It was on the Feast of the Ascension, forty days after Easter 1943, when an agent of the British Secret Service turned up at the doorstep of the Monastery of the Taborian Light and Philip knew his life as a monk was over.
Wrapped in his black cassock and hood, Philip had been on his knees with his brothers in the sanctuary, celebrating the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, praying in eager expectation at the blessed hope of His return. This was as he had done for over twenty years, ever since he renounced his former ways and retired to the Monastery of the Taborian Light.
The monastery was perched atop one of the many otherworldly peaks of Meteora, the most remote and mysterious region of Greece. A thousand feet below lay the village of Kastraki, nestled in the foothills. Clinging to its gray granite summit, undisturbed by war or petty human conflicts, the Taborian Light was an impregnable retreat where the Eastern Orthodox monks could witness the unfolding of earthly affairs below and reflect on the eternal.
Here Philip made it his ambition to lead a quiet and peaceful life, just as the apostle Paul had instructed the original church at Thessaloniki. Toward that end, he had allowed his gray hair and beard to grow long, making him seem older than his fifty years, and cloaked in the humility of a monk, he tried to make himself as small and wiry a figure as possible.
But his shapeless cassock could not hide his hard physique or the alert, confident movements of his limbs. Nor could his hood completely veil his eaglelike nose and sharp features. Locals who glimpsed his face during a rare trip to the village never missed his shining black ramlike eyes, set wide apart, gazing placidly from beneath his bushy eyebrows. Their faces would darken with fear, and they would scurry away. Whether they recognized him or not, they instinctively knew he was not one of them.
The sound of hurried footsteps broke Philip’s trance, and his quick black eyes darted up to see Brother Vangelis whisper into the Archimandrite’s ear. The old monk’s face, barely visible behind his great beard and the misty veil of burning incense, fell as he looked at Philip, and the peace that Philip had known for twenty years left him.
So the day has come, Philip thought, and with it the dread.
Philip crossed himself three times before he rose from the floor. With a silent nod, he acknowledged the Archimandrite, took a deep breath, and left the sanctuary.
The visitor was in the narthex, admiring a wall painting of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. He was dressed like a Greek peasant, and with his high forehead, long aesthetic features, and beard, he bore an absurd resemblance to a saint out of some Byzantine icon. But his blue eyes and fair skin betrayed him. When he spoke, it was in perfect Oxford English.
“Commander Lloyd, British Intelligence,” said the Englishman, looking him over. “You must be Philip. You’re smaller than I thought.”
That was what most men thought. Philip lowered his hood and watched Lloyd drop back a couple of steps in fear.
“They were right after all,” said Lloyd, marveling. “The face of a hawk and the eyes of a ram.”
Philip narrowed his eyes. “What do you want, Commander Lloyd of British Intelligence?”
“Why, the same thing the Nazis want,” Lloyd replied. “The Templar Globe. More precisely, what’s inside the globe.”
An uneasiness Philip hadn’t felt since his early days now gripped his heart, and he blinked as though he failed to understand. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what—”
“The Maranatha text,” pressed Lloyd. “The one the apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church in the first century. The one that dates the end of history and the return of Christ.”
© 2011 Thomas Greanias