As fears grow of World War Three over North Korea and as Donald Trump plans to simulate a nuke blast over New York starting tomorrow, it seems as good a time as any to continue our mental journey to the Cave of the Apocalypse, where John wrote the Book of Revelation.
Unhingement is also a theme of the Book of Revelation, incidentally. Characters like the Anti Christ, Beast, the False Prophet are just some of the unhinged dudes we find seeking to get control of the world.
When we left Piraeus, remember, on the first leg of our journey to the Cave of the Apocalypse on Patmos, the sea was black and wild. By contrast, the harbour waters spread out before you the following morning in Patmos are soft blue and covered with sparkling golden light.
As you feast your eyes on the island, you feel like saying with Odysseus, “Zeus has granted a glimpse of land beyond my hopes.”
Patmos is like an archetype of paradise, the kind of place we have visited whenever we have seen something especially beautiful, filled with peace, light, sweetness and life.
While we take a short mental break from all the media headlines warning us that World War Three may be imminent, and enjoy scorching sunshine, I would just like to ask you a question or two to get a conversation going.
What is the place where you recharge in the middle of your daily stress with bills piling up, long commuting hours, or a meaningless job?
What is your Patmos, so to speak, in the stormy seas of life? Is it something as simple as having a cup of tea or a chat in between chores or tasks? Going for a walk or a jog? A hobby like reading or gardening? Is it a holiday or a weekend break? What helps you to relax, regenerate during the day? Do you feel you have enough such moments? Do you believe you have the power to change what you routinely focus on? Or do you feel overwhelmed by the demands placed on you?
While you’re thinking about that, we’ll start our journey on foot.
For this leg of our journey to the Cave of the Apocalyse, dear reader, the harbour is once more going to be our point of departure, this time the harbour of Skala, Patmos’s capital.
Walking down the harbour, a mild breeze ruffles the palm trees. Brilliant purple, white, red, yellow, flowers overflow pots, the railings of balconies, and cascade in rivers of perfume down the sides of blindingly, snow white walls. It was freezing in Athens the night before. But here the temperatures are like summer. The roar of rushing gales no longer rings in your ears. The peace is broken only by the clink of pieces being moved on a board by elderly men in a cafe.
And although there is no sign of Jesus Christ walking on the water in the sunlight, nevertheless, I have the impression that if my eyesight were keen enough, I might well catch a glimpse of him here too, for you feel the same presence in the luminous air.
Later, a Patmos restaurant owner will reveal that many visitors have told him they saw an unexpected blazing up of light, of spiritual light, of Jesus Christ walking towards them as they approached Patmos by ship, yet more indication that the occurrence had an objective reality.
After reading John’s description of Jesus Christ in Revelation, some similarities also appear.
“And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands (when I looked up in the ship I saw an incredibly, powerful supranatural light filling the entire night horizon, turning it into a place brighter than day), and among the lampstands (like a point emerging our of the middle of that blazing light ) was someone like a son of man, (like a man, but spiritual and divine) dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest (whose figure was pure, radiant, brilliant, full of love, sweetness and light). The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire (like a man but towering in dimensions and surpassing anything I could see with my natural eyes or comprehend with my mind). His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace (able to walk firmly on the stormy black waves), and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters (he was more powerful than the thunderous ocean). In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword (he was powerful in a way that goes far beyond my comprehension). His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.”
Anyway, the experience forever changed my mental picture of Jesus Christ, and made me believe this world is ultimately characterised by hope.
We reach a signpost pointing to the Cave. A sharp right turn, and at the end of an arrow straight road, we catch a first glimpse of the Cave.
In the distance, the colossal monastery of St John, like a medieval castle fortified by dark walls, broods over a hill top town. On the steep slope far below it, the Cave complex stands out, white washed, among the fresh, green woods. Closer to us, are the flowers and fruit trees of the gardens lining the road. Lemon trees, figs, vines accompany you as you walk to the end of the road where you have a choice.
Do you want to climb the steep, stony path leading across a meadow and along high woods straight up to the Cave? Or do you want to take the easy way, the main road, which winds its way upwards more gently?
Actually, you’re not going to get a choice, because I have already decided to travel the easy way i.e. along the smooth, tarmacked road. It is easier, and more beautiful.
At the first bend, you find yourself at the “island’s outer edge where trees grow tall, alders, black poplars and firs shoot sky-high.” Far below, you see is a sandy cove washed by blue, crystal seas.
Another few minutes walk through a leafy wood (scarcely a car in sight), and you come to another bend, this time high enough to be able to see Skala itself, like a white sea shell, nestling on the sandy isthmus between the two, lush green hills that make up Patmos.
You continue onwards through denser woods, cut through with little brooks. You realize the doctor was right when he said there is something magical about Patmos. The island seems remote enough from the rest of the world to make you think you might still come across an Oracle that speaks or nymphs in a grove at every turn.
A radiance floods through the trees lining alley way which marks the entrance to the Apocalypse Cave. At its end, there is a modest, one story white washed building beside a rusty looking basket ball court.
Mindful of the fact that the Cave of the Apocalypse has a double character, as a place of Revelation, and as a Unesco Heritage site, which closes at 3 pm, you do not linger.
Going through the door, you move from the brightness of day into the darkness of a night. The Cave complex turns out to be very large, comprising many buildings, courtyards, and levels. You have to walk down lots and lots of worn out, stone steps to the lowest level to reach the Cave.
But we have finally arrived at a very ordinary looking door in thick white stone walls.
Before going inside, I’d like to ask you, dear reader, what you expect from this journey?
Do you think that going into a Cave, however legendary, will really help you achieve some insight into who you are, your purpose or destiny? Where do you go to find knowledge about the meaning of life? Or do you think there is no meaning to life, at all. Is it all just about earning money and having power for the brief span of our mortal days like a George Soros, a Steven Mnuchin or a Donald Trump?
Anyway, a deep breath, and a few steps and we are inside. As our eyes adjust to the darkness, we see an arching, low ceilinged and very small vault indeed. The gold of icons flashes in recesses.
Candles burn in front of a shadowy altar. Lamps illuminate mosaics and carvings on the walls of rocks. A small opening framed by window on the left side offers a stupenous view over the sea and green hill opposite.
There are a few small benches, an offering box and candles.
Finding yourself alone in the Cave, you decide just to stand still for a moment and absorb the atmosphere, the energy, the vibe. I soon decided I could spend a few hours, even years insidethat cave without any problem, and I suspect you would have felt the same way.
Next, you start to explore the icons and altars. You chose an icon which is tucked away in a corner in the hope of having a quiet place to meditate or perhaps even say a prayer.
Meanwhile, you notice a monk has entered the cave. He must be responsible for looking after it because he starts to sweep the cave, pushing aside the benches, making a loud dim with his broom.
You try to ignore him but the monk is working his way closer and closer to your feet. He enters your field of vision even though you are looking straight ahead at the icon. His disapproving, impatient expression tells you that you are an unwelcome obstacle to his cleaning agenda. You realize this monk is not going to rest until he has succeeded in getting you out of the cave. Since you have no more peace, you do go. Anti climax!
Disappointed, you climb back up the steps. Not sure what else to do that afternoon, you decide to sit on a rock outside the cave to warm up again in the rays of the sun. Though it is only early afternoon, the shadows are already creeping down the slope.
Looking around, you suddenly realize that this is a gorgeous place. Your eyes fly over the woods and the peaks of the trees. Here a fir tree, there a pine and a cypress rise up. A few glowing clouds drift by. In the gaps in between the soft, fleecy clouds, you see a luminous, pure blue sky.
Something unexpected has happened.
You made your way to the Cave thinking you were going to solve a puzzle, a mystery. But just sitting here gives you the feeling that you don’t need to solve any puzzles or mysteries. The mild, glorious light pulls your eyes to heaven like a magnet. You have somehow stumbled into a region of eternal truth, eternal peace, eternal spirit. Any anxieties, doubts, fears you might have suddenly seem like the grains of sand in Patmos’ cove. The world again strikes you as a dream or a nightmare, drained of real substance, shadowy.
The experience is so awesome that the next morning you go straight to the rock before entering the cave. You sit there, oblivious of the fact that you are about to for the first time ever what seems to be a human being possesed by demons, underscoring the fact that if our minds and hearts are covered in chaos and darkness, there will be no terra firma for us anywhere. Our surroundings may be paradise. but we will always be on the equivalent of a wild, night sea voyage with no end in sight.
The pyschological problems of unhinged presidents and their bankster fixers pose an especial threat to our world due to their power.
As you sit on the rock, a middle aged woman with a ruck sack walks past and goes down into the Cave. A short time later, a mother holding two, sweet little children with dark curly hair on either hand comes along. The mother’s eyes are sparkling with excitement. Her two children look thrilled. She stops to ask me if the doorway leads to the Cave of the Apocalypse. We manage a short conversation in English. She tells me she is Greek and has come to Patmos for a holiday with her family, and is so looking forward to seeing the Cave. I tell her it’s at the very end of the stone steps, and a wonderful place.
Two minutes later, the mother and children come back out. Her face is long, her shoulders sag. Her children look confused and disappointed. Astonished, I ask her what happened. She tells me a monk is cleaning the Cave and they were not allowed to go inside.
I recalled how the monk had driven me out of the cave the day before by his cleaning. But this time, it seemed worse. The mother and the two impressionable little children could have had a life changing experience in the Cave. Who knows? I looked at my watch and saw it was only midday. The cave should have been open for another three hours.
I decided to go speak to the monk, try to make him aware that he is supposed to guard the cave, not block access.
When I reached the bottom step, I saw benches have been moved in front of the door to the Cave, forming a physical barricade to entry. The woman with the ruck sack was standing quietly outside the barricade, reading her Bible. On the other side of the benches, I recognised the same monk, tall, slim with a beard streaked with grey, standing idly in the cave, leaning on a broom.
I walked through a gap in the benches, stopped in front of him, and said in a polite but firm way to him in English that the cave was open until 3 pm. It was inconvenient for visitors to come all this way only to find they could not enter, after all, because the schedule had been changed.
He replied that he had to clean the Cave for the up coming Christmas services.
I said the opening hours were short enough. Surely, he do cleaning after them and Christmas was still more than a week away.
Out of the blue, the monk let out an blood chilling scream, fell down on the floor and started to writhe around. I had never seen anything like that in my life andd froze. It seemed to me as he was suffering from demon possession. I had also read about the signs of epileptic seizures, but it did not seem to be that. For example, there was no foaming at the mouth and his writhing lasted only a couple of minutes.
The monk got up onto his knees and hammered a stone ledge by the window with his fists, all the time yelling and screaming. A Curator came rushing in to the Cave, froze in shock when he saw the monk rolling around. Our eyes met. I spilled out a couple of Greek words and said “Daimonas”, “Satanas.”
He flashed back a look of agreement. Soon after, the monk collapsed exhausted on the floor. Curator went up to him and grasped him under the arm. The monk staggered to his feet. Doubled over and like someone blinded, he gripped the hand of the Curator, who led him out of the Cave into a nearby building.
Stunned, I went back up and sat down on the rock again to try to process what I had just seen. Next minute, the woman with the ruck sack came out. She asked me gently why I had intervened and addressed the monk priest. I explained the reason. She told me, (she was an Italian), she spent the whole day walking around Patmos, reading her Bible, meditating on the Word of God, and not creating trouble. She suggested that was how all real Christians should behave.
She had a fair point, I thought to myself. God is everywhere. The mother and her two children did not need to go into the Cave to find God. But then I remembered the parts of the Bible where God encourages us to stand up to injustice and quoted them at her. She had no response, and walked off quietly, reading her Bible.
As I walked back down the road to Skala, the thought occurred to me that Satan had inserted one of his children into the Cave to cut people off from a place with a special energy. God exists, but so does Satan. And experience shows Satan is often to be found, trying to block our path, as we approach God, expecting a break through, a new understanding, a new height.
At a taverna, I got into conversation with the owner. We’d already chatted the day before since it was off season and I was the only person having lunch there. I told him about the monk’s meltdown and asked him what he made of it.
First off, he did not seem the least bit surprised. Only half joking, he said the monk was probably frustrated because he was not allowed to charge money to enter the cave. He said the monks were always looking for money. I asked why. He told me some of them, about 10%, pay local boys to have gay sex in cars in the harbour at night, so, he said, they need lots of cash. I was staggered, On reflection, it seemed plausible to me that monks wanted to have paid sex with local boys in cars might find sitting quietly in the Cave of the Apocalypse, protecting its treasures, very tedious by comparison and try to while away the time by fanatical cleaning. Also, the awareness that you are living a double life, a liar and a hypocrital exploiter of other poor people’s needs, might lead to all kinds of pyschological problems and even a mental breakdown.
It was this same restaurant owner who told me that many people had seen Jesus Christ walking across the water as they approached Patmos. He told me of other supranatural events. Although he himself was not a believer, he registered that others did have experiences that led them to faith. One of his friends for example had always scorned anyone who believed in God. One day, he had held an icon of Mary and seen a light flash. After that, he became a believer. He could not explain why. He just said “After that happened, I just believed.”
And so, dear reader, the second leg of our journey to Patmos comes to an with the reverse experience of the one on the first leg. In the middle of an island blazing with sunlight, there was an unexpected flash of evil.
After all, most of the chaos, collapse, we see round us is not caused by natural catastrophes like storms, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, but by human beings, refusing to deal with their problems, hardened in heart and darkened in mind.
We are this week once more witnessing an unhinged Donald Trump and his unhinged advisors such as H R McMaster and Goldman Sachs banker Dina Powell driving us to the brink of nuclear war for some imaginary advantage, when it is crystal clear they don’t know what they are doing, and the situation could spiral out of their control as well.
That said, Trump is surely not any more unhinged than Hillary Clinton and her fixers like George Soros.
In the next and final installment about Patmos, I’m going to talk a little bit about the Book of Revelation itself and what it might mean to us today. I don’t think it’s main message for us today is political or that it necessarily refers to figures like Trump and Hillary.
Also, I don’t claim to understand Revelation. It is full of strange symbols and images. But I don’t reject it either just because it goes beyond my powers of comprehension. Sometimes God allows people to transcend the limits of the natural and get flashes of insight into the divine. I believe that John wrote Revelation in that kind of inspired state and its words do have mystery and depth.
That said, we live in extraordinary times and it’s makes you wonder what we should do, no? What should we really fear?