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 The lepers' priest

Source: http://www.elladanews.gr/article/504781-o-iereas-tis-spinalogka-alithini-istoria-.html

Much is being said recently about the Greek island of Spinalonga, on account of the book entitled "The Island", by the English authoress Victoria Hislop *, now being played with huge success as a series on Greek television.


One of the historical facts that we were informed of is that the lepers who lived on Spinalonga island were angry at God, the reason being that their ailment was a huge, unbearable ordeal.  A priest from Ierapetra town in Crete had dared to visit them once, to perform a Liturgy together with the colony's new settlers, at the church of Saint Panteleimon that existed on the island and was falling into ruin. They say that not a single soul turned up at the first Liturgy.

The lepers listened to the chanting, stubbornly remaining inside their cells, sometimes drowning it out with their groans and sometimes with their curses.  But the priest went there again. During that second visit, one of the patients bravely showed himself at the doorstep of the church, with the following statement:

"Priest, I will sit through your Liturgy, but only under one condition. At the end, you will give me Communion. And if your God is as almighty as you say, you will afterwards conclude the Liturgy (=by partaking of the same Chalice) and not be afraid of my leprosy".

The priest nodded compliantly. These words were overheard from the neighboring cells and various individuals began to gather near the side of the church, where there was a small gap in the crumbling wall that offered them a limited view of the inner sanctum.  The lepers remained in waiting until the end of the Liturgy and watched the priest, in tears and kneeling before the Sacred Table of Offering, as he concluded the ritual.

A month went by.  The lepers waited for him. They were convinced that this time he would come as a patient and not as a priest. And yet, the priest returned, healthy and rosy-cheeked, and with his morale invigorated began to ring the church bell of the old chapel.

From that time on, and for at least ten years, Spinalonga island had a priest of its own.  The lepers restored the church by themselves, and along with the church, they restored their faith.  They took Holy Communion regularly and they would always secretly observe their priest during the conclusion of the Liturgy, to make sure that the "miracle of Spinalonga" was repeated, over and over again.

Saint Panteleimon church, Spinalonga Island

In 1957, with the discovery of antibiotics and the cure for leprosy, the leprosarium was shut down and the island was deserted.  Only the priest remained on the island, until 1962, offering memorial services for the lepers, until  5 years after their death.

Behold, therefore, a contemporary, discreet hero - one who was never honoured for his work by anyone and - in case you didn't notice - whose name we haven't stated, quite simply because... we do not know it!  But we are quite sure that God knows it, and that is good enough !



* "The Island" is a historical novel written by Victoria Hislop. It has won several awards including Newcomer of the Year at the 2007 British Book Awards. The book was also nominated for the Book of the Year award at the same event. Set on the island of Spinalonga, off the coast of Crete, and on the village of Plaka which lies within swimming distance across it, The Island tells the story of Alexis Fielding, a woman on the cusp of a life-changing decision. Alexis knows little or nothing about her family's past and has always resented her mother for refusing to discuss it. She knows only that her mother, Sophia, grew up in Plaka, a small Cretan village, before moving to London. Making her first visit to Crete to see the village where her mother was born, Alexis discovers that the village of Plaka faces the small, now deserted island of Spinalonga, which, she is shocked and surprised to learn was Greece's leper colony for much of the 20th century.

Article published in English on: 20-12-2010.

Last update: 20-12-2010.