I have an instinctive aversion to the image of Jesus as a Good Shepherd which is due entirely to the prevalence of those terrible 19th century images of which most Anglican churches seem to have at least one. They are terrible to me only because of their very sugary depiction of Jesus and the paternalism that they evoke. I should, of course, know better, having grown up in rural Aberdeenshire, but it took a rather adventurous trip to a hermitage on Crete to remind me that shepherds could be something other than a benevolent Victorian gentlemen.
The trip was adventurous thanks to Google Maps’ optimism about what constitutes a driveable road. Half way up the mountain, I had to abandon the very under-powered hire car and walk the remaining few kilometres to the stunningly located hermitage of Saint Euthymius. Here are some pictures:
And here’s one of the interior of the chapel with an icon of the eponymous saint:
Along the way, I passed a shepherd’s hut and here are some of his flock (you’ll have to look hard!):
The terrain is a long way away from the lush pastoral scene we might imagine from these damp Atlantic islands. The ground is rocky, the vegetation is hardy shrubs and aromatic mountain oregano, not sweet green grass. The shepherd’s rudimentary hut is remote, though he did have a slightly feral and over-curious hound to keep him company.
There was a wildness about the place and the hermitage was no more comfortable than the shepherd’s hut:
In this terrain, a shepherd is something like a hermit, one who knows something about life in rugged spaces, someone who can see far because there are few interruptions, inner or outer. Nothing much grows here, so it’s a good landscape for remembering that troubling thoughts will also wither if the conditions are right. The Good Shepherd is a guide through such places: a navigator of solitude; a rescuer of the stumbling; a life-giver when nourishment is scarce; a gatherer of the scattered.