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April 23, 2012

Synaxis of Panagia Paravouniotissa in Eretria, Greece

The Holy Icon of Panagia Paravouniotissa is one of the oldest images that have survived through the ages. It was presumably painted in the 7th century AD in the era of the Byzantine Empire, under Emperor Heraclius, after a victory over the Persians. The painters were two ascetic monks from Cyprus, Silvestros and Isaiah. The monks with other Christians settled in Proikoniso or on the island of Marmara, when the emperor Heraclius after his victory over the Persians, decided to move Christians from Cyprus to live in Proikoniso. The monks Silvestros and Isaiah chose to stay in the mountain, now called PANAGIA, because of their hesychastic life. There they erected a chapel in the name of the All-Holy Theotokos, and because it was located MORE THAN THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN, they gave the name "PARAVOUNIOTISSA" to the Panagia. So they built the Chapel of Panagia Paravouniotissa.

In 1054 the separation of the Churches of East and West caused much suffering. The Franks conquered in the Crusades even Constantinople (1204), terrorizing, burning churches, schools and libraries. From their mania not even the Chapel of Panagia Paravouniotissas escaped, which was burned down.

For many centuries the ruins of the chapel were not discovered. In the 16th century families from the island created a community in the valley of the mountain because of the area; the streams that passed through the valley and the climate was ideal for growing vineyards. They built a church there in honor of the Great-Martyr Saint George, because of fear of the Turks. The village created was named Gallimi, perhaps because in the 2nd century BC the plain was covered by the sea forming a galinio or port.

After more than a century, some shepherds who were grazing their sheep and wanting to build a pen, unknowingly dug in the ruins of the chapel mentioned above. But when they found the area to be sanctified they abandoned work and rushed to announce the find to the parish priest of the village. He immediately went with the shepherds and Christian Gallimites, and after they excavated they found the floor of a burned church and two damaged candelabras and marble reliefs. Then they pulled out, with a lot of emotion, the holy icon of the Mother of God with wood that was rotting, and only distinguished the image by the face, because it was damaged by its long stay underground and the moisture.

With fear and reverence of God the people of Gallimi formed a procession with the icon and placed it as a precious treasure and a jewel in the left aisle of the sanctuary of the Church of St. George the Great-Martyr. At the expense of the rich family Hadji-Drosinis the holy icon was restored by a hagiographer, Demetrios Koutaleos.

Because the finding of the icon took place on Thomas Monday, it was established to celebrate the discovery on this festive day every year till today.

After the exchange of populations from Asia Minor refugees who came to Eretria, Greece preferred to carry from their homes in two large boats, instead of property, the icon of the All-Holy Theotokos, as well as 410 other icons, because they believed miracles poured forth by the grace of the Saints, instead of gold and silver.

The Gallimites emigrated, with tears in their eyes, and before finding a place to rest their first night in Eretria, a procession with the Holy Icons led by the priest Papa Stratis took place to the Church of St. Nicholas.

The refugees filled the church, chanting and crying with pain, which made their icons to grind and candles to move, which is confirmed by many refugees today, as a sign of support, blessing and divine consolation.

Half the refugees and half the icons moved to Ammouliani of Thessaloniki. The Holy Icon of Panagia Paravouniotissa remained in Eretria to accompany the refugees and their descendants. In honor of the miraculous icon a new parish was created in Eretria (March 31, 1999) by Presidential Decree, and in 2002 there was built a small but lovely church, the Church of Panagia Paravouniotissa, which houses the Sacred Image. On April 12, 2010, Thomas Monday, on which celebrates the Panagia Paravouniotissa, His Eminence Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Halkidos put the foundation stone for the construction of a large new church, worthy of the honor we owe to our Lady.

Description of the Holy Icon

The image depicts the Holy Virgin Mary holding Christ on her left with her two hands. Christ is depicted with the body of a child of four-years, but with the face of a twelve-year-old, perhaps to emphasize His wisdom. With his right hand, Christ blesses looking straight ahead.

Mary's face is sweet, but serious to severe; her nose is thin and long showing a meekness and calmness, and she has a small mouth which is closed symbolizing her fasting, but also the few words she spoke. The dress covers the whole body like a royal mantle; the same with Christ. She sits on a majestic throne on a beautiful pillow. Left and right the two Angels stand by in stationary supplication, with hands completely covered with the garment as a sign of respect and awe. Saint John of Damascus tells us: "I enter the hospital of souls, the Church, choked by thoughts like I'm in thorns. The beauty of the icons attract me and inadvertently my mind goes to the patience of the Panagia in life, but with what glory she is crowned; by the icon I open up, praise God, and I earn my salvation."