Poor Macedonia. Last Saturday thousands of refugees, many fleeing Syria, stormed across its southern border with Greece in desperate attempts to cross through it and eventually enter Germany or Sweden. There were pictures in the news of fathers lifting children over border fences, stun grenades being lobbed, and hordes of people overwhelming inadequate security forces. CNN estimated that 44,000 migrants have arrived in Macedonia in the last 2 months.
When we were there in May, 2015, Ruth & I talked to many Macedonians. Their biggest fear at the time was that Greece would withdraw from the EU and hurt their chances of entering it. Macedonia applied for membership in 2004 and reportedly has a better chance of being accepted than Albania. Macedonia is especially struggling economically and sees EU membership as its salvation. Its #1 on The Economist‘s list of countries with the highest rate of unemployment.
Macedonia is a beautiful, mountainous country with a population of slightly more than 2 million. It’s largest city is its capital Skopje, which has less than half a million residents. Its biggest tourist draw, Lake Ohrid, is in Macedonia’s southwest. The big springs that create this lake are 18 miles from the town of Ohrid and half a mile from the Albanian border. There has been a monastery dedicated to St. Naum on a promontory above the springs for more than 1,000 years.
St. Naum was a monastery of the Eastern Orthodox faith. Most Macedonians practice this religion, but some say that for many lighting candles is the extent of their religious practice. The most prominent saints of Naum’s era were Cyril and Methodius. Working in Bulgaria, these men of Christian faith were trying to enlighten the masses. Naum was mocked and beaten for supporting them. Cyril and Methodius figured that bibles in Bulgarian instead of Greek would be helpful to their cause, so Naum went to Rome with them to seek permission to translate from the Pope. Many miracles reportedly occurred during the petition. After Cyril died, Methodius and Naum traveled together seeking heretics. While they were praying together in a prison, an earthquake occurred and they walked free.
St Naum’s monastery is known for its frescoes. Some say they’re the best in The Balkans. They date from the 19th century. Today, peacocks stroll around rather than monks and the monastery is more tourist attraction than religious refuge. There’s now a fairly nice hotel at the monastery’s entrance. The views of Lake Ohrid, distant mountains, and the Albanian city of Pogradec, Lake Ohrid’s largest community, from its grounds are pretty spectacular.
St Naum is buried in a side chapel of this updated Byzantine-style monastery. Some say that if you put your ear to his stone coffin you can hear his beating heart. I didn’t test this.