Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Rockets Over My Head

The official name is “Rouketopolemos” literally meaning rocket-war. The celebration dates back to Ottoman times, when the Turks ruled the Greek Island of Chios. The people of the island used to use cannons for their celebrations but the Ottoman rulers forbade them from doing so. The Greeks, to spite the Turks, decided to use hand made rockets, and delightfully began using them, much to the dismay of the Ottoman rulers. It has continued as a tradition ever since. We watched the rockets through the air from afar, but then.

we got brave. Yes, brave. During one of the ceasefires, we ran down the curvy Greek vine-filled streets of Chios into one of the churches that was being fired upon. It is tradition for the Greeks to hold a service at 11:15pm until much later in the early morning, to celebrate the coming of Easter. We sat in on the service, while rockets fired at the church. Constantly. A grandma we met who lived in Maryland turned to us and said before the service, "Windows break every year! Be careful where you sit!" Accordingly, we chose our seats with care, in the back, observing the beautiful traditions taking place.

Every time I would drift into a place of peaceful calm, another rocket would hit the mark. At one point, a rocket burst through the chicken wire and hit one of the stained-glass windows. Green glass rained down upon peoples heads, and luckily no one was hurt. Grandma was in the center of it all! At one point during the service, a bit before midnight, the whole church walked outside (meanwhile rockets are STILL being fired) and stood inside the chicken wire and held the service outside. The priest muttered prayers of blessings and conducting the service while the congregants raised their voices in song. When we re-entered the church, we thought rockets had literally burst through all the windows! The emanating sounds were booming. Turns out, it is tradition for the people to bang the seats of the wooden chairs up and down to celebrate Jesus rising out of Hades and ascending into heaven. (This was new information for me, even growing up as a pastor's kid,  I didn't know of the belief that between Jesus' death and resurrection it is believed he went down to Hades before rising to heaven.)

At around midnight, the fighting intensified. Thousands of rockets (between 70,000-80,000 annually) are lit and directed the opposite churches bell tower. Our church was by far the winner, striking the opposing church's bell tower twice! You could hear the gong from a mile away. Fighting erupted in droves, with one church launching until the rocket lighters could light no more. The other church would take aim and reign rockets down upon the other church. It was around 12:15 that we decided to make a mad dash out of the church before the next rocket fire descended. I don't think I've even ran that quickly or with that much fear. We hauled up the curvy streets back into the safe zones where we met Nick and watched the ending of the rocket display.

the inside of the church of Virgin Mary Erethianis

blessings on Easter 

the service about to begin 

the Catholic Church, always partially concealed

the cage surrounding us as we held service outside, rockets blaring over our heads

my lovely ladies who endured the terrifying experience together! 

the priest outside, rockets overhead.

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