Wednesday, 14 August 2013

August 9 – Mary Thalassine

(The Mary Vrefokratousa Church in Agiasos)

You would think that when the sky is blue each day and when the sun shines constantly, the weather is always the same and that’s boring. But there is another factor influencing the weather and that’s the wind. This summer we have had more than enough wind: the meltemi blows around your head almost all day long, especially if you live somewhere with a northern outlook; north is the direction from which this wind mostly blows.

In Molyvos people complain about the heat, which is retained between the stone houses. But if you just go a kilometre out towards Eftalou, you could easily be blown out of your shoes by a warm wind, which most people welcome as a nice change. However, I don’t feel that way. 

What bothers me about this wind is that the sea is never calm anymore. That beautiful light blue tranquil water surface that invited you to at least ten swims a day seems to be just a sweet memory. Rarely do I see the sea settle down, and when I do, I know I have to hurry to the shore, because before you know it, the white caps appear in the distance. Of course it’s fun to swim in a sea with waves, but here on the coast the water whips up the seaweed: green wisps surround you and tickle you everywhere. This seaweed bath can be healthy, like thallaso therapy, but you cannot have a relaxing swim in a centrifuge full of seaweed.

The other disadvantage of the meltemi is that you cannot sit quietly outside. A full glass will be heavy enough to withstand the wind, but salad leaves or other light foods will be blown off your plate into the bushes. And you can certainly forget about playing cards. On the web I have read about tourists who can’t leave windows or doors open lest their room be thrown into turmoil, nor can they sit on their balcony. This wind also makes you pretty restless.

The meltemi, in ancient times called an Etesian wind, can blow from mid May until mid September, so in the worst case we could still have a month to go. I don’t exactly remember when the wind started this summer, but I can’t stand it anymore. For a few days the meltemi is a blessing, for a few weeks a meltemi is okay, but a meltemi blowing for a few months is too much.

A good sailor might be glad of this wind, though the meltemi is known as a treacherous wind. You never know how strong the wind will get: 6 or 7 Beaufort can easily be upgraded to 8 and then you’d best be in a sheltered harbour.

While temperatures in many places have easily risen to over 35 ºC, here I remain stuck with this meltemi. At least this wind, which thankfully ceases periodically, is far better than the endless heat wave we had last summer.

And it is like this unending wind also is blowing forwards time more quickly: this week the peak of the Greek summer will be there! August 15th – celebrated in Greece as the Assumption of Mary. This Thursday masses of people will be visiting churches and chapels dedicated to Mary. Regardless of whether a meltemi or a heatwave strikes, most of them will make a traditional pilgrimage in order to ask this Holy Lady for a favour: from Mytilini on foot to the church of Mary Vrefokratousa in Agiasos, or climbing the 114 steps to honour Mary Glikofiloussa in Petra.

The Saint Mother Mary, in Greece called Panagia is known for so many miracles (see The miraculous World of Mary) that she also has many different names: in Agiasos it’s Panagia Vrefokratousa – Mary wearing the Holy Child, in Petra it is Panagia Glikofiloussa or Mary of the sweet kiss. But she can also be called Angeloktiste -Mary the Angel; Elevtherotria – the liberator; Galatousa – the nurse; Hodegetria – the leader; Hypermachos Strategos – the protecting general; Myrobletissa – the source of the myrrh.

There even is a Mary of Death: Panagia tou Garou. This Mary is named after an icon that can be found on the small island of Lipsi. She is pictured like an Italian Pieta, with Jesus, after crucifiction lying dead in her lap. In the Orthodox Church Mary is normally depicted with Jesus as a small child or baby, which can explain the exceptional name.

There also is a Mary of the Sea: Panagia Thalassine (read here her miraculous story). This icon, which I think now resides in a monastery on Crete, is celebrated on the sixth of December, the same day as Saint Nicolas, the saint-protector of all seafarers.

I would say that the Mary in Petra should also be a Thalassine. The story of the icon in the church on the rock in Petra is that the icon belonged to a fisherman who always took it with him. In a rough sea the icon was lost. Once ashore, the fisherman saw a tiny light glowing on a huge rock and there he found his lost icon. He took the icon back to sea and again the icon got lost. When he found the icon for the second time on the huge rock, he realised that he had to build a church and leave the icon there.

Participants of the Aegean Regatta 2013 could ask the Mary Thalassine in Petra for a safe and successful journey. Just two days after the Assumption of Mary this race over the Aegean starts from Molyvos harbour. I’m not sure what the sailors think about this consistent meltemi, but the first stretch of the race will be to the island of Lemnos in the north, which might engage the sailors in a battle with the winds. From there they sail south towards Skyros and then north again to Skopelos, where the race will finish this year.

Apparently Philip II of Macedonia (382 - 336 BC) always planned his military actions during the meltemi season so that his enemies to the south could not – or only very slowly – reach him. When the meltemi continues to blow it is a blessing for all pilgrims (although I doubt if its cooling winds will reach as far as Agiasos), but for the sailors this wind might be a curse.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2013

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