Conversations with the Archbishop

My mother tells the story of the surprise visit to Kakouri by the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Zimbabwe, Father Kyrillos. She had stayed behind in South Africa while my father visited Greece.

It was a Sunday. Church in the village finishes by 9 a.m., so the farmers can get to the fields and do the necessary to keep the animals fed and produce watered. As the years have passed, fewer and fewer old men go down to the fields, and after church they walk the forty steps down from the church into the village square. The socialists peel off and take their seats at their bar on the square, and the right wingers continue on a hundred meters into the village to Keza’s Kafeneio. The Communists used to go up to what looked like a squalid kafeneio higher up the village toward the mountain.

That Sunday in November 1981 my father was sitting with his group of old men, Simbonis and Vlachos included, at Keza’s. They would no doubt be talking, and playing cards. The talk covered many subjects, from religion to politics to philosophy and some good jokes. If you walked past the kafeneio the French doors would have been closed to the cold, and the square room would have been filled with a white haze of smoke. That was before the days of health restrictions on smoking, and of them would have been sitting with cheap Greek cigarettes dangling from their unshaven faces. They only shaved for major religious feasts, not an ordinary Sunday. After sipping their Cognacs, they puffed on their cigarettes, blue smoke melting into the haze.

Aleko, the taxi driver called the kafeneio. “Mr Peter. Hello. I’m coming from Athens with a visitor. Father Kyrillos.”

My father always reacted to authority with respect and speed. Church authority deserved more and Father Kyrillos, who had been a family friend, received attention beyond anything seen in the village for a while. My father rushed off home to receive him. He shaved and changed into new clothes. I can imagine the bathroom downstairs smelling of shower steam and aftershave, with my father pacing up and down as he waited for his esteemed visitor. It would be a different Sunday.

When the Archbishop arrived my father took him straight to Keza’s kafeneio. The French doors had been opened to clear the air, the cards had been packed away and the old men sat drinking coffee demurely out of thick white cups like angels. They still talk about the visit of this charismatic visit by the African Bishop.

In Kenya, during the Mau Mau uprising that led to independence, the British arrested the Greek Orthodox priests and nuns and incarcerated them in concentration camps. They stood accused of aiding the struggle.

In 1986 in Zimbabwe after independence, militants placed a bomb at the house of a British Military officer. It was in fact Father Kyrillos’ home. He died instantly in the explosion.

Father Kyrillos at the house in Kakouri. The wine press is on his right, below the steps.

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