Celebrations start in tribute of our Patron and Protector of our Island, Saint Dionysios.
History of our Patron Saint.
Saint Dionysios, a spiritual giant not only among Zakynthians but throughout Greece. He seems to be among the living, through the miraculous preservation of his holy body. He was born on Zakynthos in 1546. His ancestry can be traced back through the Venetian conquerors. Within a family tree St. Dionysios’ roots lay part in Italy and part Normandy. Born into the then ruling class when Venice was a dominant force in Zakynthos. Dionysios is said to have been baptised into the Christian faith with the name Draganinos. Having a godfather, Gerasimos of Kefalonia, who was himself destined to become later a venerated saint of the Church.
Dionysios came from a wealthy household. Royalty of the Venetians through his mother, but he led no one to believe – from childhood right through to maturity – that he was anything but a child of God. Forming lasting friendships with his fellow islanders from all walks of life.
Refusing to take advantage of his social position. He availed himself of a full education which brought out the power of his extraordinary intellect. By the time he was twenty-one he had not only established himself as a deep thinker and profound theological scholar, but had also mastered several languages.
With the encouragement of the entire population of the island, he set a course of service to Jesus Christ which was to bring him towards sainthood.
After the death of his parents
With the death of his parents, Dionysios entered the Monastery of Strophades. He was in due course tonsured a monk with the name of Daniel. By the time that he was ordained priest in 1577, he was already a seasoned campaigner for Christ. He was highly respected not only for his piety but also for his wisdom and beneficence. He had long since given his entire worldly goods to the poor and had earned a reputation for kindness and charity which had carried to the mainland among the clergy and laity alike.
On a mission to the Holy Land where Dionysios anticipated the exhilaration of walking where Jesus had trod. He stopped over in Piracus to book passage to Palestine but never completed his journey.
Change of name.
Greeted warmly by church dignitaries, he was prevailed upon by Archbishop Nikanor of Athens. He was to assume the episcopy of the island of Aegina. An appointment that was heartily approved by the Ecumenical Patriarch. In 1572 he assumed the post and with it the name of Dionysios.
The saintliness of this prelate had been evidenced in many ways throughout his service to the Messiah. However, as Archbishop it took on greater proportions. As a result he was sought out by pilgrims from all around. Seeking his blessing and benediction that seemed to produce true miracles. While he found these manifestations gratifying, he was overwhelmed by his immense popularity. After much soul searching he asked for and was given permission to return to the tranquility of his native island.
Dionysios seemed to have the favour of the Lord. Emerging from the seclusion of his monastic retreat from time to time to share this divine spark with his fellow Christians. He died peacefully at the age of seventy-five and reposes in the Church of Dionysios in Zakynthos town.
The Church of Saint Dionysios of Zakynthos.
St. Dionysios Church is the most important on the island as it is dedicated to Saint Dionysios. The patron saint of Zakynthos, his body is held in the Church in a silver casket.
Founded in 1708, it was updated 50 years later and also renovated in the year 2000. It has a Venetian appearance and the bell tower is a direct copy of St Marco’s in Venice.
The Church has a lovely location looking over the waterfront and is instantly recognizable when approaching the town by boat.
The big festival, for now will be held in his honour on the 24th of August celebrating the return of our Patron Saint for the Strofades to Zakynthos which took place in 1717.
The Church Services
During the religious ceremony, the Saint’s body is taken out among his people through the town centre. Followed by religious hierarchy, marching bands and local authorities representing every department. Even Greek and foreign officials will take part in the celebration.
Over the next three days, starting from today, the 23rd of August it is a chance for all devoted Christians to arrive at the church. Their concentration is drawn to the Holy Body, untouched by the centuries gone by and deterioration.
The magnificence of the church rituals are always carried out in a characteristic musical church idiom of Zakynthos with the participation of the Archbishops, religious Hierarchy, all of the holy Clergy and thousands of people Zakynthians and foreigners alike, leading to the remarkably exciting hours of processional chanting in town (evening on the 24th of August) where the hearts of the faithful shiver, their eyes fill with tears and they kneel in supplication in front of their Patron Saint, Father and Comforter of all who are in pain.
The Walking Saint
Not only are the saint’s relics untouched by time, but he is also one of Greece’s “walking saints” (St Gerasimus and St Spyridon are the others). He is said to leave his reliquary and walk about performing miracles for those who seek his aid. The fabric of the slippers of Saint Dionysios of Zakynthos highlight the art and similarity of slippers in the Ionian Islands from the 18th century onwards. In fact when he is taken among his people, the soles of his slippers wear out and must be replaced with a new pair from time to time. The old slippers are cut up, and the pieces are distributed to pilgrims as a good luck charm and the possessor away from harm.
What you will notice about the Saint.
Upon visiting the Saint on Zakynthos and as you approach his sacred relics, you will note that he is dressed with the Hierarchical Stole, however, on his head instead of the Bishop’s Miter, he wears a simple ‘kalymmavcio’ head covering with the ‘epanokalymmavchou’ the head coverings of a monk and not of hierarchy.
Many times the Fathers of the Monastery have tried to remove the basic monk’s head dress and place it with a Bishop’s miter, but the Saint however, did not allow it to be removed from his head as stories go.
One time when the fathers had tried very repeatedly and with force to remove it, their intention was to place the Bishop’s miter on his head, something they thought was only fit for the Saint. The Saint allowed the skin of his head to tear a little on his forehead, and immediately warm blood ran from the wound, the fathers seeing this miracle were shocked, and immediately seeked forgiveness from the Saint.
They left him in peace wearing the basic monk’s head dress, a sign that the Saint judged and perceived his monastic identity, something which during the whole period of his life, his monastic disposition was that which informed his every decision, his every action, his every phrase. For he was the Saint of Forgiveness the Saint that still walks among his people.