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Ai Giannis at Kastri

AI GIANNIS AT KASTRI. Shortly before reaching Glossa, om your right, you come across a road that leads to the chapel of Ai Giannis at Kastri.
The chapel of Ai Giannis is at the top of a rock 100 m high and to reach it one must climb about 200 steps cut into the rock. Before the road reaches the sea, there is a tap with water at the chapel of Panagia.

The visitor climbs up a well protected staircase cut into the rock. The view from the top is mesmerizing. The small, almost lonely beaches with their green-blue waters among the grey rocks add one more tone of beauty to the area.

Tradition has it that as a fisherman from Glossa was returning from fishing one night, he saw a light at the top of the rock. He would see it every night, until a woman appeared in his sleep and revealed to him that there is an icon at the top. When he climbed to the top, he found the icon of Saint John the Baptist.

He took the icon, but wherever he transported it to, it returned to its original position, so that is where the chapel was finally built, celebrating on August 29.

An unparalleled description of the festivities on the celebration day of Ai Giannis is provided by scholar Vassileios D. Koukourinis from Glossa, who is today a professor at an American University ...

Every year, when August comes, the islanders eagerly look forward to the 29th of the month. It is the day of celebration of the saint and it is a day of prayer, holiday and entertainment. Most people go from Glossa. The beautiful village becomes deserted… The older people set out earlier, to get to the rock early at sundown, to make sure they get a piece of land and reassure those who dont walk as fast.

They go to the festivities every year, for as long as they can… the road ends… The people in a line, one world near another they climb the steps. On each step there is pilgrim. On each pilgrims face there is a tear. A few more steps and they arrive in front of the church square.

A small icon decorated with fresh flowers and next to it a candelabra with lots of lit candles lighting the scene. Next to that sat Papa – Sideris, a senior priest ... with his patriarchal all-white beard ... looking all around with his sweet swift eyes..

The islanders move close to him and kiss his hand. They give him a piece of paper with names to memorialise… He greets every one with a sweet smile. He calls everyone by their first name. He knows them all, as he has been the village priest for a lifetime. He has known their happiness and sorrow. He has baptized, married, and sorrowfully buried many. As a good spiritual doctor, he diagnosed the pain of the soul and tried to soften it…

Time goes by and slowly-slowly the last pilgrims arrive with their lit lanterns… Suddenly the bell sends its harmonious sound all through the olive branches calling the faithful to the wake. Papa – Sideris moves towards the chapel, enters the altar and puts on his precious multi-coloured vestments. The chanter takes his place and the wake begins. The chapel is packed with people… The service continues rhythmically and in a while the priest comes out of the altar holding the censer. He spreads the incense around the middle of the chapel. There is not a sound to be heard… around papa – Sideris gathers a group of girls of a marriageable age and they chant Fos Ilaron (Cheerful Light) in European rhythm. The moment is indescribable…

The bell sounds in a while and the priest comes out into the square with the icon in his hands. Everybody prays and kisses it… The priest begins to memorialise the names. All together, chanter and people, respond. God have mercy. And the nature gives off scents and rejoices…

The change in minimal time is radical. In front of the square, where the saint emerged, the instrument players have taken their place and they are tuning their instruments… the dance begins with incredible momentum. Men, women and children gather all around. They watch the dance leader jumping high and twisting in the air, so that the others will be proud of him. He throws money towards the instrument players and they make merry and sing at the top of their lungs… The priest stands at the door of the church, looks towards the dancers and smiles. He goes towards his cell to have a rest, and get up at the crack of dawn and do mass in the twilight.

The morning hours go past quickly in the whirlwind of the dance, the instruments, the singing. The young dance soaked in sweat and compete to see who will dance better at the lead. This is how the night goes by. Few people lie down in the yard catch a wink.

Dawn is breaking. Everything goes pink-red. Papa Sideris is up. He goes into the chapel to begin the Matins, the Service. The bell rang. The instruments stopped. Tired faces, sleepy eyes praying to the skies. The chanter chants fast, but the priest reads every letter, faithful to the church rituals. He is not in a hurry…

Many come forward to receive Christs body and blood. At the end, the priest kindly gives out the holy bread and wishes to everyone separately… The service ends and everyone leaves at once, as if in a race to get down the steps first, and take the road towards their village, where the pressure of life awaits them.

They are in a hurry to get back before the fire-hot sunrays make their journey more tiring.

The chapel is empty.