Pilgrims crawl in front of the Holy Church of Panagia of Tinos, on the Aegean island of Tinos, Greece, on Friday, Aug. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
NEW YORK – On August 15, the Feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos, Kimisis tis Theotokou, is celebrated, commemorating when the Panagia fell asleep and was taken up bodily to heaven (assumption).
The Feast is preceeded by two weeks of strict fasting from August 1-14, when the faithful abstain from eating meat and dairy products. Wine and oil are allowed on certain days, and on the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ, August 6, when the eating of fish is also allowed.
Church services are held on weekdays during the two weeks before the Dormition Feast, either the Great Paraklesis (Supplicatory Canon) or the Small Paraklesis is celebrated every evening except Saturday evening and the Eves of the Transfiguration and the Dormition.
The Dormition Feast is also known as the Pascha of Summer, as many attend church services and celebrate with family gatherings and the roasting of lamb or goat, as they would for Easter.
In Tinos, the Sacred Shrine of the Panagia Evangelistria draws pilgrims for the Feast of the Dormition, though the church itself is, in fact, dedicated to the Evangelismos (Annunciation) of the Virgin Mary. Also known as the Church of Panagia Megalochari, it is also a monastery complex built on the site of an early-Byzantine church dedicated to St. John, which, as excavations revealed, was built on the site of an ancient temple of Dionysus. On the ground floor, there is the Chapel of the Apocalypse which was begun at the time the icon of the Virgin Mary was found.
According to tradition, the Virgin Mary appeared to the nun Pelagia, later St. Pelagia, and revealed the location of the miraculous icon, thought to be the work of St. Luke the Evangelist, though this has not been confirmed or denied. The nun had frequent dreams of the Panagia telling her to find her home and showing a particular location. When the nun dug in that place, on January 30, 1823, she found the icon depicting the Virgin Mary praying.
The icon was found in the early days of the modern Greek state and a nationwide fund collection was carried out for the building of the church to house the icon. Architect Efstratios Emmanuel Kalonaris of Tinos designed the church in the Renaissance style and it was inaugurated in 1830. Among the well-known heroes of 1821 who made the pilgrimage to Tinos are Karaiskakis, Kolokotronis, and Makriyannis. Since then it has become a major Christian pilgrimage in Greece and the donations received each year are distributed to charities. Some of the faithful make the pilgrimage to the church from the port on their hands and knees over the rough stones. On the Dormition Feast, a procession with the icon is held with the chanting of hymns and the faithful following through the streets of Tinos and back to church. In the evening, children along with the church orchestra perform hymns to celebrate the feast and the finding of the icon.
In Nisyros, the faithful make a pilgrimage to the Panagia Spiliani Monastery on the evening of August 14 where they climb the 130 steps to attend the Vespers service and venerate the icon of the Panagia. They then descend to the town square where the community enjoys a nistisimo meal of revithia before returning to spend the night at the monastery and then attend the church services on the Feast Day. The celebration includes music and dancing in the town square.
The monastery was built on tall rock at the Castle of Mandraki and, according to tradition, in the year 1400 a farmer discovered a small icon of the Virgin Mary, which he brought to the Church of Panagia Potamitissa. A few days later, the icon disappeared only to be found later in a cave at the top of a large rock. The inhabitants returned it to the church but again the icon disappeared and was found in the cave where they decided to build a church as was done a few years later. As the faithful climb the 130 steps, they can see the holy cave and the remarkable wooden altarpiece from 1725. The altarpiece includes icons of Jesus, the Virgin Mary with the Holy Child, the Dormition of Virgin Mary, and St. Charalambos. The icon of the Virgin Mary, decked in silver, is double-faced: on the back it features St. Nicholas and on the other side the Virgin Mary with the Holy Child. In the Virgin Mary’s left hand the little icon that had been discovered in the 13th century is depicted. The icon is said to be miraculous and draws crowds of pilgrims to Nisyros each year for the Dormition Feast. Some choose to make the pilgrimage on their hands and knees and can be seen crawling from the port where the ferry boat brings visitors from the neighboring island of Kos through the town and up the steps to the monastery.
On the island of Leros, at the top of Pitiki hill dominated by the island's castle, Panteli Castle, the Church of Panagia tou Kastrou (of the Castle) was built on the west side of the fortress and houses the icon of the Virgin Mary Vrefokratousa (holding the Holy Infant).
According to tradition, an icon of the Virgin Mary appeared from the sea on the island and was miraculously installed in the castle where gunpowder was stored between two lighted candles, despite the efforts of the Turkish governor at the time to remove it.
A church was built in honor of the Virgin Mary on that spot, which very soon became the main pilgrimage site on the island and especially for its sailors. The church in its current location was built after 1669.
Thousands of pilgrims arrive in Leros on August 15 to visit the Church of Panagia tou Kastrou, the patron saint of the island, and celebrate the Dormition Feast.
In Santorini, the Dormition Feast is also celebrated at the Church of the Panagia Kalou in Pori, built around 1750 by the villagers in honor of the Virgin Mary for saving their animals and crops from toxic volcanic fumes.
Also in Santorini, the Panagia Episkopi Church in Mesa Gonia, hosts the largest celebration on the island for the Dormition Feast. Built by Emperor Alexios I Komnenos in the 11th century, the church is home to the icon of the Panagia Glykofilousa (Sweet-kissing), stored in a special glass case under controlled conditions. The community traditionally serves a meal of beans to all on the eve of the Dormition Feast. The Divine Liturgy is held on the day of the Feast and then the celebration continues with traditional food and local wine.
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