Thursday, August 26, 2004

A Conversation in Rhodes

Rhodes (Rhodos in Greek--RHO-doss), was (or is) a charming village.

We went to a number of shops. In every shop, we wound up talking with a female clerk. Most were about our age (late 40s/early 50s). Every woman came from somewhere other than Rhodes and Greece. For example, one was from Austria. Another from Belgium.

We commented on this to one of the women.

“Why are you all from other countries and all married to Greek men?” we asked.

“Greek men are the best!” she declared with conviction. She also noted that while she had been raised Catholic, she had converted to Orthodoxy because “it is better. It keeps the old ways better! It hasn’t added so many things,” she said. “The families, too, are very close. We stay close. We live together.”

She showed us pictures of her daughter, now 24. The daughter was married at 16 to a very young-looking 26-year-old Greek man.

The young married couple live, with their daughter, downstairs from the woman with whom we were talking.

We asked her what all the Rhodes-ian/Greek men did (since we had seen so many women who were working, but had met so few men. . . . )

She kind of swelled up. She said her husband worked very hard. In fact, she said, he had built a church in their home, a beautiful church. “Many miracles have occurred there!” she said.

“So, is your husband a priest?” I asked.

“Oh, no! You don’t need a priest to build a church!” she said.

I wondered what she meant by “building a church,” but kept my mouth shut. I got the distinct impression she was not suggesting her husband engaged in some kind of distinctly missionary work.

A couple of days later, when we were in Mykonos, I finally got an idea of what she must have meant by her comment about needing no priest to build a church. And also what she must have meant about building a church.

Look at the photos from Mykonos—both the outside and inside photos of the churches. These are not churches in the sense of places for people to gather to worship. (Notice the church in the main square in Mykonos with its three blue chairs on one side and two on the other [Churches photos 18 and 19].) Notice how the chairs are placed. These aren’t the kinds of places one goes to with one’s friends in order to spend time “fellowshipping” one with another!

Many of the “churches” in Mykonos and elsewhere in the Greek isles are smaller than the one I just mentioned. But/and they are filled with memorabilia, icons, candle stands, etc.

What do these observations mean?

I cannot be sure, completely. But I have come to at least this conclusion: that the churches I saw in Greece are more like shrines or places of remembrance than they are gathering places for Christians. They are like what we read of in the Old Testament, where someone builds a place in memory of an event or of a benefit s/he has received from the Lord. . . .

One more observation: I noticed (in Mykonos and Santorini, both) that the faithful women took time every day to place fresh flowers in the churches. They also wiped down the icons and kept the church clean—an act of worship. . . . Their worship, it seems, is more deed-based than words as it seems to be in the United States, or, certainly, among Protestants. . . .
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