This is a copy of the wonderworking icon of the Panagia Soumela (Panagia is the Greek word for “all-holy,” a title of the Theotokos), sometimes also called “Our Lady of Pontos.” Soumela is in Ponto of western Asia Minor, in the region of the Black Sea. The icon is of the odighitria (Directress) type and, according to tradition, was painted by St. Luke.
Pilgrims to our monastery notice that our icon and shrine are bedecked with chains, rings, gold coins and jewels–gifts of the faithful for favors granted by the Theotokos through this icon, for, just as the original Panagia Soumela is “wonderworking,” so too is the Panagia Soumela at our monastery.
A very recent miracle here concerned a young man who has been unfairly charged with a serious crime - the penalty for which, if he is convicted, is a mandatory prison sentence. His mother came to us first, asking for spiritual help, and, after some counseling, she was advised to go to the Panagia Soumela, make an offering, and beg her help, speaking to Panagia “mother to mother.”
She did this, and on the way home her cell phone rang with completely unexpected news that a very important piece of information/evidence in her son’s case had just been volunteered (at the very time she was entreating the Panagia!) - significant evidence which may positively affect the outcome of this tragedy. Subsequently, the mother and her son have made repeated visits to Soumela icon, bringing flowers; a service of intercession has also been served for them before the icon.
Icon depicting St. Luke the Evangelist painting an icon of Panagia under divine guidance and the grace of the Theotokos (Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission)
In the fourth century, a young priest, Basil, had a vision of the Panagia while he was serving Divine Liturgy. She directed him, and his nephew, Sotirichos, to go to Thebes and prepare to enter monastic life, promising that she would remain with them to the end of their lives.
Stopping by the church which housed the miraculous icon, “they advanced towards the icon, and then prostrated themselves before her sublime image. Reverently, they kissed the icon, kneeled and bowed their heads, offering prayers of compunction” and asking the Panagia Soumela to guide them.
Suddenly the church was filled with the singing of angels, and a sweet voice came from the icon, telling Basil and Sotirichos that she would both accompany and lead them. Just then, the icon detached itself from its shrine and, elevated by two angels, left the church by an open window. Through a series of adventures, Panagia led them to a monastery where they were tonsured (with the names Barnabas and Sophronios), and then led them, ultimately, to the cave in Asia Minor where the icon had miraculously transported itself.
Here they built small cells for themselves, the beginning of a large monastery dedicated to the Theotokos, and turned the cave into a chapel. Many began to come on pilgrimage to Panagia Soumeliotissa and the “monastery enjoyed fame, prosperity, and imperial favor.” But later, when barbarians began to invade, the monastery dwindled and was eventually deserted. The monastery was sacked and there were failed attempts by the invaders to destroy the icon, but the monks returned and the monastery again flourished - until the 7th century, when Moslems slaughtered the monks.
Meanwhile, the Panagia appeared to a nearby illiterate farmer, Christopher (which means “Christ-bearer”), and sent him to the ruined monastery to renew and revive it. The Theotokos continued to guide him as he moved to the monastery, where he found that the cave-church and icon were miraculously safe. She herself taught him to read, and at length other men came to join him. Pilgrims again returned and great wonders were accomplished through the icon - even demoniacs were healed. Byzantine emperors became patrons of the monastery. One of them, Alexios Comnenos II (+1330), personally journeyed to the monastery to give thanks for deliverance from death.
In 1931 one of the exiled monks returned and rescued the icon and other treasures from their hiding place. They were all kept, temporarily, in a museum in Athens, and it wasn’t until 1950 that a new site for a church to house the Panagia Soumela was found, in a terrain similar to Soumela, in the Macedonian mountains [part of the Metropolis of Veria: http://www.imverias.gr/]. It was enthroned in the new church on Dormition, 1952, and pilgrims once again began, and continue to flow to the Panagia.
“Rejoice, for thou art the throne of the King!” - Akathistos Hymn
(All quotations are taken from “The Lives of the Monastery Builders of Soumela, Saints Barnabas and Sophronios of Athens and Christopher of Rebizond, Builders of the Mt. Mela Monastery (Panaghia Soumela),” Holy Apostles Convent, 1991, translated from the Greek of “The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church.”; taken from the website of St. Gregory Palamas Monastery, Ohio: http://sgpm.goarch.org/Monastery/index.php?p=56)
Picture of the Monastery of Panagia Soumela, Vermion Mountain, Veria, Greece (taken from: http://www.panoramio.com/photo/4385136)
In 1950, Filon Ktenidis, a Pontian poet and doctor, who wrote the song that would have been the national anthem if the Independent Republic of Pontus had come into being, began a campaign in Greece: “I have seen a dream. The Mother of God of Soumela appeared and said, ‘You refugees, my children, you have made your homes in this new country. When are you going to make my home?’” With this, he began a campaign to build the new Soumela in Kastania, 80 kilometers from Thessalonica on Mount Vermion,
where the original miracle-working icon of Panagia Soumela is enshrined."
Apolytikia for Sts. Barnabas, Sophronios and Christopher, founders of the Monastery of Soumela in Pontos - Celebrated on August 18th (amateur translation)By the annointing of the Divine Child, you abandoned the cares of life, and each were radiantly initiated into strange mysteries, as a phoenix in the courts of the Lord, you truly prospered, Barnabas, Sophronios and Christopher, intercede with Christ God, O thrice-praised Fathers, that our souls be saved.
Additional Apolytikion in the First Tone. (amateur translation)
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
The three radiant lights of the three-sunned godhead, who shone forth radiantly from the choir of monastics, as mystics and venerators of the Theotokos, and god-bearers annointed by the command of the Pure One, Barnabas the most-exalted, and the god-bearer Sophronios, with the noble Christopher, taught by God from nothing, all of those who honor their life, let us gather and honor them with hymns, for they ever intercede with the Trinity for us.
In birth, you preserved your virginity; in death, you did not abandon the world, O Theotokos. As mother of life, you departed to the source of life, delivering our souls from death by your intercessions.
For the Paraklesis to Panagia Soumela written by Fr. Gerasimos, see: http://akolouthies-agion.blogspot.com/2011/08/blog-post_9029.html.