Dormition of Virgin Mary – Greek August 15 Customs



Augoust15_GreeceOn August 15, the Greek Orthodox Church commemorates the dormition of Virgin Mary and her resurrection before entering Heaven. The Dormition of the Virgin is the most important religious celebration in Greece, with various customs and feasts taking place across the country.

Widely Known August 15 Festivities
The largest and most widely known feast for the commemoration of Mary’s passing takes place in Tinos. Thousands of believers arrive on the Greek island to participate in the procession of the Epitaph taking place on the night of August 14, a custom that is reminiscent of the Greek Orthodox Easter. This religious feast also coincides with an important event in Greek history. Seventy four years ago, on August 15, 1940, Italian navy forces torpedoed the Greek cruiser “Elli” just off the island’s coast.

Furthermore, the church of Panagia Ekatontapiliani in Paros has thousands of visitors each year and it is considered the second largest Marian pilgrimage church in Greece. On the night of August 15, dozens of small boats sail near the piers of Parikia and Naoussa with lit torches. Once the “pirates” reach the port, a grand celebration filled with music and dance begins.

Riding Horses to the Feast
In the monastery of Panagia Mikrokastrou in Kozani, the Dormition ceremony is attended by men riding horses. This custom originates from the Turkish occupation of Greece. After the liturgy, they return to the city on horseback. Their return signals the beginning of festivities with dancing, food and wine.

And while in Kozani people ride horses, in Koufonisia they prefer boats. After the liturgy, believers step on board and sail to Pano Koufonisi.

On the Greek island of Cephalonia, the Holy Snakes of Virgin Mary have been part of August 15 festivities for centuries. The small black snakes have a cross shaped on their heads and they appear at the courtyard and the bell tower of Panagia Fidoussa (Virgin Mary of Snakes) church every summer from August 5 to 15. Believers gather the snakes and place them on the Virgin Mary icon. If the snakes do not appear then locals believe it is a bad omen. In fact, they have documented that the snakes failed to appear during World War II and in 1953 when a destructive earthquake hit the Greek island.

Greek Glenti
The monastery of Panagia Hozoviotissa is located on the Greek island of Amorgos. On August 15, locals prepare a grand feast to commemorate the Dormition of the Virgin. Food is prepared early in the morning in order to treat the believers who attend the feast. A local recipe called “patatato” is served along with wine, while the attendees dance and drink raki until late at night.

Easter in Summer
In Patmos, the island of the Apocalypse, people attend the Epitaph procession, a custom originating from Byzantine times. The Epitaph is carried around the small island streets, while the church bells are ringing incessantly. The Dormition of the Virgin is celebrated in a similar way on the Greek island of Skiathos where the Epitaph procession is accompanied by religious music.