August 31, 2011

When Elder Daniel of Katounakia Was Healed By the Holy Zoni of the Theotokos

By Archimandrite Cherubim (Karambelas)

The Panagia is especially honored in Vatopaidi. Its katholikon is dedicated to the Annunciation, while its wonderworking icons (Vimatarissa, Esphagmeni, Antiphonitria, Paramithia, etc.) are laden with wonderful histories. The wonderworking Zoni (Belt or Sash) of the Theotokos is also kept there, which in former times was in Constantinople, "in her venerable house which is in Chalkoprateia," in Blachernae.

[Elder Daniel Katounakiotis] had hardly arrived [at the Monastery of Vatopaidi] before he suffered an acute attack of nephritis. His "thorn in the flesh" pricked him very grievously this time, and he was immobile in his bed for weeks.

The fathers of the Monastery nursed him with great love. Even greater love was shown him, however, by the great physician of the Holy Mountain, the Theotokos.

Fr. Daniel was especially devoted to the Lady Theotokos, with the same devotion, confidence and reverence that all the saints have nourished towards her. Therefore he implored her to visit him in his suffering, entreating her with tears and warmth of heart. He was sure of her answer, for he knew her promises. Was it possible for her not to fulfill them? And truly, on August 31, the day that the Monastery celebrated the feast of her Holy Zoni, the sick man was suddenly healed. The cure was complete; never again was he troubled by his terrible illness, which had tormented him for ten years. What worthy words could he find with which to thank and praise the All-Pure Mother of monks?

"Thou art the joy of those in sorrow, the deliverance of the weak, O Theotokos Virgin; save thy city and thy people, thou peace of the embattled and calm of the suffering, thou only Protectress of the faithful."

From Contemporary Ascetics of Mount Athos (vol. 1), pp. 237-239.

Read also: The Holy Belt (Zoni) of the Theotokos

August 29, 2011

The Miracle of the Splitting of the Wine Cup

By Hieromonk Maximos of Kavsokalyvia

In the days of Paisios, the hieromonk of Mytilene, there occurred in the Kalyva of St. John the Theologian the miracle of the entire splitting of the wine cup, to show the fathers present that before Christ both John the Forerunner and John the Theologian have the same boldness before God. The cup has been placed in a silver casing with metalic artistic decoration. The two pieces are of the same weight.

Alexandros Moraitides, in his short story With the Waves of the North, tells us:

Paisios returned to Kavsokalyvia to his old Kalyva, after receiving his regular ration from the Monastery of Xenophontos throughout his life.

During the feast of John the Theologian, where hospitality was given in the trapeza according to custom, and as the pilgrims gathered modestly to the glory of the Beloved Disciple, there was raised a long and curious debate among the elders: Who is the greateast, the Honorable Forerunner who baptized Jesus, or John the Theologian who leaned on His chest? Many reasons were exchanged during this pious rivalry and a solution was not reached. Suddenly a beautiful cup, full of wine in the middle of the table, broke in two pieces.

This event was considered very important. Hieromonk Paisios was then inspired to weigh the two pieces, and they were the exact same weight.

The Elders then rose up and praised God, Who through this sign gave the right solution to the discussion, showing that like the Holy Trinity is equal in honor, so the two saints should have the same honor, the Honorable Forerunner and the Beloved John the Theologian.

Source: Ascetical Personalities and Guidance From Athos. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

Georgian President Pardons 201 Prisoners For the Feast of the Dormition

August 29, 2011

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has issued a decree pardoning 201 prisoners due to the Dormition of Virgin Mary, which Orthodox believers marked on Sunday.

A total of 171 of these prisoners walked free on Sunday and thirty had their prison time halved, Khatuna Kalmakhelidze, Georgian minister for the enforcement of punishments, probation, and legal assistance, told a briefing.

Among the pardoned prisoners are ten women, three minors, and two foreigners.

The Feast of the Beheading of St. John in Giona, Crete

Every year on August 29th thousands of faithful from all over Crete gather to celebrate the feast of the Beheading of St. John the Forerunner around a small chapel dedicated to this feast in Giona in the region of Rodopou Kissamos of Hania.

The feast begins the evening before, on August 28th, and goes on throughout the night and well into the next day. It is a tradition which actually goes back to pre-Christian times, when a Temple to Artemis stood here, but was later replaced with this shrine to St. John in Byzantine times. Over time this has become one of the most famous pilgrimage sites in all Crete.

In the olden days before there were roads, pilgrims would come by foot or with their animals, and today many people still come here by foot from Rodopou.

One of the unique characteristics of this shrine during this feast is the baptism of many children, roughly between 80-100 of them. Because the chapel is small, a baptismal font was established in the courtyard of the church to accommodate all these baptisms. It takes about 6-12 priests to baptize the children, usually in groups of 6 or 12.

An all-night vigil takes place for the feast, and the Divine Liturgy usually occurs around 2:00AM. Following the services there is also a traditional feast with Cretan music. Visitors can enjoy the traditional dishes in the outdoor taverns.

On August 29th the football club of Rodopou closes the two-day celebration with the organization of a fair in the village square. The good wine, plenty of dishes and Cretan Music from well-known artists call every visitor to enjoy themselves until the early morning hours.

August 28, 2011

Documentary On the Esphigmenou Monastery Controversy (Greek)

This beautiful and informative documentary by Nikolaos Anagnostopoulos addresses and clarifies the Esphigmenou Monastery controversy on Mount Athos, in the words of the current Athonite abbots and monks. They also explain what it means to be a true Athonite monk.

Saint Job of Pochaev (+ 1651)

Saint Job of Pochaev was born about 1551 in southwest Galicia of a pious Orthodox family. In his tenth year the Saint departed for the Urgornitsky Monastery of our Saviour in the Carpathian Mountains. Tonsured after two years, he was ordained Hieromonk about 1580. Renowned for his meekness and humility, Job was invited by the great zealot for Holy Orthodoxy in Carpatho- Russia, Prince Constantine Ostroshky, to be Abbot of the Monastery of the Cross in Dubno. In his zeal for the preservation and propagation of the Orthodox Faith, and to counteract the propaganda of the Uniates, he printed and widely disseminated Orthodox spiritual and liturgical books. About 1600 he removed to the Mountain of Pochaev where at the insistance of the brethern, he became Abbot of the Monastery of the Dormition of the Theotokos, which he enlarged and made to flourish. Through his labours, a large printing works was founded at Pochaev and greatly assisted in the nurture of the Orthodox faithful in that region. His monastery became the center of the Orthodox Church in western Ukraine. The Saint reposed, having taken the schema with the name of John, in 1651, at the advanced age of one hundred.

Saint Job of Pochaev died on October 28, 1651, and his relics were transferred to the church of the Holy Trinity on August 28, 1659. A second uncovering of the relics took place on August 28, 1833. In the year 1902, the Holy Synod decreed that on this day, August 28, the holy relics of St. Job be carried around the Dormition Cathedral of the Pochaev Lavra after the Divine Liturgy.

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
Having acquired the patience of the long-suffering forefather, having resembled the Baptist in abstinence, and sharing the divine zeal of both, thou wast granted to receive their names, and wast a fearless preacher of the true Faith. In this way thou didst bring a multitude of monastics to Christ, and thou didst strengthen all the people in Orthodoxy, O Job, our holy Father. Pray that our souls be saved.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
Thou wast a pillar of the true Faith, a zealot of the commandments of the Gospel, a convicter of pride, an intercessor and teacher of the humble. Wherefore, ask that the forgiveness of sins be granted unto them that bless thee; and do thou keep thy community unharmed, O Job our Father, who dost resemble the much-suffering Patriarch.


Synaxis of All Eurytanian Saints

The feast of All Eurytanian Saints was established by the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece in 1971 to honor all those elect servants of God associated with this region of Eurytania. It is celebrated on the last Sunday of August.

These Saints are:

1. Saint Andrew the Hermit and Wonderworker (May 15)
2. Saint Michael the Mavroudis (Thursday of Bright Week)
3. Saint Damian the Monk (February 14)
4. Saint Seraphim the New Hieromartyr (December 4)
5. Saint Nicholas the Pantopolis, the New Martyr from Karpenisi (September 23)
6. Saint Cyprian the New Venerable Martyr (July 5)
7. Saint Akakios the New, the Kavsokalyvites (April 4)
8. Saint Gerasimos the New, the Karpenisiotis (July 3)
9. Saint Eugenios the Aitolos (August 5)
10. Saint Romanos the New Venerable Martyr (January 5 and February 16)
11. Saint Kosmas the Aitolos (August 24)
12. Saint John the New Martyr and Former Hagarene (September 23)


Ancient Antioch Still Home To Many Christians

In one of the birthplaces of Christianity, worshippers continue to practice their religion side-by-side with their Muslim "brothers".

Anna Wood
August 27, 2011
Southeast European Times

High above the modern Turkish city of Antakya (Antioch) lays a relic of a former age. The Church of St Peter, now a pilgrimage site with a clear trail marking the way, was once a hidden centre of early Christian worship.

Composed of just a one-room cave about 13 meters wide, this sanctuary was crucial to developments in the history of Near Eastern Christianity, and is old enough to be mentioned in the Bible itself. It is here, according to legend, that followers of the newly emerging religion first called themselves Christians.

Though the church now serves as a heritage site and museum operated by the Turkish state, a hike down the mountain and into the city below leads visitors to a number of churches that have active congregations and daily services.

Official studies of the population of Turkey estimate the number of non-Muslim citizens to be less than .02%. In this corner of the country, however, the religious and ethnic diversity is much higher and, significantly, religious conflict nearly absent.

"There are no problems here," the head priest of the Catholic Church of Antioch, Domineco Bertogli, explains. "We live openly, we worship openly."

Indeed, the Italian priest's church is located next-door to a large mosque, and prominent plaques point the way.

Adalet, a young woman who works in the church with Bertogli, grew up in Antakya and takes pride in the city's level of tolerance and multiculturalism. She points to a poster hanging on a bulletin board that also displays church announcements and service hours.

"Do you see that?" Adalet asks, smiling. "Antakya was chosen as one of UNESCO's cities of peace."

Also on display are pictures of Bertogli shaking hands with President Abdullah Gul and standing next to the Pope. Sent to Turkey initially in 1966, Bertogli spent years working in a church in Izmir before coming to Antakya. Over the course of the 45 years Bertogli has worked here, the priest has assimilated, learning the language fluently and, he says, being happy to serve the church.

The Catholic community of Antakya is not the largest Christian population in the region. Many more Orthodox Christians, whose traditions separated from those of Catholic Rome during centuries of Byzantine rule, live and worship here. The Orthodox Church of Antakya underscores the presence of this community, with its elaborate iron gates and large courtyard open to the public.

Antakya is the largest city in the province of Hatay, and, like many urban areas, has developed as a centre of diversity. Farther away from the city, however, active Christian communities still prosper.

Near the Syrian border in the Altinozu district, two almost exclusively Christian villages remain, Sarilar and Tokacli. Villagers are nearly all Orthodox, with perhaps a handful of Catholic families.

Emin Mizikacioglu, an Orthodox Christian who runs a small market in Sarilar, expresses a mixture of tolerance and pride regarding religious differences.

"We live together like brothers, all of us," he says, then breaking off his sentence to tease the Muslim bus driver about how slowly the vehicle is moving.

A few minutes later, when Sarilar becomes visible over a ridge in the hilly landscape, he softens his voice and says with some excitement, "This is my village. You won't find a single Muslim family here. Not even one."

This dual perspective -- that Muslims and Christians and Jews are all siblings, but that a Christian village is still something to be treasured -- may be part of what enables these varied communities to maintain their own identities while engaging peacefully and productively with other groups.

Bertogli, perhaps drawing on his experiences while working elsewhere in Turkey, emphasises that while Antakya and its environs may truly be cities of peace, they are not necessarily indicative of the situation elsewhere.

"There isn't just one Turkey," he says. "There are many Turkeys."

August 27, 2011

The Tradition of Phanouropita (Phanourios Cake)

More than 600 Phanouropita were blessed at the Great Vespers service in the evening of August 26, 2011 at the Monastery of Saints Adrian and Natalia in Argos in the municipal district of Saint Adrian, as the priest read hundreds of names to pray for the health of friends and family of the offerers. The primary reason people present Phanouropita on the feast of St. Phanourios on August 27th is because of their great love for the Saint, and also to fulfill any vow they may have made after seeking the intercession of this Newly-Revealed Great Martyr.

Little is known of the Great Martyr Phanourios, except that which is depicted concerning his martyrdom on his holy icon, which was discovered in the year 1500 among the ruins of an ancient church in Rhodes, when the Muslims ruled there. Thus he is called "the Newly Revealed." The faithful pray to Saint Phanourius especially to help them recover things that have been lost, and because he has answered their prayers so often, the custom has arisen of baking a Phanouropita ("Phanourios Cake") as a thanks-offering.

As a patron for those who have lost something they are searching for, the source of this custom is etymological (Phanourios means "Revealed"). In other words, "the Revealed reveals!" (Ο Φανούριος φανερώνει!). The fact that his name has such an etymology and the nature of the discovery of the icon of this previously unknown Saint gave rise to the custom of the Phanouropita as a thanks-offering for helping the faithful find things.

The veneration of St. Phanourios originated in Rhodes, where his icon was discovered. From there it spread throughout Greece, especially to Crete where today there are three monasteries and dozens of churches named after him. In places like Cyprus and Crete it is a tradition for the young women to bake a Phanouropita in order for St. Phanourios to help them find a husband. In Skiathos a Phanouropita is baked by a woman who wants a husband revealed for her daughter. In Florina unmarried women receive a piece of Phanouropita after the Divine Liturgy and place it under their pillow, hoping to be revealed in their dreams something about their future husband.

Primarily the Phanouropita is a lenten cake which is a custom that has its source in being a gesture of reverence for the Saint. It is made with seven or nine ingredients. These are considered sacred numbers and the choice of these numbers is not by accident.

Read more about St. Phanourios here.

The Relocation of a 12th Century Greek Monastery

The relocation project of the Monastery of the Dormition of the Theotokos in Torniki of Grevena was reported in an earlier post titled "800 Year Old Macedonian Monastery To Be Moved". Here is a photo of the Monastery being moved. See more photos and read more here.

August 24, 2011

Saint Aristokles of Moscow (+ 1918) and His Prophecies

St. Aristokles of Moscow (Feast Day - August 24)

By Monk Moses the Athonite 

In the world he was known as Alexi and born of Alexi Amvrosif in 1846 in Orenburg in the Urals. After the death of his wife in 1876 he departed for the Holy Mountain of Athos and entered the Monastery of Saint Panteleimon.

On March 12, 1880 he became a monk and took his name Aristokles. In 1884 he was ordained deacon and a priest, and in 1886 he became a great-schema monk. In 1887 he was sent to the metochion of his monastery in Moscow, where he appeared as a new founder and was a spiritual father of many souls. Staying in the dependency from 1891-1894 created around him a great spiritual work. From 1895-1909 he returned to his monastery. From 1909-1918 he went and stayed again at the metochion of Moscow.

He was adorned with the gifts of foresight and wonderworking, with which he helped many souls. His sacrificial love and merciful heart softened the hardest of hearts. Countless needy people found salvation near him. Rightly he is called the Elder of Moscow.

His blessed repose occurred on August 24, 1918 in his cell in the Metochion of Saint Panteleimon. He made three times the sign of the cross while looking at the icon of Gorgoepikoos, for which he had a special reverence and to whom he had built a church, and quietly surrendered his spirit to the Creator. His body was buried beneath the Church of Panagia Gorgoepikoos. In 1923, in order for his body to not be desecrated by atheists, he was transferred to the Monastery of St. Daniel, as was foretold by St. Aristokles. In 2001 the Patriarchate of Moscow placed him in the Russian Book of Saints. In 2004 the translation of his honorable relics took place and they were moved to the church of his metochion, where they continue to work wonders and give off a beautiful fragrance.

Source: The Saints of Mount Athos. Translated by John Sanidopoulos

Prophecies of St. Aristokles

"An evil will soon conquer Russia, where it goes bad rivers of blood will flow. This is not the soul of Russia, but an opposite. It is not an ideology or philosophy, but a spirit from hell. In recent days, Germany will be divided. France will be nothing. Italy will suffer from natural disasters. Britain will lose the Empire and all its colonies, and reach almost to total destruction, but saved by the prayers of enthroned women. The U.S. will feed the world but in the end will collapse. Russia and China will destroy each other. Eventually, Russia will be free and the faithful will go ahead and turn many of the nations to God."

"Now we pass the time before Antichrist. But Russia will ultimately be saved. There will be a great misery and suffering of many tortures. All Russia will become a prison, and each will strongly beg the Lord for forgiveness. Each one will have to repent of their sins and to tremble to do even the slightest sin, but must strive to do good, even the smallest. Because even the wing of a fly has weight, and the scales of God are accurate. And when even the smallest good container tilts the scales, then God will reveal His mercy to Russia."

"The end will come from China. There will be a tremendous outburst and a miracle from God will be revealed. And then there will be a completely different life, but this will not last long."

"God will remove all the leaders, so the Russians can look only to Him. Everyone will turn away from Russia, others will leave, leaving it to itself, so that Russians would only expect help from the Lord. You will hear in other states that have started riots similar to those in Russia. We hear about war, and there will be wars. But wait until the Germans take up arms because they have been elected as the weapon of God to punish Russia, but also as a weapon later to release. The Cross of Christ will shine throughout the world and our country will be glorified and become like a beacon in the darkness of all. "

For more details about St. Aristokles, read Ch. 2 of Living Theology: Russian Spirituality in the 20th Century by Serafim Gascoigne, titled "Starets Aristokles of the St. Panteleimon Chapel In Moscow (1838-1919)", which can be read here.

The Metropolitan of Zakynthos On His Relationship With St. Dionysios

With today being the feast of the translation of the sacred relics of St. Dionysios of Zakynthos from Strofadon Monastery to Zakynthos, Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Zakynthos gave the following moving homily describing his relationship with St. Dionysios from his infant years till the present, and the many amazing miracles he has seen the Saint perform before his very eyes over the years. The video is in Greek.

August 23, 2011

St. Kosmas Aitolos and the Church of St. Spyridon in Vuno, Albania

The village of Vuno in southern Albania is situated in the hills, ascending to about 300 meters (980 ft), which is why it likely derives its name from the Greek word vouno, which means "mountain". It has many churches scattered throughout the village.

St. Kosmas Aitolos, the Equal to the Apostles, came to this village in 1778 to teach Orthodox Christianity to the people, establish a church which would unite the scattered Orthodox Christians, and build a school for their education. It was the wish of the Saint to have this church dedicated to St. Spyridon the Wonderworker, and for all the Christians to gather here every Sunday for the Divine Liturgy. Following this proposal, the people complained to the Saint that they didn't have the funds to build a church, being burdened by the heavy taxes imposed on all Christians by the Ottomans. Fr. Kosmas told the people to go to the sea in Jali the next morning where they would find all the material needed to build the church. They did this and returned with the necessary materials, and undertook the task with joy and obedience.

Next to the church a school was built for the education of the village children, and a cypress tree was planted which still stands today.

The Greek school of Vuno in 1909

History of Panagia Prousiotissa

The story goes back a thousand years to the time when the heresy against the holy icons, Iconoclasm, was raging all over the Christian world. The Byzantine Emperor Theophilos had ordered, all holy icons be removed from the churches and burned. The Orthodox people were protecting and hiding the holy icons. They put themselves at risk of exile and even death for those icons.

In the year 829 this Holy Icon of the Theotokos, which according to tradition was painted by the hand of St. Luke the Evangelist, was kept in a beautiful church in the renowned city of Prousa. Today the church still stands in the city named Brusa, which is in Turkey near Constantinople. Many miracles have taken place in this Church.

As soon as the decree of the Emperor reached the city of Proussa, a godly man, the son of an officer of the royal court, decided to disobey the Emperor's order. He took the Holy Icon and fled to the mainland of Greece, because the persecution was less violent there. The young man was on his way to the city of Callipolis (today Gallipoli or Gelibolu). On his way to the city he lost the Holy Icon. His sorrow was great. “Alas, to me the wretched one”, he wailed. “The Lady Theotokos left me because of my sins”. However, he wouldn't turn back. He could not endure living amongst the enemies of the icons. He continued his journey and settled in the city of New Patra, near the northwest end of Peloponnesus. Time went by, and then one day he heard news about some miraculous events, which happened in an area of Aitola, Greece.

This area was completely unknown and inaccessible at that time. The terrain was very rugged, with steep rocky mountains and deep chasms and abysses between them. Not even a small village was there, except for a couple of shelters for the shepherds. The area was not suitable to build villages. Even domesticated animals survived with difficulty. However, Christians sometimes would hide in these remote mountains trying to escape persecution by heretics or oppression by Emperors and Kings.

According to the news, a child of one of the above-mentioned shepherds was keeping watch over his father's flock. One night the child was sleeping opposite the place where the cemetery of the monastery is now located (see photo above). Suddenly solemn and sweet chanting woke him. The chanting came from a cave that was behind him. Fearful, he looked around and saw a pillar of light coming out of the cave and reaching up to heaven. At first he thought that this could be a rainbow. By God's Providence it came to him that he would not die of fear or go out of his mind. He thought that this couldn't be a rainbow because it was straight and also it hadn't rained. In great fear he went and told his father what he had witnessed. His father thought it was the child's imagination. He told him not to be afraid of things that weren't real and not to be frightened by his own shadow. The child insisted that what he had heard and seen was real.

Therefore, the next night, the child took his Christian father to the same place he had seen the pillar of light, to verify and confirm the vision. There, he saw what the child had told him, but would not dare go and see what was in the cave. The next day he took with him some other people and returned again. All saw the vision. Afterwards they searched the area and found the Holy Icon in the cave, radiant and shinning. They then venerated the Icon, and being joyful on finding this treasure, they arranged the area in order to keep the Icon there as a blessing. Everyday they brought candles and incense. How the icon came there is known only to him who took Prophet Avvacum from Jerusalem to Babylon, where Prophet Daniel was, and then brought him back. This is the first great miracle of the Lady Theotokos, the finding of Her Holy Icon.

Soon, the young man who had lost the Icon, and was now living in New Patra, heard that an Icon of the Theotokos was discovered by the vision of a pillar of light. Not wasting time he took his servants and after two days arrived at the cave of the Icon. Upon seeing the Icon he knew it was the one he had lost. After kissing and venerating the Icon, he gave gifts to the shepherds and headed back to New Patre with The Holy Icon. The shepherds’ joy turned to sorrow because of this deprivation and they pleaded with the young man to leave the Holy Icon behind. He explained that the Icon belonged to him, and that he had given them rich gifts. He also told them that the area was unsuitable to build a church and accommodate pilgrims Having said this, he took the Icon and left. When he and his company were tired and needed to rest from their long journey they stopped in a certain place. They soon fell asleep and when they woke, they couldn't find the Icon. Thinking that the shepherds stole it while they slept, they turned back. Arriving at a narrow spot near the river, the young man heard a voice,

Oh young man, be saved, go in peace and do not toil any more. I am pleased to remain here in this rugged wilderness with the shepherds and peasants and not to be in the cities with people who preach heresies: and if you wish to stay with me come where you had found me. This will be good for you.

Only the young man heard the voice. Obedient to the divine calling, he freed his servants, abandoned all his possessions, and with one of his servants, who decided to stay with him, went back to the cave where he had found the Holy Icon. He was certain that the will of the Lady Theotokos was that she lives there. The young man built a chapel in the cave for the Holy Icon. He and his servants were both tonsured monks by the Priest monk Raphael who was from the nearby hermitage of St. Demetrios. He received the name Demetrios and his servant received the name Timothy. Afterward he built a cell opposite the chapel in a quiet place away from the noisy pilgrims. He peacefully reposed there having lived a life pleasing to God. His disciple Timothy in the church he had built buried his body, and his blessed soul flew to heaven. This was the beginning of the Monastery of the All-Holy Mother of God of Prousa (or Prousiotissa).

The Monastery has existed for one thousand years and still stands today. It has withstood the ravages of natural and manmade disasters. The main church, dedicated to the Dormition of the Theotokos, is in the cave. The ancient and incense-darkened Icon remains in the inner cave, surrounded by countless precious offerings. The offerings are truthful witnesses to innumerable miracles of times past and present. The village of Proussos has been built near the Monastery.

The Icon awaits the crowds of pilgrims who flock there from the 15th to the 22nd of August, which are the days of the feast. In olden times the quiet of the mountains was disturbed by the voices of groups of people going to the feast. They had to walk on goat paths, among ancient chestnut, fir and plane trees. The journey was 15 hours long and the people carried baskets of food and bundles of blankets balanced on their heads. Riding on horseback was reserved for the old and the infirm. Some of them could be seen walking barefoot or crawling on their knees, fulfilling a promise given for a miraculous healing. The pilgrims would go there, light their candles of faith and stay overnight in the monastery's guesthouse or out in the open. In the morning people would attend a very early church service and then depart hoping to return next year.

Today the monastery is accessible by car. The car inches patiently along the winding dirt road, which is carved on the steep mountain slope. The road from the south comes to an elevated area called Stavros, from there the monastery can be seen perched on a recess of a precipice at the northwest corner of a narrow valley surrounded by mountain peaks. The pilgrim's patience is rewarded with a great blessing, the veneration of the Icon of the All-Holy Mother of God of Prousa.


Apolytikion in the First Tone
By thine icon of Prousa thou art shown forth as the great protectress of Greece and a worker of dread wonders All-Pure Virgin Mariam; for thou grantest sight unto the blind, thou dost cast out wicked demons and healest all that flee unto thee while crying: Glory unto thy childbirth without seed. Glory to Him that hath made thee wondrous. Glory to Him that worketh such manner of marvels through thee.

St. Kosmas Aitolos Taught...

"Το κορμί σας ας σας το καύσουν, ας σας το τηγανίσουν, τα πράγματά σας ας σας τα πάρουν, μη σας μέλη, δώστε τα, δεν είναι εδικά σας. Ψυχή και Χριστός σας χρειάζεται."

"Let them burn your body, let them fry it. Let them take your possessions, do not cling to them, but give them, they are not yours. Soul and Christ are what you need."

Greeks Look To Revive Identity on Gökçeada (Imvros)

Officially referred to as Gökçeada since July 29, 1970 (older name in Turkish: İmroz; Greek: Ίμβρος – Imvros), it is an island in the Aegean Sea and the largest island of Turkey, part of Çanakkale Province.

Idil Elveris
August 22, 2011
Hurriyet Daily News

Each August Gökçeada witnesses a series of celebrations for the Assumption of Mary, drawing many former Greek residents and their descendents. The participation in the commemorations is part of a larger revival of Greek culture on the island that accepts the island’s new reality, says the head of an association.

The descendents of Greeks who were forced to leave Gökçeada in Çanakkale in the 1960s are slowly reviving their culture and presence there, even as they recognize the altered reality of the island, according to the president of the Gökçeada Association of Athens.

Symbolic of this revival is the increasing numbers of Greeks coming to commemorate the Assumption of Mary, which is celebrated throughout the Orthodox world on Aug. 15, including Gökçeada, known as Imvros in Greek.

The celebration attracted greater attention this year with the attendance of Greek Foreign Minister Stavros Lambrinidis, the highest-ranking official yet to visit the island, the home town of Phanar Greek Patriarch Bartholomew I. Lambrinidis was followed by the mayor of Thessaloniki, Yiannis Boutaris, who attended the same ceremony.

The presence of the high dignitaries, days before their feast of the Assumption of Mary in Tepeköy, is very important, said Kostas Hristoforidis, president of the Gökçeada Association of Athens.

Hristoforidis said the feast contributed to the younger generations’ refraining from transforming “their identity into an ideology” and added that this was important because it had prevented the island’s Greeks, many of whom left in difficult circumstances due to tensions surround Cyprus in the 1960s and 1970s, from resorting to revenge or hate.

While some members of the older generation have refused to set foot on the island again due to their past traumatic experiences, the younger generation has shown fewer inhibitions about coming to the island, holding their Aug. 15 feast and having fun.

According to Hristoforidis, the feast of the Assumption of Mary is part of the revival of Greek culture on the island and demonstrates the different experience of the Gökçeada Greeks, who were not subject to the 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey as Anatolian Greeks were.

Despite a big exodus from the island, Greeks have continued to live there and their villages have never been totally abandoned.

With the present revival, roughly 600 houses belonging to “fathers and grandfathers” have been repaired even though the correct legal, political and economic conditions to undertake them never fully materialized. For instance, many of those repairing buildings were the original inhabitants’ grandchildren and held foreign passports depriving them of the right to inherit the property in which they were investing their money.

Despite past problems, Hristoforidis said the community retained many things, such as their property, chapels, churches and traditions.

Greeks pushed out with restrictive measures

When asked about the difficulties of the past, Hristoforidis pointed to 1964, when systematic policies depriving the area Greeks from economic and other opportunities essentially forced them to emigrate to Greece.

During the 1960s, thousands of hectares of land were expropriated for various reasons while fishing was also forbidden to a certain extent, he said, adding that the most difficult measure was the closing down of the minority schools, an event which forced Greek children to attend Turkish schools. Many, in turn, could not even afford to send their children to schools in Istanbul.

As a result of all these policies, people started to leave the island in droves, often crossing illegally at night with boats to the Limni and Samothraki islands of Greece because they could not afford to emigrate through proper legal channels.

There were 6,500 Greeks on the island in 1964, but by 1990, only 300 people were left in six villages of the island. A seventh village Kastro, or Kaleköy, was evacuated on the day Turkey intervened into the Cyprus conflict in 1974; the experience was reportedly so traumatic that none of the villagers have ever returned for a visit.

During these times of tension between Turkey and Greece, each country’s respective minority – whether Turks in Greece or Greeks in Turkey – were effectively held hostage to the prevailing raisons d’état.

While some have said the present relations are “the best since 1964,” problems such as inheritance issues remain for non-Turkish citizens. Many islanders, upon leaving the island, migrated to different countries and over time, obtained citizenship there; some males then lost their Turkish citizenship by not completing their military service.

Similarly, the reality of the island today meant that some people’s property was occupied for years by those who migrated to the island. These properties have now been transferred to their occupiers due to the statute of limitations. Also, schools have been rented out to investors by the government as hotels or restaurants.

Hopes for the future

Asked about fears of another downturn in Greek-Turkish relations, Hristoforidis said they were attempting to think positively. The revival has moved beyond house renovations, he said, but added that the community recognizes the new reality on the island and that there is now a Turkish community that needs support.

The relationship between the two communities could further develop, especially as the Greek economic crisis has spurred investment opportunities between the communities and countries. By next year, a sea connection could be established with Greece, an idea supported by the high dignitaries visiting the island.

Furthermore, Turkey has not only been encouraging Gökçeada Greeks to return and invest on the island, it was also acknowledging their existence, accepting them as a counterpart and inviting them to Ankara for the resolution of their problems.

In his most recent visit to Athens, Ahmet Davutoğlu even said the Gökçeada Greeks “constituted the diaspora of Turkey in Athens.”

In other words, Turkey now accepts them as part of itself – something the people of Gökçeada have long felt already.

August 22, 2011

Panagia Faneromeni of Nea Skioni in Halkidiki

Two kilometers east of Old Skioni, on the way to Loutra, is the Chapel of the Panagia Faneromeni in Nea Skioni in Halkidiki. It celebrates its feast annually on August 23rd.

Local tradition says that in the 16th century one of the villagers saw a light coming from the sea. He thought there were pirates so he ran to the village to inform the villagers. In the morning, when the light came closer, they saw that it was a big marble slab with the depiction of the Virgin Mary on it, floating on the surface of the sea! The villagers were said to be impressed from the miracle of marble floating on the sea and so they asked the Turk who was in charge to let them build a church. He denied the request, threw down the icon, and stepped on the marble. Then the marble became soft and trapped the Turk's feet in it. The Turk then apologised and let the villagers build the church. The villagers decided to build it on the hilltop so as to be safe from the pirates, but every night the church would be destroyed and the marble icon was found near the sea. Thus they built the church next to the sea where they found the marble icon, according to the desire of the Panagia.

The white-washed chapel with a tiled roof belonged to the Flamouri Monastery in Thessalia, but when Thessalia was set free from the Turks in 1881 they gave the chapel to the Theological School of Halki, to which it still belongs today.

On the walls of the church the visitor can still see the frescoes of the 16th century. When one observes the holy icon of the Panagia made from marble, one could still see the marks of feet said to be impressed by the Turk, though it more likely belonged to the base of a pagan statue which was removed and sanctified with an image of the Panagia.

Locals say that the icon weeps every time something bad is going to happen. It's been said that the icon wept before World War II, before the Turkish invasion in Cyprus in 1975, and recently when the issue with Skopia and their name arose.