March 5, 2016

Saturday of Souls on the Island of Imvros

By Metropolitan Meliton of Eliopolis and Chalcedon,
Who Beforehand Was the Metropolitan of Imvros and Tenedos

Death is home for us here on our island. Gentle. Expected. It sidesteps the oleanders and appears. And the servant of the Lord, upon seeing it, is not startled, is not taunted. Of course, it is not welcomed. But even in its most tragic visits, it is not a stranger, formal, sullen.

When encountering it there dominates a soft tone, a kind of homely warmth. We put it somewhere in the corner and it sits, and we begin to converse with it. We lament. An interactive lament. We seek reasons, explanations. We complain. We spite death. We pour flaming tears. At one point the tone becomes more heated. The climate of mourning rises, it becomes a mournful cry, weeping. But again things measure out, and does not exceed Christian human limits.

Death is home for us here. Its kingdom is located just beyond the courtyard of our house, at the corner of the courtyard of our church. It is bordered by our field and vineyard. It is simply laid out near our lives, in the cemetery of our village, neither repelling us, nor scaring us. It is scattered with low crosses and springs forth chamomile.

Nowhere is there heavy and cold marble. No depressing majesty. Neither is there rigid serenity. There is gladsome peace, near the straight rigidity of the cypress tree, a wild rose has shaken its pink bow, and from within the ivy bursts a flowery almond. It is as if it is a garden of our home.

The Imvriot housewife censes her home, as she is, wearing her apron, and taking her censor she goes to the small cemetery, to cense there one of the crosses of her own. Then, at the base of the cross, she will light an oil lamp. Then another housewife will come. Then another. Many will come.

Every house has its cross. Home and cross. Lighting the fireplace in their home, they also light the oil lamp of their sweet cross. And as darkness falls over the chamomiles, there is a twinkling like many scattered fireflies, there are so many lights. It is like a portion of the mirrored sky, with many many stars, such is our cemetery at night. And it is gentle and warm even in the night.

Not long ago, in Glyky (a village of Imvros), a young child died. He left the courtyard of his house, away from the young children, and went into a small house, beneath the grass of the cemetery. The other children continued playing their games, in the yards of their houses. One day, as they were playing, they remembered the young boy, and leaving their game half-finished, they went to find their young friend. They brought their game to his small memorial. And with the serious affection children have, they planted over the fresh soil violets and roses.

And while the song of life is at its peak, the bell of the village will mark the Saturday of Souls. From every home, from the corner of the house, women clad in black will make off with their kollyva in hand, humble and quiet, one after another, they will go to church as if in a procession. There the souls will descend without making a sound. And in the twilight of Vespers, the dead and living will meet again. They will not be in the place of the living, nor in the place of the dead. For one moment they will stand together, those who lived and those who are alive, somewhere beyond death and life, in the land of the day where there is no sunset.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.