Wednesday, March 15

Signs of God

The Church authorities in Lamia, central Greece, have described the buried body of a preserved Orthodox monk Vissarion Korkoliakos that has remained intact 15 years after its burial as a “sign of God” as medical experts fail to come up with a scientific explanation to the alleged phenomenon.
The digging up of a body’s bones is an integral part of many the death ritual/psyche of many Greeks. In the Village where I live my house rests at the foot of a hill, which is crowned by a beautiful old church and cemetery. In this cemetery is a building containing the ossokubotio, the containers of those previously dug up. As it’s a poor village, some of these containers are, literally, biscuit boxes and biscuits tins. What a way, to end up as a Cadbury’s chocolate finger or digestive biscuit.
D, of course, wants to join in the thousands of other believers and visit the body of the Orthodox monk in the belief that it is a miracle, and that he is some sort of saint. Despite my deep respect for anyone religious and all religions, I can’t bring myself to do join her – out of curiosity let alone any extremely thin and slim idea that a miracle has somehow occurred.

Whilst I joke, it can, though, be deadly serious (excuse the pun)! My Mothers sister was buried in Athens, and after 3 years we all attended a graveside ceremony for the removal of the body (or its remains) to the ossokubotio. My Mother – fortunately - was late arriving and missed the ceremony beginning, and the rest of us watched as the coffin was opened to see a basically intact skeleton and only partly decomposed body which, without further ado and to our shock, was hoisted out and placed in a wheelbarrow and promptly carted off in the direction of what I assume was the local bone-crushing machine. As we saw in the distance my arriving Mother walking towards us, and saw in the foreground the skeleton being wheeled away, we realised there would be a point where Mother and her sister would meet. We saved the day by racing to our Mother and turning her around and walking her the other way so she wouldn’t see the sight of her sister’s almost complete skeleton advancing towards her in a prone position with rictus like grin on the face.
This ‘ceremony’ and other rites are a function of space (and history); It’s not all bad, though can seem wierd to the uninitiated. The first time I approached the open casket in a church and kissed the forehead of a deceased uncle was somewhat strange, but I learnt through that experience that seeing the body – especially in cases of unexpected death – can give one closure. Something I miss in the case of other family members who I suddenly and unexpectedly never saw again after saying a normal goodbye, after a normal day, in a normal busy life.
But the 3 year ritual of digging up isn't closure, more the reopening the wounds for me, and in a very painful way. The recent Greek decision to allow cremations will go a long way towards ensuring a repeat of these horrors never happens again.


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