Sunday, May 17, 2009

Cave of the Apocalypse

May 12, Patmos

We leave for Kos tomorrow on the afternoon ferry. We've been on Patmos for 3 days now, and it has made us realize how tired we were. We found a place to retreat overlooking one of the bays of the island and it is enough to simply sit and be. At least for a little while.

We visited a tiny convent. After winding our way along cobbled alleyways through canyons of whitewashed walls and blue and green doors, we arrived at a small courtyard and a gate. The sign on the side of the gate instructed us to ring the bell. We wondered if they meant that big brass church bell hanging over the gate. After pausing to gather our courage, we tentatively pulled the rope, rocking the bell until the it made a sound. Our loud summons was answered by the arrival of a black habited sister with the keys to the church. She let us in, sweeping aside curtains and giving explanations in Greek when she saw us puzzling over the identity of a saint.

One morning we drove toward a high hill topped by high crenelated walls. We found a monastery and church full of the wonderful frescoes in a town called Chora. Far below on the hillside was the "Cave of the Apocalypse" where St. John the Theologian was exiled and was said to have written the Book of Revelation.

"Cave of the Apocalypse" sounds so ..well..apocalyptic. There is no human scale to this phrase. I am just self centered enough to want something I can identify with in any story or image. That is how I connect and understand. The cave had a shrine-like quality, untouchable - from the small silver framed recesses of the cave where John is said to have laid his head to the church built into and around the cave. A guard stood watching our every move. No pictures were allowed. We walked around the silent church, the low undulating roof line of the cave on the right side gave way to the left, a stone addition made to enclose the cave. Windows were built into the wall looking over the island, into the fields and and beyond them, the sea. I sat in the window seat and just looked out over the valley. It occurred to me that if John sat in his cave he would have seen this very same thing. I thought that was good because now when I read the book of Revelation, I will have that image in my mind and I will know that when his mind was on human things, that is what John saw.

Craig left and went back in wanting quiet and a place for himself. At the doorway there was a basin of sand and a wooden rack of tall thin honey colored candles. We lit one saying a prayer for St. Peter's and our friends back home.

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