Shooting manuscripts at the National Library of Greece in Athens this summer helped me understand the word dichotomy a little better. Each morning on our brisk walk to the train station, we passed street vendors selling their wares in order to buy their daily bread. Offensive graffiti on the local church walls affronted us as we descended into the station. Once on board, we zoomed through Syntagma—the square in front of Parliament. If the walls of that station could talk, one would hear the rally cry of οχι (ochi) from the Prime Minister and the majority of the country protesting against the austerity measures proposed by other European leaders. One more stop and we would race up the stairs of Panepistimeo in front of the National Library. If one looked at eye level, he would see graffiti on the walls of the National Library; at waist level, he would see the fractured remains of the train entrance wall once broken and used as ammunition in an earlier riot; at ground level, he would see needles casually strewn about by heroin users from the night before. In a word, this city is poor.As a team, we worked to make each page a perfect shot, fully recognizing the need to preserve these precious artifacts.
Once at the library, our team plodded up the three flights of stairs, made a sharp left, and entered into what we would call the “Manuscript Room.” Three copystands with all their equipment—lights, lasers, and cameras—along with laptops, foam wedges, and hard drives welcomed our team each morning. While the equipment CSNTM uses is impressive, their grandiosity was dwarfed every day by the treasures we eagerly desired to photograph. In just the few weeks I had the pleasure of being in Athens I saw so many incredible manuscripts: an 11th century one with a rare 9th century icon perhaps from the Balkans, Armenia, or Syria; a miniature Bible with the Gospels and Revelation; a thousand-page lectionary; one with a potential new discovery in its binding pages—to just name a few. The National Library houses over 300 New Testament manuscripts, each preserving a sacred text and adding to the confidence believers can have in the reliability of the Bible. Sitting on the third floor of the Library surrounded by such a large collection of manuscripts, I felt honored to be so close to the “embarrassment of riches” they possess. In a word, this city is rich.
So there it is: the dichotomy we experienced shooting manuscripts in Athens this summer. As Alva Ward and I shot together as a team—I on the computer and she on the book—we oscillated between the two worlds. Ignoring the sirens outside the slightly cracked window and the heat from the missing A/C that was stolen during our time there, I stared at the computer giving directions to ensure the picture was perfect. “Just a millimeter higher,” “One more wedge to fix the trapezoid,” “Try moving your Munich Finger up the page to flatten it out” became the symphony that accompanied our work. As a team, we worked to make each page a perfect shot, fully recognizing the need to preserve these precious artifacts. In this way, Alva and I spent three weeks in the crucible that is Athens. Through the heat and hard work, the precious remains. May God continue to refine the rest.