"I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ." The Revalation of Saint John the Divine 1.9
Every year at Easter time, I think of the many beautiful Easters I have spent in Greece. In particular, my very first Greek Easter when I went with a friend to the island of Patmos.
On Good Friday, the funeral bells begin tolling in the early morning and the flags fly at half-staff. As my friend and I climb the hill from the port to the Church of the Apocalypse, the sound of fireworks crackles like gunfire, resounding across the pastoral hills. The goats grazing among the profusion of wildflowers stop to stare at us with their curious yellow eyes. Far across the valley, a donkey brays.
Patmos is the island where 2,000 years ago, the disciple John, known as St. John the Evangelist, was exiled by the Romans for preaching Christianity in Asia Minor. Just below the tiny white-domed Church of the Apocalypse is the cave where he lived, sheltered beneath the small chapel. It was here that he recived the terrifying visions described in his book of the Apocalypse, known as "Revalation"
Patmos is a small island near the Turkish coast once noted for its shipbuilding and trade. Today it is known mainly for the Monastery of St. John the Theologian and for the pilgrimage at Easter which attracts visitors from all over the world.
In the port village of Skala a funeral processional winds through the streets. The epitafios, a small casket decorated with red and white carnations and icons of Christ, is borne through the candlelit streets. The heady fragrance of incense wafts from the censers. As the priest chants litanies, a men's choir harmonizes the story of the crucifixion.
The crack of fireworks and chiming of church bells awakens us the next morning. At the harbor the fishermen are setting out in their turquoie and red caiques. Looming above the village and the port is the Monastery of the Theologian founded 900 years ago. That night, in the monastery chapel, a crowd gathers. The cobblestones are strewn with branches of hyssop, its purifying fragrance mingling with the scent of incense and bees-wax candles. A monk begins a rhythmic hammering on a long wooden beam. This beating of the talanton symbolizes the risen Christ and heralds the beginning of the Easter mass.
A midnight, as the bells begin to peal, the monks and priests file out of the chapel to join the throng of worshippers. As the Pappas announces the joyous proclamation "Christos Anest! Christ is Risen!"his words are echoed in unison by the worshippers. He touches the flame of his altar candle to the wicks of the slender tapers held by each celebrant. One by one the flame is passed on until all the candles arelit and the courtyard blazes with light.
For the children, it's time to collect the brightly colored red eggs distributed by the priest.
The polished eggs are symbols of the blood of Christ. The children play a game, tapping the ends of the eggs together to see whose is the last to break.
Now the celebration is over and we follow the celebrants through the streets of the village as they carry their lighted candles home. Each flame is carefully protected until it scorches a cross above the lintel of the doorway. This will ensure good fortune and God's blessings for the year,
We walk the four kilometers down the dark road through the cypress groves to the port. On the edge of the bay someone has set off a red flare which fans out over the harbor, illuminating the fishing boats in their moorage. Down on the beach, one last rocket hisses nd whine. Then all is quiet. The trace of gunpowder smoke lingers in the air. But there is a spirit of peace on Patmos.
"The egg is dear on Easter Day." Russian proverb
condensed from a published travel article by the author.