August 23, 2022

How the Panagia Eikonistria Saved Skiathos and Her Church From the Destruction of the Nazis

The Icon of Panagia Eikonistria

The following excerpt is from a homily delivered by the Theologian, Iconographer and Professor of Byzantine Music, Konstantinos Koutoumbas, on August 23, 2009, on the anniversary of the saving of the city of Skiathos from being destroyed by the Nazi German army.
But even in the difficult years of the occupation, when the Italians were succeeded by the German conquerors, who victoriously marched into the Greek lands, the Most Holy Theotokos, the helper and protector of those who call upon her, did not abandon her faithful people, just as she did not abandon her humble island. The olive oil was abundant, the fruit trees were choked with their fruits with their branches leaning to the ground, the harvests were rich in those years. What the evil conqueror deprived the people of God, was abundantly provided by the nourisher of life, the Panagia Eikonistria.

However, on the morning of August 23, 1944, Skiathos was about to experience a nightmare. It was preceded, a few days before, by the arrest of the German commander of the Northern Sporades, Adler, from the 54th regiment of ELAS Pelion, following the order of the EAM Volos, which confirmed the fears of the local EAM Skiathos committee of retaliation by the Germans.

As soon as the noise died down and the locals ceased to be vigilant, strong German forces with pursuits and commandeered boats invaded the island, with the intention of retaliating for Adler's capture. Their purpose was the holocaust of the city of Skiathos and the group executions of all the island's inhabitants.

A Nazi photograph of the destruction of the city of Skiathos.

They began the arrests of those they found inside the village, since most of the inhabitants had taken refuge on the slopes of the island, while at the same time they set fire to the village from land and sea. Soon the fire had spread and nothing could be seen, not even the sun, as an eyewitness informs us.

The fire grew stronger and stronger until the evening when it covered most of the city. About two hundred houses were burnt to the ground. The German forces withdrew in order to call for reinforcements from Volos, so that they could comb Skiathos that no one be left alive.

The night before, many took refuge in the old monastery of Panagia Kechria, to celebrate the nine days of the Dormition of the Theotokos and to beg the Theotokos to help them. But joy was succeeded by sadness, hope was covered by darkness.

Terrified, those who escaped the arrest and the fire looked at the burning city and asked for the mercy of the Panagia. They wept inconsolably and asked her intercessions to her Son for their salvation.

And behold, the Panagia Eikonistria, the mother of Christians, did not take long to answer the prayers of her penitents.

The church inside the Monastery of Panagia Kechria

While everything showed that there is no salvation, the Theotokos did not deny the pleas of her servants.

When the sun was setting behind the thick smoke of the otherwise clear and warm day, suddenly, black thick clouds appeared, covering the sky.

A strong storm broke out, which in a few minutes flooded everything. The heavy downpour lasted all night and extinguished the fire before it destroyed everything.

But that wasn't all. The following day the weather deteriorated rapidly with strong winds, cold and rain for eight days, unusual for the season.

A strong Grego Levante wind began to blow, which was getting fresher and fresher. The storm that prevailed prevented the German cruisers and commando boats from approaching the island.

At the same time, the collapse of Germany began, thwarting their bloodthirsty plans everywhere.

As before, so now, the Panagia Eikonistria, to whom the whole island attributed the miracle, confirmed what Moraitides wrote in his hymns, who in a troparion of the fourth ode of a Canon to her, begs the Theotokos to appear by her divine grace and by her radiance to drive away the tyrannical enemy. "...In the hour of sorrow... appear, and let your icon shine, delivering from tyranny".

But the greatest miracle was one and unique.

In the midst of that confusion, on the morning of August 23, the village was completely engulfed in flames. All the houses that were spared from the encroachment of the fire, were not spared from the looting in which German soldiers and Greek surrenderers indulged without qualms.

Metropolitan Church of the Three Hierarchs in Skiathos

The flames from the neighboring houses engulfed the Metropolitan Church of the Three Hierarchs, in which the miraculous icon of Panagia Eikonistria is kept to this day.

While everyone was running in fear to escape the destruction, no one thought of helping the Sacred Icon, the island's greatest relic.

And yet she remained unassailable on her throne, just as her Church remained unassailable, to which today we send thanksgiving prayers and praises, for the rescue of the city and the wondrous "strange and marvelous things" that the Theotokos gave and still gives to those who venerate her and invoke with reverence and faith.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.