One of the holy places we’ll visit during our pilgrimage to Greece and Crete is the monastery of “Luke of Steris”, or “Luke the Wonder-Worker”, who lived from 896 to 953 AD.
Here are some interesting facts about this Greek Saint:
- He was one of the earliest saints to be seen levitating during prayer. It was his mother who first witnessed him levitating in prayer, then later others.
- He was the son of poor farmers, working in the fields and tending the sheep.
- With his mother’s blessings, at the age of 14 he went into seclusion at a mountain called Loannou. Here, he lived like an ascetic for 7 years.
- Just like Saint Anthony (270-363 AD) considered the father of all monks, for his fleeing to the desert of Egypt and serving God in solitude, Luke cherished the solitary life.
- In Eastern monasticism, monks were divided into three categories—Novices, or beginners, secondly, those who had the Lesser Habit, and third, those who received the Great Habit.
- As a child Luke tried twice to leave home to seek a solitary life of prayer. The first time he was captured by soldiers who returned him to his home. The second time he met two monks journeying from Jerusulem to Rome, who took him to a monastery in Athens where he received the Great Habit.
- After Luke’s mother prayed for her son’s return, however, God made her appear in a dream to the abbot and commanded him to return Luke to his home.
- Luke’s closeness to God was recorded when he was a child, as it was observed that he did “nothing in a childish fashion”.
- Luke’s fame spread and a number of miracles are ascribed to him during this time, such as revealing to two brothers the location of their dead father’s buried treasure, and several others.
- Luke was forced to leave his home by an invasion of the Bulgarian Emperor Symeon (which Luke had predicted). Followed by local villagers, Luke fled to a nearby island.
- At the age of 21 he enrolled in a school in Corinth, but soon left after he found the other students insufficiently serious.
- The monastery we will visit was founded in the early 10th century by Loucas, or “Luke of Steiris” whose relics are kept there to this day. Saint Luke (not to be confused with the Evangelist author of the Gospel of Saint Luke), was a hermit who died on Feb. 7, 953. He is also famous for having predicted the conquest of Crete by Emperor Romanos.
- The tomb of Saint Luke (Loukas) is also housed in this monastery.
- The monastery was frequented by pilgrims or members of Saint Luke’s healing cult. Visitors would sleep in the Katholikon (main building itself) and the crypt where the tomb is kept. To this day, pilgrims have received blessings from visiting this monastery and the saint’s relics. Some have had healing dreams and others have experienced a Myrrh smell during their visit.
- Saint Luke was believed to be a miraculous healer, levitator and prophesier during his lifetime. After his death all of the miracles associated with him involved the healing power of his tomb.
- Accounts in The Visit of St. Luke, written by an anonymous monk, indicate that different “healing agents” were associated with the tomb, including to exposure to oil from the lamp above the tomb, moisture exuded from the tomb, dreams experienced when sleeping near the tomb in the practice called “incubation*”.
- There is evidence that some wishing for miracles stayed for periods of six days near the tomb or in adjacent rooms.
- This monastery is one of the most important monuments of Middle Byzantine architecture and art, and has been listed on Unesco’s World Heritage Sites. It includes well-preserved frescoes of many of the great prophets.
*Note: A form of incubation was used by ancient Greek iatromantes (seers, mystics, healers). Some of these “iatromantis” figures belonged to a wider Greek and Asian shamanic tradition with origins in Central Asia. The main ecstatic, meditative practice of these healer-prophets was incubation (ἐγκοίμησις, enkoimesis). More than just a medical technique, incubation reportedly allowed a person to experience a “fourth state” of consciousness different from sleeping, dreaming or ordinary waking: a state described as “consciousness itself” similar to samadhi in the Indian yogic tradition, or turiya (Sanskrit for fourth). Turiya is the background that underlies and pervades the three common states of consciousness. The three common states of consciousness are: waking state, dreaming state, and dreamless deep sleep.