So much happens every day, I cannot keep up. We are in Cape Town now, after a 48 hour ordeal in Istanbul. There's SO much I want to share with you. About the terror of driving in Athens. About Istanbul. About arriving in Cape Town yesterday. About Patmos.
For now, just Patmos. And something incredible that happened there because of one woman's prayers.
Ten days ago, Duncan and I took an 8 hour ferry to the island of Patmos, very close to the coast of Turkey. Patmos, you remember, is where John was exiled and where he was given the visions and words of the last book of the Bible, Revelations.
Patmos is lovely and very small, just seven miles by three miles. Only 2,000 people live here year round.. Every day I spent the morning in the Cave of the Apocalypse, (more on that later) but the most exciting day was at the monastery.
The Monastery of St. John the Theologian, dating back to 1088 sits atop this tiny island as both a fortress and a beacon. But I wasn't that keen on going. My real focus was the Cave. But people kept asking, "Have you been to the monastery yet?" So we had to go.
That morning the massive doors were open, but no one was around. We tiptoed inside the massive walls, hushed, respectful. We began to explore its twisted tunneling stairs and rooms, feeling like children stealing cookies. Finally we saw someone: an elderly man coming out of a room, a library, it looked like. To our surprise, he motioned us in.
We tried valiantly to communicate. After 30 minutes, through Google translate and a lot of mistranslated phrases that sound like bad Found Poetry ("I would like to milk the cat for Christmas. Do you know how fences interrogate Why do broken shoes follow ugly astronauts?) Duncan told him I was a writer doing research on John. , and then he offered to let us into the inner library in one hour.
We were excited and said yes. But we didn't know what we were saying yes to.
In the intervening hour, we went back to the car and I got out my Biblical Sites book. And discovered what I should have known: that this monastery had a spectacular library that housed 3,000 ancient manuscripts, including several very special manuscripts. And----no one was allowed in this library except scholars doing research. (And you're inviting us?)
An hour later we tentatively followed our host down three sets of arched tunneling stairs---down down down, emerging into a room surprising for its size and light, with walls of ancient scrolls and books. He showed us one volume after another . ...works by the Church Fathers, Greek philosphers, hand-bound volumes, scrolls, parchments . . . .
Just as we entered a sign read, in bold lettering, "No Photos Allowed." But I was dying to record this moment. "Photos?" I asked, waving my iPhone.. To my shock, he nodded yes, with a smile. (Really? How is any of this happening?)
And then, the biggest prize of all:
The monastery holds 33 pages of the Codex Petropolitanus Purpureus. It's the gospel of Mark dating back to the 6th century. (Can you comprehend that? The Sixth Century!) This rare manuscript is written in silver ink on purple-dyed vellum (calf skin) and is considered "a work of immense historical, archaeological, theological and artistic value."
We were not touching the actual vellum, of course, but rather, the entire manuscript photocopied and bound. Even that was a treasure. There are only a few of these complete copies. What mystery and wonder to see the words of God about the life of Jesus painstakingly and perfectly rendered on this specially treated calf-skin, then hidden and protected for more than a thousand years from raiding anti-Christian armies. As I touched the pages, it was breathtaking to consider.
But this is not what impressed me most.
Wherever we went in the little village below, people asked, "Did you go to the monastery?" And when I told them we saw the library their eyes went wide in disbelief: "No! Only a few are allowed into the library!"
But we were. Because of one woman's prayer. And this is the rest of the story.
Michelle is a dear friend who lived in Kodiak briefly 20 years ago, and we have corresponded since then, through disasters, deaths, joys, everything. She is younger than me but has become disabled these last few years. Some days she can barely move. But she is with me on this trip. I am going places she has always wanted to go but cannot. She studies God's Word (in the original languages) and sends me the best research she can find. She looks at maps of where I am going. holds my arms up when they are tired. She prays for me.
This day she felt the urge to pray a special prayer that God would lift and encourage me in some way, especially as I was laboring so hard for this book. I did not know it. I did not get her email until that night. At the end of her email she wrote, "Tell me, how did God answer this prayer today? Were you in trouble and needed help? Or were you blessed in some way?"
Yes, I wrote back. This day, the doors to the sacred library opened. And we saw a gospel manuscript I didn't even know about----the Codex Petropolitanus Purpureus.
And she was even more shocked and joyous than me. (She knew more about the ms. than I did!)
This is the best part of this story. This happened because someone prayed. Because the words of that Codex are not just ancient words inked on purple calf skin. they are living, breathing words inhabited by the Holy Spirit who originally gave them. And Jesus' words in the gospel of Mark that I held in my hands urges us to pray fearlessly, confidently:
If anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, all the things you pray and ask for—believe that you have received them, and you will have them.
My friend Michelle did this.
Praise God for His undying word.
Praise God for the men and women who have devoted their lives to preserving His word.
Praise God for the women and men who live by those words.
Praise God for listening and responding so powerfully to our feeble words.