It is something to behold. The Holy Monastery of Panagia Evangelistria in Skiathos is enveloped in lush green trees and guided by a sweeping view of the ocean. The Monastery is away from the luxury hotels in Skiathos, high in the mountains, and is one of the most important religious places in the Sporades.
The Monastery was founded by the monk Nifon from Chios and the local monk Gregorios Hatzistamatis. During the Greek Revolution (the 1820s), the Monastery played a pivotal role in giving shelter to fighters and refugees whilst offering economic support for the Revolution.
In September 1807, important Greek heroes such as Theodoros Kolokotronis and Andreas Miaoulis took the Oath of Freedom. Here, the first Greek flag was weaved and blessed.
As the service commences, the papa’s chanting echoes through the mountains, competing only with the sound of the crickets. Mourners and tears flow in the early hours of the evening, marking the sleep of Jesus Christ’s mother.
As the day becomes night, the people of Skiathos turn up in droves. Families, teenagers, elderly—all show up for the second biggest service of the year outside of Easter.
The beautiful smell of lavender and ‘Miros’ is made sweeter by the subtle cool breeze passing through the Monastery of Panagia. Those who arrive light candles outside of the church and make their way inside to kiss the epitafio of Panagia.
The service on the eve of the 15th marks a critical date in the Greek calendar, the commemoration of the Virgin Mary. In Greece, Panagia is revered not only for being the mother of Jesus but also because of her bond and deep connection with Greek people.
Referred to as ‘the mother to all’ and the symbol of protection and comfort, Panagia is the reason parties and festivals are thrown all over the country after the mourning of her death takes place. The day is a public holiday and marks one of the most critical dates in Orthodox Christianity.
Locals thank Panagia when they are in need and pray to her for guidance. All the churches named ‘Panagia’ are named accordingly after the miracles she is predicted to perform or the wisdom and grace she has bestowed on others. After a few hours of listening to the liturgies, hundreds of people waited with hope and happiness for the epitafio to exit the church.
Here, top-ranking military officials lifted the epitafio and walked around the Monastery carrying the epitafio of the Virgin Mary led by the priest, followed by the Skiathos community.
After the walk of the epitafio, the community returned to the church, paying respects to the Virgin Mary and then leaving with handmade bread to take home. It is one of the most moving services I have ever seen.
The chanters, priest, and community of Skiathos all took part in a warming ceremony worthy of the Virgin Mary’s sacrifice and significance.