September 8, 2010

The Monastery of Panagia Kounistria (Eikonistria) in Skiathos

In 1655 there was a hermit who lived alone in his cell in the mountains of Skiathos, whose whole life was devoted to prayer. One night he saw a strange light deep in the woods. He was curious, so he started walking towards the light to find the cause. Suddenly, while he was walking, the light disappeared. It occurred to him that the light might possibly be caused by evil demons attempting to set a trap for him, but deep in his heart he felt that the light was a divine sign.

The light reappeared for several nights. He decided to pray and fast in the hope that God would show him the truth about the mysterious light. A few nights later, when he saw the light again and was walking towards it, instead of disappearing, the light became brighter and brighter. The hermit kept walking towards the brightening light until he reached a pine tree, where he was astonished to see high up among the branches the Icon of the Virgin Mary surrounded by this spectacular brilliant light swinging in the pine.

He tried to climb the tree to reach the Icon, but either due to age or infirmity, or because God wanted more people to see the miracle, he was unable to do so. He stayed there all night praying under the pine tree and in the morning he walked to Kastro (which means castle), the medieval city of Skiathos. He told his extraordinary story to the citizens of Kastro and a group of them immediately followed the hermit back up into the mountains to see the miracle. A young priest called John, climbed the pine tree to bring the Icon safely down. Since then, 1655, the Virgin Mary called "Eikonistria" (Icon That Shines Like A Star) or "Kounistria" (She Who Swings) has been and continues to be the protector of the island of Skiathos.

Many healings and other miracles have occurred. A few years later a monastery was built close to the place where the Icon was found and the Icon was placed inside. During the period of King Otto, many monasteries in the new founded country of Greece were closed under an anti-monastic command of the new government and the ministry of religions. The Monastery of Eikonistria (or Kounistra, as the locals usually call it) was abandoned and all the holy relics together with the Holy Icon were transferred to another monastery. However, because the citizens wanted to have the Holy Icon among them, when they returned to their old city nearby the old port, a rebuilt Byzantine village, they built the Metropolitan Church of the Three Hierarchs in 1846 and placed the Icon there. The Three Hierarchs are St. Basil the Great, St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory the Theologian.

There are two celebrations in honor of the Virgin Mary’s Icon. The first one is on the 21st November when we celebrate the dedication of the Virgin Mary to God by her parents when she was three years old. There is a procession on foot the previous day when the people of Skiathos carry the Icon through the mountains from the city to the Monastery of the Virgin Mary, where an all night vigil and service take place. In the morning of the 21st of November the Icon is brought back by the same path so that it can be taken in a procession around the city. The second one is on the first Sunday after the 1st July, so that those people who are unable to come to the Island of Skiathos for the main celebration are able to glorify the Virgin Mary during the second celebration established in her honor. This feast is dedicated to the day of the finding of the miraculous Icon. There is a procession on foot on Saturday evening from the church of Three Hierarchs to the other church of the island, which is named after the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, where an all night vigil takes place. The following morning, on Sunday, a holy liturgy takes place in the churches and then the Icon is taken in procession around the city and brought back to the Metropolis church.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

Στην Παναγία τήν Κουνίστρα 
Αλέξανδρος Παπαδιαμάντης 

Εις όλην την Χριστιανοσύνη
μια είναι μόνη Παναγία αγνή,
κόρη παιδίσκη, Άσμα των Άσμάτων,
χωρίς Χριστόν, θείο παιδί, στά χέρια,
και τρεφομένη με αγγέλων άρτον!..

Εσύ' σαι η μόνη Παναγία Κουνίστρα,
που εφανερώθης στης Σκιάθου το νησί,
εις δένδρον πεύκου επάνω καθημένη,
κ' αιωρουμένη εις τερπνήν αιώραν,
όπως αι κορασίδες συνηθίζουν...

Εφανερώθης, κι όλος ο λαός
μετά θυμιαμάτων και λαμπάδων
εν θεία λιτανεία σε παρέπεμψε -
κ' εσήκωσεν ωραίον λευκόν ναόν,
που με πιατάκια ελληνικά σου στόλισε!..

Κι όλος ο ήλιος έλαμπεν εις τον ναόν σου,
και φως τον πλημμυρούσε μαργαρώδες,
όλα τ' άστέρια εφεγγοβολούσαν,
και η σελήνη εχάιδευε γλυκά
τα απλά της εκκλησίας σου καντιλάκια !..

Κ' είδες, η Κόρη, του λαού την πίστιν,
είδες και την πτωχείαν κ' ευσπλαχνίσθης,
όπως το πάλαι είχε σπλαχνισθή ο Υιός σου
τους προγόνους του ίδιου του λαού,
ως πρόβατα μη έχοντα ποιμένα...

Κι άρχισες να γιατρεύης τους αρρώστους
και να γιατρεύης τους δαιμονισμένους -
που ήρχετο ώρα κ' εις τους τοίχους εχτυπώντο
με φοβερόν συγκλονισμόν -
κι άρχισες, θεία, να θαυματουργής!..

Κ' η χάρη σου ξαπλώθηχε ως τα πέρατα
του ειρηνικού νησιού της Σκιάθου -
ω Παναγιά μου, κόρη πάναγνη, καλή!
...Κ' ίσως να φτάση κι ως εμένα και ν' απλώση
γαλήνη στην ψυχή μου, την αμαρτωλή...