Sunday, 8 February 2009

St John The Hermit - My Family's Protector

The church up the road from the Kafenion behind the Alfa Hotel is the
Koukoutsakis family private burial ground, I guess we love the view for there.

The church is about 700 years old and is built on the cave of St John the Hermit part of which is actually inside the church. St John the Hermit came with the 99 Holy Fathers possibly from what is now Turkey. The story goes that on the way to Crete they forgot him in Gavdos and then they prayed to him to put his coat on the sea and they brought him here by the power of prayer. When he came to Azogires, in our neighbourhood, Koukoutsiana, there was a prison. The prisoners were ill so he cured them and when they got their freedom, they built the church around the cave where he lived, you can see part of the rock of the cave in the photo above.

Originally the church had mosaics inside; beautiful frescoes depicting the 99 Holy Fathers and much more but unfortunately, during the 2nd World War, the church committee thought make the church prettier so they white washed the walls, destroying the frescoes.

My family came here over 300 years ago and they settled here after a hard life at sea. They were pirates you know, under the leadership of Kapetan Mavros - meaning Captain Black - and that’s where our first name comes from - Mavroukakis black man - kara in Turkish I think. My family were involved in the fight against the Turks and we fought for Crete’s freedom again and again and again, causing us to change our name again and again – Mavraki –Mavroukakis – Kokotsakis - Kokozakis Koukouzakis - Koukoutsakis. We spread all over Crete but Azogires and Saint John were always in our hearts and to this day, all branches of the Koukoutsakis family have one John in the family named after the saint..

To make a long story short, we are protecting Saint John with our own lives and our hearts and in return he is our family protector. He has always protected us, as we are the guardians of his deepest secrets; whenever a family member was in trouble, St John was there; in time of war, in time of peace, St John was there and he always will be there.

When I was a child I witnessed my own father falling of an orange tree when the branch broke. Suddenly the branch floated in the air allowing my father to jump of safely and as he turned around the floating branch hit the earth; this incident happened below St John’s church. Also, several years back my uncle George used the cave as a stable. He had a dream telling him to stop doing that but he didn’t and a few days later a rock fell inside killing one of his best goats. Despite that he continued to house his animals inside and then one day as my father was by the hotel, he noticed a flash inside the cave and saw my uncle running out together with his donkey. That was the last time my uncle put animals inside that cave and he never spoke about what he saw or witnessed