Thursday, September 25, 2014

Cruising the Greek Islands: Patmos

“I love this place ... I want to come back. It is simply magical. I cannot express what I feel after being here today … I love life. I love this place. I. Love. This. Place.”
The island of Patmos is more about what one feels while there, rather than what one sees - at least to me. This is reflected in the above quote taken from a journal entry written after spending the day on the island.

Patmos is famous as the place where, according to Christian belief and legend, John the Revelator received and recorded his vision in the form of a letter to seven churches in Asia Minor. Two of the main tourist attractions on the island are the cave where John is said to have received the revelation and a monastery dedicated to Saint John that is almost 1000 years old. 

The port town of Skala. Our ship is visible at the dock.

Originally, Mark and I had decided not to go on the excursion to these places as well as the town of Chora in which the monastery is located. But we changed our minds after having been in Rome and Athens. Even though we do not believe in what is represented by the monastery, we decided it would be worthwhile to see the art there and to imbibe the spirit of what has been considered a holy place for almost 2000 years. We were glad we made that decision.

A cross affixed to a cedar near the Cave of the Apocalypse. Note the "evil eyes" at the top and bottom of the cross. 

What made the experience for us was our guide, Vera (pictured below). In her orientation talk, she explained, among other things, that the residents of the island of Patmos had deliberately kept tourist development of the island to a minimum. There is no airport on Patmos, only ferries, and large cruise ships typically don't go there. When we sailed in, there were no other ships in port. 

The island has a population of only 3000 people. There are no large hotels. This is the way the islanders want to keep it. Apparently, in a 2009 survey, Forbes magazine named Patmos as Europe's Most Idyllic Place to live, due to the fact that "Patmos has evolved over the centuries but has not lost its air of quiet tranquility, which is one reason why people that know it return again and again." [Wikipedia] I can believe it.

Another view of Skala from higher up.

The day that we visited Patmos, September 14th, is a feast day in the Greek Orthodox Church: The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, marking the anniversary of the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem as well as the recovery of what was believed to be the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. At the time we arrived at the Cave of the Apocalypse, a special service was being conducted inside, so we went on to the monastery.

Bell Tower of the Monastery

View from Chora

It was obvious that our guide really knew her stuff. She was an interesting woman. She speaks six languages and spoke English with a pronounced English accent. She struck me as urbane, as someone who has seen a lot of the world, a free spirit whose looks reminded me of the actress Anne Bancroft.

It was obvious as we commenced our tour of the monastery that she is not a believer in traditional Christianity, though she was raised Greek Orthodox. She respected Orthodox beliefs, but she also added her own viewpoints that had the effect of transcending what she referred to as "Christianism." She took the elements and symbolism of the story of John the Revelator and placed them in a larger context. She explored the themes of sin, death and resurrection from a different viewpoint, which seemed to Mark and I as almost Buddhist (though it became apparent later that she is not a Buddhist). 

I was particularly struck by the following statement she made in the context of a discussion of the concept of sin: "We are afraid to die and we are afraid to live." We are afraid to die for fear of the judgment of God, and we are afraid to live for fear of the eventual judgment of God.

In the courtyard of the monastery

Bundles of basil outside the monastery. Tradition holds that sweet basil grew over the hill where St. Helena found the Holy Cross, so in Greece the faithful are given sprigs of basil to be blessed by a priest.

Windmills outside of Chora

From the monastery, we retraced our steps to visit the Cave of the Apocalypse, which was a cave facing the sea where, according to legend, the apostle John went for meditation and prayer.  It was here that he is believed to have received the revelation. Afterwards, we sat outside in the shade of cedars while Vera shared her closing thoughts. As I sat there, I truly had the sense that Patmos is a spiritual place in the sense of being a "high energy place." A place of self-discovery, of letting go and being. A magical place.

This sense was further enhanced later in the day, after lunch, when Mark and I took a taxi to a nearby beach where we hung out for a couple of hours. It was quiet, lovely, beautiful, peaceful, serene.

Yes, I definitely want to go back to Patmos some day.

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