It was 9 years ago when I first traveled to Chios. Although I am living in İzmir which is very close to the island, I never knew why it took so long for me to go there. My father’s home! I call it father’s home because it is the place where my father’s father was born and raised.
Chios belonged to the Ottoman Empire until 1913 and by the treaty of London, it was left to Greece. According to the terms of the agreement, my grandfather and his family were sent to Çeşme because they were of Turkish descent. My father was born in Turkey, but on the other hand all my father’s ancestors were born in Greece according to the current country border.
I did not realize that this situation really creates a bond between me and Chios. But it did. I felt it the second I got off from the ferry. (The easiest transportation is taking a ferry from Çeşme to Chios.) It was almost the same. Literally, it was almost the same with İzmir.
The cordon, the roads, the cafés, the people… If the signboards were not in Greek, I would not believe that I was abroad. Even my phone was working normally throughout the cordon. It sounds funny but it is basically due to the close-range of the two countries, of course.
My first shock happened when I sat at a café and ordered a Greek coffee. I was expecting to drink something different, but instead came our well known beloved Turkish coffee in a bigger cup. Naturally, I never ordered Greek coffee again.
My main plan in this trip was to see the old villages because they are real history pages. The legacy of my ancestors. So, I found a tour which would take me to Mesta, Pirgi and Olimpi. These three villages of Greece are on the list of UNESCO World Heritage. This information increased my wonder a great deal as expected.
To tell the truth, all the villages were incredible. I had lots of fun hanging around, drinking mastic liqueurs, eating muffin with Mastelo cheese and participating the 25th of March celebrations. By chance, the day I went to Chios was one of their both religious and national holidays. It is a religious holiday because it is “Evangelismos” which it was revealed to Virgin Mary that she would give birth to Jesus. Also, it is Greece Independence Day celebrating the initiation of Greek Independence War to achieve its independence from the Ottoman Empire! Isn’t it a weird coincidence? The very first time I went to Greece overlaps the day of their most important holidays and one of them is the reason my grandparents had to emigrate to Çeşme from Chios!
Anyhow, the celebrations were quite inspiring. I could not help sharing the Greek enthusiasm and then it felt kind of weird.
The elderly, mourning ladies in black dresses attracted me most in Pyrgi. They were surprisingly looking alike my grandma a lot. I have lost her years ago. She had the same long dresses and the same gray hair in a bun. And the same looks that are happy and sad at the same time…
Another thing I was familiar with at Pyrgi was the geometric ornaments of the houses. Flowers, wheels or both are engraved on the facing of the houses using the Xysta coating method. It is believed that flowers will bring love and happiness and wheels will bring luck, abundance and money. All my life, I always believed in symbols and I will always believe for sure. Writing, drawing or maybe only saying things out loud changes everything. This method
always worked for me. To be honest; when I saw that Chios people share the same belief with me, I felt good.
Different languages, governmental borders, wars and pacts… Nevertheless, we are a huge family actually. That is why we feel each other and we look like each other. Don’t we?
I saved the climax to the end. Everything was quite familiar and quite impressive, but there was one thing which reached the sky. The last stop of our tour was Mesta Village. This village was designed as a labyrinth in the medieval age against the attacks of the pirates.
Devious and narrow streets… It is so hard to state, a man must see it. There is a church in this village which is very revered by Chios people. I got enlightened in this Palaios Taxiarchis Church. An amazing church! Everywhere is all
embellished with wood carvings and frescoes and the icons of the two Archangels: Michael and Gabriel.
As it is believed, Archangel Michael was sent to earth to watch us and protect us from the Devil. The icon was made by an exclusive technique to emphasize this feature of Michael.
Wherever you go, he follows you with his eyes. You go right, Michael is looking at you. You go left, Michael is still looking at you. Very impressive!
This reminded me that we are never alone. It does not matter if anyone does not see our bad behavior. One sees everything. The Great Creator, God! He lives in our hearts. No one sees, but our heart knows it. Our conscience always follows us. We are responsible to our conscience.
This ancient truth always gives me goosebumps. We are not alone and our religion does not make any difference. I was born as a Muslim, but actually I do not believe in comparison of religions. There are three celestial religions and I believe in all of them. That is because God is only. Every religion believes in the same God.
Therefore, every sanctuary is God’s house and as holy as the others. If I might take this further, I do not find any supremacy between a believer and an atheist when there is goodness in the nonbeliever. Because God is goodness, so your belief does not mean much if you do not have good inside. On the contrary, it does not count for bad if you have good inside although you are not a believer. This is how I believe.
I believe in God and I believe in the good in me. And I believe in the guidance of my heart. When I saw Michael at the Palaios Taxiarchis Church, I realized once again that my heart will always follow me no matter what. And I will never be alone!
One more thing I want to mention towards the end, there is a lovely tradition in the Palaios Taxiarchis Church. You light a little candle for a very small amount of fee if you want to make a wish. If your wish comes true, you shall go back there and light a bigger candle to extend your sincere thanks. These big candles are a little bit more expensive and that money is used for the maintenance of the church.
That is all I can say here, but be sure there is more of it deep down in me. I will never forget my first visit to Chios and the Palaios Taxiarchis Church. I have been in many churches, mosques and synagogues, but this time was different. Michael was following me. I understand exactly why this old church means so much to Chios people. It is weird I went to Chios three times more after my first visit, but never found a chance to visit the Palaios Taxiarchis Church again. I have to go, but I do not know when. The time will come. That is all I know for now.