By Eustratios A. Harhalakis
The most important religious custom of the island of Kythera takes place during Great Lent and is known as "the Circling of the Panagia" (η Γύρα της Παναγίας).
It is a very old custom. There is testimony about it from 1750, when the then Bishop of Kythira instructed his priests to participate in the processions of "the Miracle-gushing and Holy Icon of the Theotokos of Myrtidion".
The "Circling" as it is done today was established in 1842 by decision of the Provincial Government, signed by the Executive Officer John Kaloutsis and endorsed by the British governor Kolchount. On 12/04/1841, during the English Occupation, the "Provincial Council on Religion" adopted a decision to transfer for final placement the Holy Icon, from Fort Kythera, where it was guarded for fear of pirates, to Myrtidion Monastery (approximate distance 16km).
In the same decision the "Circling" was established, that on the Sunday of Orthodoxy the Icon would come to the City, will remain there until Pascha Monday, and then another procession would take place, moving the Icon from the Cathedral Church back to the Monastery over an eight-day period. So the "Circling" took eight days.
When the Icon went to the villages, there were worship services and festivals. A Grand Festival took place on Bright Friday at Potamos, at the Church of the Life-giving Spring of the Theotokos, and on Thomas Sunday at Mylopotamos.
After the Union of the Ionian Islands in 1864, two more days were added to the "Circling" to include two additional villages, and later there were other modifications.
The Sacred Litany or Procession begins at the Sacred Monastery of Myrtidion with the participation of the local bishop, clergy and people immediately after the dismissal of the Festive Hierarchical Divine Liturgy of the Sunday of Orthodoxy.
The Sacred Icon is brought to the Sacred Cathedral of the Crucified Christ in Hora of Kythera in the late afternoon, where it remains until Pascha Monday.
The "Circling" today lasts fifteen days and on the Sunday of the Myrrhbearers the Sacred Icon returns triumphantly to its natural seat, that is, to the Sacred Monastery of the Theotokos of Myrtidion in western Kythera.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos