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Panagia Soumela Monastery August 10, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Special Features.
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Southwest of Veria, on the slopes of Vermion mountain (18km), lies the village of Kastanies, which is usually snowed-in during the winter. This is the site of the monastery of the Panagia Soumela, founded by refugees from the Pontos.

In our tradition the Panagia (Virgin Mary) has numberless names because she is associated with many local and miraculous icons that have transmitted the grace of Christ to the believers. Such an icon is that of Panagia Soumela, an exact copy of which (one of three) is kept in the monastery. Since Panagia has an eminent place in this month’s feasts and because there is in our church the sacred jewel of her icon of Soumela this article will be dedicated to this miraculous icon.

The original icon is kept in the monastery in Vermion mountain, Macedonia that bears its name, but it came from the famous Monastery of Soumela in Pontos of Asia Minor. The fact that there is a sizeable Greek Pontian community, provides the opportunity to remind all of certain basic facts regarding the icon of Panagia Soumela and of Pontos and the Greek Pontians. The Greek Pontians as a heroic group of Hellenism have achieved great things in history and continue with the rest of the Hellenes to preserve their heritage not only in Greece but also in every other corner of the earth where they have been dispersed and survive by divine providence.

According to church tradition the icon of Panagia Soumela took its name from the Monastery of Soumela in Pontos of Asia Minor. The name “Soumela” comes from “Stou Mela”, i.e. “at the mount Melas” and consequently signifies a particular locality in Pontos. The icon of Panagia that bears the name of this historic Monastery had been kept there for centuries. Yet, according to ancient tradition, it was more ancient than the Monastery. It was painted by St Luke the Evangelist and was originally kept in Athens being called “Atheniotissa.” It was brought to Pontos for the sake of safe keeping by two monks who are also said to be the founders of the Monastery of Soumela, St. Barnabas and St. Sophronios and hence its new name.

There are two views concerning the time of this event. In the first view it occurred in the 4th century. In the second view it happened in the 10th or 9th century. Recently a compromise has been propounded. This icon of St. Luke was kept in the Monastery of Osios Lukas in Viotia. It was carried to Athens by Ananias, the student of Osios Lukas, after the death of his teacher. Then later, when the Saracenes destroyed the city of Athens in the 10th (or 9th) century the holy monks Barnabas and Sophronios brought the icon to the Monastery of Soumela in Pontos for safe keeping.

The Monastery of Soumela, which had been founded in the 4th century by a Pontian Monk Christopher of Trepizond, suffered destructions and renovations through the long and turbulent history of Pontos, but the icon of Panagia remained intact. The heyday of the Monastery was in the era of the Byzantine empire of Trepizond, when it became the spiritual center of Orthodox Hellenism acquiring special privileges from the Komnenoi emperors. These privileges were preserved during the Turkish occupation by means of firmans granted by the Sultans and thus at that time also it stood as a notable center of Hellenic paideia for the enslaved Christian nation.

During the First World War the Monastery was destroyed, but the holy icon of Panagia remained intact.When in 1922 the Greek Pontians were violently expelled from Pontos the monks hifd the icon with other valuable vessels in the rocks of mount Mela. Later on the Turks allowed, following conversations of the governments of Greece and Turkey (Benizelos and Inonou), the monk Ambrosios to visit the ruined monastery of Soumela and retrieve the holy icon and the rest of church valuables and bring them to Athens. In 1951, the holy icon of Panagia Soumela, that had been kept in the Byzantine Museum of Athens, was transferred to the new Monastery of Soumela that was constructed on one of the slops of mount Vermion of Macedonia where it is kept today.  

Panagia Soumela

The Athenian – The icon of the Virgin Mary of Soumela, painted by the Evangelist Lukas, was placed initially in a monastery near the Acropolis of Athens and named Panagia the Athenian. Later, the icon was placed in a temple built in Thiva, one hour (92 km) northwest of Athens to honor her grace. This temple was also named Panagia the Athenian.

The Soumela – In about 380 A.D. the icon miraculously “flew” to mountain Mela in Trapezounta (Trebizond) in Pontos, Asia Minor. After a dream, the two monks Varnavas and Sofronios began a long journey from Athens to find the icon at mountain Mela. Going through Meteora, Agion Oros (Holy Mountain) at the Athos peninsula, Maronia in Thrace, they continued on to Constantinople (Istanbul), and finally arrived at Trapezounta of Pontos at a village called Couspidi. There they were informed about the presence of mountain Mela where they discovered miraculously the icon in a cave one hour (42 km) south of Trapezounta. The two monks decided to build a monastery and the first temple was inaugurated with many festivities in 386 A.D. The monastery earned great respect and reputation throughout the entire Orthodox world until the tragedy of Greek Hellenism in 1922. In 1924, the monastery was ruined completely by the Turks.

The Vermian – Before the monks of the monastery left Pontos, they buried the icon along with some rare heirlooms in the nearby monastery of Saint Varvara (Barbara). In 1931, the monk Amvrosios Soumeliotis brought the icon to Greece and it remained in the Byzantine Museum of Athens until 1952 when Dr. Philon Ktenidis initiated the foundation of a new monastery on the top of the Vermion Mountain, one hour (92 km) west from the city of Thessalonica in Macedonia, Greece. Since that time, Panagia Soumela continues to offer Her Grace to the thousand of believers who visit Her every year.

UPDATE >

The prefecture of Imathia borders to the north with the prefecture of Pella, to the east with the prefecture of Thessaloniki, to the west with the prefecture of Kozani and to the southeast with the prefecture of Pieria. The prefecture stretches over the western part of the fertile valley of central Macedonia and is run through by the rivers Aliakmonas and Loudias.

Imathia is covered in densely wooded beech forests. Mt Vermio is ideal for winter holidays offering unique opportunities for mountain climbing and skiing. Excursions to remote villages nestled in lush greenery, the archaeological site of Vergina and the renowned monastery of Panagia Soumela fascinate the visitor.

The mountain mass of eastern Vermio dominates the west part of the prefecture. The valley of the river Aliakmonas is a place of immense natural beauty stretching between Mt Vermio and Pieria mountains.

South of Verria city, on the slopes of Vermion (18 km.), lies the village of Kastania, which is usually snowed – in during the winter. This village counts about 300 people and it is the site of the monastery of the Panagia Soumela, founded by refugees from the Pontos; the monastery that roofs the famous icon of Panagia brought from the monastery of Our Lady of Mount Melas, in the mountains of Trapezounta district (todays’ Turkey). The Apostle Luke painted this icon. On the 15th of August,  thousands of pilgrims come to the monastery that has a number of beds to accommodate them.

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