The chanting of the priests at the Evangelistria church in Pigadia cut like a warm comfort through the cold winter morning on Karpathos Island, Greece.
Standing in the cold, for a while I was wondering if I should seek refuge in a warm coffeehouse, skip the mass and wait it out until the procession started. I could also stay in the courtyard of the overfilled church. I opted for staying, mostly because I wanted to experience the Blessing of the Waters – celebrated by the Greek Orthodox Church every 6th of January. The celebration originated in the Eastern Orthodox Church as a celebration of the baptism of Christ, but is now observed throughout Christianity.
I also stayed in the chill because Greek church music soothes my soul like only Gregorian chants can. It also gave me the occasion to observe the unforced way Greeks have with their beliefs.
People moved about all during the mass, many showing up when the service was well under way. Those who could not squeeze into the church and were standing with me and had vivid conversations about their lives and the village neighborhoods … and naturally about the terrible cold spell the island was suffering. Near freezing is very cold for a place that seldom has temperatures below 10° C (about 50°F).
Shortly before the mass ended, some young boys assembled on the road and they were dressed in procession ornaments and carrying sacred symbols.
When mass ended, the priests and bishop lined up behind the lads and they all started walking in procession toward the harbor, where the next part of the annual celebration was to take place.
The moles were all in festive decoration and at the deepest part of the harbor there was a small stage where the bishop stood with the mayor and other island dignitaries.
After a short prayer, and the admonishing that nobody should come out of the water until the crucifix was found, the bishop threw the cross into the icy cold sea – followed by the brave young men leaping in in an attempt to rescue it.
There was a silence over the crowd and the tension grew every time any divers came up empty-handed. (I even suspected that the bishop was getting a little worried.)
Finally one boy came up smiling, holding the cross in his hand. The crowd cheered and applauded more than usual, probably to release tensions caused by the worry about losing the crucifix.
Slowly the crowd dissipated and the bishop, very much relieved, could carry the crucifix back to the safety of the church.
As for me, I was happy to get out of the chill and shiver in a coffeehouse, imagining how cold the divers had felt. And I still wonder if it is true that the finder of the cross has a very fortunate year – as the legend says.