Fewer people but deep faith on Greece’s Assumption national holiday

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In twos and threes, in small groups or alone, they came. Most walking, many crawling, ignoring bloodied knees and aching arms to climb a hill to the famed church housing an icon of the Virgin Mary believed to perform miracles.

Some wept openly, the anguish of their personal strife painted on their faces. All stopped and bowed their heads, many leaning over to kiss the icon.

For nearly 200 years, Greek Orthodox faithful have flocked to the Aegean island of Tinos for the August 15 feast day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the most revered religious holiday in the Orthodox calendar after Easter.

The annual celebration is normally a resplendent and crowded affair, with a navy band and honor guard leading a procession carrying the icon down the hill from the church to the port. Thousands pack the broad flagstone street, kneeling and waiting for the icon to pass over them.

But this year there was no procession or massive crowd, the ceremony, like so many lives across the globe, upended by the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, the icon stayed inside the church. The navy band and honor guard remained in the church courtyard, and police reminded the faithful to wear masks. Inside, an attendant disinfected the glass case containing the icon after each kiss.

“We can’t do anything about it, it has to be this way,” said Aggeliki Kolia as she joined the queue to enter the church Saturday. “But it’s very bad. You don’t feel what you felt in previous years.”

Greece is experiencing a resurgence of the virus, with new daily cases jumping from the low double digits at the start of summer to more than 200 over the past three days. Authorities have tightened restrictions and police are enforcing the measures.

Kolia said the August 15 crowd would normally be so thick it would take her three hours to get from the port to the church. This time there were just a few hundred people, and only a few minutes’ wait to get to the icon.

Tears welled up in her eyes as she said she traveled from the central Greek town of Thebes to Tinos after making a pledge to the Virgin Mary for her child.

“I’ve lived through very difficult situations and the Virgin Mary truly helped me,” she said. “That’s why I came.”

It is this unshakable belief that the Virgin Mary can intercede in times of great personal tribulation that draws so many Orthodox faithful to the icon each year.

“Every Christian has the Virgin Mary as their mother, and that is something that is very important in our lives, in our difficulties, in our needs,” explained Metropolitan of Syros and Tinos Dorotheos, the regional bishop who led Saturday’s church service. “We turn to her as a small child turns to seek security in its mother’s embrace.”

Source: AP News.

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