August 21, 2011

Synaxis of All Saints of Lefkados

On the first Sunday following the 15th of August, the local Church of Lefkada in Greece honors all of its Saints whom it recognizes as benefactors in difficult times and intercessors before the Throne of Grace.

The holy icon, which is titled "The Saints of the Island of Lefkados", is the work of the monks of the Holy Monastery of Panachrantou in Megara, and housed in a special shrine in the Holy Metropolitan Church of the Annunciation. This is an original composition of iconography and at the same time a great work of art. It does not depart from the rules of Orthodox iconography, yet it depicts the form of the Saints in bright colors. The icon also depicts holy shrines and significant historical moments from hagiography and ecclesiastical history associated with the island.

The center of the icon depicts the patron of the island of Lefkados - Panagia Faneromeni (First Monday of Pentecost). To her left and right are angels in reverence towards the Theotokos and Christ on her lap. A little further below the Theotokos is the patron saint of the city of Lefkada, St. Mavra (May 3), with hands raised imploring that the city entrusted to her protection may be saved. Thus the Theotokos sits on the mountains of the island while St. Mavra stands over the city entrusted to her.

To the left for the viewer and to the right of the Panagia Faneromeni in the first row are the enlighteners of the island - St. Paul the Apostle (June 29), St. Aquila the Apostle (February 13) and St. Herodion (March 28).

To the right for the viewer and to the left of the Panagia Faneromeni in the first row are the successors of the Apostles and first bishops of the island - St. Sosion (July 14) who was the companion of St. Herodion, and three bishops who represented the island during various Ecumenical Synods: St. Agatharchos of the First Ecumenical Synod (Sixth Sunday After Pascha), St. Zacharias of the Second Ecumenical Synod (July 25), and St. Pelagios of the Sixth Ecumenical Synod (September 14).

Behind the successors of the Apostles in the second row are five anonymous Holy Fathers who accompanied St. Agatharchos to and from the First Ecumenical Synod. Two of the anonymous saints became monastics where today the Monastery of Panagia Faneromeni now stands, and the other three became monastics at a Hermitage in Alexandrou.

In the second and third row behind the enlighteners of the island stand five saints associated with the island of Lefkada: St. Nicholas of Myra (December 6) and St. Donatos of Evria (April 30) whose relics passed through the island when the Crusaders transferred them from Bari to Venice; St. Bessarion of Larissa (September 15) who miraculously spared the island from plague in 1743 following the translation of his Sacred Skull; St. Dionysios of Zakynthos (December 17) who saved the island from a terrible earthquake on 16 and 17 December 1869; and St. Nikitas of Chalcedon (May 28) who is an important father from the time of Iconoclasm and whose sacred icon was miraculously discovered in Lefkada in a village which today bears his name and for which he is a patron.

On the same side of the icon the iconographers included St. Kosmas Aitolos (August 24) who passed through Lefkada a little prior to his martyrdom, St. Luke of Mount Steiris (February 7) whose relics also came through the island via the Crusaders, St. Gerasimos of Kefallonia (August 16) to whom Lefkadians attribute their salvation from the terrible siege of Ali Pasha in 1807 on the day before the feast of the translation of his relics, and the Russian St. Theodore Ushakov (October 14) who as admiral of the Russian fleet liberated the island from the French in 1799 and towards the end of his life became a monk at Sanaxar Monastery in Ukraine.

On the opposite side of the icon there is also depicted three martyrs who celebrate on November 11 - Saints Menas, Victor and Vincent - who were all martyred in various times and places, but together they saved the island of Lefkada from a terrible earthquake on November 11, 1704 according to the testimony of the locals and the Venetian Upper Proveditore of Lefkada. Behind them are two female martyrs of the first Christian centuries: St. Barbara (December 4) who freed the island from a small-pox epidemic in 1922; and St. Kyriaki (July 7) whose sacred icon was discovered in a miraculous manner among the coastal rocks of the Geni peninsula, opposite current Nidri.

In the water are also two boats heading for the island. To the left for the viewer are the enlighteners of the island as mentioned before. To the right are important personages associated with the ecclesiastical history of the island: the Serbian born Byzantine Empress Helen Palaiologos (who later became known as St. Ipomoni - May 28) and her daughter Militsa who was brought to the island as a bride candidate, and George Sphrantzes who was a historian during the Fall of Constantinople and accompanied the two to the island. Empress Helen built various monasteries and churches on the island with the help of her son-in-law, the ruler of the island, Leonardo Tokkos. She also holds in her hand an icon of St. Mavra, who saved the boat and royal escort from sinking.

Often Lefkada is the forgotten island among the Ionian islands regarding its holy shrines and history, often overshadowed by its neighbors most of which have Saints with incorrupt bodies. This feast and icon reminds us that Lefkada also has a rich history of sanctity and importance for Orthodoxy for those who have eyes to see its glory and beauty.