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Reviving Faith and Culture: Easter on the Sacred Island of Patmos


Patmos Island, nestled in the Dodecanese archipelago of Greece, is a destination unlike any other. Unlike some of its neighbouring islands in the Aegean, Patmos relies less on tourism and has deliberately refrained from building an airport to preserve its pristine beauty. However, it is a hotspot for religious tourism, thanks to its historic significance as the place where Saint John wrote the Cave of the Apocalypse.

Easter on the Greek island of Patmos, Greece. Black and White Photography by George Tatakis
The castle on the island of Patmos.

Arriving on the Island of Patmos, Greece

As I arrived at the capital of the island, I was immediately captivated by its majestic beauty. The town is centred around a castle that dominates the landscape, and the entire town is enclosed within its ancient walls. Walking through the streets, I discovered that many of the houses were owned by an interesting mix of people, including a Spanish princess. Spring had just arrived, and the flowers were in full bloom, creating a rejuvenating atmosphere that added to the island's allure.

 

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One of the first locals I had the pleasure of meeting was Chryssi, an 89-year-old woman who was busy preparing the traditional dish of "giaprakia" in her beautiful yard. These stuffed vine leaves with rice, traditionally served in an artichoke's wedge, were a local delicacy that she graciously allowed me to photograph. And, of course, I couldn't resist the opportunity to sample them myself - they were marvellous.

Chryssi preparing giaprakia in Patmos by photographer George Tatakis
Chryssi preparing giaprakia

One of the highlights of my trip was witnessing the 400-year-old custom of "Niptiras" on Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday. This custom is a reenactment of Christ washing the feet of his disciples before the Last Supper. It originated during the Byzantine Empire when emperors would wash the feet of the poor. The custom takes place after the Morning Mass at the Monastery of Saint John, where a litany proceeds to the central square where a platform is set up. Twelve priests sit around the platform, representing the disciples, while the Abbot arrives last, representing Christ. As the Last Supper is read, and it reaches the point where Christ washes the feet of the disciples, the Abbot washes the feet of the priests. The litany then returned to the Monastery, and I was fortunate to witness this deeply moving ceremony.

A big crowd at the custom of Niptiras on Holy Thursday, Patmos island, by photographer George Tatakis
A big crowd at the custom of Niptiras on Holy Thursday

During my time on Patmos, I had the opportunity to meet a local journalist who introduced me to the Gryllis family in Kampos village, known for their preparation of "Patiniotikes," a type of delicious pie traditionally made during Holy Week. The pies, filled with sweetened Mizithra (Greek soft cheese), are made using a traditional wood oven, with the entire family taking part in the process. The aroma of these pies wafted through the air, and I captured some precious moments of Moscha, Sideris, and their children as they prepared the pies. Thursday on Patmos is also the day when families dye their Easter eggs, adding to the festive spirit.

Moscha Gryllis, holding a freshly baked Patiniotiki pie in Patmos island, by photographer George Tatakis
Moscha Gryllis, holding a freshly baked Patiniotiki pie

Saturday night was the night of the Resurrection, and the atmosphere was ecstatic. Across Greece, Saturday midnight is celebrated with flares, fireworks, and crackers. It all begins with the priests chanting "Christos Anesti" (Christ Resurrected) and the church bells ringing. Before this, the Sacred Light, brought from Jerusalem, is delivered to churchgoers. At the Monasteries, a unique custom involves pilgrims receiving the Light by the sound of the "Talanto," a large wooden plank hung from two strings and rhythmically struck by monks with wooden hammers. The rhythm starts slow and gradually intensifies until it reaches a crescendo before suddenly stopping, creating a breathtaking spectacle.

Another memorable encounter during my time on Patmos was with Vassilis Kypraios (1936 - 2021), a renowned painter, at his exquisite home inside the castle walls of the capital. We met at a local café, and he graciously invited me to his house for a glass of wine, an offer I eagerly accepted. His multi-level house was adorned with antique furniture and showcased his impeccable aesthetic taste. I was treated to a tour of his studio and enjoyed some wine on his balcony, which offered stunning views of the Aegean Sea as the sun set on the horizon.

Vassilis was a somewhat rebellious student of the famous painter Yannis Moralis and used to live in Paris, where he honed his artistic skills. He had a private show once in the US, and with the money he earned from selling his paintings at this exclusive gathering, he was able to buy the house that now served as his art studio on Patmos. Vassilis shared his passion for art and his inspiration drawn from the natural beauty of Patmos, which was evident in his paintings adorning the walls of his studio.

Painter Vassilis Kypraiou in his studio in Patmos, by photographer George Tatakis
Painter Vassilis Kypraiou in his studio
The view from the balcony of painter Vassilis Kypraiou in Patmos, by photographer George Tatakis
The view from the balcony of painter Vassilis Kypraiou

On Easter Tuesday, the Tuesday after Easter Sunday, I discovered another interesting custom on Patmos. The Icon of "Megali Panagia" (the Great Virgin) was picked up from its place, and a litany took place around the capital of the island. The Icon was carried by the local priest, accompanied by the devout locals who were all dressed up for the occasion. They prepared treats for visitors who entered their houses, and a wish was read at each house. Intrigued, I joined the litany and had the opportunity to enter several houses, capturing the moments with my camera.

The local Icons getting inside houses for blessing in Patmos island, by photographer George Tatakis
The local Icons getting inside houses for blessing
Litany of the Icons in Patmos island, by photographer George Tatakis
Litany of the Icons in Patmos island

In the following days, I managed to arrange a photo shoot with two local girls who were dressed in the traditional costumes of Patmos. We explored various locations, including the Monastery of Saint John, a local house, and the picturesque windmills scattered across the island. The girls looked stunning in their colourful attire, and I was fascinated by the rich cultural heritage of Patmos that was reflected in their costumes.

Throughout my time on Patmos, I also indulged in the delicious local cuisine and met many interesting locals who shared their stories and traditions with me. The unique geography and architecture of the island left a lasting impression on me, and I cherished the serene and peaceful moments I experienced there.

As my time on Patmos came to an end, I bid farewell to the island and its people with a heart full of memories. The encounter with Vassilis, the custom of the Litany on Easter Tuesday, and the photo shoot with the local girls added depth and richness to my journey, reminding me of the beauty of cultural traditions and the meaningful connections that can be formed through shared experiences. Patmos truly resonated with me, and I left with a deep appreciation for this enchanting Greek island.

The local traditional costumes of Patmos island, by photographer George Tatakis
The local traditional costumes of Patmos island
The local traditional costumes of Patmos island, by photographer George Tatakis
The local traditional costumes of Patmos island

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