Sinai’s inhabitants

Discreet but startling, cats are everywhere in the Sinai Monastery. They probably outnumber the 25 monks who move almost as discreetly, but are ever present. Father Pavlos the deacon, who is second in the hierarchy after the archbishop and stands in for him when he travels, is a striking figure. With an ascetic look, he is gentle but extremely direct, saying what he thinks without ceremony. From Kranidi, he has been at the monastery for 32 years, and is the «lead» in Lydia Carras’s film about Sinai, made in 1987. The monastery has a housekeeper, purser, librarian (Justinos the Texan, who is the exception as the only non-Greek monk there) and an ossuary keeper, Porphyrios. We exchanged a few frank words with Georgios, a young monk from Peristeri, during the tour of the tower and the reception by the archbishop, a few more later on with Grigoris from Hania in the katholiko church, and cheerful conversation with the round-faced monk who sat on the doorstep with three Bedouins, and who was friendly, as the Sinai monks usually are. Porphyrios the ossuary keeper was our lucky find. He used to work in the press too, and he took us on a tour of the inner regions, up onto the walls and to other inner sanctums. Simple, sober, measured, open-minded, open-eyed and humorous, Porphyrios has given the black cat that rubbed up against us and meowed the name of Lucretia, after the lascivious cat in Arkas’s cartoons, so far has the cartoonist’s fame traveled.

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