Wednesday, 4 August 2010
The Robinson Crusoe of Molyvos
Journalists abroad write the strangest things about Greece these days: that the Greeks have nothing left to eat, that normal life is much disturbed because of the strikes, that there is no petrol, or that it is dangerous to come here because there’s a chance you may not be able to get home. Conclusion: Greece is a dangerous country for holidaymakers. In Germany especially very negative things have been said.
This is bullshit! Of course life is not easy for Greeks these days, because of the economic crisis, and a lot of them have to close down their shops, partly because tourists are staying away. But Greeks have survived more bitter times than these and life has gone on, and for tourists too.
About the strikes: it was eventually realised how much damage they were doing to the country and so air traffic strikes have been postponed until the tourist season is over. Then it was only the truck drivers who were making life difficult and their strikes caused a shortage of petrol in the big mainland cities, but Greece still has a government, which ended the truckers’ blockade with the army, so now there is enough petrol for a drive to the beach. So what risk you’re running as a tourist? Maybe some delay, but that can happen in any country.
Last week I heard somebody say that the municipality of Molyvos doubted it would celebrate the yearly Festival of Saint Theoktisti, this weekend, because there was no money. Again, this rumour turned out to be not entirely true: last Friday the horses and a bull paraded through the village in order to collect some money, and in the night, just as in previous years, the collection of kettles with kiskek (a broil of meat and corn) were boiling on fires just outside the little church of Saint Theoktisti, and so Saturday was a day of celebration in Molyvos. But on Sunday there were no horse races, and that was due to lack of money.
July and August are the traditional months of the celebrations for patron saints of the villages. The highlight is the August 15, when Petra and Agiasos celebrate the Ascension of Mary.
Even though there is a crisis going on, Vafios had its celebration a week earlier and last weekend it was the turn for Molyvos to honour its relatively unknown patron saint, Saint Theoktisti, who was born in Mythimna (the old name for Molyvos). When she was still a child she was orphaned and entered a monastery, which she liked. The only time she left was to visit her married sister.
This was in the ninth century, in the time that the Byzantium Emperor Leo VI (886 - 912) had trouble keeping pirates out the country - Saracenes who used to operate out of Crete. It was Saint Symeon, a counsellor at Leo’s court who later wrote down the story of Theoktisti, a story he heard from Nikitas Magister, a man who was sent to Crete in order to speak with the Saracens.
Because of bad weather his boat had to seek shelter on the island of Paros. There he went for a visit to the then well known Church with the Hundred Doors (Ekatontapyliani), where he met a lonely monk who told him this story:
Paros was uninhabited, but because the island had lots of game it was frequently visited by hunters from Evia. One of them met a woman at the church. She was looking wild and was crudely dressed in an animal skin. She asked for the hunter’s cloak and once she was decently covered she introduced herself as Theoktisti. She told him how she and other people had been taken by pirates in a raid on the island of Lesvos and when they anchored off Paros to take in fresh food, she had managed to escape and that is why she was living there for thirty-five years all alone, like a Robinson Crusoe keeping herself alive by eating plants. The only thing she asked the hunter for was if he could return to Paros would he bring her the holy sacrament, so that she could die in peace.
The hunter kept to his word and the next time he and his mates arrived at the island, he immediately went to present Theoktisti with the sacrament. Then he returned to his friends to hunt for several days, but when they prepared to leave and he went to say goodbye to Theoktisti, he found she was dead. He already thought that she must be a saint and so he cut off one of her hands to take it with him as a holy relic. In those times relics were very popular. When the hunters tried to sail away from the island, they could not make it to the open sea. The hunter realised that he had done something God was not pleased with, so he went back and returned the hand to Theoktisti and gave her a proper burial. It was only then that he and the other hunters were able to sail away. However, when he told them what had happened, they were upset and immediately went back to honour the saintly woman. However the corpse of Theoktisti had disappeared.
Later on her bones were found and a little church was built for her. It is said that people from Ikaria stole the bones, leaving only one, and this is the relic that is now in the Chapel of Saint Theoktisti in the Church of the Hundred Doors, the place where Theoktisti used to live, and now the most famous church on Paros.
If Theoktisti could live for thirty-five years on an otherwise uninhabited island, the Greeks for sure will survive these hard times. Tourism will keep going — a crisis will not make the beaches, the blue sea, the warm temperatures, the beautiful nature, the slumbering villages and the friendly Greeks disappear. Even though life is a little slower now, the villages still celebrate and the Greeks enjoy the summer. Instead of keeping away you should help them by visiting their ever enchanting country.
(With thanks to Tony Barrell)