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A Greek Orthodox Church in the Village of Kastania

Kastania, Greece

In Kastania, on the Peloponnese Peninsula, we visit churches to see the rituals of Greek Orthodoxy: The priest leads the service behind a screen while the congregation stands out of respect. Chanting and the aroma of incense help worshippers enter into communion with the spiritual world.

Complete Video Script

Just up the coast, wedged in a ravine, the village of Kastania is more inviting, and offers a rare opportunity to explore a traditional Mani village. While it feels pretty sleepy today, Kastania was once a local powerhouse. During the 19th-century Greek War of Independence, it boasted no less than 400 “guns” — as Mani people called their men folk. They were gathered under a warlord whose imposing family tower still stands over the town square.

Along with many guns, the towns had many churches. The tiny Church of St. Peter, thought to have been built during the 12th century, is a fine example of Byzantine church architecture of the time.

The inside is richly adorned with frescos that have told Bible stories to this community for centuries. While it feels unkempt and ramshackle, and a destructive mold has hastened the aging of its precious art, the spiritual wonder of the place remains intact. It's amazing to think that in our age there are still remote corners where centuries-old art is tucked away… where virtually no tourist goes… and where the curious traveler can be alone with a fragile yet surviving bit of a bygone age.

Neglected as this chapel seems, when a local drops by to light a candle and say a prayer, you realize this is still very much a living place of worship.

Back down in the town square, the local priest calls his flock to worship. Whether 30 or just three show up, he performs the service with the same enthusiasm. Like people in Russia, Serbia, and some other Balkan countries, most Greek Christians are Eastern Orthodox. Orthodox churches follow the earliest traditions of the Christian faith — from a time before reforms created today's Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions.

The iconostasis — the icon-covered screen in the middle of the room — separates the material world (where the worshippers stand) from the heavenly one. Orthodox priests do the religious "heavy lifting" behind this screen, where the Bible’s kept.

Orthodox icons — stylized paintings of saints — are packed with intricate symbolism. Cast against a gold or silver background, they're meant to remind viewers of the spiritual nature of Jesus and the saints, rather than their physical form.

Traditional Orthodox worshippers stand through the service, as a sign of respect.

Orthodox worship generally involves chanting, and the church is filled with the evocative aroma of incense. Through these elements, the Mass attempts to create an actual religious experience, to help the worshipper transcend the physical world and enter into communion with the spiritual one.