21 April 2024

Marylee’s House in
Rethymnon has come
to symbolise how time
changes and moves on

Time moves on at Marylee’s House beneath the Fortezza in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

I have been saying on social media posts over the past week how much I have missed Greece for the past 2½ years.

Friends I have met in Rethymnon, Platanias, Piskopiano and Iraklion over the past few days have reminded me how they expected to see me back in Crete at Easter 2022, and how they remembered how this had been part of my plans.

But events caught up with me. I caught Covid, not once but twice; I had a stroke; I decided to bring forward my planned date for retiring from parish ministry; my marriage at the time came to an end; and then, after moving to Stony Stratford, Charlotte and I got married last November.

For almost 40 years, Rethymnon has been like a second home to me. There are a few places I feel at home – Wexford, Cappoquin and Lichfield – and Rethymnon is certainly one of them. For half my life, I have felt at ease and at home here, and I have been in Crete nine times within the past ten years.

Over the past two years or more, I have missed Greece, I have missed Crete, and I have missed Rethymnon. I have missed the colours, the smells and the sounds; I have missed the tastes, the flowers, the Bougainvillea and hibiscus; I have missed the scents, the sunsets, the sunrises, the blue skies and the blue seas; I have missed the food and the wine; I have missed the music and the poetry; I have missed the olive groves; and I have missed the people.

Year-by-year, I hardly notice the changes in Rethymnon and suburban Platanias and Tsesmes, or in Piskopiano and Koutouloufari. They have been natural, organic changes, and I realise and accept that life usually changes gradually and gently rather than forcibly.

But during this week I have noticed how many of the shops, bars and restaurants I have known over the years have changed hands or even closed: a friend’s icon studio in Rethymnon; Julia Apartments and the Taverna Garden Restaurant in Platanias; Lychnos retaurant in Piskopiano. I can remember fondly and quite sharply each place I have stayed in, so it jolts my mind to see how many of those places have closed too.

Time moves on at Marylee’s House beneath the Fortezza in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

As I was strolling through the side streets and back streets of Rethymnon during these few days, I found myself once again photographing a colourful house that in many ways tells the stories of how life moves on in Rethymnon over the years, and how life moves on in Greece.

For the umpteenth time, I climbed the steep hills up to the old Venetian Fortezza to enjoy the views across the town and out to the sea. Clustered around the base of the Fortezza, there are labyrinthine back streets with houses, each pretty and charming in its own self-contained way.

Over the years, one attractive house on a corner of Cheimarras Street, with its colourful façade, flowerpots and window has come to represent or symbolise for me what I find typical of the charm of the back streets on the slopes tumbling down from the Fortezza.

Time moves on at Marylee’s House beneath the Fortezza in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

When I first noticed Marylee’s House back in 2012, a colourful but punctured bicycle stood outside, and it seemed then like a metaphor for the Greek economy – punctured and jaded, and waiting for someone to see that it could roll on once again.

The house provided one of my favourite images from Rethymnon that year. I had the photograph printed on canvas and mounted for a wall in the house in Knocklyon I was then living in.

A year later, the bicycle that had been outside Marylee’s house had given way to a motorbike in 2013. I suppose time just moves on at a speed we never understand.

Then, in 2019, there was no bicycle or motor bike outside the house … once again, perhaps, a metaphor for the Greek economy and politics, as things stood still waiting to see whether the European elections results that month were going to influence the choice of a date for a general election in Greece later that year.

Today, the house is colourful, there are plants and flowerpots on the window ledges, the steps and on the street outside. The door was ajar, almost half-open, as I walked by last week, a metaphor, I suppose, that Greece has always been open to me, and that I feel Greece is part of me and that I am part of Greece.

Time moves on at Marylee’s House beneath the Fortezza in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Marylee’s House stands on the corner of Cheimarras Street, a narrow street leading down from the Fortezza that takes its name from Himara or Himarë in southern Albania, known in Greek as Χειμάρρας, Cheimarras.

Since antiquity, the region of Himara has been predominantly populated by people who are ethnically Greek. Despite all the changes over time, that part of Albania has remained an important centre of Greek culture and politics in Albania, and the majority of people are Greek-speaking.

In classical antiquity, Himara was part of the Kingdom of Epirus, whose rulers included King Pyrrhus, who was a second cousin of Alexander the Great and who has given us the term ‘Pyrrhic Victory.’

Following the fall of Rome, Himara, along with the rest of the southern Balkans, passed into the hands of the Byzantine Empire.

When the Ottoman Empire overran northern Epirus from the late 14th century on, Himara was the only region that did not fall to Ottoman rule.

During the First Balkan War, the town revolted under Spyros Spyromilios in 1912 and expelled the Ottoman force in order to join Greece. The Protocol of Corfu, signed in March 1914, established the Autonomous Republic of Northern Epirus, which included Himara. During World War I, Himara was under Greek administration from October 1914 until September 1916, when it was occupied by Italy.

The region came under the control of the Albanian state in 1921, but there were revolts throughout the 1920s demanding respect for Greek culture and autonomy. During World War II, the town was captured briefly by the Greek army in December 1940.

Today, the people of Himara remain a majority-Greek population, but fear their culture, language and religion are constantly under threat.

An interesting Greek cultural figure from Himara was Pyrros Spyromilios (1913-1962). As a navy officer during World War II, he took part in Greek capture of his home town by the Greek military. After World War II, he became director of the Greek Radio Orchestra. In that role, many new music celebrities emerged in Greece with his support, including Nana Mouskouri, who was born in Chania and who sang for Luxembourg in the 1963 Eurovision Song Contest.

Spyromilios also agreed to allow the composer Mikis Theodorakis to use his ensemble, along with the popular bouzouki instrumentalist, Manolis Chiotis, and singer Grigoris Bithikotsis, in the Greek radio premiere of the Epitaphios, a setting to music by Theodorakis of the epic poem by the Greek poet Yiannis Ritsos. It was an innovative move at the time, and so had a lasting influence on modern Greek culture.

Each time I return to Rethymnon and walk down Cheimarras Street from the Fortezza, I watch out for Marylee’s House, but also find myself listening in my mind to the melody of Epitaphios and thinking of the naval officer from Himara who played an innovative role in modern Greek culture.

And when I come back agaun, hopefully sooner rather than later, Marylee’s House beneath the Fortezza is still there to photograph yet again.

Time moves on at Marylee’s House beneath the Fortezza in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Daily prayer in Easter 2024:
22, 21 April 2024

Christ as the Good Shepherd … a mosaic in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Easter is a 50-day season that continues until the Day of Pentecost. Today is the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Easter IV). Throughout this Season of Easter, my morning reflections each day include the daily Gospel reading, the prayer in the USPG prayer diary, and the prayers in the Collects and Post-Communion Prayer of the day.

I am staying in Rethymnon for a little longer tgan an extended weekend, having arrived here late on Wednesday afternoon. Easter is late this year in the Calendar of the Greek Orthodox Church (Sunday 5 May 2024), so this is still the Season of Great Lent, and today is the Fifth Sunday in Lent.

The commemoration in the Greek Orthodox Church today is of Saint Mary of Egypt (ca 344-ca 421), who serves as a model of repentance in this season and who is often regarded as the patron saint of penitents. The primary source of information for her life is the Vita written by Saint Sophronius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem (634-638).

Saint Mary of Egypt was also commemorated on the Thursday before the Fifth Sunday of Lent (18 April), when her life was read during the Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete, and a canon in her honour was read at the end of each Ode. In parish churches the service and the canon is most often conducted on Wednesday evening.

I woke this morning to the sound of the bless in the nearby Church of the Four Martyrs and the cathedral in Rethymon, and hope to attend the Liturgy in one of this churches later this morning. But, before this day begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks, for reflection, for prayer and for reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

3, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

Christ the Good Shepherd … a window in Christ Church, Leamonsley, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 10: 11-18 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 11 ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.’

Christ the Good Shepherd, depicted in a stained-glass window in Saint Ailbe’s Church, Emly, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Sunday 21 April 2024):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Living by faith is hard, and it is never the obvious path.’ This theme is introduced today with an extract taken from a sermon by the Revd Chris Parkman, Chaplain at Saint John’s Menton, and volunteer for A Rocha France at Les Courmettes:

‘When we hear the call to care for and live at peace with God’s creation, it can feel hard to bear. So much evidence points to the fact it might be pointless, that we might have passed beyond a tipping point, and that it is simply impossible to see how the environmental problems of today can be addressed. Is it worth it? What difference can we make?

‘Part of the challenge that the environmental crisis presents to our faith is that it might feel extremely difficult to see (with human reason) the way out. Often, at other crisis times, it might just be a matter of remaining positive and hopeful enough in what seems a solvable situation.

‘But the environmental crisis can feel different. The crises of climate change and species loss start to feel like insurmountable and insoluble problems. But this is a challenge to us to live faithfully now and trust God will also act beyond our imaginings in due time.

‘For many of us, living more sustainably can start to feel very difficult and ultimately challenging to the way we might honestly prefer to live, and futile. What specific examples in our lives can we think of? But let’s encourage each other, in our Christian communities, to walk this path of ‘self-sacrifice’ (however we each specifically apply it) and realise that even now, we will experience some blessings which we might never have imagined.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (21 April 2024) invites us to pray:

Show us how to touch the earth lightly
and challenge one another boldly
to cherish the world in our care.
Let our doubt and greed
give way to faith and belief
that another world is possible,
Our Lord and our God!

The Collect:

Almighty God,
whose Son Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life:
raise us, who trust in him,
from the death of sin to the life of righteousness,
that we may seek those things which are above,
where he reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

Merciful Father,
you gave your Son Jesus Christ to be the good shepherd,
and in his love for us to lay down his life and rise again:
keep us always under his protection,
and give us grace to follow in his steps;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect:

Risen Christ,
faithful shepherd of your Father’s sheep:
teach us to hear your voice
and to follow your command,
that all your people may be gathered into one flock,
to the glory of God the Father.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued Tomorrow

A modern icon showing Saint Zozimas meeting Saint Mary of Egypt on the banks of the Jordan in the wilderness … she is remembered in the calendar of the Greek Orthodox Church today

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org