The women’s monastery of St. Stephen on Meteora is my favorite of the towering cliff monasteries of that holy place. One cannot but be inspired in that sacred atmosphere. And during my last pilgrimage there many years ago with a group of college students, the Gerondissa of St. Stephen’s related this story.

A young man from the town of Kalampaka below was so gripped by depression that he intended to throw himself to his death from the bridge that led to St. Stephen’s iron gate. That chasm was so vast that during a previous pilgrimage with the campers of Ionian Village, we were concerned about whether our more boisterous campers could safely traverse the bridge!

As the young man contemplated his doom, the iron gate squeaked open and an aged priest stepped onto the bridge and encountered him. “Why are you here? What to intend to do?” In the brief conversation that followed, the aged priest encouraged the young man to return to his parents and to trust God that his life would improve.

A few weeks later, the priest’s admonition proved true, and the young man returned to thank the priest for his life-saving encouragement. The sisters who received him were perplexed at the young man’s account and eventually presented him to the Gerondissa who explained that he must be at the wrong monastery as they housed no priests there.

Undaunted, the young man persisted until the Gerondissa brought him into the monastery Church dedicated to St. Haralambos where, upon spying the icon of the Saint on the iconostasis, the young man exclaimed “That’s him!”

What do we make of such seemingly fanciful accounts of the intervention of the Saints? Are these but the tales of unsettled minds or might they be… real? St. Haralambos’ life was astonishing given the span of his life (said to be 113 when martyred in 202AD) and the brutality of his martyrdom. As the Bishop of Magnesia, he was a fearless preacher of the Gospel who won many souls to Jesus Christ, thereby attracting the ire of the regional proconsul.

But why ravage the body of an old man so near death? What possible threat could he have posed against an Empire? What purpose would be served by scraping the weathered flesh off the body of an old man?

Beloved, make no mistake about the power of the Christian Gospel! Seen through the lens of our times, such martyrologies indeed seem fanciful and pointless, relics of the unenlightened eras of the distant past. But such uncompromising figures expose the flimsy kingdoms and fallen value systems of the world, then as now, as shambolic.

So long as we are willing to dance to the tune piped for us by the children of the marketplace (See Matt. 11:16) we pose no threat to the kingdom of darkness. We blend in. But dare we follow, with humility and conviction, the path of holiness, ablaze with the love of Jesus Christ, we soon part company with those affronted by the Light!

The ministry of St. Haralambos, dispatched 1800+ years ago, persists into our times because “God is wondrous in His Saints.” Should your travels take you to northern Greece, you would do well to visit St. Stephen’s monastery, there to venerate the sacred head of St. Haralambos whose intercessions are beseeched for those hoping to conceive a child.