Easter is very early this year and for Corfu it will be a major ceremony over the Holy Week, celebrating this year with the Catholics. Apart from the many beautiful Services beginning with Palm Sunday, there are two occasions when the island recognises the miracles of Saint Spiridon, each within the Holy Week. On Palm Sunday and on Holy Saturday there are, solemn, but well organised processions revering the Saint and the islanders flock to town to participate. Tourists from afar follow and remain most impressed with the serious but colourful events, accompanied by the famous brass bands. The Epitaphio of our Metochi is ready at 17.00 on Holy Friday, with its generous display of flowers around the humble icon, and we expect all the children to have their baskets of petals ready to sprinkle on the Holy Epitaphio as it proceeds. There are books available for those who would like to chant those glorious words, words we hear on Holy Friday full of sorrow.Happy Easter
Holy Friday at the Metochi
This is the second important day in the annual program of the Panayiopoula, full of tradition and well supported by the local residents.
Holy Week (Easter) on Corfu is truly special and everyone strives to keep the customs. The little church is readied according to the solemnity of the day, fasting continues (on this day many eat only lettuce dipped in vinegar) and the schedule of the Procession of the Epitaphion is examined. There are at least a dozen churches in the area also participating, so close control is needed on the timing.
The Panayiopoula is beautified in purple, the women decorate the Epitaphion with the richest of flowers and the children are ready to throw petals as the procession starts. A very individual, wooden iconographic presentation of Christ laid out for burial, is in the centre of the flowered Epitaphion. A Hieromonk from the Holy Monastery Platytera officiates at the chanting of The Praises, one of the most treaured of services in the Holy Week. (It would be rewarding to read this exquisite poetic set, if you are not aware of it.)
Holy Friday is a day of sacrifice, strict fasting, and avoidance of work. While knowing the sufferings of Christ, we already look forward to the glorious Resurrection.
Each year youngsters are chosen to carry the Epitaphion, the Holy Banner, the Cross, lanterns and cherubims, and one will care for the incense.
The procession follows a course round the historic Old Town and no one deserts it, for there is the reading of the Gospel once back in the church.
After the dismissal, everyone takes flowers from the Epitaphion - an age old custom - and the sorrow of Easter Week changes to a keen awaiting of the Resurrection. The celebration of the Resurrection has already started; the church removes the symbolic purple and now red and white predominate. The Greeks now wish each other "Καλη Ανασταση" (kali anastasi).
We are very proud of our particular Epitaphion, a memorable Paschal day and suggest you come and experience it with us next year.
August 23 - Festival of The Odigitria
As at every monastery, so too at the Holy Metochi the celebration of the Saint to whom the monastery is dedicated is the most significant day in the year.
In the case of the Metochi, our Patroness is the Holy Virgin and Mother of God, the Odigitria, who in this area is called the Panayiopoula. All year in our thoughts and prayers we call to her to bestow her grace on us.
The 23rd of August is the Return Feast of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, the 9th day, and worshippers venerate a small icon of the Dormition, showing the All-Holy settled on her deathbed surrounded by apostles, hierarchs and angels.
Leading up to the day the church is scrubbed, polished and decorated. The Altar is covered with a richly embroidered cloth only used for this festival, flowers fill every corner and rows of flags are strung up and down the street. The beloved and grace-filled icon of the Panayiopoula is framed in priceless handmade lace.
Celebrating the Panagia Odigitria
The church which so many describe as having a 'soul' is very small, so chairs outside in the quiet street soon fill up with locals and some from further away.
Each Service is officiated by the Hegumen of the Holy Monastery Platytera.
'All generations shall call me blessed' Luke 1, 48. That is why we call and pray for her help, our Ever-Virgin Mother. All Holy Theotokos intercede for us.
St Maximus the Greek
Let’s see another celebration on January 21, for St Maximus the Greek, Vatopaidinos, son of the noble Trivoli family of Corfu, Enlightener of the Russians, 1470-1556.
The Holy Monastery Vatopaidinou, Mt Athos along with The Friends of the Monastery, revere the Saint. New facts are researched by their historians and a group in Arta where the Saint was born, have almost completed an enormous church in his memory. They have managed to obtain some relics of the Saint from the Moscow Lavra of St. Sergiou.where Maximus is buried.
Young Russians visiting our Metochi are always glad to see our faithful copy of the icon which graces the Vatopaidinou Monastery and express their respect for the Enlightener of the Russians. All those who read the life of the Saint also admire him greatly.
Maximus came to Corfu for schooling over some years and it was here that he developed his unquenchable love for learning. The descendants of his family have kept a valuable and interesting historic record over the years. Maximus continued higher level studies in Italy and became known for his widespread reading, especially erudite. Answering a heavenly call to monastic life he entered Vatopaidinou Monastery and became perfect in obedience. The rich library of the Monastery was his delight. During this time Russia was in need of improvement of its liturgical books. Maximus was chosen to go there to translate, add corrections and explanations in the books and correct church observances. He was the first to set up a printing press and aroused an interest in culture. In short he instigated a local renaissance.
In the Church, too much activity arouses jealousy while too little causes anger. By now Maximus had daily contact with the Tsar, the Metropolitan and all the prominent people of Moscow. Suddenly that changed. The leaders became wary of his intimate friendships and closed him in a Moscow jail for 25 years, in abysmal conditions, in a cramped, damp underground cell with no floor, sometimes chained, always cold. His devotion and faith never wavered despite not being allowed books or pen, and finding a piece of coal on the rough ground he wrote on the walls of his cell the Service of Supplication to the Holy Spirit. This has recently been published in Greek and in a few days our Metochi will chant this unique work. The tough and ungrateful Russians had locked-up a philosopher, theologian, writer and publisher, translator, language expert and miracle worker. The Greek writer Kazantzakis writes in his book “Travels” that there would be no way the Russians would allow Maximus back to Greece for he knew too many secrets. The Monastery of his Repentance, Patriarchs and Metropolitans all strove to have him freed. Finally he was released to a Moscow monastery where he added to his rich collection of writings, never complaining about his torture, rather, praising the Lord for increasing his belief. He died there quietly, and his Holy Relics are housed in that lavra. God had bestowed Grace and allowed miracles to be performed by Maximus. Our select monk Maximus remained a model monk, always eager to improve his vast knowledge as trained in Corfu, which led to his Sainthood.
May Saint Maximus intercede for us.
In every monastery in our blessed Orthodox country many services are conducted day and night throughout the length of the church year. Vespers, Matins, Small Compline and the Divine Liturgy to name a few.
One day is exceptionally special, the day the monastery honours its Patron Saint or Patroness. The service will be officiated perhaps by the Bishop of the Metropolis and Hieromonks and priests will be co-officiating. Worshippers, the friends of the monastery, will also honour the day arriving early with gifts of oil, candles, flowers and sweets.
All year long the monk, or nun, prays to the saint, begs for holy intercession, and executes each task with due reverence. No task is done half-heartedly, not to upset the brother monk and certainly not to disappoint the saint. Or the Panayia, for so many monasteries are devoted to the All-Holy Ever Virgin. If accidentally something is broken or lost all apologies are made to the Panayia, for the monk is a temporary resident at the monastery and everything belongs to the Panagia (or Saint).
Of course other celebrations can be observed through the year especially if there is a miracle-working icon or relics of some saint. Preparations for the festival include making the Bread for Consecration, boiled wheat (koluba) topped with a coloured-sugar icon, perfecting the church, candles in place, the garden pruned and watered, and the refectory welcoming for the numbers of worshippers who will sit at the table. A large sisterhood can fulfill these traditions yet in smaller monasteries nothing is missing.
The Holy Monastery Platytera Corfu has just published a study on an early music manuscript (c1650) found in its library. Its composition is unusual and the archivists, Spiros Karydis and Panayiota Jivara leave the way open for specialists to define its role. Copies can be obtained at the monastery.
The Orthodox Church has always included fine chanting in its services. There are strict rules and detailed instructions, and still today schools are offering lessons in every Metropoli for Byzantine music.
Even if in women's monasteries the nuns have mastered the 'art', we expect only men in the parish churches, some modelling themselves on the excellent chanting as at Mt. Athos, and others who from years of attending church have learnt the troparia (songs) by themselves.
As St. John Chrysostomos writes, it's not essential for note perfection but for humble appropriate expression. The mission is achieved if the congregation understands the words.
As the chanter plays an important part in each service, he dresses well, he stands attentively, and shares the service with the chanter at the opposite lectern. It is said that St. John Koukouzelis received a gold coin from the Holy Mother for his exquisite chanting.
Not everyone though is blessed with a beautiful voice and the humble chanter who exercises ‘Fear of God’ is an asset to the church.
Monastics chant throughout the day. When St. Maximos the Greek (monk of Vatopedi monastery) was imprisoned in Russia and denied paper and pen, he wrote The Canon to the Holy Spirit on the wall of his cell using a piece of charcoal.
The Holy Metochi Panayiopoula is extremely grateful to the chanters who offer their help so willingly and in keeping with the monastic rule of the blessed church.
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