Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Cloud Church

The Church of St Koniortos in Eastern Europe is popularly known as “the cloud church,” and with very good reason. At all times within the church, there is a large, dense cloud that manifests itself in the sanctuary. Tourists come from all over to observe this strange cloudlike phenomenon.

The story of the cloud is shrouded in history, but the gist of it is as follows:

During the middle ages, the presiding bishop of the region inherited a large sum of money. Desiring to do something special for the parish, he sent to Jerusalem for a beautifully-woven rug for the church floor. In a village where most of the houses had stone floors, the rug was an item of great interest.

Sometime thereafter, a peculiar practice began. No one seems to know exactly why, but villagers would collect the sweepings from their homes into a bag and bring them to church when they came for confession. If no one was about, they would lift up the edge of the rug and empty the bags beneath them, then leave without going to confession. If you saw someone you knew standing in line waiting to confess, the practice arose that bags of dirt would be exchanged, and both parties would go and deposit the dust beneath the rug and smoothed out or swept farther beneath with a broom. Knowing looks were exchanged, and neither individual would enter the confessional; nor would they discuss what they had done outside the church walls. The priest worked less, because fewer people came to confession, and fewer people were under the strain of being seen entering the confessional. Overall, everyone seemed happier.

A year or two later, it started. People came in to church, genuflected, and took their seats. But the months and months worth of dirt swept beneath the church rug had begun to work its way up through the carpet, and with each step, tiny clouds of dust would rise up around people’s feet. No one said anything about it, because all knew what was happening. Furthermore, no one did anything about cleaning the rug, because no one wanted to expose all the filth that lay beneath. Instead, they continued to bring in their sacks and sweep their contents under the rug.

The trend continued down through the ages, and then finally went out of style. By that time, though, it was too late. The rug was a ruined mess, but no one would remove it out of respect for the memory of Bishop Koniortos, after whom they eventually named the church. Additionally, the dust seemed never to settle any more, and every person who entered stirred up their own puffs, adding to the cloud. By that time, the number of congregants was much smaller than it had been, most of the congregation having succumbed to a mysterious lung disorder.

Today, the cloud is so thick that no one seated in the pews can see the altar, or the marvelous crucifix above it.

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