You are walking along the sea shore. Suddenly you see a bearded man in long flowing robes standing on a rowing boat and throwing a cross into the sea. You rub your eyes. “What’s this?” you ask yourself. Have you wandered through Alice’s looking Glass? Or perhaps you are watching some rendition of King Arthur’s Excalibur being thrown into the water?
No - it’s just that you are in Cyprus and it’s Pentecost. (Greek Pentecost – ie 50 days after Greek Easter). In 2016 it fell on the 20th June. In 2017 it fell on the 5th June. 17th of June is the date in 2019. On this day of Pentecost, Cyprus also celebrates the Cataclysm. Presumably we are celebrating mankind’s survival of the flood rather than the flood itself.
This celebration of the “Cataclysm” or the flood is not a general Christian celebration or even a general Orthodox celebration. It is a uniquely Cypriot celebration. The biblical story in Genesis says that it rained for forty days and forty nights. Clearly the chronicler had not lived in England or he would have known that there was nothing particularly special about that. But the happening was ascribed to being a punishment for man’s wickedness. The Ancient Greek mythologists also had a story of divine flooding, but theirs only lasted 9 days. Again mankind was being punished for his wickedness. It was said to have poured so much during those 9 days that only one spot of dry land was left and that was on Mount Parnassus. A forewarned Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha were said to have drifted there in a large wooden chest. The people of Messopotamia also had a flood story. In their one, the Gods were cross because of all the noise humans kept making and this was preventing them from sleeping. I think I like that account the best. With all these different stories it would seem that maybe there was an actual flood.
It is not quite clear how the celebrations of the Cataclysm started in Cyprus. I have seen a suggestion on the net that the celebrations evolve from festivities once held in honour of Aphrodite. The Church stepped in and gave a Christian slant to the proceedings and tied them in with Pentecost, the celebration that comes 50 days after Easter.
Whatever the origins of the festivities, Greek Pentecost is marked in Cyprus with all sorts of celebrations round water - locations by the sea, or involving water. The towns will have carnivals and fairs, renditions of Greek music, traditional dances of Cyprus, and all sorts of competitions and races.
And of course the morning Church Services in little Chapels by the sea where the congregations will flock down to the water’s edge, a priest will be rowed out a little into the sea and he will throw a cross into the water three times for waiting swimmers to retrieve it. All part of the Panigyri!
My colleague Anna Vasiliadou writes about the programme for the Larnaca festival