Saturday, 15 September 2012

Obscenities of Christianity - Cretan Church.

I've just come back from a week in beautiful Crete, Greece, one place I've want to go to for years. It has inspired me to write a couple of blogs, maybe more.

The main town and port is Heraklion, (or Heraclion also Iraklion) Greek: Ηράκλειο Greek pronunciation: iˈraklio. The centre has a thriving café culture centred around Plateia El Greco, (named after the Heraklion painter Domenikos Theotokopoulos who worked in Spain under the name Al Greco) and the nearby Plateia Eleftherias, also known as Lions Square, with it's fountain, originally built as the town's water supply.

Walk down August 25th Street from Plateia Eleftherias towards the harbour, past the café, tourist shops and beggars, many of whom are disabled, hopefully waving their cardboard cups in your direction, and you come across the Plateia Agios Titos, an open plaza with the basilica of Agios Titos (Saint Titus) dedicated to the legendary disciple of Saint Paul and first bishop of Crete, whose skull it is reputed to contain (strange how these early Christians seemed to contrive to die in ways which produced such an abundance of miracle-working relics, albeit ones whose miraculous powers seem to wane with time and technological progress!).

The church of Agios Titos in Heraklion Town, Crete:

The Cathedral of Agios Titos in Heraklion Town is among the most important monuments in Crete. It is found on August 25th Street, one of the central streets of the town. Around the church there is a lovely square with small cafes and bars.

The original church of Agios Titos on this location was probably built in 961 A.D. by the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus Phokas, who liberated Crete from the Arabs and made it again part of the Byzantine Empire. To strengthen the Christian faith in Crete, who had weakened from the Arabs, the emperor constructed this Orthodox church and dedicated it to Agios Titos, disciple of Apostle Paul and first Bishop of Crete.

The first church dedicated to Agios Titos had been built in Gortyn, the first capital town of Crete, before it was destroyed by an earthquake and the capital was transferred to its present location, in Heraklion Town by the Arabs in 828 A.D. In this new church, the skull of Agios Titos was transferred as well as a miracle-working icon of Virgin Mary and other relics from Gortyn.

During the Turkish occupation from Crete, the church of Agios Titos was turned into a mosque, named Vezir mosque. In the severe earthquake of 1856 that hit Crete, the temple was entirely destroyed and rebuilt as an Ottoman mosque by architect Athanasios Mousis. The minaret was destroyed in 1920, when the last Ottomans left the island of Crete, who (sic) had been integrated to the Greek State since 1909. Today, the cathedral works as an Orthodox church, after its renovation in 1925.

It's certainly good to see rival superstitions at least recycling one another's buildings.

Inside Agios Titos basilica is a sight to behold. Obviously the work of one designer, the church has wooden chairs, a richly and skilfully-carved rood-screen (is that what the screen intended to keep the hoi polloi away from the alter is called in an Orthodox church?) set with icons of saints in wanton disregard for the second Commandment and an impressive large wooden candelabra hanging from the centre of the dome, also carved in a similar style, the work of unknown and unnamed craftsmen.

Around the walls are icons of saints, most notably Mary, richly decorated in solid silver and gold leaf, some painted as recently as 1998. Go into the baptistery, or whatever the Orthodox equivalent is, in a small room to the left as you enter the front door, and tucked away in a corner you will find a beautiful gold and jewel-encrusted object. It looks like a chalice set in a golden globe, painted with icons and set with large jewels; the whole thing covered by a glass dome. I've no idea what it is. I assume it's something for holding 'holy' water, or some other magic potion which has had secret hand-movements made over it and magic spells spoke to it.

Also in this small chapel is a highly ornate silver object complete with cover, standing about three feet tall and looking for all the world like an elaborate giant silver tea-urn. We guessed it's a font, partly because there didn't seem to be one otherwise.

Such things and such a building can only have been made at huge expense; as ostentatious a display of wealth and power as you are likely to find anywhere else in Greece (and you will find them in almost any town of any size and importance).

At intervals, a well-fed black-crow priest will saunter in, wearing the traditional long black dress, long beard and long tied back hair of the Orthodox Christian priest. He will dutifully do a circuit, kissing various icons and performing mystical movements with his hands whilst muttering spells. He will then sweep out again having suitably impressed the tourists and locals alike with his devout piety.

Never once will he stop to acknowledge the beggars outside, to enquire of their welfare or contribute a few coins towards their next meal or maybe help support an impoverished family for whom they could be the main providers.

This is left to those appalled at this ostentatious display of wealth amidst abject poverty and wilful neglect of those suffering from one of the worst periods of economic austerity Greece has known in recent history, with cuts in social services and welfare which have brought Greece to the brink of revolution and social collapse, and which has produced a rise in overtly racist far right political groups (who just happen to be devout Orthodox Christians too) not seen since the overthrow of the Colonels' Fascist dictatorship of the 1960's by the forces of social democracy in 1974.

Visit beautiful Crete with it's long, long history, and visit the basilica of Agios Titos. Whilst there, spare a thought (and some money) for the poor people of Greece. Spare a thought too for the hypocrisy of a church which claims to follow the teachings of a god who told them to sell all their goods and give to the poor and which now exists to serve the needs of a class of black-crow parasites who would rather take the widow's mite than give her a cent, and who will expect us to be impressed with their sanctimonious piety as they do so.

And spare a thought for the superstition which for nigh on two thousand years has facilitated the systematic hoovering up of any spare wealth, as well as a great deal needed wealth, from those who produce it to be spent on those who don't. Those who have found an easier way than working for a living; those loathsome parasites who see no immorality in telling dirt-poor people to accept their poverty with thanks and humility whilst selling them the fiction of a better life to come and ensuring their real lives are so hopeless they'll fall for almost anything which promises something better.

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  1. You have a strong social conscience which is repulsed by hypocrisy. Good on you. And good luck on your journey.

  2. So very true. I live in and was born in Australia but both my parents came from Crete in the 1960s. I went there once when I was young for 3 months. I clearly remeber the beggars. My dad gave some money to some random stranger that gave him a story ”he needed money for a heart operation”. Tourists are easy pickings. You soon gets sick of being asked and the locals know better. As far as religion goes. It is archaic. It is so ingrained into the culture that the communities pride themselves in how 'ornate' their local church is and the local priest is well respected. Church donations are commonplace. From blessing new homes, baptisms, weddings and funerals etc.. The church is so integral to the culture that they take it for granted to question it. Most Greeks will tell you they are religious and aside from attending the usual ceremonies that I mentioned they otherwise don't regard it as encroaching or limiting them in any aspect of their daily life.
    Anyway I like reading your blog. I was raised Greek Orthodox but have been an atheist since about 10 years old.


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