September 19, 2010

Saint Anthimos of Kefallonia in Astypalea

The religious center of Astypalea is the Monastery of Panagia Portaitissa which was established by the blind ascetic and missionary St. Anthimos of Kefallonia in 1762. It took nine years to build, during which time many miracles are reported to have occurred, such as the time St. Anthimos rid the island of an infestation of snakes by his prayers. The icon of Panagia Portaitissa in Astypalea is a copy of the same miraculous icon in Iveron Monastery on Mount Athos. St. Anthimos had travelled to Iveron Monastery in order to receive this copy, which an old monastic iconographer named Luke accomplished for him despite his old age, yet could not finish the face. St. Anthimos then buried the icon and they prayed all night, and when morning came they uncovered the icon and the face was finished. One of the special features of the church in Astypalea is its cobble-stoned courtyard. A major feast takes place here on August 15th. St. Anthimos is one of the most important Orthodox religious figures of the 18th century and his feast is celebrated on September 4th.

In the video above, during the first minute a government official explains that the street they are walking on has a church for every house and is taken care of by each family. On the feast of the church a Divine Liturgy takes place, and it is said there are 365 such churches to a family on the island, corresponding to the amount of days in the year; this is the tradition for each family on the island. They consider this tradition as important to the spiritual and physical health of each family. At the 1:20 mark they are entering the Monastery of Panagia Portaitissa and the priest soon begins to chant the hymn in honor of Panagia Portaitissa. At the 3:47 mark there is depicted the icon of St. Anthimos and the history of the monastery is given. At the 5:35 mark they proceed to the monastic Cell of St. Anthimos. They show his prayer rope (komboskini), his priestly stole (epitrachelion), and an original copy of The Rudder (Pedalion). At the 7:00 mark the priest begins to explain that St. Anthimos was the victim of slander on the island where he was accused of have illicit relationships with the nuns. At the 7:35 mark the priest shows a peach tree before which St. Anthimos was brought to trial for this. To show the people his innocence he climbed on top of a table and took off his clothes. When it was seen how shrivelled up and emaciated his body was due to his severe asceticism, his innocence was clearly seen. The people sought his forgiveness, but the Saint was upset and decided to leave the monastery. He tried to take the icon of Panagia Portaitissa with him, but after attempting three times the icon would not move; by this he judged it was the will of the Panagia for the icon to stay. At the 9:30 mark it is explained how St. Anthimos prayed that snakes would not exist on the island. Even when snakes have been brought from other places to the island, the snakes do not survive till this day.

 Read also: Saint Anthimos Kourouklis, the Blind Ascetic of Kefallonia and Enlightener of Greece