My wife and I went to Crete in order to work on my fourth book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit. Crete is the largest of the Greek islands at 8,336 km² (3,219 square miles) and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean. As the centre of the Minoan civilization (ca. 2600–1400 BC), Cretan culture was the oldest form of Greek and hence European civilization. It is not surprising that there are over 2,000 scholars and archeologists on Crete.
Our first Sunday in Crete started with heavy rain, requiring us to take a taxi to the 7am service at Hagios Tito/Titus Church where Titus’ actual head is kept in the side chapel. The Hagios Tito service lasted 3 and 1/2 hours. For the first hour, there were more clergy and robed choir than congregation: about 8 including us. Time is no concern to Cretans. Every hour, more people wandered in, until three hours later the service was 80% full. Even the choir members wandered in and out over the three+ hour service.
There were no instruments. The two miked-singers/cantors who led the choir had excellent base voices. The congregation never sang. At the end of the service, any of the people who did not take communion were invited to receive a blessed piece of bread to eat on their way out. All the children took communion, plus many of the adults who felt spiritually connected that day.
The Greek Orthodox Archimandrite Makarios officially welcomed us to Crete and invited us to have coffee with him after the service. His English was excellent, so we had a great conversation. I was able to give him a copy of ‘Battle for the Soul of Canada’ as a gift which he seemed pleased to receive. As he is also a medical doctor, he gave us a gift of his book on Orthodox bioethics.
After Church, we went for lunch with one of the young Cretan couples. It was a great opportunity to learn more about Crete, and how to not butcher the modern Greek language. Quite understandably, Greek has changed a bit in two thousand years. For example, the ‘eu’ in Eucharist/Thank you is currently pronounced as an ‘f’ as in ‘Efharista’.
In the afternoon, we went by bus to the famous Knossos archeological palace, where the ancient Minoans had their headquarters. After that, we went to the Venetian Port at Heraklion where the wind on the windbreaker was so strong that it almost blew us off our feet. We can understand how Paul in Acts 27:10 warned the ship captain not to leave Crete because of the winter danger of shipwreck. Even today Cretans do not do much fishing in the winter.
The next day, a taxi driver named Immanuel drove us to the Agaradou Monastery way up on a remote hill where we met the Abbot Erasmus who gave us a memorable tour of the monastery. Later that afternoon, we were fortunate to visit the National Museum of Crete, where we learned about the many times the Cretan people have been conquered, and yet how they reemerged after great persecution. All of their church buildings after the conquest of 1669 were closed, and converted to other purposes. Only 50 people in their main city of Heraklion (Chandax) were left after a continuous siege for twenty years, reportedly the longest siege in the history of the world.
The resilience and deep faith of the Cretan people is a lesson to others facing difficulties in life. My prayer for those reading this article is that we would show the same resilience and faithfulness when we face life’s disappointments.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin
– previously published in the Deep Cove Crier
-award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada
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