For as long as the mass was conducted in Greek, the parishioners of Remas attended each service with complete faith and without any clue of the writings in the scriptures. Indeed they were blissfully unaware of the miracles performed by the son of God as well as his suffering on the cross. Such astounding deeds of turning water into wine, feeding an army of guests with five loaves of bread, curing the disabled and the maimed as well as raising Lazarus from the dead were uttered in Albanian by father Sako only when the holy books were translated into Albanian. In an effort to reach deeper into the souls of the Christians, the Synod had ordered that all the church services be held in native languages. As simple people of the land, they believed that “if a story was told, then it must be true.” Admittedly, these feasts were far more interesting than the moral principles of the Christian code of living, which were hard to grasp and much harder to follow.
Easter Thursday traditionally marks the day of select readings from the twelve gospels highlighting episodes from the life of Christ, son of God. The parishioners listened carefully as the deeds of Jesus among the Pharisees, the Jews and the Romans were read to them from the pulpit. At the tenth gospel comes the description of his capture, his trials and torture before his death. The crowd gasped and the only thing that could be heard within the walls of the church was the sound of the mosquitoes. With a just right dramatic tone, Father Sako kept on reading about the thorn crown that the Pharisees placed on Jesus’s head, the nailing of his hands and feet on the cross, the piercing of his chest until blood gushed out. The congregants were petrified from the descriptions of carnage scenes that their ears were hearing. The son of God was being butchered and, what was worse, He was enduring it all as if He were a mortal. To erase any doubt, an old fisherman from the second row, piped loudly with a merciful tone:
-Wait, wait father. Who did you say was subjected to all that slaughtering?
-Our savior, Christ, – answered Father Sako.
-Which Christ? Christi Malo the goat heard or the son of God? – asked the fisherman to make sure.
-The son of God, my good man, – answered Father Sako in a sad tone. – He bore tremendous suffering…
-Says who? – interjected the blacksmith from across the aisle.
-The Gospel! –replied Father Sako. It is written right here!
Suddenly, a booming voice from the back of the church shouted: Liar! No way that Christ would be mistreated like that! Not a chance! Just then, a determined voice stated with authority: The Father doesn’t know how to read it! Then, all around people were saying: Father is taking us for a ride! What a joke! He thinks he can lie to us and we will fall for it! He is not fit to be a father! The tense atmosphere escalated quickly into insults: Goat face! Blockhead! Worm brain! Feeling righteous about protecting the dignity of the Lord, they drove the father out of the chapel pushing and shoving.
However, the little village did not have another priest. Although displeased with Sako, the villagers were practical people and decided to keep the father around for all the customary services throughout the year.
At one rotation of the Earth around the sun, on the following Easter Thursday, the congregation gathered again for the twelve gospel readings. Nervously Father Sako neared the passage of the physical torturing of Christ. He gulped in brief hesitation recalling what had transpired the first time he had read it in Albanian. To read the scripture as written and risk a second beating or to skip that passage altogether? Out of necessity, Father kept his eyes on the scripture yet his mouth went on with the story by itself: “… and the Pharisees attacked with fury trying to capture Jesus but He dropped a big one on them and slipped through their hands.”
The crowd let out a sigh of satisfaction. Father Sako had learned how to read the Gospel in accordance with the people’s beliefs and his own personal safety.
Naum Prifti is a prolific author, translator and a central figure in Albanian cultural life in the United States.
Translation by Rafaela Kondi