As a kid.. i have never understood the importance of the unlimited monastries scattered around the country. I grew up in Macedonia.. where it was a normal thing to go to the monastry every now and then.. go pray.. lit a candle.. or just perform certain ritual. That was very normal to me.. from religious point of view, but what really puzzled me at that time..was why the hell they were always built far from cities.. into the woods.. or deep in the mountain.. or sometimes in the middle of nowhere. I mean.. if people like to go there a lot.. why didn't they build them close to where people lived so that they can go and visit and do their things anytime they want...
One such monastry is the Monastry of St. Ilya in the mountains not far from the city of Strumica in the southeastern region of Macedonia where i am staying at the moment. It is a small monastry built inside the mountains.. to go there.. u need to reach first the highest point of the city.. from which u can have a wonderful panormic view of the city.. and from which a small path is revealed to you and that leads you deep into the mountains.
Once yo start walking.. the sounds of civilization fade away.. no more cars can be heard.. just you.. and God's creation.. The nature there is untouched.. because simply there is no room for any car to go through that path.. so it kept its purity.. and devine scent.
At first it seems amazing just to see the mountains.. and trees.. but later.. u start to feel the cold breeze of the small rivers popping here and there.. promising a view that will make sure you will stop few moments to mentally capture it...
The trip to St. Ilya (Sv. Ilija) is about 40 minutes walking/climbing.. a time enough to clean ur mind and make you ready to experience the spiritual heritage of the Orthodox Monsatries..
I guess now the location of those Monastries.. make more sense.. for me.. the spiritual peace and happiness.. can't be felt in a church like a monastry.. maybe because you run away from Human's creation.. and get in touch with God's creation...
Later i learnt that it has another reason for being located in such places... Macedonia was under Ottoman rule for 5 centuries... during which the Ottomans forced Islam to the local people.. and spread hate between Islam and Christianity.. to the degree that many Christians were afraid to declare that they were praying and going to the church.. so the Orthodox church.. as a defence mechanism.. to defend its spiritual life.. and faith.. they started building the monastries.. which were used later as faith keepers as well as heritage, traditions and language preservers.
Such monastries were built everywhere around the Balkans.. in Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, Romania and Macedonia.. and thanks to these Monastries.. these countries.. managed to retrive their original independent culture and identity.. upon their independence...despite the 5 centuries Ottoman presence.
And today.. those hidden candles still stand proudly.. to remind us.. that faith can never be overcomed.
St. Ilya (Sv. Ilija) in Strumica Macedonia