10 June 2018
I have been back in the villages of Tsesmes, in the hillside above Platanes, a few times in the past week since returning to Rethymnon.
Tsesmes retains some of the feeling and atmosphere of an Anatolian Greek village, and on one evening two of us had dinner in Pagona’s Place, the best taverna in the village, where the cuisine is a reminder of the best traditions brought to Crete by refugees who fled Anatolia almost a century ago.
This morning, I attended the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in the parish church in one of the village’s two squares.
The church is dedicated to Saint Nektarios (1846-1920), Metropolitan of Pentapolis and Wonderworker of Aegina. He was born in Selymbria (today Silivri, Istanbul), and at the age of 14 moved to Constantinople. In 1866, at the age of 20, he moved to the island of Chios to take up a teaching post. Ten years later, in 1876, he became a monk.
Saint Nektarios served the church in Cairo and Greece, and was recognised as a saint in 1961.
Father Dimitrios, the parish priest, celebrates the Divine Liturgy on alternate Sundays in the parish churches in Platanes and in Tsesmes. However, churchgoing is often low in numbers in the summer work because of the heavy demands on local people working in the tourism sector.
Throughout the liturgy, there is a regular censing of the people by the priest, as they present themselves as a holy people, prepared to meet Christ in the proclamation of the Gospel, in offering the gifts of bread and wine, and the presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
I am always taken aback at the small number of people who actually receive the Communion in Greek churches on a Sunday morning, although everyone takes portions of the blessed bread or prosphora afterwards to bring home, making the day holy for whole family.
I received a present at dinner in Rethymnon the other evening from a friend of a Greek icon of Saint Patrick of Ireland.
Greeks usually keep an icon of their patron saint or the saint whose name they bear at home, and they celebrate that saint’s feast day as their name day. It would be impossible for me not to know that 17 March is my name day, but I have never had an icon of Saint Patrick before this visit to Crete.
However, my friend carefully checked beforehand. Which Saint Patrick was I named after?
For the first time ever, I heard of another Saint Patrick who lived in the third century and was bishop of the city of Prusa in Bythnia (Asia Minor), present-day Brusa or Bursa.
This Patrick openly and boldly preached Christ the Saviour. He and three of his priests, Acacius, Menander and Polyainus, were arrested, and they were brought before Julius, the consul or prefect of the city, for questioning.
Julius was going to the hot springs for treatment at the time of their arrest, and he ordered that Bishop Patrick and the priests be brought along after him, bound in iron chains.
After Julius had washed in the hot springs, he offered sacrifice to his gods. He then had Saint Patrick and the other prisoners brought before him, ordering them to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods, and threatening punishment if they refused.
Saint Patrick replied, ‘I am a Christian and I worship the one true God, Jesus Christ, who has created the heavens and the earth, and these warm springs for the benefit of all mankind.’ He told Julius that Christ had made the earth with both fire and water, and the fire under the earth heats the water that wells up, producing hot springs. He then said there is another fire that awaits the ungodly.
In response Julius had Saint Patrick thrown into the hot spring, and with firm faith the martyr prayed, ‘Lord, Jesus Christ, help your servant’ and he remained unharmed.
In a rage, Julius ordered Saint Patrick and his three priests to be beheaded. Most authorities say he has martyred during the reign of Diocletian (284-305), although some say he was martyred much earlier, around the year 100.
The account of his death, the Acts of Patrick, is considered by scholars to be authentic, although the names of the other martyrs were probably added to the calendar over succeeding centuries.
This other Saint Patrick is commemorated in the Orthodox Church on 19 May.