The Iconostatio in the Village House

Every Greek household has an iconostasio, a corner in a room to hold icons and burn incense and store memorabilia of the religious year. In the house in Kakouri the iconostasio is in the north east corner of my late grandmother’s room. It is a simple affair; two planks that have become part of the wall meet in a corner and support Jesus. The walls and planks have been plastered in a village fashion, attempting to be perfect but ending up rough without looking like Spanish plaster.

The iconostasio has a bare electric bulb with the element in the shape of a cross and it burns a soft orange red but does not flicker. When I sleep in that room I usually turn it off, because in the mountain darkness it shines bright and stops me from sleeping. Also, I am a bit of a purist, and enjoy the sensory experience of a wick burning in olive oil and incense of myrrh burning on charcoal. Incense is  more than quintessentially Greek Orthodox. It joins all the great ancient philosophies in a wonderful sensory experience.

The village house iconostasio has two big icons, one unusual in that it is Catholic in style, and the biggest. The other is slightly smaller and Byzantine in style. The gold foil has been burnt by a flame and obscures the top of Christ’s head. They are two smaller icons, one of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus and another of a saint. In between these two small icons is a vertical piece of wood engraved with “Evlogia” – blessing, much as is the fashion in décor stores where they sell big signs proclaiming Love, Faith, Happiness and Joy.

The most noticeable item is a bottle of wine from the Roussos Winery on the island of Santorini. It is called Nama, and is a blend of five varieties: Mantilaria, Aidani, Asyrtiko, Athiri and Mavrathiro. It is reserved for Holy Communion. I have no idea why it is there.

There are also flowers from the Easter Epitaphio – the Tomb of Christ, dried with time, remnants of an Easter visit by my father a few years ago. An olive branch is propped up behind the main icons. I cannot see any palm crosses, which would be kept and stored with the icons after Palm Sunday.

A thick church candle sits next to a jar that holds the holy water from the epiphany. If you open this you can still smell a hint of the Sweet basil that was dipped in it to sprinkle the house for good fortune on that day.

There is a cotton cloth with a red ribbon that lies loosely folder behind the candle and the jar. Again, I have no idea where that comes from.

It is a peaceful corner. An anchor in the house, that over the years the family has prayed at and written about.


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