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That story, which sounded like a synaxarion of a neo-martyr, and which has been indelibly engraved in my memory, was one that my grandmother used to tell me. Her father had been a priest in one of the villages at the northern shores of the Bosporus – Beykoz, as it is called today. Father Antonios (that was the priest᾽s name) had many children, one of whom was a boy named Christodoulos. Christodoulos was ten years old when those terrible events took place. On a Holy Friday he was abducted and carried away by Jews. On the very same day the child was nailed on a cross, like Christ. The next morning, passers-by found Christodoulos lying unconscious on the street. He passed away a few days later, while the atmosphere was rife with joy for Christ᾽s Resurrection. This story was utterly true. Every year, as the Easter drew closer, stories and recollections like this began to stir in our minds and we got into a militant mood where Jews were concerned. Hostilities culminated with the burning of the “Jew” [an effigy of Judas] that took place on the night of the Holy Friday, following the procession of the Epitaphios.

In our neighbourhood, in the district of Stavrodromi [=“Crossroads”] there were many Jewish residents. Throughout the year, Jewish kids formed part of our gangs. We were united through our rivalry with Turkish children. However, during that holy season, everything changed. Jews were not allowed to participate in our “Christian” games. The Holy Week afforded us a wonderful opportunity to play games that started from the sanctuary of the church of the All-Holy Virgin and were further carried out in the enclosed church yard and the surrounding area.

Isaac used to live in a corner house at the great sloping street called Hamalbasi, a few meters away from our home. He was one of those Jewish kids who were dear friends of ours. There was no piece of mischief that he did not participate in. Actually, his sharp mind proved indispensable whenever things took a bad turn. I remember one day, when a lady next door came out to complain because we had been ringing doorbells all around the neighbourhood and then run away. Assuming a very serious countenance, Isaac said:

- We only did it for your own good. There will be heavy rainfall and we had to warn you to collect the laundry that is hanging on the rooftop to dry.

- Where on earth did you see a rainfall coming, you little brat? shouted Mrs Katina Balou.

- The weather forecast on the radio said so, was Isaac᾽s reply.


Still, sharp-witted Isaac, who had saved our skin so many times, was to become an “outcast” on this particular occasion. He was a Jew. He couldn᾽t be with us just now. On this Great and Holy Week, he couldn᾽t play in our games. We found it natural. Isaac had to be punished because the Jews had crucified Christ.

It was a Holy Friday. A day of grand festivities. The church would stay open all day long. We would cut flowers, sprinkle fragrance on the congregation, keep order in the temple, carry the Epitaphios in solemn procession around the church yard and do a score of other things that excited us.

During the Service of the Great Hours, as we were all gathered in the sanctuary, we got wind the news: Isaac had been spotted in the church yard. Isaac in the church yard? On such a day? That was unthinkable.

- No doubt he came to desecrate us, said Soulis, nicknamed “Big Arms”.

- Yes, definitely! all the others agreed loudly.

- He should be taught that a Jew cannot strut around on a day like this, holding his head up high. Not only did they crucify Christ, but they also want to take advantage the games, shouted Lambis the “W”.


He was given that name because he pronounced the letter “r” as “w”.

Soulis “Big Arms” instantly spoke up, since he was considered a natural leader among the altar boys. He turned to me and said:

- Dinos, you will go and tell him that he is not welcome here. You know him better. He᾽s your neighbour, after all.

- Yes, I said. But I seemed reluctant.

- What? Are you afraid? Said Soulis and then went on:

- He is a Jew, don᾽t you get it? They᾽re the ones who crucified Christ. We shouldn᾽t give them a moment᾽s rest this week. It is our turn to crucify them.

- But Christ didn᾽t crucify those who crucified him, I ventured to say.

- What? What did you say? Did I hear well? You take the side of the Jews on this festive day? Huh? Speak up.

- No, I replied.

- Then quit talking and do as you are told, or your life will be miserable. No Easter for you this year. And you᾽ll be cut off from all games.

- All right, I said, yielding to fear.


I went out. Isaac was indeed there. I put on a stern countenance and approached him.

- Isaac, what are you doing here?

-Why shouldn᾽t I be here? Who is to stop me? Then, in a different tone and a hushed voice, he said:

- What has happened to you, Dinos? Aren᾽t we bosom friends?

- It is Christ that sets us apart, Isaac. You Jews crucified Christ; you cannot set foot here on this day.

- But your Christ didn᾽t turn anyone away from him.

- Isaac, there is nothing we can do at present. After the Easter we᾽ll be friends again, I said and run away because I couldn᾽t bear the confrontation.


When the service was over and we commenced our usual games in the church yard, I felt as if a slab of stone was pressing against my chest; as if I were one of Christ᾽s crucifiers. Was I right or was I wrong? I couldn᾽t enjoy the day. Then I found the solution. I found it as I was standing distracted before the Epitaphios, before the illustration of the ultimate humility. I had to do something. He who was lying inside the Epitaphios had shown such immense condescension. I made my decision. I went to Isaac᾽s house. He was sitting on his doorsteps in a sullen mood. A flash went through his eyes, but he kept his feelings to himself.

- Isaac, I told him, I᾽m very sorry about what happened this morning. You see, I was representing a group of children. You know the mentality. But I have a great idea. We will tell the kids that you may be a Jew, but in your heart you love Jesus and you are sorry that he was crucified by Jews. You᾽ll say that you cannot help the way things are.


Isaac was watching me carefully, with a straight-forward, manly look in his eyes.

- Dinos, he said, you saw through me; these are truly my thoughts.

I took a deep breath.

- I᾽ll be waiting for you this evening, at the procession of the Epitaphios. Leave the boys to me.


The boys, however, would not believe me, no matter what. I tried hard, but to no avail. I couldn᾽t sway their minds.

- But, Christ forgave those who crucified him.

- Shut up, stop it now, unless you want us to burn you along with the Jew tonight, said Soulis.


That evening, it was drizzling during the procession of the Epitaphios, as is so often the case when this procession is held. All of us Christian youths were proudly carrying the Epitaphios around the great yard of the church of the All-Holy Virgin.

I caught sight of Isaac standing in the crowd. Our eyes met. I couldn᾽t discern if it was raindrops or tears that I saw running from my friend Isaac᾽s eyes. If he was crying, was it because the boys didn᾽t accept him despite his confession or out of sorrow for our heartlessness?

After the procession was over, I didn᾽t escape getting routinely cuffed by Soulis “Big Arms”.

- Hey, I saw you, I saw you and the Jew throwing friendly glances at each other, he said and then added:

- There᾽s no Jew-burning for you tonight.

- That᾽s OK, I said. I will be accountable for Isaac.


I was watching the unsanctioned ritual from my home window.

At the end of the burning, a messenger sent by Soulis came and shouted under my window:

-Listen Dinos, you won᾽t be celebrating the Resurrection this year; neither will the Jew.


The crucial moment was during the Resurrection Service. Quite often, on certain years, the Resurrection was celebrated in Constantinople not at midnight, but at five o᾽clock in the morning. The Resurrection is always a crucial moment. It is Christ᾽s encounter with Hades. It is Hades᾽ defeat; the deliverance of the dead from their bondage.

We went through this whole experience that morning, during the Resurrection Service. The children had arrived in the church with their pockets full of Easter eggs and firecrackers. At the moment of “Christ is risen”, at five in the morning, there would be an outburst of celebration.

Easter eggs, along with firecrackers, would be flying over our heads.

I had arrived feeling apprehensive. I did not dare enter the sanctuary. Besides, the boys regarded me rather contemptuously. I stood next to the platform where the Resurrection would be celebrated. “Come ye and receive Light!”

“Christ is risen”.

An ineffable joy filled me. I forgot everything. I was ecstatic. I was no longer afraid of Soulis “Big Arms” or of anyone for that matter. My joy knew no bounds. Firecrackers set a warlike tone as they filled the air, along with cheers – a pandemonium of joy. And then, in the midst of this boisterous noise, I heard angry shouts. It sounded as if someone was being chastised or beaten up. I turned towards that direction and so did all the children who were at close range. Yes, these were real shouts. Isaac᾽s father had followed his son who had sneaked out of their house. At the moment of “Christ is risen” he began to beat him savagely. How dared a Jew say “Christ is risen”?

How shameful! What a disgrace for the family! I saw Isaac being viciously trampled by his father.

- What did you say? What did you say? Christ is risen? He kept shouting enraged.


Isaac was in a bad state. Blood was running from his mouth and nose. Still, he summoned the courage to say:

- Yes, father, Christ is risen; for it was us Jews who crucified Him. Christ is risen.


He was writhing on the ground like a martyr without so much as a groan, still faintly uttering the words:

- Christ is risen…


He made us recall the martyrdom of so many who had cried out that same “Christ is risen” in the blood-stained land of Constantinople.

Then, he lost consciousness. We did not dare come closer. The children stood frozen. Isaac᾽s father grabbed him in his arms, or, rather, started dragging him. We were left dumbstruck. Soulis looked at me. I looked back at him. He kissed me.

- Truly He is risen, he said, tears in his eyes.

- Yes, He is risen, indeed.

After that, we lost contact with Isaac. We heard that he was bedridden for months. His family left the neighbourhood.

Years later, someone told me about a hieromonk in a skete at Mount Athos, who used to live in Constantinople. He was a Jew by birth and later became a Christian. A hieromonk who was hunched, as a result of an accident. He always kept silence and greeted everyone he met with the words “Christ is risen”.

This is what I was told and, yes, I do believe that he is my friend Isaac.


Christ is Risen!



† Fr. K.S.

Source: A self-contained story from the book ”My Heart᾽s Crossroads”, page 9. Published by “Philokalia” editions on May 2002.

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