Sunday, May 17, 2009

Feast of St. Therapon

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Manolis and Vasilea had special services today at the church they built on their property. So we got up early and caught a cab, to be there by 7:30 for Matins, followed by Divine Liturgy, followed by Artoklasia. (I don’t know what that service is called in English. “Blessing of the Loaves”?)

The occasion was the anniversary of the day their son, Stephanos, stood up for the first time. Why should that be celebrated and commemorated with special church services, you ask? He was six years old at the time. His legs were crossed and he couldn’t uncross them and neither could anybody else. In other words, it was a miracle.

Something, I’m not sure exactly what, happened during Stephanos’ birth such that he didn’t get enough oxygen and his brain was damaged. His intellect is certainly normal, but he is spastic. He can walk and swim and feed himself and do many things, but he cannot speak and he drools continuously.

I can also say, without reservation or qualification, that Stephanos, now nearly 42, is the happiest human being I have ever met.

So his parents have celebrated this day, the feast of St. Therapon, every year since then, in their very own Church of St. Stephanos the Protomartyr. And after the services, Manolis recounted all this for us, in a choked-up voice. Vasilea was crying, too.

It’s a real church, meaning consecrated, and it’s fully equipped. It has candle stands and proper hangings for the altar, and red velvet curtains for the doors into the altar, with gold fringe and embroidered gold crosses. It has the Pantokrator (Ruler of All) icon on the ceiling (the place of highest honor), as Orthodox churches do, the Theotokos with Christ icon in the place of next highest honor, behind the altar; the cross with the icon of Christ hanging upon it, proper chalice and paten and so forth. It has real oil lamps in front of the icons on the iconostasis, and a very ornate, brass chandelier complete with three double-headed eagles molded in. (It would have been hard, had the previous Archbishop of Greece, Christodoulos, taken his dispute with the Patriarch into schism, because the Patriarch’s symbol shows up everywhere in churches in this part of Greece. The double-headed eagle is carved into wooden furniture, molded into brass stands and lamps, woven into curtains and carpets, inlaid in marble floors.)

The Church of St. Stephanos has, over the altar, an arch outlined in colored glass, through which the sun streams in. (Orthodox altars face east.) There are two more glass-outlined arches on either side of the altar, in what would be the transepts or the cross aisle in a larger church. The arch to the left of the altar (north side of the church), is where the cantors stand, and it has a real, intricately carved, stand, where the cantors’ books are propped up on a rotating table top. The arch to the right of the altar (south side of the church) delineates the space where the bishop’s throne is, in case a bishop should visit. The floor in the nave looks like wood but is laminate; the altar area’s floor, and the steps leading to it, are of marble.

The church can comfortably accommodate about 50 people; twice that number if it were standing space only, but there are folding chairs, including small chairs for small children. There were about 35 people there, I think, possibly more. Most of them were family. Maria was there, the conductress whose concert we attended earlier in the week, and Sophia and Georgia, her sisters, with their husbands and children, and Ioannis her brother, with his bride, Aspasia. (Say “Ah-spa-SEE-ya.” A funny thing happened at their wedding; see here.) And of course Stephanos was there, the oldest, beaming the whole time, as he always does. Manolis’ sisters came, and sat near the cantors to assist them, and made pretty harmony. Manolis’ brother who looks like his identical twin but isn’t, didn’t come because he is sick. The two brothers who are identical twins did come. And bless their hearts, they conversed with me, too, afterward. Not everybody takes the trouble, and it is some trouble, to include me in a Greek conversation. They did. It was a theological topic; namely, whether it is appropriate to designate absolutely all human beings “children of God” or only Christians. Of course, the answer depends upon what you mean by the phrase; that’s what was causing some confusion and debate.

After the services was a brunch out on their huge veranda, featuring spanikopita and tiropita (cheese pie) and tsoureki (Pascha bread, sweet, almost like cake), and sausage pita and cookies. The food was good and the setting, beautiful, with enormous pine trees and an abundance of climbing roses, plus hydrangea and other things I couldn’t name.

On the opposite side of the lawn is a new house, quite large, built since we were last here, for Ioannis and Aspasia on the occasion of their wedding. (Does that remind you of That Movie? My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Ioannis, the theologian, has a similar joyous arrangement for his children and grandchildren.) Ioannis and Aspasia live on the first floor of the new house and Maria lives on the second.

The Magpies were busy among the trees, and the Scissor-tailed Swallows were darting about in the air in pursuit of insects. (Are they one reason we have so few of them in Greece?) Vasilea’s calico cat paid us a brief visit. An almost microscopic green thing landed on my arm; I had never seen one like it before. (Don’t you wonder how many creatures there are that you’ve never seen or imagined?) It was awfully cute, so after admiring it a few moments, I brushed it off as gently as I could.

We were sleepy from having gone to bed late and arisen early, so we were very glad when Ioannis drove us home, dropping us off around noon. The first thing we did was fall asleep.

The second thing we did was go for a late lunch to a nearby restaurant that serves all casseroles.

Then after lunch and another little rest, we headed, for the third day in a row, down to the sea, with my knitting bag and his book by and about Descartes. This time we also took some stale bread, soaked in water, and tossed it to the sparrows. So for a crust of bread we had the joy of watching them up close eating it. A mother sparrow repeatedly fed some to her begging baby, who, when the mother had hopped away, demonstrated his perfect competence to pick it up and eat it all by himself. We laughed.

As the sea was gray today, and the breeze brisk, we didn’t stay long. After an hour we came home for a supper of salad and bread, and now it’s bedtime. Goodnight!

P.S.) St. Therapon was a priest in Cyprus, martyred (at the hands of the invading Ottoman Turks, if I’ve understood correctly) in the year 600.


elizabeth said...

the description of the son's happiness was lovely to read about; and the church sounds very beautiful and intentionally made for God. We are so blessed to have Orthodox churches.