Beautiful white sand beaches. Rolling hills that stretch all along the coast. Pristine sparkling swimming coves. The island of Patmos looks every bit the part of a Greek paradise. The kind of place to just lose yourself in, breathing in the slightly salty breeze, allowing your cares to melt away.
It’s ironic that this idyllic island slice of bliss was where the Apostle John was given his vision of the end of the world.
After the crucifixion and resurrection, John never stopped. He continued the good work of spreading the word of Christ in a land where persecution ran rampant. He played a critical role in the early church, helping to establish the places of worship that would keep Jesus’ message alive. Unfortunately, his luck couldn’t last forever, and eventually John was arrested by the Romans. His sentence was the ejection from his home and separation from his flock. Rather than kill him, the Romans banished him to remote place. A place without civilization or the hope of returning home. He was banished to Patmos.
John is distinct from the other Apostles in a few ways. He was Jesus’ favorite Apostle "the disciple beloved of Jesus” who leaned on him during the Last Supper. John along with Peter were the first disciples Jesus appeared to after the resurrection. Out of all the Apostles, John was the only one to escape martyrdom, to live a long life and die of natural causes. It was in Patmos, in his old age when he would receive his visions, and the fisherman who became a disciple would become a prophesier.
Think about that life, that moment. Here was John, old and frail. A man who had witnessed countless miracles, including the greatest miracle of them all. A man who has seen all his friends martyred, killed for their shared beliefs. Who now, in his advanced age, is uprooted from his home, his church, and his people, and forced to live in what was essentially an island penal colony. It was designed as a place to die, a dumping ground for troublemakers the Roman Empire didn’t want to deal with.
This was it, the end. What more could there be? He had seen the highest highs and the lowest lows of the human experience, nothing left but to live out his remaining days, right? But then one day while on a mountain path, John hears something. Something strange. A swelling of trumpets behind him. It’s a heavenly host.
Then he hears the voice of Jesus, telling him the future of things. What is to come, and how it will all end. And with that, John has new purpose, new life. He has to transcribe these things. He has to share this immense, profound gift with the world. He has spent his entire adult life preaching the word of Jesus, and now he has one final message to convey. How amazingly beautiful!
It was in what we now call the Cave of the Apocalypse where John received his visions and wrote the last book of the bible, Revelation. That location still exists today, about halfway up the mountain of Patmos, along the road between the villages of Chora and Skala. It is a remote spot in a remote island. The perfect place to speak to God.
Remoteness is still a theme of Patmos today. Even in the modern age the island retains an air of mystery and reclusiveness. There is no airport on the island. If you wish to reach it, you’ll need to travel by boat. And life on the island is a little different from what you may be used to.
The locals are friendly and laid back but also charmingly aloof. Unlike some tourist destinations where the shops and restaurants feel like commercialized props, the people of Patmos live their lives and carry about their business without much pretention. While some islands lean into the tourism industry and start to feel like wax museums, the populace of Patmos has a much more relaxed way of thinking which lends a refreshing air of authenticity to the surroundings.
Despite the breezy attitude though, there is still a strong backbone of faith at the center of the island. Overlooking the harbor of Chora, the Monastery of St. John the Theologian still stands as the dominant building on the island. A large, almost imposing structure made of brick and stone, fashioned to resemble a castle wall with ramparts and towers - a sombre reminder of the weighty message John delivered to the world.
Our own Rev. Dr. John Tweedie will be leading a tour following the footsteps of John on the Island in 2020 where you can see the Monastery for yourself. There is no better way to connect to the powerful message conveyed to us by John and the sheer wonder of the life of Jesus’ favourite disciple than to stand where he stood and breathe the same air. Keep on eye on the site for more information on the tour in the near future!