When are true beginnings of events, births and resurrections? I ask this question because I’ve been asked when did the “Flotillas of Hope” begin? Common sense answers that it was the day and time the boats set off for Nauru. “Eureka” left Sydney on 15 May and “One Off” and “Eureka” left Brisbane for Nauru on 23 May, 2004. However, before the boats even existed, “Flotillas of Hope” was an email sent at a particular date and time from somewhere. Was this email “Call to Action” the real beginning of the project? A feeling anchored in my heart for a few months before the “Call to Action” email was sent over the internet. Was this feeling the real beginning that only needed my fear of ridicule to disappear to express itself? Where did this feeling arise from?
I believe the real beginning happened four years before we set sail for Nauru. My father died in December, 1999 and being the eldest son of a Greek family it was my duty to go to Greece and check out some property stuff. I hadn’t been back to Greece since I left when I was four years old. I couldn’t afford to return to my birthplace, my roots, until I was 48. Over the years I dreamt about returning and all the special places I would visit. One was Dodona which is about 5 kilometres from Anatoli, the village where I was born. It is the oldest oracle in Greece, older than the Delphic Oracle. Legend has it that Jason, before he sailed off with the Argonauts searching for the Golden Fleece, visited the oracle of Dodona. The miraculous priam that spoke in prophecies from the front of the Argonauts’ boat, was carved from wood of Dodona’s sacred grove.
I was baptised as Greek Orthodox when I was a baby. In my late teens and early twenties I searched far and wide, behind book covers and the open roads of Australia and New Zealand looking for something. As part of that search I found that the Holy Mountain may have something of what I was looking for. I had sought answers in religions and philosophies alien to my heritage. Now was the chance to look into my own indigenous faith.
It was Easter, 2000, there I was sitting opposite Geronta Pavlo at the table with the wood oven heating some water behind me. I was inside a time bubble hugged by mud, stone and timber walls. Byzantium breathed in this small kitchen that has cooked meals and boiled water for over a millenium.
Of all the cats scampering for fish heads in the saucer near the door, two – the twins, Alpha and Omega ran towards Geronta, finding their way onto the table top. Geronta was quietly reading a newspaper. His hair, like small waterfalls of grey, fell over his shoulders and behind his back. Strands of his long white beard fell on the table. Gerontas, 90 years old, looked like a middle aged biker, with the full round belly of body armour and broad shoulders. Alpha and Omega tugged at his beard, he said, “Off with you,” and then smiled. I went to lift the boiling water off the stove and when I returned I saw Geronta folding a page of the newspaper. Over and over he folded. I wondered if this was some kind of Holy Mountain origami. When he finished folding he held it up.
He said, “Here Stavros, this is for you.”
I said, “What is it Gerontas?”
“It’s a boat. I don’t know why but my heart told my hands to make this for you.”
As I received the gift he said, shrugging his shoulders, “Who knows, it may mean that you return to the Holy Mountain sooner than you think. Or maybe something else. It is for you.”
What was interesting in retrospect is that he gave me the boat a day after we had a discussion about what is needed to alleviate suffering and injustice on Earth. I was thinking about the dispossessed, the homeless, the weak, the persecuted, the refugees of the world. I told Gerontas that the needs of the world are such that people who can do something should not hide on Holy Mountains but be in the world and try to change it for the better, Smiling, he said, “Our Christianity is esoteric, it is hidden. Here on the Holy Mountain you are no longer in the exoteric world. Our concerns are spiritual.”
“Gerontas, you appear not to care for the very ones Jesus tells us we should care for.”
“Stavros, from where you are it appears that way. You know, the Holy Mountain needs at least five monks to survive in caves and feed on light. Without these monks connecting Heaven and Earth through their sacrifice, the Mother of God’s Garden will wither and die. How do you know that this house, this monastery, this Holy Mountain does not play a similar role for the whole Earth? How much more pain and injustice would be on Earth now if the Holy Mountain did not exist? We, each of us has our calling, our vocation. My work is here while yours is in the exoteric.”
“Gerontas, do I need to become a monk to fulfil what is needed or is there another way?” I asked him.
Alpha or was it Omega, crawled softly towards his hand. He reached for the cat’s head and stroked it gently. He said, “This is what is needed from all…..the practice to bring the spiritual into the material, Heaven on Earth. You don’t need to be a monk or a nun to do this. All you need is pure intention. If your intent is pure, the way is open. Do what you have to do, follow your conscience and allow this particle of God,” he pointed to my heart,” your conscience, guide you.” He looked at me with soft eyes and added, “You must die before you die and then be reborn, this is what Easter is all about.”
A few days after I was on my way to Istanbul or Constantinople as Greeks call it with the paper boat and lots of material for thought. My journey over the next two months was along the ancient trade route from Istanbul to Cairo.
I took the paper boat with me on Eureka. I now believe that the beginning of the journey to Nauru was the moment when Gerontas gave me the paper boat. He, as a gardener, planted a seed.