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 credulous villagers against the refugees.
Manolios, already feeling himself to be a changed man because he is chosen to suffer the five wounds and the burden of the cross, persuades Michelis, Yannakos, and others to help the distressed people. Fotis’s band is allowed to take refuge in the caves on the summit of Mount Sarakina nearby. Grigoris is enraged when Manolios and Michelis take from the archon’s cellar four baskets filled with food to feed the famished women and children. Michelis is betrothed to Grigoris’s daughter Mariori, so Grigoris claims that the gift is actually a theft of goods that partly belong to him.
Manolios withdraws to his mountain hut to battle with his weaknesses of the flesh, for he feels that if he is to act the part of Christ, he must struggle to become Christlike. Much to her distress, he denies Lenio. When his face breaks out in strange sores, he believes that God is punishing him because his dreams at night are filled with visions of Katerina. Disappointed in her wedding plans, Lenio gives herself to Nikolio, a lusty young pagan who is Manolios’s assistant in herding the archon’s flocks.
As the summer passes, the other characters in the Passion Play also change and begin to act more in accordance with...
(The entire section is 887 words.)