and the fact that we are free to choose. It’s an unavoidable development, but I do believe that authentic spirituality needs to be protected and nurtured within the community. We are very fortunate that we have these tools, these tools to attain a reconnection with God.
Are you with me so far? All right. Now, let’s move on to Mt. Athos. I have some pictures I would like to show you, and I would like also to have a kind of a dialogue with you. I don’t want to just lecture completely, because I would like to see how you feel about these matters.
When I went to Mt. Athos, it was the result of an invitation by a colleague—by a friend, not a colleague—who said to me, “Look, if you really want to meet saints, why don’t you come with me to Mt. Athos?” The people I studied were not saints; they were ordinary people with ordinary flaws, and not necessarily saintly, but they had these unusual abilities. The person that I studied was telling me, “When I was growing up, I thought everybody had those abilities, and then my mother told me, ‘You’d better shut up, because they will lock you into a mental asylum.’ ” [Laughter] And then he realized that not everybody shared his visions of angels and little spirits and so on. A lot of people have these experiences, I found out later, from around the world, but they dare not talk about them openly because they are afraid to be sent to the mental asylum.
I had a shaman from Peru who was in the area in Maine, and I invited him to my class in the sociology of mental illness to talk about how do they treat their mentally ill in Peru among his people. And he was saying that these people who are going crazy in our culture, we try to… They are confusing different worlds, and that’s why they cannot differentiate the world of the three-dimensions, he said, and the world beyond this dimension; therefore it’s all mixed up in their heads and they are schizophrenic. And that’s exactly what this healer in Cyprus told me, that the only difference, he said, “between me and the madman is that the madman doesn’t know what is happening to him, but I know, and therefore I can differentiate this world from the world that I experience.”
And he said, “Going to this other world is like going through a door, and it’s as real as I am talking to you at this point.” This is what people who came up from the near-death experience say, that the world they experience, they are so absolutely certain about it, that it is more real than the kind of world that they came back to. When my mother-in-law was about to die—she was at the hospital—when the doctor brought her back from where she was, she said, “Why on earth did you bring me back? I was so happy there. It was my husband, my brother-in-law”—all the people that she loved from before that were there—“and now you bring me back in this situation.”
Well, these are signs that can give us hope, you see, that our limited time on this planet is not leading us to nothingness. I don’t understand how people can feel happy with the notion of oblivion. This is this, and that’s that. Of course, Socrates talked about it in his Apology. He said, “There are two possibilities. Either when I die, I’ll go and meet with the great philosophers and sages—and what a wonderful experience would that be. If I don’t,” he said, “if it’s in the other side, I will simply have a very deep sleep, just like the one that we have when we feel so tired and then we relax. Either way, I’ll be happy,” he said. And then he said to his judge, “You are going to leave, and I am going to die. Who is better off? Only God knows.” [Laughter]
One thing that is important in terms of encountering these kind of phenomena is to overcome the fear of death. Not completely, but not the way I used to. I was getting scared with the notion of death. My mother died when I was four, and from then on I had that fear of death, I guess. But meeting this kind of material opened up possibilities that I never thought were possible. It is that which led Nietzsche to go mad, because he was a sensitive individual, and he came to the conclusion that “God is dead.” One of the things that impressed me about this gathering is how joyous you people are, and this reminds me of the early Christians, who impressed the pagans because they lose this kind of joyousness, and that’s when people more or less resolve this fundamental problem of our existence. This is a problem that we thought was unsolvable; you can never solve this problem. Well, the monks on Mt. Athos have solved it, and in the process we benefit from their insights.
I went; I took up the invitation of my friend. We went to Mt. Athos. The first monk I met at the Vatopedi Monastery was this young, 32- or 31-year-old monk, and we connected immediately. I am older than he, much older, but we became instant friends, and we started talking about philosophy, talking about the spiritual life, and he introduced me into a kind of spirituality that I didn’t know existed in Christianity, just like many people today in America never understood what Orthodoxy was all about. He brought me to Orthodoxy big time in the sense that I became a practicing Christian since that early encounter. That was in 1991, on a visit to Mt. Athos.
Then eventually he introduced me to Elder Paisios, who was one of his elders. We had to walk about four miles to meet with him. He asked me—I remember it was Eastertime—“Are you going to take communion?” And I said, “Yes, since I came to Mt. Athos, why not?” He said, “Well, have you gone to confession?” I said, “Confession?” [Laughter] “I haven’t gone to confession since I was twelve years old!” And then he said, “Well, don’t you think it’s about time?” [Laughter] I said, “Father, oh well, I don’t know.” He said, “You know what, on Holy Friday, I will be next to the church in the little chapel. Why don’t you come? Don’t worry. We’ll just chat.” I said, “Well, we’ll see.” Of course “we’ll see” was “no.” [Laughter]
And it was Holy Friday. There was this beautiful chants. That’s when both believers and non-believers go to church, at least in Greece and in Cyprus. The churches are full of people who never step into the church, but on Holy Friday and on Holy Saturday they are there. So I was enjoying the chanting of Ai genneai pasai. Then somebody pulls me by the hand, and I looked around. “Fr. Maximos wants your time.” I looked up. It was Jesus at the tomb. How could I say to Jesus… [Laughter] And then my academic mind said, “Well, after all, he’s not asking you to go and smoke mushrooms, for God’s sake. Just go and have a chat.” So we went and we had a chat, a whole hour of it.
When we went there, he asked me to say whatever I want. I said, “Like… like what?” So it was a life review, for an hour. And that encounter connected us. I never thought that I was going to be studying him since that time, and write The Mountain of Silence, then Gifts of the Desert, and Inner River. I never thought that he would leave the mountain, but he was ordered to leave it and go and create monasteries in Cyprus. When we met Elder Paisios, the impression that I had was really very interesting. On one hand, he looked very much like the saints that we see in the icons; on another hand, he was a comedian. He really made us laugh. I said to myself, the thought came to my mind, I said, “My God, he’s much more effective than Johnny Carson’s.” So that was my first encounter.
Then he sent a message, Elder Paisios said to me, “Tell Kyriacos if he wants to understand Orthodoxy, he should give up everything else and focus on it.” So in a sense I was never anywhere else, but I focused in the sense that I took Orthodoxy seriously, both in terms of its… And I don’t mind if, once in a while, I meet a corrupt priest or a corrupt bishop—we are full of those—but there are the authentic people there, and that’s where we need to focus all our attention.
I have some pictures here to show you some of the faces of the people that I encountered in studying the culture on Mt. Athos. Remember, I went there as an anthropological investigator, not as a theologian, so I was asking the kind of questions that anybody, any layperson, would have asked, and that’s how I conducted my study. Again, it came as a result of a series of coincidences. I was not planning to write a book related to Fr. Maximos, but a friend of mine asked me to join a group of academics to advise the Cyprus government about social research. And we had to go to Cyprus twice a year, during the summer and during the Christmas break. The idea is to spend a few days discussing these issues and advising, and we could stay for as long as we want after that. Well, who would say no to such an offer? It was an offer I could not refuse.
Then I found out that Fr. Maximos also left Mt. Athos and went to Cyprus and became the abbot of a monastery, the monastery that I… So I was so excited. Every time I would go to Cyprus, after we finished work for the government, I would go and stay at the monastery [of which] he was the head. And we started chatting, and then the idea came: Why not do a similar study as I’ve done on others? And during a sabbatical I went there and I was accepted in the monastery for a prolonged period of time, and then I wanted to feel useful. Everybody was working, and what was I doing? They gave me a very nice room, the room that I found out later was a place where they used to have the higher clergy when they visited. And they had me there with my private bathroom—very important.
Well, I was looking around to find a role for myself other than being an investigator, and I noticed that he didn’t know how to drive. He had a chauffeur, another monk. So I volunteered to be his chauffeur, but I had ulterior motives, because by being his chauffeur, I can engage him in all kinds of conversations, right? So he accepted, I was delighted, and I would take him all over the mountains, here and there, and those were really wonderful times. The moment we got into the car, I put on the dashboard that beautiful tape recorder, and everything we talked about was just taken there. And this is the material that I brought with me to Maine and wrote The Mountain of Silence.
But our encounter continued, and then he became bishop, and there are all kinds of stories about that. He was drafted because he didn’t want to become bishop; he was very happy being the abbot, and eventually came to the United States, at Holy Cross, and I was his simultaneous translator. I’ve never done that before. It was not a great translation, but I managed.
Many of you have read my books. I can tell you a few of the teachings. It’s all there. But one thing that I think is what I discovered on Mt. Athos is that what I was looking for in Hinduism and Buddhism I found on Mt. Athos, and much more meaningful in terms of my own cultural tradition. You see, I don’t want to demonize other cultural traditions, because they were very useful for me to discover Orthodoxy, and at the same time I found many things that we share in common with these other traditions. That’s why I was excited about Orthodoxy. And there is this mentality that if I find something that is similar to Orthodoxy in another tradition, I have to reject that because it’s not Orthodox.
Well, being, hopefully, a scientist, a truth becomes much more supported if it comes from two diverse sources. So the golden rule is something we find in other traditions. When we read in Taoism that the Tao that can be named is not the real Tao, what’s the same thing we have in the Orthodox tradition? Evagrius of Pontus: the God that can be named is not the real God. I was delighted to find these kinds of similarities. But in terms of practice and in terms of the basic beliefs, I feel comfortable and I feel blessed being Orthodox. It’s closer to my culture; it’s closer to the kind of tradition that I grew up in. I am sure that, had I been born a Tibetan, I would have been very happy being with the Dalai Lama. Had I been born a Hindu in Kerala, I would probably be very happy being part of an ashram. But I was not born there. The only thing that I can say is that I am very blessed to be in my own tradition. I don’t have to demonize anybody else. Otherwise, it appears as if we are xenophobic, that we are not relevant in the context of the modern world, and is this is what we have felt today often, because we speak of an—I say “we”: some—with a language that alienates people who otherwise would have been attracted to Orthodoxy.
Maybe we can leave [time] for some questions, and then I’ll show you some pictures before we go any further. Yes? Somebody? Yes, Father.
Q1: Out of the ‘60s also we had Jesus movements, coffee house churches, churches like the Episcopal Church and the Catholic Church with big bulk masses, jazz masses. How do you see that relating to what we now refer to as the post-modern age, where… whatever?
Prof. Markides: Post-modernism has been discredited. It is being discredited, and therefore I don’t think we should worry about it. It had its day in the sun during the ‘80s and ‘90s, but right now nobody declares himself post-modern. It’s the extreme form of relativism. The post-modernists are the demolition squad that undermine the pomposity of materialism, by showing in fact that they do not have a solid base from which to make those statements. They played a role.
You see, the Spirit works in very strange ways. Now, we all… You must have heard, for example, about the new atheist today. Since 2001, after 9/11, there was this mushrooming of books about atheism, that religion is the source of all our problems, that religion is the source of violence, and therefore the sooner we get rid of religion, the better the world will be. This comes from the work of Dawkins, a Nobel laureate in biology from Oxford. [Murmuring.] The who? [Hitchens.] Hitchens, yes. Christopher Hitchens, who wrote about God is not great, he died now. [Laughter] Well, the late Christopher Hitchens.
Then there is Ed Harris. I heard that there is another book that he wrote. He wrote an early book that became a best-seller, Letter to a Christian Nation. It was a kind of a diatribe against Christian religion as another of the Abrahamic religions, the source of modern violence. Now he came with another book called Spirituality Without Religion, that it is okay to be spiritual but not religious. Well, I wonder what kind of stuff he wrote about, because it’s like… spirituality without spirit, I assume, because he flirted with some of the Buddhist kind of meditation practices.
So I think post-modernism is on the way out, and that’s my feeling about it.
Q1: Replaced by what?
Prof. Markides: Right now we are in limbo. That’s why Orthodoxy can play a role, because of its theology. It can offer a kind of insights to scientists [for which] earlier we are trying to find answers in Buddhism and Hinduism. There are scientists like Fritjof Capra, who wrote the book The Tao of Physics, who makes the argument that Taoism and quantum physics merge. We do not have, as far as I know, something analogous within the Christian tradition of Orthodoxy, but there are theologians from England and otherwise who have taken on the materialists. And here is a very interesting development: these new atheists have become very instrumental in the production of very interesting books about why God is unavoidable, by people who otherwise would not have written those books, but they wrote them as a reaction against the new atheists.
So I believe that if we are to have a 21st century, we have to bring peace between religion and science. And it’s a very salutary development that the pope publicly declared that evolution is not just a theory, but it’s something real and we should listen to the scientists who are the specialists on the gross material level. Those who can tell us about matter are the scientists; those who can tell us about what is beyond matter are the spiritual people, the elders.
I think we need this kind of reconciliation; otherwise, as a species, we won’t survive. I think a great philosopher from France pointed that out. He said, “Either the 21st century is going to spiritual, or it will not be.” And the odd thing about it is that American society, American culture, is very religious. If you give surveys to a random sample of Americans, something like over 80% believe in God, something like over 70% believe in life after death. In universities… Because our universities were created within the tradition that came from Western Europe, from Nietzsche, from Freud, from Marx, from all these guys, they brought with them a very materialist worldview that is only now being chipped in universities. It is easier today to be spiritual in the university context.
In fact, I had a colleague who came to me one time, and who said, “You know, we read your books and we really like them, but I still cannot bring that perspective into my research.” He is a psychologist, and he still uses mice and pigeons to do his studies and draw conclusions that he can publish, so that he can not perish in the university setting. So I see changes. I feel more comfortable today to speak in a university audience the way I am speaking to you today, because science now gives me the green light to talk to like that.
I can make references to these studies, the study for example [in which] they split an atom, and they got half of it in California and the other one in New York. And they spin it in one direction, and the other one moved instantaneously in the other direction without any time interfering. Now, how did they do that? I don’t know. But they showed, in fact, that we live in a holographic universe, that the universe we live in is not the universe of Newton, but a universe where a single thought literally can change the whole universe. It’s an amazing idea, and that’s what the mystics, the Christian mystics, have been talking about. The monks on Mt. Athos would say if they would stop praying, the universe would collapse. It’s the holographic form of universe that thought affects matter.
Q1: A final question, if I may.
Prof. Markides: Yes.
Q1: The mega-churches today…
Prof. Markides: The what? The mega-churches.
Q1: The mega-churches, would you address… Where do you see that [going]?
Prof. Markides: Well, you know, we as human beings—I’m not attracted to that kind of culture myself.
Q1: No, but it’s there.
Prof. Markides: It’s there, yes. Maybe it’s some kind of distortion. I don’t want to use this language, but at the same time I think we are at different levels of spiritual development, and different people can relate easier to a certain kind of spiritual expression than another. I am not in a position to judge them. It’s just… It does not attract me personally. I prefer the Orthodox leadership. I am not going to shut their doors. The beauty about America is that we have freedom to explore. The separation of Church and State made possible the survival of religion in America. This is one of the factors.
You know what the other factor is? That religious denominations in America became very instrumental in the assimilation of immigrants. Immigrants come here, they connect with their religious tradition until they become Americanized. This is what happened to me. You can’t imagine how comforting it was to come to the United States, in a very strange place, as different as you can imagine from Cyprus, and go into a Greek church and feel at home. That gave me the time to relax and gradually become Americanized. So religion has been an instrumental aspect of American social structure, as we sociologists say. Yes?
Q2: You were talking about the mysticism of the monks on Mt. Athos? Have you seen that anywhere in the States?
Prof. Markides: Oh, yes. There are monasteries all over the United States.
Q2: And you see that same…
Prof. Markides: The same model, yes. And there are some controversies around the monasteries that are popping up, but I don’t want to get into that. The fact is that the same Typikon, the same lifestyle, that the monks on Mt. Athos and the nuns, the Athonite monasteries outside of Mt. Athos… This is the same question that I am asked: How come women can’t go to Mt. Athos? I don’t have any very good answer. I said, “Well, this is what the monks say.” But I don’t necessarily… If there will be changes, they will come only if the holy Virgin tells the monks, “Okay, it’s time to open it up.” [Laughter] When they do that and when the elders have experiences and saying, “Yes, it’s time,” maybe they will allow some of the nuns to go there.
However, there are more women’s monasteries, speaking about Greece, than men’s monasteries, and therefore women are not deprived of the Athonite spiritual tradition. There are two big monasteries outside of Mt. Athos: Souroti and Ormylia. In one of the two, Elder Paisios is buried. You know why he was buried there? Because he left as his will that he wanted to be buried in that women’s monastery—and it was a scandal on Mt. Athos: the great saint to prefer the women than the men! [Laughter] Maybe it was a letter. I think I have a picture of his grave with the poem that he wrote about it. Yes?
Q3: I like the fact that you’re optimistic.
Prof. Markides: Yes. I do, too. [Laughter]
Q3: Do you believe that there will be a revitalization of the Church in Greece and in Western Europe?
Prof. Markides: The revitalization… What do you mean by the revitalization?
Q3: Well, when I go to Greece, the churches are empty, and that distresses me. There doesn’t seem to be a connection with the young people. I see that, and I traveled to Europe last year, and the churches are treated as museums.
Prof. Markides: Yeah. I am not a prophet, so I don’t know what the future…
Q3: Do you have any idea?
Prof. Markides: I think part of the reason is historical. And, you know, one of the sociological reasons why religion is alive in America is because there is competition. There is competition, and they treat it as a marketing thing, that you really have to offer a product that a consumer will want to get, and therefore there is competition among the different denominations and religions to attract. In Greece, there is no competition. And furthermore… And the more unpleasant development in Greece is that religion interferes with politics, and it aligns itself with the most conservative, reactionary elements of the society, and the young people are not attracted to that.
Now, interestingly, in the diocese of Fr. Maximos, the churches are all full, and he keeps building new churches because young people are going there. Don’t forget that Mt. Athos is now manned by young people, not by old people. Most of them are young people who just gave up their careers in the world, as they call it, and they go there. So these are signs, but we don’t know what the future will be. There are serious problems of the society at this point, and in crises of this kind, people can look towards something else. Look what happened at 9/11. All of a sudden, the New Yorkers became spiritual—but not religious, necessarily. [Laughter]
Q4: If I may add something… I was born in Greece. I grew up in Greece, and the thing that gives me the greatest satisfaction is to visit a monastery, because of the great revival: beautiful new monasteries, full of young people. So the ones that you see might be in part correct, but it is… I witnessed all kinds of women’s monasteries… not just women, men. Twenty years ago—I went to visit Meteora?—they just have got so many old monastics … if you go, [you think] “It’s done.” And now, you visit Meteora, it’s full of monasteries with all kinds of young people.
Prof. Markides: That is true.
Q4: And the same thing on Mt. Athos. I went to Mt. Athos in 1970. In one sense, it was all old monks…
Prof. Markides: There was somebody who came from California, an elder, one of the St. Herman of Alaska kind of people, and he came to Maine, and he was telling us that many of his monks were former hippies. [Laughter] So they were searching, and in a sense they shared the same drop-out attitude: they dropped out of the [world]. So, yes, I would not worry too much, because, you see, being away from the spiritual source, you are sort of punishing yourself, and I am hopeful that this experience will regenerate the spirit.
I am not afraid of religion disappearing. You know why? Because the religious experience is an integral part of human experience, of the human condition. And there will always [be] people who are having spiritual experiences, even if they are in the midst of a Nazi regime or in Stalinist Russia. It’s a matter of conditions ripening up and then things will come forward. Yes?
Q5: Just a quick comment on that. I’ve gone to some of the churches, and they’re mega-churches. They’re [1:33:40] in Greece for 40,000 families. You go to a monastery; it’s personal. You’re going to meet a monk or a nun, and you’re going to engage them in some level of the spiritual life. So that might be one of the reasons. Greece has its own version of mega-churches, but without the breakout style that you’ll see… In one mega-church, you’ll have all these small mini-communities like your koinonia group there at St. Mary’s in Minneapolis. That’s just another factor, and I’m sure you must have noticed that in your explorations there.
Prof. Markides: Well, yeah, I’ve never been to a mega-church, to tell you the truth, but I’ve been to a black church in Nassau, Evangelical. It was incredible. They were jumping up and down; they were falling up. These people are interested in experience, and that’s how they do it. Father—Archbishop Makarios of Kenya was telling me that in his mission in Africa, during the Eucharist the native people need to dance, and he dances with them. One time a nun came from Greece, and he says to her, “Sister, when the time comes for the Eucharist, for the Great Entrance, please dance with us.” She said, “What are you talking [about]? Father, for God’s sake!” and so on. Anyway, when the time came, she sat there somberly, and then the natives would say, “Tsk. She’s crazy.” [Laughter] How could she not dance during the service? So there are these cultural factors we need to take into consideration, and focus on the essence, the essentials, and the cultural characteristics are there because that’s how the culture developed. Yes?
Q6: Are you seeing a change on campus with these today, because we get such heart-breaking messages, and the suicide rates being so high, and hopelessness… Do you see it getting better?
Prof. Markides: Well, it shocks me when I ask my incoming introduction to sociology students, first year students, and I ask them, “How many of you have known somebody who committed suicide?” Something like 80% would raise their hand. And I told them, when I came to the United States if I asked the same question, hardly anybody would have raised their hands. And in Cyprus, when I was growing up, I never heard of anybody committing suicide. So the suicide is a problem of our social organization. We need to focus on integrating human beings into society, not just talking to them about religion. Yes, we should do that, giving them hope, but at the same time we are social beings and we need this kind of intimate connection. Many of these kids who come to this university come from very broken backgrounds, and no wonder there are these problems out there. So there are social problems, not necessarily the problems of the youth themselves. Yes?
Q7: Did you say you would show pictures…?
Prof. Markides: Yes, I did. We’ll have about 20 minutes, and then I can show you some faces and places. These are pictures that I took myself. I am not a good photographer, but these are my pictures. There are a lot of pictures of monasteries and Mt. Athos and so on, so I can share with you some of my recent ones. Maybe if we dim the lights a little bit… The what?
Q8: I said, “Praise God,” that we’re going to lower the lights.
Prof. Markides: Yes. [Laughter] All right, now, why do I put this picture, besides the fact that I took it and I’m very proud of it? [Laughter] It is up on the mountains in Cyprus, in some rather remote area, and this is a Roman bridge created during the time of the Romans, and according to tradition, St. Paul walked over it and rested on it. You know, St. Paul came with St. Barnabas and the others, and it was one of the first missions that they had in converting the Aphrodite-worshiping Cypriots into devout Christians. That was the… It’s a very beautiful… And the colors at that time were just right.
Okay, these are some of my visits to monasteries. This is St. Heraklidhios. That’s our friend. I call Rado in my books. Then Emily, my wife. And then the woman in the middle there, the nun, is the abbess of the monastery. Those of you who have read The Mountain of Silence: she is the woman who was called Rosa, and her father was ready to dynamite the monastery because, presumably, his daughter was seduced into monasticism. So the elder woman died, the abbess, and the other nuns voted her as the new abbess. She is an architect herself, a very educated woman, and in her… now she must be in her late 30s. So there are these monasteries. If you go to Cyprus, go to St. Heraklidhios, and that is a place where St. Paul found refuge at one of the hiding places there, because the Romans were after them. So a monastery was built.
Here they are, offering the traditional kind of hospitality. See, here is mother technology. [Laughter] All right, that’s my wife talking to a nun. She is not drinking ouzo; that’s just water. [Laughter]
I went with Fr. Maximos to this monastery, and we had to eat separately from the women. Here is the irony: the man who is their spiritual father, who knows about their private thoughts, and yet he would not eat with them, but he would come in the kitchen and eat with me, because that’s how they have them in… There is this kind of division.
That’s the monastery inside. That’s Fr. Maximos. He put on a lot of weight, in contrast to… I have some older pictures, but I don’t have them here. When he was on Mt. Athos, he was a lean, very… But now, I think the picture itself makes him a little bit bigger than he is. He sees people all day long, talking to them.
This is up on the mountains in a new monastery that he created, [by] the funding of a philanthropist who gave him some money, like $8 million, and they rebuilt an old abandoned monastery, so it’s a very private monastery now. If you go there, you go to the Monastery of Inner River. It’s called Mesa Potamou in Greek, and I translated it into “Inner River.” It’s not as if the story takes place there, but one chapter takes place there.
So this is my friend Lavros, that joined me on a trip to Mt. Athos once. He’s a retired agriculturist, and now a fanatical environmentalist. That’s the monastery that was built with his funding.
That’s Emily. We are having breakfast, and she had to have breakfast by herself, outside in the yard.
That’s the monastery. No, this is in Greece. Now this is Archbishop Makarios of Kenya who happened to visit Cyprus at the time, and he was telling us all kinds of stories about his African mission. He was a graduate of divinity from Oxford; he had a doctoral degree of divinity. And his spiritual advisor was Elder Sophrony, so when he was about to graduate, Elder Sophrony says to him, “Andrea”—Andrea was his name—“when they ask you to become archbishop, do not refuse.” He said, “Me, an archbishop? I don’t intend on becoming a priest!” He was planning on following an academic career. Then there was the theological school in Kenya that was created by the late Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus. [It] needed a director, because the old director died. So they looked for him, and he accepted. He said, “The moment I went to Africa, I said to myself, ‘I belong here.’ It was as if I knew where I belonged.” And then what happened was that the archbishop of Kenya died, and they needed an archbishop. [Laughter] He wasn’t even ordained, and then they came to him, and then he remembered what Elder Sophrony had told him. So one day they made him a deacon. The second day, they made him a priest. The third day, an archimandrite. The fourth day, a bishop. [Laughter] And then he… He has done miracles in…
He was telling us a miracle, actually. He said one time a Masai comes to [his] office: tall, with his native costume, with his spear and shield. “The elders want to see you.” And he looked out the window, and the elders were sitting cross-legged under a tree. So he goes there and the elders tell him that they have a problem, but their gods cannot solve it, so they would like him to pray to his God to solve their problem. “I was shocked,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do. I was getting ready to go on a trip to other places in [my] bishopric.” That would have taken several days.
So he said, “What I did, I put my hands up, and I said in Greek: Lord, help your people. Something to that extent. And then I went my way. I come back after two weeks. The same Masai comes to my office. ‘The elders want to see you.’ ” He goes there, and the elders were sitting under the tree. He said, “Your God solved our problems, and therefore we decided to become Orthodox.” [Laughter and applause] So he baptized a whole tribe that became Orthodox.
But he had a problem. The problem was that some of them were married to more than one wife. What do you do under those conditions? Well, in Greek is the word “kat’ oikonomia,” meaning that you are not going to ask them to divorce, but you have to tell them that you have to love them all equally, and then there is no more wives from now on, and that’s how he accommodated them into the [Church].
This black fellow was the son of one of these people who brought him to Cyprus, went to the university there. He speaks Greek impeccably now, and he is going to translate many of the sacred texts into their native language. Already the Philokalia and all these other books that we are reading are being translated into 12 native languages. So he is doing a terrific work in Africa.
That’s my wife on the left. I bet you you won’t know where this is. You know where that is? Anywhere in Europe, in America, in Lebanon? St. Anna. It was made by an Italian artist, very important. After he finished this work, he converted to Orthodoxy. [Laughter] But where is this? Actually, it’s in Colorado. [Laughter] Yes, a rich person, who is not Orthodox, decided to give this land, up on the Rocky mountains, to one of the churches there, Orthodox churches, with the understanding that as long as they live they will have their house there; once they die, they can turn it into a monastery. So this is an open altar, and they have services during the summer under the sky. In the wintertime, it’s full of snow, of course. I went there—it must have been in July—and it was very cool; it was very high up on the mountains. So, yes, it is in Colorado. It’s a very beautiful icon.
And here is the altar, the altar where they do the service, right in the middle. I have stories about wild animals there, and they do picnics in the summer, and they have their Liturgy. I don’t know if they stay with tents, but it’s about an hour and a half from downtown Denver.
This is a father who used to be on Mt. Athos, and now he turned his inherited middle-class house into a little monastery—of one person. The house is always open, and people can come in and light candles. From the outside, it doesn’t show anything. The neighbors know that it’s a monastery, and I asked him, “Don’t they… I mean, there are Jews around here. Don’t they mind that you are here?” “Oh no, they love it, that there is somebody praying for them.”
C1: That’s in Denver as well. That’s Fr. Christodoulos Papadeas.
Prof. Markides: Christodoulos, yes, that’s right. And that’s inside, no, this is the church.
C1: That’s the cathedral.
Prof. Markides: Yes, beautiful cathedral.
That’s inside his house, his monastery; that’s the trapeza. When he has guests, they eat there together. And his house is always visited by people. So he is a monastery of one.
You know where that is. These are pictures—I am sorry that they are almost at random. This is Fr. Maximos talking to young people, giving them a talk in Cyprus. This is a school run by Catholic nuns, and he visited them once a year, like he visited other schools. So this time he begged him, “Father, why don’t you do something for our churches to unite?” [Laughter] As if he could unite the churches! And it’s a very good school, actually.
Okay, that’s back on the mountain, the new monastery that he created.
These are the young monks. See, all of them young. The person on the left of Fr. Maximos is the abbot. His name is Paisios.
I was there on a sabbatical, and that’s the countryside at the foothills of the mountain where the monastery is. I love this kind of scenery with the red poppies and the olive trees. That must have been the way [it was] in the time of Jesus, talking to his disciples under the olive trees.
A little bit of advertisement for tourism in Cyprus. [Laughter]
That’s the monastery of the… Panagia Monastery that I call. He visits it now once every week, and he confesses all these monks who are under his supervision. This monk with the little white beard, he graduated in economics from the University of New York.
Here is the monastery. It is pretty ancient.
That’s Emily, who went and created a permaculture garden next to the detoxification center that Fr. Maximos created. I don’t have recent pictures, but it became very large. How many of you have heard about permaculture? Okay. It’s a method where you don’t cultivate the land. You just put piles and piles of newspapers, of leaves that you collect, and then it builds the soil. The worms come up, they dig the soil themselves, and then it becomes very fertile. So it became a little garden so you don’t—there it is. It’s getting there.
This is the detoxification center. Fr. Maximos created it, remember, in The Mountain of Silence? That’s when a dog became a catalyst for the creation of this detoxification center. A wild dog entered into the monastery, and he bit a monk. They managed to get him out of the monastery. They called services, and they said, “You have to call the Humane Society, because we are not dealing with animals.” So then he said, “There is a Humane Society to deal with dogs. How about a Humane Society to deal with addicted young people who do drugs?” And he created a detoxification center. I was not supposed to take pictures of the people who are in there, but it became a model for the Middle East. Notice that it’s almost created like a monastery in terms of its structure.
Now, this is Ouranopolis, the gate in Greece, the gateway to Mt. Athos. I’ll go very quickly, because I notice that we’re running out of time. That’s where you get on the boat to go to Mt. Athos. There is the beginning. Okay, this is how inaccessible it is. See how they are built like castles to protect them from pirates and marauding troops?
This is the Monastery of St. Panteleimon, the Russian monastery; there it is. That’s the monastery of St. Silouan the Athonite and Elder Sophrony. That’s where they became… It’s like a different world up there.
That’s Simonopetra. Look at this. We have pictures. I have pictures, but I don’t have them here, of the monastery from within, when we visited it.
That’s sustainable agriculture and photovoltaic. This is a modern community for sustainability. They have a minimum of consumption, and they produce much of what they need. Has to give you a feeling of… This is…
You know what that icon is? I didn’t know about it. It’s the icon of the salutations.
Q9: The Axion Estin?
Prof. Markides: No, it’s not the Axion Estin. No, it’s the icon that the patriarch of Constantinople was holding during the invasion of the… in the seventh century. Constantinople was about to fall. The Arabs, yes. And that’s the icon that he was holding. It’s at the Dionysiou Monastery on Mt. Athos. I was not allowed to take pictures, but then the monks would come with me and we’d try to sneak in. That’s how I took it.
Here is one of the elders with Fr. Maximos. Eventually he died. My company of that trip. This is where Elder Paisios is buried. That’s his burial ground. Here is the poem that he wrote about his “This is where life ends” and so on. We don’t have time to go over it, but that’s where you can go and pay your homage, at the women’s monastery outside of Mt. Athos. That’s the monastery. This one… That’s the monastery.
Ah—this one: can you guess where this is? Sinai, yeah. This is the monastery that was created, and the monasteries of Mt. Athos were imitations of it. It was created in the fourth century, I believe, and Mohammed came by there, and he left his Achtiname as a thank-you for the monks who took care of him. He gave them his signature. He was illiterate, so they put his hand. They call it the Achtiname, and that means that Muslims should respect that monastery. So the monastery survived through the ages because the Muslims of the area believe that Mohammed said so. I am worried about that monastery now because of what is happening on that peninsula, because they rely on pilgrims, and the pilgrims…
Now what is that? [Burning bush.] The burning bush, yes. There is Fr. Paul who was telling us about it. I’ll go very quickly. That’s the original—I was not allowed to use flashes—this is the original icon that you find in America, and it’s before the iconoclastic controversies, so it’s an original kind of… It shows the two: half of the face is worldly; the other half is divine.
That’s an icon of Peter. Again, it survived the iconoclastic controversies. They have a very beautiful monastery there—I mean museum—very modern.
You know what that is? [Inaudible] No, the place where Moses met his wife, his future wife, in the Old Testament. It’s right there, not far from the burning bush.
Here it is: these are bones of monks. Fr. Paul, who was showing us, said, “One day, my skull will be up there,” and he said it humorously. [Laughter]
Okay, that’s walking up the mountain to the place of the ten commandments, and the young Bedouin is our guide. We started at two-thirty in the morning in order to see the sunrise. In addition to pilgrims, there were a lot of tourists who came from the hotels two hours away. There it is, up at the top. There is an Orthodox chapel there, next to a mosque. There it is. That’s where the ten commandments, according to Tradition, were given. Dead! I don’t understand how people can live in this place.
This is after, going down. There it is. Here is the monastery in the distance. If you have a chance to go, it’s quite an experience, but don’t go in these troubled times. Wait until these things cool down.
This is… I think it’s a Catholic Mass outside of the monastery. This is in Cairo. These are Orthodox… This is where St. George was martyred. This is his church. There is nobody there except an Arab boy who doesn’t speak either Greek or English. He was a Roman soldier; there he is. That’s a catacomb. That’s the place where, according to Tradition, Mary found refuge. It’s a little chapel there, and the holy family… when they went to Egypt. This is from Sabrouk. Arrival in Egypt. These are in this catacomb. Okay, I won’t mention that. [Laughter]
Okay, this is shots of Cyprus, occupied territory. That’s where my wife grew up as a child, and she misses it terribly. That’s St. Andreas, the monastery at the tip of the peninsula, and the only reason why it was not turned into a stable or whatever: the priest who was there remained, and somehow the Turks respected it and they did not kick him out. So here he is, and the picture is not the best. But anyway, the European Union, they made some kind of agreement with the Turks and the Cyprus Church in order to remodel the monastery, before it is bound to fall. That’s the monastery of St. Andrew. There it is from the outside. As you can see, it’s… This is what we lost ourselves.
[Applause] Thank you very much.