On August 15th each summer Orthodox Christians throughout the world celebrate the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, also known in Greek as Dekapentaugusto. Next to Christmas and Easter, Dekapentaugusto is the most significant religious holiday for Greeks, and is commonly associated with a weekend-long escape to relax and spend time with family and friends.
In churches across the country, Greeks celebrate this religious holiday with a variety of traditions and daylong festivities. Some of the most prominent religious celebrations are observed at the church of the Megalohari in Tinos, the Ekatontapyliani in Paros, the Panagia Soumela Monastery in Imathia and the Monastery of the Apocalypse in Patmos. On this day, particularly celebrated in Greece, are the names Panagioti, Panagiota, Marios, Maria, and Despina.
In Paros, at the church of Ekatontapyliani, also known as the church of a hundred doors, the procession of the Epitaph takes place with the Icon of the Virgin leading the demonstration. After the church services, the festivities continue with large feasts and traditional dances accompanied by local live music. The church of Ekatontapyliani is one of the oldest and most well preserved churches in all of Greece. The official reproduction of the Great Icon of Ekatontapyliani of Paros, and a detail of the center of a Liturgical Paten, depicting Virgin Mary holding Jesus dating from the 1665, have been hand-crafted by the artisans of Museum Masters, among a variety of pieces created as a celebration of Christianity all over the world.
In Imathia, the Monastery of Panagia Soumela built in 1951 is particularly significant for many Greeks of Pontian origin. Greeks originally from the Pontian region built the church as a tribute to the now destroyed church of Panagia Soumela in Trabzon, Turkey. Gathering at the monastery during Dekapentaugusto is a symbolic homage to the ‘lost homeland’ of the displaced Pontian Greeks, who for centuries lived near Trabzon along the Black Sea. In Imathia, the procession of the Epitaph is accompanied by traditional Pontian music and dances.
The Assumption is also celebrated with great devoutness in Patmos at the historic Monastery of the Apocalypse, where the monks follow the custom of the Epitaph of Mary, a tradition stemming from Byzantine origins. The golden Epitaph of Mary wanders the streets of the island in a grand procession, while the bells of the monastery and other churches ring incessantly. Built on the foundations of the Holy Monastery of St. John the Theologian, the Monastery of the Apocalypse is a mecca for Christians around the world, and has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Of the many different forms of celebration, the greatest of all festivities occurs in Tinos, where Dekapentaugusto represents a day of dual religious and historical significance. On this day in 1940, Italy had torpedoed the Greek cruiser “Elli” off the coast of Tinos. This event is considered to be one of the provocations leading to Greece’s participation in WWII. The religious and historic significance of this church draws thousands of observers from around the world on August 15th to celebrate and take part in the procession of the Holy Icon. The church of Melagohari in the center town of Tinos is one of the largest and most architecturally unique Greek Orthodox Churches, having been built in 1830 on the grounds where the Holy Icon was discovered. Leading up to the church, thousands of pious observers customarily climb the stairs and road to the entrance on their hands and knees, demonstrating their religious devotion and dedication. The church and town are decorated for the religious holiday, and many visitors later head to the picturesque villages of Tinos to continue the celebration.
Aside from honoring the religious significance of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Dekapentaugusto is a time when many Greeks choose to take time off from work and other obligations. After the weekend-long celebrations commence, the streets of Athens and other major cities start crowding once again as Greeks return from their summer break.
photos courtesy of Liz Philippakis