Monday, March 19, 2007


I enjoyed an uncanny experience in Heraklion today. We've been sightseeing the Minoan, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman remains of Crete at a breakneck pace. With a little time on our own today I went into the city's cathedral to see Orthodox wall paintings. The sexton was a neatly dressed, bearded Greek man who must have been about my age. He was on a step-ladder lighting the candles and asked me if I wished to light the particular one he was reaching for. I lit the candle and he began to speak with an unusual calm.
"Be careful of everyone, even be careful of me. If you want to find a good deed you must walk five kilometers, if you want an evil deed, every meter."
It seemed rather forboding counsel, Yoda-esque in fact, but I kept listening. "We must pray for everyone, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant - everyone." But the Orthodox, he wryly implied with a smile, are the ones who can see the face of God.

"Do you like this glass?" he asked pointing to a vase with a flower in it that was lying on at the base of the icon I had just lit. "If I removed the flower, this is who we are without God." I asked him about the wall paintings, and he stepped off the ladder and gave a perfect impromptu explanation of Orthodox iconography. "The saints are those who are, like the vase, filled with God," he said with his hand on the first step. "The next step, closer to God, are the prophets, then apostles, angels, Mary, Jesus, and then God." He ended with his hand on the top step.

Unabashedly I asked for a picture, and he refused.
"Why take a picture of me? I am not a saint. Take a picture with your mind. And you will remember one time that when I was in Crete I met a man who told me things. If any of these things are wrong, leave here and dismiss me as crazy. If they are right, you must remember. Trust the evangelium. Trust the holy book."
Such encounters might be termed by a traveler the "spell of Orthodoxy," and it is an enchanting one indeed. Of course, the real spell might be that of the world, which the Holy Spirit, working most especially through the Orthodox in Greece, occasionally finds a way to break.