It was a beautiful spring morning in the far away country of Sudan. There was unusual activity at the international airport of the capital of Sudan. In addition to the regular flights that were taking off there were an unusual number of young people present filling the waiting rooms of the terminal. An educational excursion had been planned for that particular day for the young students. School songs and happy voices could be heard breaking the monotonous routine of the airport where planes were continuously landing and taking off. Suddenly the public address system announced: “All those who are part of the educational tour and their guides should prepare to board the airplane. The plane is scheduled to depart in five minutes.” A river of young people rushed to the boarding area where their plane was waiting. The plane was ready to board in three minutes. The pilot, who was a young athletic type, not much older than the student passengers, was one of the best pilots of the airline. He welcomed the young students aboard and promised them that they would have a wonderful flight. Everything was now ready for takeoff.
The captain checked the instruments one last time and then announced to the control tower that everything was ready for takeoff. The control tower gave the pilot the latest meteorological forecast for the trip. All indications showed that the weather was good for the planned trip and the tower wished the captain a good flight. Within a short period of time the airplane was racing down the runway and lifting up into the morning sky like a huge bird on its way to its destination which was 500 miles away. The plane had covered about 100 miles and everything appeared that they would have a great flight with blue skies in every direction. The young passengers were enjoying the great views of the ground below. The topography below them appeared like a huge live map with villages, rivers and verdant plains. The airplane hostess continuously pointed out to the students what they were seeing below.
The captain also took his turn on the intercom system giving a description of the airplane and its technology. It was truly a wonderful trip. The captain then radioed the tower giving his location and the weather conditions. The tower responded that it did not foresee any change in the weather throughout the course of the flight. The captain turned off the radio and then started to talk to the passengers on the intercom when he suddenly noticed in the distance a very black cloud. He turned off the intercom and grabbed the control stick and directed the plane below the cloud so that the passengers could see the ground below them. The pilot had now taken the plane below the cloud when he saw before him another even blacker cloud with flashes of lightning and thunder. They had flown directly into a tempest.
Upon seeing this second cloud, the pilot gained altitude in order to avoid the cloud formation. The altimeter indicated that he was at 8,000 feet and the storm was still intense. He then climbed higher in the sky. The altimeter showed that he was now at 10,000 feet, the maximum limit of the plane. The passengers began to become uneasy. The visibility was zero. The hail was pelting the windows of the plane like bullets. The thunderbolts and lighting lit up the sky like enemy artillery trying to shoot down the plane from the sky. The stewardess calmly attempted to reassure the passengers that everything would be all right.
The airplane was being bounced around like a toy in the fearful arms of the storm. The plane was creaking and the altimeter was now at 12,000 feet. The captain calmly began to descend. He kept moving down to 8,000 feet, then to 6,000, then 5,000, 4,000, 3,000, and then 2,000 feet and the conditions were the same. At this altitude the pilot was now afraid that he might hit a mountain top and so he began to climb again. He ascended up to 8,000 feet and then attempted to contact the control tower with his wireless radio to report his situation, his location and to report the weather conditions. Instead of receiving a weather report, he found that the wireless was dead. He then immediately turned on the plane radio and that too was silent. He felt a cold hand squeeze his heart. He looked at a map and attempted to find his exact location but this was also useless. In his attempt to avoid the terrible storm, he had lost all sense of direction. He also could see that the co-pilot was in a state of total panic. Seeing the panic in the eyes of his co-pilot, the captain again tried to communicate with the tower with his wireless radio.
All of these efforts were in vain. The violent weather had destroyed all forms of communication. He again attempted to find his location on the map and again he came up empty. In similar circumstances, the courage and calmness of the captain usually brings about good results. The captain turned again to his co-pilot and found him motionless. He asked him to be calm because the situation had become very critical and they must keep the passengers from panicking. The passengers were very close to being panic stricken. The stewardess, not knowing about the critical situation they were in, tried every possible way to calm the passengers. Truly, the situation was very critical. The captain, without having any sense of direction, no wireless, no radio, or where he was in this endless storm, was no longer able to pilot the plane properly. He began to fly in circles, climbing and then descending attempting to maneuver out of the storm. The plane was now flying blind.
Time was passing and the plane was scheduled to land at its destination in two and a half hours. The fuel supply was getting critically low. There was no help and no light at the end of the tunnel. The passengers knowing how long the flight should have taken began to cry. Even the stewardess lost control of her emotions and she could no longer offer any help to the passengers.
It was useless for the captain to convey a sense of calm to the passengers. The co-pilot was now a basket case incapable of offering any help. In the midst of this angst, the captain looked at the fuel gauge and then began sweating. They had about twenty minutes of fuel left. At this point, even the captain was losing all hope. He felt like crying but he controlled himself. He was now sure that they were headed for a catastrophe. He engaged the automatic pilot, laid his head on the controls and surrendered to the fate that was awaiting them. Suddenly the pilot was seeing something like a movie playing in his head. His whole life was passing in review. While watching this play out in his mind, he became startled and said to himself, "Why of course now I understand." In the images of his thoughts, Greece appeared; the island of Mytilene to be exact.
He was of Greek ancestry and his mother hailed from the village of Sikamnia, Mytilene. He remembered that as a small boy, he visited his mother’s village Sikamnia in order to visit his grandmother and his relatives. He even remembered that his pious mother would often speak to him about the miracle working icon of the Archangel Michael in Mantamadou. He remembered that he had visited Mantamadou as a young boy in order to venerate the miracle working icon of the Archangel. He also remembered that he felt a chill go through his body when he first saw the bas-relief of the Archangel Michael. He was now hearing clearly the words of the elders who said to him about the icon: “The Arapis [Turkish word for "Arab", or more specifically someone who is "dark-faced"], my child, when you call upon him with faith he will always be with you, willing to help you. We have witnessed many miracles firsthand during the wars.” Remembering this pilgrimage from his youth, the captain regained hope and truly believed in the power of the Archangel Michael. He lifted up his hands and shouted with a load voice: “My Archangel, my Arapis, save us, save us, and I promise to light a candle in your honor as tall as I am and I will also offer you a gold image of our plane. These I will place before your image."
As the captain was relating this story to a priest of the Church in Mantamadou, Nicholas Hatzoglou, the captain of the airplane stood up trembling, turned yellow, and made the sign of the Cross. He was still living those unusual circumstances of his life and he continued to tell me the rest of the story with difficulty: “At that moment, the very black clouds opened up below us and the blue sky reappeared. It was like a curtain opening up for a theatrical performance. There below us was the airport of our destination, bathed in sunshine. I thankfully took control of the plane and in a short time we were landing at the airport. Upon landing, I looked at the fuel gauge and noticed that we had only five minutes of fuel left. When the opportunity first became available to me, I took leave of my job and came here today, my dear Reverend Father, in order to thank my Saint and my savior. I offer him my thanksgiving and my reverence. I also offer him the two items that I had promised him.”
In his hands, which were trembling, he was holding a gold mock up of his plane. He was fulfilling his fervent promise to the Archangel. I looked at him with emotion. I saw in his weeping eyes the satisfaction one feels in fulfilling a great obligation. My tongue became heavy and I could not talk. My eyes hurt as I was trying to hold back my tears. The only thing I could say was to whisper:
"Having you as a protector and help,
guardian of my humble soul,
Michael the first and great Commander,
in times of danger, may you protect us."