Monday, July 30, 2007

Panagia Soumela and the Boat Ride to Corfu

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Well, Fr Joseph and Kh Sophia are in the middle of the journey back to the US and I can now begin to post some photos of all the things we saw in the last week.

Last Wednesday, we headed west across the span of northern Greece for the town of Igoumenitsa on the western Ionian coast of Greece. From there, we took a ferry over to Corfu (known formally as Kerkyra), which is just off the coast of northwestern Greece. The drive from here in Thessaloniki to Igoumenitsa was about 8 hours through some very windy mountain roads.

We took a small detour near Veria (where St Paul was) to the little village of Kastania to see the Wonderworking Icon of Panagia Soumela, which was painted by St Luke the Evangelist.

After the death of St Luke in Achaia (northern Peloponnesus), his disciple Ananias became the caretaker of the icon, which was eventually placed in a church dedicated to the Mother of God in Athens. It remained there until Emperor Theodosios the Great (379-395), when the priest of the church was visited by the Panagia, who told him that he and his nephew should become monks and that they should follow the icon to the east, to Mt Mela. The icon then disappeared. The two became monks and began journeying in search of the icon. Eventually they found it in a cave on Mt Mela in Cappadocia, modern-day Turkey. They founded a monastery there that survived for 1600 years until the Turkish-Greek population exchange of 1922.

Eventually, the Greek refugees founded the village of Kastania in modern Greece and collected the funds to build a new church for the icon, where it has remained since then.

You can see us walking to the church in the top photo. A small chapel next to the main church also held some relics, including several new martyrs (those Greeks who were martyred for the faith by the Turks between 1453-1922) and St Gregory the Wonderworker, Bishop of Neocaesarea (213-270 AD).

Eventually, we wound our way through the mountains to Igoumenitsa and caught a ferry to Corfu (about 1.5 hours). The second photo is of Igoumenitsa from the boat. The third and fourth photos are from Kh Sophia on the boat during the trip.

We arrived on Corfu about 9 pm and then drove up to the place we reserved in the little town of Kassiopi in the north. Kassiopi is just opposite Albania, separated only by a very narrow straight.

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