Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Stealing from the Church

Late at night on the last Thursday before the beginning of Lent, we had a break-in at our central church. It seems that the thieves had probably cased the church from the inside and had developed a plan on how to best break in. They made a beeline for the icon of our parish's patrons--the Holy Wonderworkers and Unmercenaries Cosmas and Damian--on the iconostasis, took it down, and stripped it of all its aphieromata or tamata, i.e. jewelry or other offerings of worth that grateful believers had left to the saints to honor them.

This is a very old and widespread tradition in Greece, which almost certainly has its roots in pre-Christian votives offered in gratitude. The faithful will offer something precious -- a watch, necklace, ring, etc. -- to thank them for their divine intercessions. Typically, these offerings are then used to adorn the icon, and it has the additional effect of demonstrating how beloved and active the particular saints are in the people's lives.

Unfortunately, in these difficult times here in Greece, this custom is proving to be too much of a temptation. In our case, we decided to remove the tamata from the icon of the Mother of God at our second church dedicated to the Dormition.

Above, you can see a photo that we happened to take of the icon at the end of January, before the theft. If you look closely, you can make out some jewelry hanging from a wire stretching across the middle of the icon.

Here is how I found the icon on Friday morning, inside the altar area. Thank God the thieves actually seemed to have "respected" the church in a weird way, not doing any unnecessary damage and not stealing or desecrating anything. They also left the icon upright and undamaged.

Above, a photo of the iconostasis as I found it.

Of course, we called the police and filed a report. They also sent a fingerprint technician within a couple of hours to take prints. Above you can see the dust he put on the glass. Of course, he could tell right away that the thieves had used gloves.

So we cleaned up, put things back in place, strengthened our security and moved on. It's a sad commentary, though, on the state of things here now, a state of desperation almost. Many people have told me that, prior to say 1990, it was almost inconceivable for someone to steal from a church. In fact, they were often left unlocked and open so that people could come venerate at any time. Those days are definitely over.

In any event, thank God it was not worse. We can only pray that He help and enlighten the poor, suffering souls who did it.

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