As the last days of summer drew to a close we, along with fifty ‘pilgrims’ of all ages and backgrounds, flew off to the Greek islands for retreat holiday ‘A Touch of Heaven’. This unique escape is led by speaker and author David Payne of CaFe and is the perfect combination of faith and natural beauty. The setting for A Touch of Heaven was the idyllic isle of Patmos, a place renowned as the the setting for St John writing the book of Revelation. The legend says St John was praying in a cave overlooking the sea when Jesus appeared and taught him the mysteries of what was, what is and is to come. David has been visiting Patmos for many years and lectures on its history and spiritual heritage so we were in good hands!Our first day saw us exploring the island of Kos, the nearest airport to Patmos. After sampling local ice-cream on landing, we visited the fascinating Museum of Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine and heard about the island’s rich history including moving tales from the time of German wartime occupation. Later in the evening we boarded the ferry to much excitement and settled down to a delicious Greek supper with the local white wine and got to know each other to much laughter. On arriving at Patmos and the sleepy town of Skala later that night, we checked into the utterly charming Scala Hotel, with its bougainvillea covered balconies and salt water pool (with its own swim-up bar!) for a very good night’s sleep!
The following morning after a scrumptious buffet breakfast, with the best Greek Yoghurt and local honey found anywhere, we wound our way up to the medieval monastery of Chora. Our guide revealed the stories and details behind the astonishing frescoes, traditions and architecture of this very living spiritual centre. Lunch was taken at a beachside taverna where all the delights of the local dishes were laid out for us. Post swim and siesta, we gathered together for mass and to listen to David’s introductory talk about St John and his time on the island.
On day two of the retreat we awoke to glorious blue skies and a much-awaited visit to the Cave of the Apocalypse. This mystical place has an atmosphere unlike anywhere else and we each sat and reflected on the truths contained in the last book of the Bible which was written here in this very place. We then had an outdoor mass overlooking the cave which was so memorable before another fabulous lunch at nearby Jimmy’s Taverna with its glass porch overlooking the island’s dramatic bay and whitewashed houses below.
Day three was made special by a visit to the Koumana convent, beautifully tended to by a serene solitary nun followed a beach mass where our resident priest, Father Keith, led barefoot in the surf – much to the interest of a few cherub-like children who wandered over through the waves to take a closer look! Lunch at the Meloi tavern was the perfect Sunday meal, breaking bread together under the vines and flowers. David’s third talk in the evening led us deeper into His love for each of us and brought us all closer together as we discussed in small groups.
On Monday we visited the Evangelismos Convent set in lush gardens for quiet prayer and contemplation. There were many scenic spots to sit and marvel at the sights and magic of Patmos and draw near in prayer. Lunch was taken, after a cooling swim, at the Tarsanus boatyard taverna with welcoming host Sozon producing dishes from the freshest local ingredients with a charming view of the bobbing boats in the cove. Our last session with David allowed for a time of communal prayer and blessings.
The following morning was a time of adventurous scaling (by minivan!) as we discovered the highest point on the island, Mount Elias and gathered together for a mass in the shadow of a old hermit monastery with Patmos and the surrounding islands laid out in panorama below us. An afternoon was spent with post-lunch shopping the markets or swimming in the hotel pool before a well-earned siesta. As the sun began to set, we visited the ancient baptistry where St John baptised the island’s first believers before sampling Skala’s local tavernas and soaking up the evening sights.
Our penultimate day was free for independent activities and many of the group chose to join us on a boat journey to nearby island. We swam at an olive-tree shaded local beach with turquoise waters (and a famous flock of sea ducks!) before dining at a taverna on long tables and sharing what the week had meant for each of us. The return journey was enlivened by the thrill of waves splashing on deck and the uniquely Greek landscape as we wove between the islands returning to Patmos.
Leaving Patmos on the seventh day we returned to Kos and with our storyteller guide we explored the hilltop village of Zia enjoying our last lunch together and picking up souvenirs before the home flight to London. As we journeyed back it was wonderful to see how fellow travellers who had been strangers a week before were now firm friends and we landed at Gatwick with a spirit of a shared experience that had brought joy, rest and indeed, ‘a touch of heaven’.
Written by Cosmo Brockway