We were strolling home from the Acropolis, past the inviting portals of an Eastern Orthodox church, and decided to take a quiet, narrow street we’d somehow missed on previous forays. We only encountered a few folks (a rarity in Athens), including a priest and his friends. They were looking at a grand house up the street, with well-dressed security guards strategically placed around the perimeter. Our initial impression was that it must be an embassy. That’s when we met Tony, a local restauranteur passing by, who explained that this is the headquarters of Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens’ Greek Orthodox Church. We realized that they were flying the Greek flag with a cross on top – a reminder that in Greece there is no separation of church and state. Tony went on to explain that this area of town is home to merchants who cater exclusively to the needs of Eastern Orthodox Churches – everything from vestments for the clergy to chandeliers for the interiors. We studied the shop windows in amazement, completely out of our element, but enjoying the exotic atmosphere. Several businesses were tailor shops, featuring floor-to-ceiling bolts of exquisite silks and brocades with rolls of embroidered trim. Men were meticulously hand sewing stunning clergy vestments, fashioned from luxurious fabrics, each piece with its own religious significance. Other stores specialized in items for church interiors or religious services, ranging from chalices and censers to icons and lecterns. But my favorite shops are for everyday religious folks who are shopping for something special. Specifically – a miracle. Athenian writer Adrian Vretto explains that when you’re raised a devout Orthodox, you learned that,
“Miracles were had for the asking in all the Orthodox churches. You can get them by offering tamata.”
Tamata are votive plaques made of rectangular pieces of metal that convey prayers and wishes for many purposes, like a new house or healthy baby (similar to Milagros in the Latin tradition).
When a loved one is ailing, Greeks buy tamata with miniature body parts shaped on them. According to Vretto,
“You can find tamata ranging from ears to ankles and fingers, but in the odd case they don’t have the right body part for you, vendors can be inventive. For example, a friend of mine looking for a kidney was offered two livers.”
Now that’s creative! There’s even a tamata if you’re dreaming about a new car!