Panayiopoula Church, Corfu
Panayiopoula Church, Corfu

Introducing Orthodox Icons

Icons are an  expression of the Orthodox church, an essential part of Christian faith, participating too in liturgical life. Each icon, of the Ever-Virgin Maria or of a Saint, keeps to the traditional style and new icons are revered just as those from earlier centuries. What our hymns say in words and music, the icons say in pictures. They are a window to heaven for as we venerate the icon our prayers rise up to the prototype. The iconographer does not allow his skill to flow  unchecked but reins in his ego and prays for heavenly help in his assignment. On completion of the order, the icon is placed on the altar for sanctification before veneration. Most private houses have a number of treasured icons, and monasteries too safe-keep priceless works even from the 11th century. Preservation and restoration of icons is a technique vital to honouring the Church's wealth. A key for many to convert to the one, apostolic Orthodox Church, has been the appreciation of the beauty of Byzantine icons with their theological message. For icons depict the TRUTH. Every Orthodox knows to light an oil candili before his icon and crosses himself before venerating and praying.

Below are three of the portable icons which can be viewed at the Metochi.

The Holy Hieromartyr Polycarp

A model of faith, he was a disciple,  along with Ignatios, of John the Evangelist. The correspondence between Polcarp and Ignatios has great value for the church. As a child, early on it showed that he had been granted the gift of miracles by God. He was able to extinguish a raging fire, to bring rain to a drought stricken area, to fill the stores with food for the hungry, and to vanish a swarm of crop-eating insects. He is known as The Protector of the Seeds of the Earth.

Our icon of the Saint was gifted to the Metochi and is from the iconographers at the Kartsonaion Kalyba, Mt. Athos. The Saint is presented holding the Bible and with his right hand is blessing us. He has the expected serious expression. A simple but finely worked icon.

In the year 156 and now in old age, the Ssaint was threatened with martyrdom if he did not deny Christ. Polycarp was then thrown into a fire, which did not burn him, then he was tossed to the beasts. The description of this Saint's death is the earliest recorded martydom. We see the moment in the fire, in an icon by Photi Kontoglou.

Some holy relics are at a men's monastery outside Nafpaktos. Many miracles occur today when believing, calling  on his saintly help.

Saint  Maximus the Greek (1475 – 1556)
This icon is a faithful rendering of that at Holy Vatopedi Monastery, Mount Athos and is the work of an hieromonaxo of the Keli Bolioton at Mount Athos. The colours are warm, sober tones for a realistic representation of the erudite saint shown sitting at his desk. He is working at a Book of the Church, translating the text from Greek to the Slavic language. This was an enormous and unparalleled help to the Russian Orthodox and for this  Maximus was named The Enlightener of the Russians. 

The saint's one love was for books ever since his 12 school years in Corfu, developing further as a monk at the Vatopedi Monastery with its rich library.  The serious facial expression expresses directly the Saint's care for his grace- filled assignment. Maximus' own important works, texts of faith, have been compiled by, and are available at, his beloved Monastery.

Despite the harsh unending trials whilst in Russia, God allowed miracles to be worked though His chosen Saint.

The Corfiots are proud of their saint and God willing we will celebrate his memory every year on January 21 at the Holy Panayiopoula. The service chanted is that compiled by his Monastery. To everyone who helps this goal from the Hegumen Ephraim of the distinguished monastery Vatopedi to the historians of Corfu and President Pieri of the Corfu Reading Society, our sincere thanks.


'Modestos'  (4th century)
Patriarch of Jerusalem. Protector of Animals.

From the practised hand of the same iconographer at Mount Athos we have this icon of Saint Modestos whom we celebrate on 18 December. The saint is presented full body, in his Hierarch's vestments with the classic, controlled, facial expression holding the Bible. One hand is covered, humbly, a tradition in Byzantine iconography. The icon has a generous gold background symbollising  heavenly radience, and there is a colourful landscape of rocky hillocks, Byzantine style, with many animals gathered peacefully around the saint. If somewhat styilized we keep in mind that we are honouring a Saint with all respect and piety. 

Modestos was known for curing and taming animals hence the title 'Protector of Animals'. Particularly in Northern Greece, farmers by tradition take Holy Water from their church on the Saint's day and sprinkle it in their barns, pens and stables. The common Prayer Book includes Saint Modestos' Prayers for animals.   

Every year the Panayiopoula  church celebrates St. Modestos aided by the sacred Service issued by the Holy Vatopedi Monastery. Since there are only a few days before the Holy Nativity, everyone attending receives a small gift, wrapped with prayer, in joyous mood anticipating the celebration of the Birth of Christ. 'For Unto us a Child was Born…'

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