Friday, 9 December 2011

When the Saints Go Marching in.......

The church of Aghios Andreas from the platia in Karyes

Rather than celebrate birthdays in Greece, the important thing to do is to celebrate your Saints Day. Aghia  Katarina day was November 25th this year and the custom is to treat other people to food, drinks and gifts. We were in Athens and I followed the custom but I am not sure I like sharing my special day with everyone else in Greece who shares the same name. However, in one of the stores, when I heard one of the girls call the other by name, "Katerina", I was able to wish her, "Chronia Pola". Although there are hundreds of saints, and enough days of the year to accommodate them, I guess you have to name your baby a traditional name. I am not sure there is a Saint Day for grandchildren, Cole and Paige. Maybe more hope for Rachel and Micah. Perhaps I will adopt the custom of celebrating my Saint's Day by treating others and my birthday by expecting others to treat me.

The bishop and priests on Aghias Andreas Day in the church of Karyes

Last Wednesday, November 30th  was Aghios Andreas Day, St Andrews Day. Because the main church in Karyes is called Aghios Andreas, it is an important day here. The bishop of Laconia presided over the service which began at 7:30 in the morning with the pealing of the bells to remind you of where you should be. We got there at 9 am but the real crowd showed up between 9:30 and ten o'clock.. Of course my first faux pas was to follow Minas to his seat. The women are supposed to sit on one side and the men on the other. Whoops! I quickly corrected that, finding a seat in the last row so that I could copy what the women in front of me were doing. I soon realized that I had missed a number of important rituals upon first entering the church. My trusty guide, and supposed authority on all things Greek, did not observe them either. Next time.....

the sermon on Saint Andrew's Day

Today was Aghios Nikalaos Day - Saint Nicholas, so appropriate for December 6th, and we had been invited to a monastery of the same name by one of the three nuns who live there, Sister Katerina. Up at six thirty for the one hour drive, we arrived just after 8: 30 am. The tiny church in the monastery grounds is exquisite and it was standing room only for the crowd of over one hundred people who showed up in dribs and drabs, closer to the end of the three hour service.

The priests bless the bread as the nuns of  Aghios Nikolaos look on
 This time, I handed over the cookies we had brought for the coffee party afterwards, slipped my offering into the slot, and picked up my candles, one for each grandchild. After lighting the candles, I stood quietly before the icon of Aghios Nikalaos, before finding a place on the correct side of the church. After the service,  pieces of an enormous round of delicious cake dusted with icing sugar are typically given out at the door of the church and a social time follows.

the tiny door to the tiny church
the tiny hill-top chapel of Karitena

There are tiny little churches all over the country-side, which,  I think, are a tribute to the faith of the people of Greece, but Minas attributes to ancient classical Greek habits. When we walked up to the ruined castle at Karitena, we found that the little church was unlocked and  in good repair.  A small table at the door was furnished with candles  and lamp oil as well as several euros lying in an open basket. We knew no better so we just admired the little building and continued on our way.

On Friday, Panayota, whom we met in the cafenion after the Aghios Andreas service, took us on a long and lovely walk to the tiny church of  Zoodochoo Peeyee, the life giving well. Over a hundred years ago, a monk had built the church and lived there.
We  prepare the oil lamps
Minas places the lit oil lamp in it
 Finally I understood the table with oil, candles, matches and offering basket in other tiny country churches we had visited. There, Panayota led us through the ceremony of lighting all the oil lamps, and wafting the incense under the saints' pictures. When we were finished and were sitting there, such a feeling of peace came over me.

This Sunday, I will go to church, not for any special Saints Day but for my mother. I don't think there is a Saints Day for Rachel despite her having a biblical name but to her family she was often a saint. I will light a candle, only one, to speed her on her way and to pray that we never forget Rachel: the mother, the grandmother and the great- grandmother. It seems fitting that this last picture is Sister Katerina of the monastery lighting a candle on Tuesday, December the 6th, the twins' first birthday and the day before my mother passed away. Godspeed, Mum. You will always be with us, in our hearts and in our memories.

Sister Katerina lights a candle in the monastery chapel on Aghios Nikalaos Day

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