(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

On Easter Tuesday of an unspecified year, apparently close to 1920, the Greek elders of Lycovrissi gather to select the principals of the Passion Play that is given every seven years, at Easter time, under the portico of the church. Lycovrissi is a remote village in the mountains of Anatolia. Its poor, illiterate, superstitious peasants, with only dim memories of the greatness of their Hellenic past, have lived under harsh Turkish rule for centuries.

Only two men in the town know anything about the outside world. One is Captain Fortounas, a drunken old sailor retired from his rough seafaring life. The other is the Turkish agha, overlord of the village, a gross, sensual man who spends his days drinking raki and his nights amusing himself with pretty boys.

The elders reveal themselves as an avaricious, corrupt lot as they discuss possible candidates for the Passion Play. Eventually Manolios, a handsome young shepherd betrothed to the archon’s illegitimate daughter, Lenio, is selected as the Christ; Michelis, the archon’s son, as John; Yannakos, a rascally peddler, as Peter; Kostandis, the innkeeper, as James; Panayotaros, a red-bearded, sly man nicknamed Plaster-eater, as Judas; and the widow Katerina, a woman of warm heart and easy virtue, as Mary Magdalene. The principals have to be selected a year in advance so that they can prepare themselves for the responsibilities of their roles in reenacting the story of the Passion and the Crucifixion.

On the same day, a party of miserable refugees arrives in the village. Driven from their homes by their Turkish masters, they are sick and starving after their long search for a place where they might settle. One ancient man carries the bones of his ancestors on his back. Their leader is an ascetic priest named Fotis, who asks for food for his people and land on which they might build their homes. Many of the villagers are sympathetic, but Priest Grigoris, a selfish, domineering man, wants no religious rival in the neighborhood. Unfeelingly, he orders the refugees to move on. When one woman collapses and dies from hunger, he shouts that she has died of cholera in his efforts to arouse the...

(The entire section is 887 words.)