Panayiopoula is the local name for the Orthodox Metochi devoted to the Virgin Mother, the Odigitria. A metochi is a monastic dependency and in this case of the Holy Monastery Platytera, the famous male monastery on the edge of Old Town Corfu.
Just up from the Town Hall Square in a short, unusually quiet street is the chapel and a two storied adjoining building, with a cell and reception area on each floor. It is painted in the favourite Ionian colour of soft Mediterranean pink. An outside staircase leads to the bell tower, flower pots on each step. It is protected on all sides by tall Venetian houses.
The Odigtria icon, a particularly loved presentation of the Panayia and cherished for its special grace, is the essence of the church. It stands in a separate iconostasi, is silver clad and strung with rows of silver and gold offerings. Probably it dates from the time the church was built, which according to the rich Corfu Archives we estimate to be before 1650.
Originally the church was in private ownership until a monk from the Platytera Monastery bought the chapel and cells around 1900 and donated it to his monastery. The church stood unharmed all the years and became known for two main events – the Epitaph procession each Holy Friday and the Odigitria festival on 23 August. These two popular occasions are perfected by a group of locals and neighbours who assist and contribute, as their goal is to preserve Corfu customs.
Today the chapel is open mornings and afternoons. Greeks and foreign visitors can venerate the beautiful icon, sit in prayer, contemplate, even express themselves through tears. Many like to open a talk with a Sister attending the chapel. Perhaps it's the abundant love of the Panayia, maybe it's the church's safe-guarding of hundreds of years of prayer and repentance, or it could be the desire of the individual at that moment to yearn for blessing, because so many feel comforted as they leave the chapel.
Many young mothers bring their babies in prams and find support. Other women take courage and start new studies and jobs they never thought they could handle. Most importantly, through newly developed love for the life in Christ, a good number seek out a Confessor of their choice. There are plenty who take practical help as well, such as dry food, clothing, toys and books. Nothing is left over from the generous donations. This small but important offer is done with discernment and prayer.
Primary school children often come to read, draw and create in a quiet corner, simultaneously increasing their respect for the Church. Easter eggs, lavender bags and Christmas cards are made throughout the year. Each 18 December, the Holy Eucharist is celebrated, after which small gifts are exchanged over a cup of coffee, everyone united in joyful anticipation for the approaching Nativity. Why not come and join us?
From all corners of the world come letters and varying gifts from those who visited the Panayiopoula. So often they say that they felt 'guided' into the church, as if by the Odigitria (Guide) Herself. So its not only the immediate neighbourhood that loves and treasures the blessings of the Panayiopoula. Slowly the church is being beautified after years of being closed and every contribution, but every, is welcome. The Service of Divine Liturgy under the loving gaze of the Panayia deserves to be officiated in appropriate richness.
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