One of the most beautiful and spiritually uplifting traditions of the Holy Mountain is the celebrated litany or procession of the “Axion Estin” icon. This icon of Christ and the Theotokos is the one before which the Archangel Gabriel revealed to a humble monk the great hymn to the Theotokos of Orthodoxy that has since become central to many Church services: “It is truly right to bless you, the Theotokos...”. For more on this miracle, see the feast on June 11th. (http://ocafs.oca.org/FeastSaintsViewer.asp?SID=4&ID=1&FSID=101694) Thus, though there are many miraculous and celebrated icons of the Most-Holy Theotokos on Mount Athos, the “Axion Estin”, kept in the Protaton, stands among the foremost.
The week after Pascha, or “Bright” or “Renewal” Week, is a period of intense spiritual celebration of Christ's Resurrection. (http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2009/04/bright-week.html) In this light, most Monasteries have festal processions of their celebrated icons and holy relics on one of the days of Bright Week. The most celebrated among these is the great litany of the Axion Estin, which has been a tradition on the Holy Mountain for centuries. In 1508 the following account entered the Typikon, and characterizes this procession, which has remained relatively unchanged since then:
“On the Monday of Pascha after the Divine Liturgy in the Church of the Protaton, in which is preserved the icon of “Axion Estin”, the icon is processed around Karyes with repeated stops, in which occurs supplications: After exiting the Church the first stop is at the delegation of the Monastery of Iveron, then Pantokratoros Monastery, then at the Monastery of Koutloumousiou and the kelli of St. John the Theologian, of the Entrance of the Theotokos (Pyrgos Rabdouchou), of the Holy Apostles (M. Alypiou), of the Cross and occasionally the kelli of St. John Chrysostom, of the skete of Koutloumousiou, of St. Stephen (delegation of the Monastery of Dionysiou), of the kelli of the Evangelismos, of the outskirts of Karyes, of St. Anthony the Great (above Seragiou), the delegation of the Monastery of Zographou, along with before the Monasteries of Chilandariou and St. Panteleimon and ending at the building of the Protaton and its church. At these stops—more so at some than others—there is a reception followed by the offering to those processing of bread, cheese, white wine, etc., and afterwards at the Protaton there is Trapeza (meal). In 1488 the Fathers of Dionysiou declined the reception and insulted those processing calling them eaters and drinkers, but the following day hail destroyed their gardens and vineyards of the delegation, and the Patriarch Nephon having heard these gave them a canon. A similar situation occurred at the Monastery of Koutloumousiou twice: the first time pirates burned a new church in Kalliargia, and the second time the Trapeza and other buildings of the Monastery collapsed.”
According to Fr. Justin of Simonopetra, at every cell or Monastery where the procession stops, the pertinent Gospel is read, and the hymn of the Saint or Feast of the cell is chanted.
At the Monastery of Koutloumousiou, the stop has a unique character. The entire brotherhood comes out to greet the procession (the hieromonks with vestments), and many pilgrims. This is reciprocated on Bright Tuesday, when the icon of “Fovera Prostasia” is processed to the Protaton from Koutloumousiou.
The pomp of the litany, without anything worldly (such as marching bands, etc.) has grandeur and picturesqueness, as it takes place amid flowering nature and the green environment of Karyes, and is a unique event. The monk with the talanton leads the procession followed by chanters, hieromonks and hierodeacons who are vested (the later ones censing), and the presiding Bishop, the Protos and other visitors, and most importantly, the Panagia above, the Guardian of the Holy Mountain.
May we all continue to spiritually celebrate Christ's world-saving Resurrection with the compunction and spiritual joy of the Athonite Fathers!
(primarily based on amateur translation and summary of Greek text from: http://agioritikesmnimes.pblogs.gr/2010/04/995-h-litanefsh-ths-eikonas-axion-esti-th-deftera-toy-pasha.html)