Tuesday, 30 September 2008
The Vatopedi Code
Lesvos has many monasteries and many are part of modern life. The Mandamados Monastery is the most popular place for baptisms and weddings and the Limonos Monastery, close to Kalloni, always has busloads of local and international tourists, because of the many little chapels around the monastery.
The third biggest monastery, and the richest monastery on the island, is the Saint Raphael Monastery in the green hills of Thermi (near Mytilini). The monastery is a relatively new monastery for women, built in 1963, and it is mainly visited because of its colourful history and its devout image.
In 1235 on the same spot, also known as Karyes, there was a womens monastery called Holy Olympia. This was destroyed by barbarians. Two centuries later, another monastery for men was built. After the fall of Constantinople, which was also the end of the Byzantine Empire, the Ottomans started to conquer Greece including Lesvos. One day in 1463 some soldiers went to the monastery in Thermi, where a teacher and the mayor of Mytilini and his family fled, after other Christians fled into the mountains. The Ottomans tortured and killed them in order to find out where the Christians were hidden. The abbot of the Monastery, Raphael, was tortured for days and Irene, the 12 years old daughter of the mayor, first had an arm cut off, and then, in front of her parents, was thrown into a huge cooking pot and put on the fire. The monastery was destroyed.
Since the destruction of the monastery on Easter Tuesday, inhabitants of Mytilini used to go to Karyes and light a little candle because they remembered that people were killed there, but they didn't remember who or what for.
In 1912 the Ottoman owner of a piece of land in Karyes made an enquiry about who was the monk seen so many times wandering his land. It turned out he was an apparition. In 1956 a devout man from Mytilini decided to build a chapel on the spot and during the excavation they found human bones. When the bones where put in a sack however, nobody could lift the sack. People trying to kick it, went lame. So obviously something was the matter. A priest was called to say a mass for the human remains, but the night before the mass Raphael appeared to the priest and told him who he was. He told the history of his life and where they could find other remains of people. This is how they found the cooking pot with the remains of Irene, as well as the bones of a follower of Raphael, Nicolas. Since then not only Saint Raphael but also the holy Irene and Nicolas appeared to many people.
In 1963 a new monastery for women was built. Today its leader is Eugenia Klidara. This devout abbess has written some 150 books, mainly stories about Saint Raphael and other saints. The books are very popular both in Greece and abroad and this literary missionary work makes a lot of money. Although recently questions have been raised about this money because it seems that no one sees any tax revenues from it. The situation however is not so critical, so the monastery of Saint Raphael can play a part in 'The Vatopedi Code'.
'The Vatopedi Code' is a feature on Al Tsantiri, the most popular satirical show in Greece, which pokes fun at everything and everybody, even the clergy. Elsewhere in the world the financial world is falling apart, here in Greece it's the clergy who walk a thin line. The head of the Vatopedi monastery made a great deal with a Greek minister: they exchanged land, but only afterwards was it discovered that the land that the Greek State got was worth millions less than the land they gave the monastery. On top of that it came out that the wife of the minister was the lawyer for the deal and earned some 300,000 euros. This is how the scandal starting rolling and even though the leader of the monastic state Mount Athos declared that the deal was off, the Greeks start to doubt the holiness of the monks.
A lot of monasteries recently claimed land and to prove it they showed very old documents, some of them dating from the Byzantine time (meaning 800 years old!). The scandal has only just started and will fuel many more scandals in the real estate world. Meanwhile many Greeks have to leave house and land because the church claims their land. And also the Cavo Sidero project on Crete (see an older Boulevard news Cavo Gavathas) will come under scrutiny, because the deal between a monastery and the project leaders stinks.
Just as it's high time that the financial world gets cleaned out, the Greeks have to rethink the status of the Orthodox Church. If it appears that certain monks and priests are acting as suspect real estate agents, doing the Greek people harm rather than giving them a helping hand in difficult times, one should ask what religion this clergy follows.
So tonight the whole nation will be watching 'The Vatopedi Code' and I bet Al Tsantiri will make a fool of clergymen and ministers. With all those Byzantine rights and mysteries of the monasteries, this will be as exciting as watching the 'Da Vinci Code'...
Painting of Saint Raphael, Irene and Nicolas photographed by Gabriele Podzierkski
Copyright © Smitaki 2008