Memories of events and misadventures are happening more frequently as I pour over thousands of slides from my analog era. I recently came across several plastic boxes of transparencies marked “Greece, Island of Patmos.” I had been hired to shoot a documentary on the Apostle John which took me on a large plane from L.A. to Athens, then a smaller plane to the city of Thessaloniki and finally a ten-hour hydrofoil to the tiny island of Patmos.
The backstory on the Apostle John is that he was one of the twelve disciples who followed Jesus during His earthly ministry. In 95 A.D. John was banished by the Roman authorities to the island of Patmos, but not before being thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil where he miraculously survived. The story goes that after witnessing this mind-boggling event the entire Coliseum converted to Christianity immediately. Deep in a cavern on Patmos, John had a profound and disturbing vision. It was the vision of the world to come and wrote the 27th and final chapter of the Holy Bible known as the Book of Revelation.
The first time I realized the connections between the island of Patmos, the Apostle John and the Book of Revelations was in a Baptist church in Dothan, Alabama. How did I end up as the only white guy in an all black church on a Saturday night? I was invited as a result of a near collision with three well-dressed black men. Half naked and soaking wet, I darted from the motel pool to my room when the four of us meet head-on as I rounded a corner. Skidding to a stop, I quickly made an apology and wrapped the towel around my waist. Each of the gentlemen held tattered bibles with gold print on the leather covers. They were preachers in Dothan for a revival at a local Baptist church. I surprised myself by asking if I could attend the revival and to my good fortune they said yes.
For those who don’t know, “whooping” (pronounced hooping) is a celebratory style of preaching that pastors typically use to make sure the congregation can feel his sermon. In many ways, it is nothing short of a biblical opera performed by the man at the pulpit. His overture usually starts with a calm, reflective introduction to a topic such as temptation or adultery and magically transforms the characters from the bible into another misguided member of his personal flock. The tempo begins its steady rise as the pastor plays out the roles on stage. There is constant pacing back and forth from the podium as his voice slips into a falsetto that bellows out over the church’s speaker system. The pastor is accompanied with interludes from the organist and shouts of holy affirmations from those in the pews. Wiping his brow with his white handkerchief, then waving it high into the air as if surrendering to the Lord, he then bellows out his crescendo.“ We all can make our own Patmos!” he shouts, “just as the Apostle John was sentence to the island of Patmos by the Romans”. The minister pauses for a good 30 seconds as the assembled worshippers sit silently in their seats.Then, in the finale the pastor whispers “We too can sentence ourselves to our own island of Patmos.”
While the Apostle John was destined to write about the apocalypse over 2,000 years ago, Nicholas Negroponte currently writes about a brighter and a more enlighten world through technology. Mr. Negroponte is one of the early disciples of computer technology and Chairman Emeritus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab. He is also the progressive founder of the One Laptop per Child Foundation which aims to provide each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop. He believes that with access to the computer, children are more engaged in their own education.
For over 25 years, Mr. Negroponte and his wife have had a home on Patmos and have selflessly provided the island’s 3,000 plus residents with free wireless broadband web access. In spite of being isolated on the eastern borderline of the Aegean Sea and being the northernmost island of the Dodecanese island group, the world is only a key-stroke away for the citizens of this remote and rocky island. Unfortunately, the Negroponte’s were not home when I was there, but I did manage to invite myself to a Greek Orthodox wedding.
Greek Orthodox weddings are always on Sunday. They aren’t performed after Easter and Christmas, nor during periods of fasting or the day preceding a Holy Day. Vows aren’t exchanged since marriage is considered a union between two people in love, not a contractual agreement. Wedding bands are traditionally worn on the right hand, not the left. The bride may throw a pomegranate instead of the bouquet (duck if you’ve had too many uzos). The many seeds of the pomegranate symbolize the fertile possibilities between the two young lovers. At the reception, plates are broken on the dance floor (or some other hard surface) for good luck. A member of the immediate family begins and others quickly join in with much yelling and laughing as the plates shatter.
Patmos covers only 34 square kilometers (13.1 sq. miles) with its greatest length of about 25 kilometers (9.6 miles). For such an isolated little island, the poet Peter Porter said it best in his poem “Saint John on Patmos”: “For the right visions you need a desert or an island.”