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St John's Feast in Vroukounda

Author: Arpathea Villas
The main feature of the feasts in Olympos is the absolute rigor in their ritual. Nothing is random and very rarely the order is disturbed, which is why good feasts are considered those conducted with absolute peace and order.

From the region of Avlona starts the path that after half an hour on foot leads to St John’s chapel in Vroukounda. A lot of people walk this paved path which in ancient times led to the city of Vrykous, one of the four ancient cities of Karpathos. Among the pilgrims there are some trimmed donkeys or mules, accompanied by local women dressed in their traditional costumes, carrying food and blankets for the bedtime in the caves.
A large wooden roof, beautifully made of tree trunks, dominates the edge of the small cape and provides shade in the outdoor dining area. A staircase carved on the rock, on the edge of the cliff, twenty meters above the sea level leads to the cave, in which is housed the small chapel of St John the Baptist. A large cave that can host about sixty people, with strong smell of humidity, a whitewashed stone panel with two ancient columns that define the altar and next to it the Psalter in which the chanters and the priest in a very solemn atmosphere are starting the Vespers.
About an hour later the moon erupts over the island of Saria bathing in light the mothers that tie the kerchief of their daughters. Scenes of an incredible beauty. Meanwhile the people start to sit on the benches for dinner. The food is served in order and dinner begins with the blessing of Father John. The braised lamb is the delicacy for the situation. After three or four hymns the priest gives the signal to the first singer to start.
The musicians tune their instruments and begin to play. So the festival begins with the sedentary part which is called Syrmatikos. Shortly after this start the mantinades (serenades). The charismatic lyre player who needs to properly accompany each singer, is shouting the lyrics so the entire group repeat them. Throughout the course of mantinades, which lasts approximately two hours, some people enter the dance, men with their regular clothes and the girls with the colorful local costumes, their kerchief and “kolaines” (necklaces with gold coins).
Around midnight the dancers have created a huge semicircle holding each other crosswise. The music continues to play mantinades, but dancing begins to speed up until the time the musicians rise on the table and the tsampouna (bagpipe) enters. The first of the dance circle, the “cavos”, who patiently lead the dance, has now all the power to make his figures accompanied by his relative women, usually two or three, until someone else coming from the tail of the dance gets in front with his own women.
The dance continues in this way until eight in the morning. Then the morning service begins, after which the pilgrims, waiting in order to receive bread, donuts with honey -which were cooked during all night- and slices of watermelon, according to the custom. At eleven a new dinner is served with the traditional chickpea soup. In older times another feast was following, but nowadays because of the unbearable heat people leave to continue the festival night in Avlona.
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