Conversations with Priests

One of the most memorable things about my parents wedding in 1959 is the wedding cake with two Greek flags fluttering on the top tier of the wedding cake. But the most memorable thing is that the priest who married them at the Johannesburg Church of the Saints Constantine and Helene disappeared shortly after the wedding, both from South Africa and the priesthood. It was later circulated via the grapevine a few years later that he had qualified and was practising as a gynaecologist in Athens!

There have been so many priests involved in our lives. Like the one who was an accountant and gave this up for the calling. I followed him down to Durban where I proposed to my future wife, Ines. I went to the priest to arrange the wedding. We sat in the lounge of the old house opposite the old church in Durban, near the harbour. I had visited him every so often the church was in fact opposite the King Edward VIII Hospital, where I spent a few years of post –graduate training. I told him that I wanted to get married. Judging by the behaviour of the Durban Greek boys he asked one question.

“Is she Christian?”

“Yes, father, she’s Catholic. She’s Italian.”

“Good. Never mind that she’s Italian. Let’s have a drink. Papadia, bring some whisky, please”

I cannot remember if he said please. But his wife dutifully brought the whisky, glasses and ice and he poured me a huge tot and we drank; him happy that I was marrying a Christian and me happy that he was happy to marry us. He married most of the extended family, baptised most of the nieces and nephews and said his goodbyes tearfully at a few family funerals as well.

The other priest who made an impression on me was the village priest. He introduced me to alcohol at the tender age of 14, one December when I was in Greece with my brother. He poured an ouzo and added water. The white cloud swirled in the glass as I sipped the aniseed taste and slowly got drunk. We were sitting in his kitchen, at the end of a long passage that led from the front door. The next thing a young man came running through.

“Hide me, father, he wants to kill me!” he gasped as he hung onto the priests knees. The priest had just buried this scared young man’s father. The other brother was challenging the will, and felt he could not survive on half the land his father had, and needed more to feed his family.

The first brother exited, to the cellar I think, and the second brother came through in heavy boots, holding a shotgun. “Where’s my brother? I’m going to kill him!” He brandished the gun in front of the priest, who was a keen hunter, but I do not think appreciated the idea of a shooting in his house or village.

Wide eyed and drunk, I watched this action like a scene in a movie. Brother wanting to kill brother. Just like in the Civil War. Just about land.

They were mad. And the priests were crazy.

A working priest in the village, circa 1970