Sometimes Google translate does not get things right at all. When I tried to translate the Greek word “Ταξιάρχε” with Google Translate, Google told me it meant “Taxi Drivers.”
In fact, the term – Taxiarches – in English/Latin letters refers in Greek Orthodoxy to one or both of the archangels – Michael and/or Gabriel. In fairness to Google, the term comes from “taxiarch” which means “Commander” of a “taxis” – an ancient Greek battalion or army unit. I’m sure the neighbour who drives the local taxi would however find it humorous if advised that Google thinks he might be a “taxiarch.”
Just outside the village of Exarchos, there is a church that is dedicated to the Archangels or Taxiarches and is called Άγιοι Ταξιάρχε, Άγιοι being the plural form to mean “Saints.” According to local information, the church dates back to the 16th century and although it’s hard to realize that it is so old from the outside, when you walk into the church, you do get the impression that it could be an ancient place, with the many amazing frescoes painted on the interior walls and ceiling.
It’s a very small church and the entrance door seems to have been made for very short people. I joke that Greeks in general are shorter than me however, this is an incorrect generalization in that while many Greek people are relatively short, there are also tall people as well. In addition, it was pointed out to me that historically, churches might have been built in such a way to be somewhat “hidden” from others including the Ottomans that might wanted to have persecuted those of the Greek Orthodox faith. So some churches might have been built purposely to be small so they might not be easily seen by enemies scouting the area.
From the outside, as pointed out, you cannot really tell that the church could be over 500 years old. The original building is covered by a more modern roof possibly to protect the original building and there are what appear to be reinforcements that have built in more recent years. As well, a modern addition to the main entrance exists that is quite large – more than twice the size in area of the actual church interior.
It is not until you walk inside the old part of the building that you realize that it is quite old. Electricity has been brought into the building, but we could not find a light switch although we could dimly see electrical wiring that had been installed. There are only two very small windows in the old main part of the church – both windows have no glass and are basically rectangle open holes in the wall of the church – so there is not much light at all even during the day. Of course, the church would have been lit up in the past, when it’s in use with oil lamps and candles.
The interior photos that we took were often done on “chance” that we were going to get usable images and thankfully, we got quite a few of the frescoes. For those who don’t know, a fresco is a type of painting that is usually done on a plaster wall or ceiling when it is first built and still wet – the paints mix with the drying plaster material and become an part of the structure as the paints also soak into the plaster.
I don’t know enough about Greek Orthodoxy to know what the frescoes represent and having been brought up in a more “reformed” Protestant faith, the idea of having such things in a church building, along with icons and votive offerings are foreign to me. I’ve still not even stepped inside a Roman Catholic church – simply because I’ve never really had any reason or occasion to do so – not that I wouldn’t ever do so.
The Use Of The Church Today – Large Lamb Bar-B-Que
I don’t know how often Saints Taxiarches Church is used today, although there were signs of recent use including candles that had been lit and burnt. Like the first church we visited near Exarchos, St. Nicholaos, it appears to be “open” 24/7 and is not locked up. From my simple understanding of Greek Orthodoxy, people may enter the church any time they wish out of respect or devotion to the saint(s) the church is dedicated to, and might light a candle, kiss an icon, and reflect upon the saint(s)’ life.
People in Greek Orthodoxy might also make “promises” to the saint and this could be in the form of a promised action or gift in thankfulness.
The Tuesday After Easter Feast
When we walked the exterior grounds of the church, I noticed this very long constructed form that I did not know what it was for. It turns out that at this church, on the Tuesday after Easter, a big feast is held here with many of the people of the village of Exarchos attending.
The feast includes 40 or more lambs that are bar-b-qued on this long form – and then there are tables and benches also permanently constructed where families sit together and enjoy the feast. I am told that this is a tradition local to the village of Exarchos, and was started possibly by a shepherd or raiser of lambs as a promise to the Archangels and who wanted to give a feast to everyone on the day after Easter.
Today, this tradition is continued by the families descended from that first promise-maker, and may even include others unrelated who want to buy a lamb and donate it to the feast.
Some of my details of this occasion may be incorrect but I will update as I learn more. As of writing this post, I have not attended this annual feast, but hope that I might be able to do so in the future – partly because I am interested in how it occurs, and secondly, because I absolutely love lamb!
Good to know that taxi drivers are not roasted at the feast. We’ll let Google know about their mistranslation.
Photos Of Saints Taxiarches (Άγιοι Ταξιάρχε) Church, Exarchos
These are random photos, with notes when I have something to describe. For sake of file size and download times, I’ve reduced the images both in size and quality but I do have the originals if you’d like to see them in high resolution: