Monday, September 27, 2021

Was a Portion of the Book of Revelation Written on the Greek island of Kythera?

On an imposing mountain above Kapsali, the port of Chora on the island of Kythera, is perched the Church of Saint John on the Cliff. At an altitude of about 100 meters above sea level, and after climbing 130 steps into a beautiful pine forest, the visitor is in front of a cave, in which is a small church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist.

Above the arched entrance is the guest house, with two rooms and a kitchen, originally built 500 years ago. Approximately 5-6 monks once lived at this skete in a couple of small cells nearby.

There are also ceramic basins for collecting water which was used for holy water and from which the faithful drank to cure their diseases. On the iconostasis there is the old icon of Saint John the Baptist which is the work of the great Cretan painter Angelos Akotantos of the 15th century which was offered by the Cretan Peter Kastrophylakas. Also on the iconostasis there is the icon of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist on which there is painted the coat of arms of the Kaloutsis family and the words: "Prayer of the servant of God George Kaloutsis". At the entrance there is a built-in marble plaque on which is written the name of the monk Ioannikios Saninos, who renovated the shrine in 1725. Around the church there are renovated buildings where monks could be accommodated.  

Dutch nobleman and diplomat Johannes Aegidius van Egmond van der Nijenburg (1693-1747) wrote a travelogue titled Travels through parts of Europe, Asia Minor, the Islands of the Archipelago; Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Mount Sinai, etc. There he writes of Kythera: "In this island is a cavern half a mile in length, and every where of an equal height: the inhabitants firmly believe, that in this cavern St. John began to write his Revelation; and for this reason they have built there a mansion for caloyers [i.e. monastery for monks], or ecclesiasticks."

In a synaxarion of 1857 there is an inscription which states that in this cave, Saint John the Theologian was inspired to write Revelation, and it mentions that in the Monastery the Birth of Saint John the Baptist was celebrated.

Indeed, till this day tradition has it that at this location Saint John the Evangelist and Theologian, persecuted in Rome, stayed in Kythera for a short time before going to Patmos, and here in this cave he began writing the Book of Revelation. There are no ancient written records confirming this tradition. It seems unlikely that the Book of Revelation would have been authored here, even partially, since the author of the book itself says the revelation took place when Saint John had already arrived in Patmos. This however does not negate the possibility that Saint John the Theologian did stay for a short time here, and perhaps even authored part of his Gospel or one of his Epistles.

After all, there is a very great devotion to Saint John the Theologian on the island of Kythera. Churches of Saint John the Theologian in Kythera are the following:

Saint John the Theologian in Trifyllianika
Saint John the Theologian in Pitsinades
Saint John the Theologian in Lachnos
Saint John the Theologian at Mylopotamos Castle
Saint John the Theologian in Chora
Saint John the Theologian in Chamili

It seems that during the 17th century the complex consisted of two churches: Saint John the Theologian inside the cave and Saint John the Baptist further down on the cliff which was ruined due to invasions and neglect. When restoration took place in the 18th century the cave was consecrated under the name of Saint John the Baptist, putting aside the veneration of Saint John the Theologian, which was initially related to the space.

The view from the main staircase of the church, weather permitting, reaches as far as Crete, while the nearest view is Antikythera which is more easily visible. Of course, the view magnetizes towards the impressive Castle of Kythera and the rocky islet of Chytra, just opposite of it.

The church celebrates annually on August 29th for the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist.