Speaking from the grave

My idea of a holiday is not having to make decisions. I quite like the idea of tossing a coin and letting fate decide where I go and what I do. Another option is to travel with someone who does know what they want to do and where they want to go; someone hovering on the same frequency. I had no strong opinions as to what we should spend our final hours on Aegina doing. It was too hot to think so I was more than happy to accompany Ms G to the church of Agios Nektarios and the monastery of Agia Triada.

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There was a crowd of people milling around the bus station. The bus we wanted should have left ten minutes earlier but was running late. The lady at the ticket desk told us it was full and the next one wouldn’t be for two hours. But that would be too late. Not the end of the world – simply more beach time and a longer, lazier lunch. But then she said she’d check with the driver to see if he’d take us anyway. We got the last two places – standing places – in the stairwell.

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The 6 km journey up hill and down vale was quite reminiscent of Malta. Little chapels and random grottoes dotted the roadside. Pistachio farms attached themselves to olive groves. Stone farmhouses stood stoically, oases of cool in the  heat of the day. It’s the stuff that spontaneity is made for. I’m sure that many a life-altering fantasy was conjured up along this road as those who had come to Greece to escape a rat-raced reality dreamt of stopping the world and simply getting off. Maybe turning their hand to olives or pistachios and converting the farmhouse into a B&B.

First off the bus at Kondos, we went straight to the church of Agio Nektarios (St Nectarios). He was born in 1846 and died in 1920, so as far as saints go, he’s relatively new,  yet he’s one of the best known of the Greek Orthodox saints. This was my first stumbling block – I didn’t know the first thing about that religion and was confusing it with Greek Catholics. Now I know that Greek Orthodox are members of the Orthodox Church. Greek Catholics are members of communities which were once Orthodox, but entered into communion with the See of Rome and accepted the Pope’s authority — i.e., they are part of the Catholic Church. Greek Orthodox believe that Christ is the head of their church – not the pope. As for Greek Orthodox vs Roman Catholics… that’s a whole other missive.

St Nectarious’s crypt is in the church itself and each month, thousands come to beg favours and seek his blessing. Apparently he was a great miracle worker in his day, a prolific writer, moralist, philosopher, theologist, poet, and mystic. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, he established the monastery next door – the Agia Triada (Holy Trinity) – a monastery for nuns where apparently 14 still live.

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I wish that they would take the time to translate something about what they do and what we saw. But that’s selfish of me. I should have read up on it before I went and prepared myself. It was quite a shock to read the sign at the monastery entrance; wondering what constituted half-naked and why they should be so against trouser-clad women diverted my attention for a while.

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There were two small chapels – one with the old marble tomb in which the saint was first buried. Those filing inside stopped briefly to put their ear to the tomb and it was only later I realised that the faithful believe that if they listen hard enough, they will hear him blessing them. Were a Martian to pop into mass in any Catholic church, he’d have cause to wonder at the veneration of a man nailed to a cross and perhaps have a hard time getting his head around the transubstantiation of the Eucharist… and I could feel his pain. I was completely lost as to what was going on and what I was supposed to do, or not do. But at least I wasn’t half-naked.

My religion is one of order and routine. We stand, sit, and kneel on cue. The Greek Orthodox seems random – lots of signs of the cross, lots of kissing of icons, lots and lots of candle lighting, not to mention the chanting and the constant movement. It would have been so nice to have it all explained to me but from what I could see, we were the only ones without a clue. Everyone else seemed quite at home. [A complete aside: Did you know that Greek Orthodox is very big in America?]

It was all a little frustrating and so very complicated – it seemed in marked contrast to the simplicity of everything else I’d seen since coming to the island. But then again, I’m not Greek.

I did have have my three wishes though as I have the luxury of believing that there’s only the one God – no matter what we choose to call Him or where we choose to house Him. And that belief works for me.



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