On Monday I made my way to Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv for a flight to Rhodes and a ferry connection to the Greek island of Symi. The flight was delayed by forty five minutes which meant I missed the ferry to Symi. Annoyed at the delay and the fact that I would probably have to find a hotel in Rhodes, I was mollified when a very helpful taxi driver, who was taking me from the airport to the ferry terminal phoned ahead and found another sailing on a smaller ferry leaving in half an hour. The crossing to Symi took about an hour and a half–sailing through the beautiful blue of the Aegean through the rocky islands until we landed at Symi about seven pm.
The Greek islands are perfect vacation locations. Plenty of interesting history and religion and beautiful beaches if you like that sort of thing. Me? I get bored with sand and sun and sweat after about one hour. On Tuesday I rented a motor scooter and navigated the narrow lanes and switchback roads to the other side of the island to visit the monastery of Panormitis.
Readers will know of my interest in the famous Sword of St Michael–the geographical straight line that connects seven ancient monasteries dedicated to St Michael. If you are unfamiliar with this you can read about it here. Anyway, Panormitis is one of the Michael monasteries on the line. Film maker Stan Williams and I are hoping to make a documentary film next year tracking a pilgrimage from Ireland to Israel visiting the monasteries, so I made this detour to Greece to have a few days vacation, but also to do some background research.
At Panormitis I met Abbot Anthony pictured here. Who agreed to be interviewed for our film. He said there are actually nine monasteries on the island dedicated to the Archangel.I found one of them on the way back to Symi town. Roukouniotis consists of a small church and courtyard.Inside the church, in usual Greek Orthodox style, is covered with icons, painted walls and this large icon of St MichaelThe little squares of silver are votive offerings thanking St Michael for answered prayers. Notice the offerings of swords on either side of the icon. In Panormitis there were sword offerings in abundance. The broom offering has to do with a local tradition:
- The locals of the Dodecanese are known to have offered a traditional broom. Church tradition has passed down that monks from the monastery would hear the Saint sweeping his monastery at night with this broom offerings. Local tradition has passed down that many would be visited by the Archangel in their sleep, who would ask them for the brooms.
So go figure.
At Roukouniotis monastery there were no monks. I’m not surprised these little monasteries are all over Greece and when I asked about them at my hotel it was explained that they are essentially little family chapels. The landowner would build a chapel and a monk or two would take up residence and be supported by the family. He would live a hermit’s life and be an extended part of the family offering prayers for them and for the world. Now, with the decline in vocations the monastery lodgings are likely to be inhabited by a caretaker. This was the case at Roukouniotis. When I arrived a young man said his mom would open up. She opened the church, turned on the lights, offered some incense, lit some candles and generally gave me a warm welcome. Now I have seven more to try to find before I leave for Patmos on Friday.