I'm gazing at the plate with the melomakarona cookies, a traditional dessert to be found in every local house, and I never fail to think just how positively Byzantine they look. Their gritty but oily texture, dough folded with olive oil and wheat flour; their walnuts and honey succulence, a memory reflecting the offering of peasants to the ancient pagan gods of fertility; their deeper olive-sandy shade the same as the liturgical beeswax candles that burn in the Orthodox churches, a surefire reference of the Eastern Mediterranean, similar still to the lined faces of the old closing their eyes in piety when the censer comes out and ringlets of fragrant smoke rise up in the air. Things become symbols.
Religious I am not. But there's something about piety and contemplative ritual which deeply appeals to a (universal, I feel) need for the mystic and the offer of one's spirit to something higher. This can manifest itself in many ways, some entailing sensual ways that include our small hobby, others which explore the higher arts and others still which mean sharing yourself with the universe, belonging. Christmas, for those who partake of the tradition at least in spirit, if not in letter, means realizing that we're all brothers and sisters, that filling up one's soul with goodness and with peace allows for forgiving and for sharing and that this is the only way to conquer death.
I'm leaving you with a Byzantine-style chant performed by the monks of the Simonopetra Monastery in Mount Athos, Greece, called "Agni Parthene" (Oh Pure Virgin, Ωδή β', Ήχος πλάγιος α') composed by St.Nectarios of Aegina in the 19th century during his tenure at the Rizareios Theological School in Athens.
My best wishes to all of you for love, peace and sharing of the self during this festive season*.
*And for those who wonder (and wish me a good Orthodox Christmas later on), Greek Christmas is the same day as Western Christmas, even though most Greeks are Orthodox Christian.