Painting as Prayer in Greece
Story and photos by James Michael Dorsey

Visiting a reclusive artist near Meteora becomes a spiritual experience when the man draws parallels to the greats from the Renaissance.

Greece travel

The Almighty was and is, by definition, the very first artist, and all that has issued from the hand of mankind since Adam has been an imitation of that first creative act.

However there are among us a few who come closer to the original than most and one of the more accomplished can be found in the mountainous interior of Greece, near Meteora, where gigantic granite fingers, most of them topped with Christian monasteries, point skyward like supplicant fingers tipped with prayers.

Just a stones' throw from the pass of Thermopylae where in 480 B.C. 300 Spartans defined their place in history in a last stand versus 10,000 Persian mercenaries, local life has changed little since those ancient halcyon days. Monks reach near vertical cells in hand cranked cable cars and pull up fresh bread and locally caught fish in baskets on long ropes. Rock climbers on sheer faces might be startled by a friendly hermit offering them a rest in a cave several hundred feet above the earth in this land where the old world collides with the new.

It was there that my wife and I, on the advice of a friend, began a search. I had heard a story about an orthodox priest who had forsaken the outer world to pursue a life of quiet contemplation fueled by art rather than prayer, or rather, to his way of thinking, art that was prayer. I had been told he painted like Raphael and that those who knew him shielded him from outside influences allowing him complete immersion in his personal form of worship. This was the kind of story we travel to find but realized our chances of finding such a man, if he even existed, were minimal. Still, we have always felt the journey to be more relevant than the destination, and so, our numerous inquiries went unanswered until we met George the taxi driver.

Seekers or Tourists?

Like many Greeks, George spoke excellent English, accented from his years as an expatriate in New York, and who caught us completely off guard by answering our by now redundant questions by saying, "You mean father Pefkis!" He proceeded to endow the fable with new and fascinating information.

According to George, the good father was a very holy man who worshipped God through his work, creating only religious icons that he considered to be prayer carriers, a direct line to the Almighty if you will. He also told us the priest had qualities that could not be explained by rational means, and added, "You will find out. He will know before you arrive whether you are seekers or tourists."


That is why I began to wonder if we were victims of a hoax when the next day, after a very long drive, he deposited us at a rickety looking auto mechanic's shop next to a roadside diner and motioned for us to climb the stairs. The stairwell was so dark the single bare bulb stole our night vision until I pushed the door at the top open and was assaulted by a kaleidoscope of color. It was a painting atelier the likes of which we had never encountered and it quickly overloaded the senses.

The walls were thickly hung with icons, traditional religious scenes painted on wooden panels with gold leaf backgrounds and static people isolated as the subject matter. There were hundreds of them and many more on easels in various states of progress. Most importantly, in that dimly lit room, the paintings seemed to carry a life of their own, glowing from within. Whether one knows art or not it provides a gut feeling when in the presence of greatness, like entering the Louvre Galleries or a main salon of the Prado, and here, in a rickety attic over an auto repair shop, was an equal. My immediate thought was that we had entered a poor man's Sistine Chapel.

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