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The history of the original Panagia Soumela is both fascinating and dramatic. Painted by the holy Evangelist and physician, Luke, this is one of three miraculous images painted by him whose authenticity has been authenticated from historical records, imperial bulls, and patriarchal documents. Panagia Soumela, however, is the only icon that St. Luke always carried with him in his travels.

After St. Luke’s death at 84 (by crucifixion on an olive tree), a trustworthy Christian in Thebes, Greece, became the guardian of the icon and, according to the chronicles, “when the faithful beheld her sweet countenance, it was a balsam of consolation and encouragement.” Because of the numerous miracles worked by the icon, a church in Thebes, near Athens, was built for it.

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 the 16th century the Moslem Sultan, Selim I, visited the monastery and ordered its demolition. As he gave the order to his soldiers, however, he was struck with a seizure and fell to the ground. One of his vizier’s knelt beside him and said, “Great Master, take back thy blasphemous words. The Mother of Christ is punishing thee. Take back thy blasphemy and be saved!” Begging forgiveness of the Panagia, the Sultan immediately recovered and left the monastery in peace, arranging for five huge candles to burn perpetually before the icon.

Amazingly, there were other Moslem overlords who then also protected the monastery, and it was even reconstructed and rebuilt. All was well until August of 1923, when the Turks expelled the abbot and his monks, who first concealed the icon. In 1929 a fire brought all of the buildings to ruins.

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 . It was enthroned in the new church on Dormition, 1952, and pilgrims once again began, and continue to flow to the Panagia.

Today, and for many years, those who visit our monastery find great comfort and consolation by spending time in prayer before the shrine of the Panagia Soumela.

Source : The Miraculous Icon of Panagia Soumela : Full of Grace and Truth