Ours was a movement and elegance of sailing in the Aegean Sea of Poseidon’s realm in that spring day. Islands of legends float on this Dodecanese area where Rhodes, Leros, Kos and other islets inhabited by not more than a thousand people live. There we’d passed some small towns, smaller villages then hills barren in Greek heat and sun then interrupted with blue and white signature houses. Civilizations thrived here. Religions crisscrossed here. Wars and naval battles happened here. Ottomans invaded through these swirling streams of imperial ambitions. Along the rugged coasts, the deserted harbors longed-for game fishes waiting for burly men who are still resting. On the sugary seashores, wooden fishing boats in elbowing clusters and tilted poses glanced at us, strangers and suspicious voyeurs. Yes, those waters that flow under the sea-polished-belly of this enormous ship belong to the body of marine currents intermingling and interbreeding, oblivious of origins and colors. Those waters that embrace the life of fishes and seagulls and multitude seaweeds that encompass the experience of evolution is a vibrant ecosystem. Those molecules that splashed here and wiped the dryness and buoyancy of curved walls had encountered the saltiness of the Strait of Dardanelles, of the Mediterranean, Ionian, Cretan and Thracian Seas.
I was calm and enjoying the speed and murmur of a mammoth ship, the railings with salt cavities and clinging sticky breeze. The story of Aegeus is everywhere, in the cabin, on the wall of an open restaurant and in the music bars. Ironically, even in the smiling faces of the many sailors, the tragedy of Aegeus is very familiar to them. What fate to have falsely believed that your son is already dead that you drown yourself in the water that was then named after you! Yes, these men have immortalized Aegeus as they memorized the eddies and potholes of these sea-roads and invisible sea-routes.
Maybe if I further leaned forward to hear some measured and melodic sounds, I could have distinctly heard the voice of the greatest modern Greek poet, Odysseus Elytis. In his Hellenic tongue, he would have talked of the mythic Aegean world, his verbose love, the sands of Homer and the cries of Pindar, the green currents of the cerulean, and the wind-beaten verbs of his songs under the violent stares of Zeus and Hera.
And the nonchalance of its winds
And the jib sail of its hope
On the lightest of its waves an island
Cradles the arrival.” – Elytis
When I stepped on the island of Patmos, I closed my eyes. It could be the horizon and the prophetic song that brought myself to cover the retina after sailing in the blazing afternoon sea. I savored a minute of darkness and searing emptiness. I will fill myself; I whispered the soul in me. I am here on the island rock of spiritual presence. As I opened my eyes, I had the feeling I heard John the Beloved saying in his Book of Revelation’s introduction and benediction, “I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom…”
I asked myself, what revelation will this Greek island bring me. Patmos, the rock where the Apocalypse was revealed to St. John in banishment here, is a holy place. St. John was the only apostle among the twelve who lived through old age. Great was his love for his master that he took care of Jesus’ mother, Mary in the nearby Ephesus. Here, he wrote the visions he saw as he lived in a cave high up on the hill, blinded by old age or of the powerful images.
I kept these nascent thoughts, and like an obeisant flock of sheep to be grazed upon a grassy hill, Marissa, my wife and the rest of our group boarded the bus that took us to the Cave of the Apocalypse and the Monastery of John the Theologian on the high hill in 1088 by Christodoulos.
As our blue and white painted bus zigzagged to the top of the hill that dominates the island, my heart surged with reckless expectations. What sight, what fortress, what vision, what gasping beauty lies on top. A young couple stared at us, and maybe they shared that excitement too. There was a subdued tinge of embarrassment when we saw them wanting to engage with us. We both smiled and extended our hands, the Greeks and the Filipinos in warm friendship, alas.
Sensing from them, they looked like deep in their hearts, all they want was to be genuine travelers who’d go into the world and not bring their comfortable world as tourists. Rightly so, because they are from mainland Greece who’d moved around, explored their country and the Balkans. They’d come not from the cruise ship but from the boats that ply the route from Piraeus with their heavy backpacks, their right wrists filled with friendship bands. Later on, they said, they might go next to Lesbos or Rhodes after passing through another port.
Kristine and Kosmidis were their names. They are sweethearts on their early twenties who’d decided to move around after their studies at the University of Athens in the social sciences. Their three nights was a raucous night in Santorini with other Nordic students and archeology majors from Rome. Along with their travels there in the area, they got to learn more about how the local government is managing the influx of refugees crossing through Turkey. They had seen how the local fishermen are married to their boats and their unpredictable sea.
“Why Patmos of all the other islands here?”, I smiled and asked with curiosity because they could have better asked that question.
“Well, it is there. It is just like the cliché, why climb a mountain and the answer is because the mountain is there”, Kosmidis shrugged and continued to look around as our bus made a sharp turn in its continuous speed.
“Kristine here says we might just spend our stays in the monastery up,” he added with Kristine making a face.
“Yeah, why not? It could be a spiritual experience for the both of you”, I quipped hoping the conversation will progress and I could further learn from these young people their views and ideas even in the limited time.
Finally, the panoramic view of the whole island with the most beautiful afternoon sun was revealed to us. Patmos, as the locals boldly proclaimed in their glossy brochures displayed in the tourist centers has the most beautiful sunset in the Aegean. I agreed. In my heart, I saw it more poignant and hallucinatory. The goddess of beauty has painted it with her Olympian charm and grace that the sun here shone with a thousand shade of the softest and honey-like orange, brighter yet less oppressive that there in Ouia on volcanic Santorini.
I realized we lost our newly-found friends as our group went into the labyrinthine concrete structures of immaculate white leading to the cave where St. John is believed to have written his visions. I opened some chapters on the Book of Revelation and in thanksgiving knelt before the small altar filled with candles of long wicks. At that moment, I was transported in that realm of quiet where the physical and spiritual merge. I was in the state of prayer and communion with my God. I would have wanted more. I would have wanted to stay and stare from the windows the placid sea below, the same sight St. John may have seen two thousand years ago. The next batch of people was coming in to have their time too.
We were in the chapel of the monastery after a torturous climb of a dozen steps, when we saw Kristine and Kosmidis, lighting candles. They went ahead of us while we were in the cave and they lingered more in the Greek Orthodox religious museum looking at the elaborate religious artifacts and their historical backgrounds.
“We are not religious, were inspired to light candles, though.”, Kristine said with a smile as if there was a need to explain them lighting at least four candles.
“We need those for our weary souls,” I responded, more of an expression of fatigue after that climb as I was catching up my breath.
We lost them finally not knowing whether they indeed made serious of their plan to stay there, not necessarily in the monastery but in those small nifty inns just behind the fortress. Later on, those last words I told the young couple made me realize that indeed we need those prayers that go with our lighted candles to feed our spiritually weary souls. St. John lived in worship and unceasing prayer all the days of his life and had been shown what Paradise awaits for those who believe. In ecstacy he had written, “then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters, and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: Hellelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.”