June 22, 2014

Synaxis of Panagia Arvanitissa in Chios

Panagia Arvanitissa (Feast Day - Ascension Day and Second Sunday After Pentecost)

The Church of Panagia Arvanitissa

In Karyes, Chios there is a church (chapel) dedicated to Panagia Arvanitissa. Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos (1042 - 1054 A.D.) sent masons (who came from Northern Epirus) to build Nea Moni in Chios. After the construction of Nea Moni (which, despite looting and destruction by the Turks, still survives) these people remained on the island and became residents. Their descendants were shepherds and settled in Kochlia (which includes the villages of Karyes, Avgonyma, Anavato and Dafnona).

These shepherds who lived in the place now known as Panagia Arvanitissa would see a slender girl in Arvanite dress wandering the peaks. They understood that it was the Panagia, and because of her clothing they called her Panagia Arvanitissa.

In 1905 an icon of the Panagia was found and a church was built there with the financial assistance of the merchant Alexandros Konstantinidis. Because it was the difficult years of slavery under the Turks, who forbade the erection of Christian churches, the church was built (as we are informed by Stamatis Karmantzis, who wrote the first Synaxarion of Panagia Arvanitissa) "secretly with the help of the shepherds of Karouson and other villagers, after a long struggle, unimaginable suffering and work, that primarily took place through the night, because during the day it was very difficult for fear of the Turks."

In 1912, when Chios was liberated from the Turks, a group of Turkish soldiers defeated by the Greeks entered the Church of Panagia Arvanitissa. They ransacked it and damaged the icons. Some they broke, others they burned, while others they pierced and scarred with their swords.

Stamatis Karmantzis notes that "because the church is built on a hill, the residents of Karyes decided to celebrate it on Ascension Day. Simultaneously the shepherds also celebrate because it is the end of the forage season, thanking the Panagia for the year that passed. In her honor they also boil milk and give it to all the pilgrims. They also auction goats and lambs for the maintenance and tidying of the church. The church is referred to by both names by the people of Chios - Ascension and Panagia Arvanitissa - but it is best known as the Church of the Panagia Arvanitissa.

Appearances and Miracles of Panagia Arvanitissa

Orthodox Christians of Chios have sent letters to Elder Nektarios (an Athonite monk of the Sacred Kalyva of the Holy Trinity in Karyes who has been spiritually appointed to the Panagia Arvanitissa), written with faith, simplicity, purity and awe towards the Panagia, revealing wondrous signs. We will cite excerpts from three letters:

1) Demetrios Malachias of Michael says that when he participated in voluntary work for the repair of the church, there appeared before him the Panagia Arvanitissa. "She turned her face, looked at me and smiled, without saying a word."

2) Konstantinos Andriotis of Nikitas says: "My great grandmother would say that when they were about to build the church, because the Panagia had appeared in their dreams telling them to build a church, originally they started building in a lower place, where today they have created a lake tank. When the night had passed and the workers were finishing their work, they would leave their tools at the place they were building. In the morning their tools would disappear from the place they left them. After 3 or 4 days a shepherd found the tools at the place where today is the small shrine in the Square, next to the church, where there is a honeysuckle. What I have to say is that Panagia Arvanitissa truly is alive and there."

3) Eleni Kopsida says: "I faced a serious health problem which was going to create a hematoma in the head. Those days through communication over the phone the monk Nektarios spoke to me very fervently about the Panagia Arvanitissa in Chios. In a few days I would go to Athens for an MRI examination. My anxiety was great. I then saw a most beautiful woman standing next to me in my sleep, tall and slender, dressed like an Arvanite woman. Her outfit was white. I was in wonder and said: 'How beautiful she is!' I woke up from my dream at midnight and half asleep I said: 'The Panagia Arvanitissa!' I told this dream to my friend Agatha Bogiatzi. In two or three days she also saw the Panagia in her dream dressed in the same exact outfit; she was most beautiful and her face was shining like the sun. In a week I took the MRI. It was spotless! I mentioned all this to my cousin in Agrinio, Euphrosyne Kiritsis, who decided to visit me. At the Agrinio agency, where she was waiting to come to Patras, she saw a bus stop in front of her, which on the glass was written: 'Panagia the Arvanitissa'."

Spiritual Vigilance

As an epilogue we will use the words of Elder Nektarios: "The Panagia Arvanatissa teaches the elect residents of the mountains of Chios and friends of her Son to acquire spiritual vigilance, as one of the virtues that help in the salvation of our souls. Appreciably and vigilantly they would see her, always with the attire of an Arvanite mother, with various expressions on her most beautiful face, depending on what she wanted to emphasize for the benefit of Christians, and then they would lose her, and again she would return sensibly, and again they would lose her on her journey to the Jerusalem above. The Immaculate One constantly reminded them that there is their eternal spiritual homeland, prepared for the friends of her Son."

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.