The Incredible Story of the Miraculous Icon Panayia Soumela
St. Luke the Evangelist (Apostle Luke) painted several Icons of the Holy Mother of God. One of these is Panayia Soumela. According to the tradition, the icon is older than the Monastery, and was originally kept in Athens entitled “Panayia Atheniotissa” (Panayia of Athens). The icon of Panayia Soumela took its name from the Monastery of Soumela in Asia Minor. The name “Soumela” derives from the phrase “Stou Mela”, meaning “at the Mt. Melas”, pointing to the specific place in Pontos, in the Black Sea region.
An incredible story revolves around the existence of the Icon. During the reign of Theodosios, a priest in Athens had a vision where the Mother of God told him that he and his nephew, a deacon, should become monks. Tonsured with the names Barnabas and Sophronios the two men went to venerate the wonderworking icon; upon kneeling in front of it, they heard the voice of the Mother of God telling them to follow Her eastwards to Mount Melas. At the same time, angels appeared and lifted the Icon up in their arms.
The Icon returned to Athens few years after the destruction of Asia Minor and was kept in the Benaki Museum until 1952. In our days, the icon is kept in the monastery of Panayia Soumela, southwest of Veria, in the village “Kastanies” located on the slopes of Mt. Vermion. The monastery was founded by Pontian Greeks who had the desire to build a new church for Panayia Soumela in Greece. Strangely enough, in this monastery, there are no monks or nuns; its only visitors are pilgrims and tourists.
The Dormition of the Virgin Mary is celebrated with two-day events attended by thousands of visitors, mainly of Pontian origin from Greece and abroad. Political and state leadership also participate in the celebrations. Great Vespers and Divine Liturgy service are held at the holy monastery with grandeur and devoutness.