On Sunday, October 14, the holy icon of Axion Estin (It is Truly Meet) came to Thessaloniki by boat. We were there at the dock when she arrived. It was amazing. There were thousands of people – in the procession (that went from the port to St. Demetrios’ church) and in the onlooking crowd. We waited for her to be processed past us and I couldn’t believe the perfect silence of the crowd. I thought people would be singing and calling out to Panagia, but instead everyone was perfectly still and quiet when she passed by, silently praying and outwardly crossing themselves. Everyone showed great reverence and respect for the Most Holy Theotokos.
Every year, just before the feast of St. Demetrios the Great Martyr (patron of Thessaloniki) a miracle-working icon of the Mother of God is brought to St. Demetrios’ church for a few weeks. The church is open all day and (I think) all night, at least most nights it is. Because this year an icon was brought from Mount Athos – a place women are unable to visit – there is a constant crowd waiting to venerate.
The story behind this particular icon is miraculous, and the basis for why we sing the first lines of the hymn “It is Truly Meet”.
The icon is located in the main church of Karyes on Mount Athos. According to tradition, an Elder and his disciple lived in a cell on Mount Athos which housed this icon. One Saturday night the Elder left to attend an All-Night vigil in Karyes. He told his disciple to chant the service alone. That evening an unknown monk who called himself Gabriel, came to the cell, and they began the vigil together. During the Ninth Ode of the canon, when they began to sing the Magnificat [Magnify O my Soul], the disciple sang the original hymn “More honourable than the Cherubim…” and afterwards the visiting monk chanted it again, but with “It is truly meet…” preceding the “More honorable” part. As he sang, the icon began to radiate with Uncreated Light. When the disciple asked the visiting monk to write the words of the new hymn down, he took a roof tile and wrote on it with his finger, as though the tile were made of wax. The disciple knew then that this was no ordinary monk, but the Archangel Gabriel. At that moment the Archangel disappeared, but the icon of the Mother of God continued to radiate light for some time afterward. That same icon came to be known as Axion Estin (It is Truly Meet) and the hymn was incorporated into liturgical use.
It is truly meet to call thee blessed, O Theotokos,
ever blessed, all immaculate, and Mother of our God.
More honorable than the Cherubim,
and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim.
Thee who without corruption gavest birth to God the Word.
The very Theotokos, thee do we magnify.
Below is a video of the procession in Thessaloniki as it arrives at St. Demetrios’ church. I plan to go up to the church in the next few days to venerate.
If you would like me to give Orthodox names to be commemorated at a Paraclesis or Divine Liturgy, please e-mail me or comment and I’ll take them with me. (Just make sure to mention if they’re living or reposed). UPDATE: This evening, October 24, I was able to venerate the icon and give the names you all sent me for commemoration.
And don’t forget to enter the draw for a free copy of my book. Even if you already bought a copy, you can always give the second one away as a gift!