Friday, November 28, 2008

George Crane - Papa Christos

A great article from Shambhala Sun, offered earlier than normal (this issue is still on newstands).

Papa Christos


A village priest/shaman enters into spiritual battle with the demons who haunt the soul of Zen cynic George Crane.

The sun was warm through the windshield. He drove fast and recklessly. He took curves on the wrong side of the road, passed in no-passing zones, pushed the little Fiat to its limits.

He pointed to a roadside shrine.

“Many people crash and die here.”

Aristotle Dimas was concerned about the state of my soul. And with that in mind he had offered to drive me two hours north of Athens to meet his spiritual father and confessor, Papa Christos, a charismatic village priest, an ecstatic healer and prophesier who spoke in tongues.

It was almost half past twelve, with the first shadows stretching silent and the water violet in that light. A brilliant, end-of-December afternoon. The sky was translucent. Pure azure. Tissue thin air. In Konstantinos we stopped for a snack at a taverna fronting the Aegean—the slow sea lolling, so calm, tepid, and flat it seemed barely alive, silent as a mime lapping the shore. The fried-cheese pies we ate, oily and heavy as lead, the Greek coffee we drank, two rounds of doubles, the cigars we smoked, black Backwoods aromatics, left me ready to meet God and all his minions.

Dark trees lined the road leading into Platistomo, a long corridor. And slowly the light changed. Above and behind us, as seen through the eyes and mind of a dreamer, reclining beneath the sky, snow-covered Parnassos, like the body of a woman—white shoulders, white breasts, white hips, white thighs.

The village was empty and still except for the chickens in the yards, a barking dog, and the sweet smell of composted manure. The café on the square, where we were to meet Papa Christos, was nameless. Its glass door and windows faced the church, the lovely old almond tree that spread its branches over a bench and the war memorial; a brass plaque engraved with the names of local boys lost to last century’s various wars and revolutions. Not many. Platistomo was, after all, a very small place. The door of the café was warped and scraped against the floor, so that you had to push hard both to open and close it with a great screech. The floor was worn. The ceiling very high. The tables and chairs, haphazardly placed, were all different, an odd mix of styles and colors. There was a dusty case displaying the candy and sodas for sale, cigarettes. The afternoon sun poured through the flat windows. Squares of sunlight that floated.

The place was almost empty. One coffee drinker with a burning cigarette hanging from his lips—a man so old and frail that he must no longer be living his life in years, seasons, or even days, but in moments, each one long and perilous—and the alarmingly thin proprietress, smoke escaping her mouth, sat close to the wood stove at the center of the large yellowed room. They didn’t talk. It was as if everything had been said, and there was nothing left to say. Nothing left to do, but wait. It was painful to watch, this quiet waiting for death. Even now, when I think of them, a sack of bricks fills my chest, pressing down.

The priest, a man of punctilious discipline, took his coffee in that café every afternoon, at three, after his nap. While waiting for him, we each had a coffee. Aristotle had a candy bar with his. There was the rich odor of coffee, sweet chocolate, and tobacco. There were silences filled with secrets, stories I ached to know and tell.

At three, on the dot, the door to the café scraped open. Dressed in priestly black, Papa Christos, a dark knight, made his entrance, cut the air, commanded and filled the space. His heavy, black, bulbous-toed working man’s shoes were dusty, the leather cracked. He was a heavyweight. Defrocked, he would have passed as a dock worker or a hit man, a bully or a mean drunk; a hard-looking man except for his soft eyes. He had an enormous permanently reddened nose with the branches of broken capillaries that heavy drinkers get. His fingers were crude, thick and spatulate. His face—fierce, passionate—was square cut and not exactly coarse but close; his neck thick and muscular. He looked as if he’d slept in what he wore and he smelled unwashed, as did his crusty hair and beard. They kissed the hand he held out limply, an oddly effeminate gesture, I thought. They kissed it in turn. When he offered it to me, I shook it.

Papa Christos sat heavily. He blew his nose, a vigorous honk, lit a cigarette and inhaled greedily. Grabbed his cup of coffee, enveloping it in a meaty paw, chugged it, slapped it dramatically down on the table. He began speaking straightaway, staring into me with unblinking blackbird eyes. I stared back not sure if I liked this guy, loathed him, or both. I am suspicious of anyone tied too closely to God. I have no use for the orthodox, bowing their heads before authority. I love what Lucifer, the most beautiful of the angels, loves in man—his independence, his courage; his desire for knowledge, for beauty, for freedom. If God wanted obedience, he should have created man in the image of a hard drive.
Go read the whole article.

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