Prousiotissa Icon of the Mother of God

High upon the fir-covered mountain peaks of southwestern Eurytania, wedged between vertical grayish rocks in savage majesty, is the Holy Monastery of Proussos. It is an historic stauropegial monastery, with magnificent three-storey buildings. There among them a cave has been carved out, inside of which is the first ancient temple of the monastery. In it is kept the wonderworking Icon of the Panagia (the All-Holy Virgin), called Prousiotissa, and her Feast Day is celebrated with grandeur and solemnity on August 23.

According to Tradition, this wonderworking Icon of the Theotokos is believed to have been painted by the Holy Evangelist Luke (October 18), and came from Prousa in Asia Minor (according to manuscript 3 of the codex of the Holy Monastery of Prousiotissa). It was taken from Prousa by a young nobleman in the reign of the last iconoclastic Emperor Theophilos (October 2, 829 – January 20, 842). Theophilos ordered all the icons to be removed from the churches and destroyed. The Orthodox people protected and hid the holy icons, even though the penalty for this "crime" was exile or death.

When the Emperor's decree was read in the city of Proussa, the son of a member of the imperial court chose to disregard it. Taking the the Holy Icon, he sought refuge on the Greek mainland, because the persecution was not quite as severe there, on the islands, or on the coast of Asia Minor. On the way to Greece, however, the young man lost the Icon at Gallipoli in Thrace, which caused him great sorrow. “Woe is me, the wretched one," he cried. “The Mother of God has abandoned me because of my sins."

The Icon had returned miraculously to a cave in a wild part of Eurytania (in the vicinity of Litza and Agrapha, where the monastery and the Icon's shrine are at present), and where it was revealed to some local shepherds on the night of August 22-23.

The young man chose not to go back, because he could not bear to live among the iconoclasts. He continued on his journey and settled in the city of New Patre, near the northwest end of the Peloponnesos. Time went by, and then one day he heard rumors about certain miraculous events in the region of Aitola. According to these reports, the son of a local shepherd was tending his father's flock in a rugged, inaccessible spot in the mountains. There were no homes or villages, but only a shelter for the shepherds. One night, as the child was sleeping, he was awakened by heavenly chanting coming from a cave behind him. With much apprehension he turned and saw a fiery pillar of light coming from the cave and reaching up to Heaven. This is why the Icon is also called Pyrsos - because of the place where it was hidden. Astonished, the boy went to inform his father what he had seen. The father thought that his son had been dreaming, and told him not to fear things that weren't real. The young man insisted, however, that what he had heard and seen was real.

The next night, the child brought his father to the same place where he had seen the pillar of light, so that he could see this phenomenon for himself. The man saw exactly what his son had described, but he did not dare to look in the cave. The next day he took other people there, and all of them saw the same vision. After searching the area they discovered the Holy Icon in the cave, radiant and luminous. Filled with joy, they venerated the Icon, and decided to keep it there. The discovery of her Holy Icon was the first miracle of Panagia Prousiotissa.

Meanwhile, the young man who had lost the Icon heard about an Icon of the Theotokos which had been revealed by a pillar of light. He and his servants left at once, and after two days they arrived at the cave where the Icon was kept. The moment he saw the Icon he knew it was the same one he had lost. After venerating the Icon, he gave gifts to the shepherds and started back to New Patre with it. The shepherds’ joy turned to sorrow when they realized they were being deprived of the Icon. They pleaded with the young man to leave the Holy Icon with them. He told them that the Icon belonged to him, and that he had given them rich gifts to compensate them for their loss. Furthermore, he said that the mountain was not a good place to build a church or to accommodate pilgrims. Then he took the Icon and left.

When he and his companion were tired and had to rest, they stopped at a certain place. They fell asleep and when they woke up, they couldn't find the Icon. Assuming that the shepherds had stolen it while they were sleeping, they retraced their steps. When they came to a narrow spot near the river, the young man heard a voice, saying, "Oh young man, be saved! Go in peace and do not labor any more. It pleases me to remain here with the shepherds and peasants, but not to be in the cities with people who preach heresy. If you wish to remain with me, then come to the place where you found me. This will be for your benefit."

Only the young man was able to hear the voice. In obedience to the Mother of God, he freed his servants, gave away all of his possessions, and went back to the cave where he had found the Icon, accompanied by one of his servants, who decided to remain with him. He was convinced that it was the will of the Panagia that she should remain there. The young man built a chapel in the cave for the Icon. He and his servant both received the monastic tonsure from Hieromonk Raphael, who came from the hermitage of Saint Demetrios. He was tonsured with the name Demetrios, and his servant received the name Timothy. Later, he built a cell opposite the chapel in a quiet place, where they repented for their sins. Father Demetrios reposed there in peace, after living a God-pleasing life. His disciple Timothy buried his body in the church he had built, and his blessed soul flew to Heaven.

This was the beginning of the Monastery of the Most Holy Theotokos of Prousa (or Prousiotissa).

The Icon of the All-Holy Virgin is of the Hodēgḗtria type and has a gilded silver-plated metal cover, the gift of General George Karaiskakis, who was housed in the Monastery during the Revolution of 1821. The metal cover was made by the goldsmith George Karanikas in 1824, as is shown by the embossed inscription above the right shoulder of the Mother of God: "The Pantanassa. Through the generosity of General George Karaiskakis, made by the hand of George Karanikas, 1824."

The Monastery's records show that it had been devastated many times during the Turkish occupation. The last act of vandalism (by the Germans in 1944) reduced the buildings into piles of rubble. After the buildings fell, an officer wanted to burn down the church. He tried to do so many times, but to no avail. While he was standing outside and giving orders, he was punished by the Panagia, as an example to others. An invisible force threw him violently onto the pavement. The impact was very powerful, and the German was unable to get up. The soldiers lifted him and placed him upon an animal in order to carry him to Agrinio. Thus the temple remained unharmed, just as it has been preserved intact through the centuries.

Four years passed, and a civil war was raging in the Greek countryside. The inhabitants of Eurytania and Naupaktos left their villages, seeking safety in other parts of Greece. They brought their wonderworking Icon with them. She also shared the fate of her children, and was carried by the monks of Proussos to the acropolis of Naupaktos. The monastery remains completely deserted.

After a long time, the army's operations began. The Ninth Division launched an attack to wipe out Eurytania. Some sections passed through Proussos. Some officers and soldiers approached the dark church of the cave and went in to pray. Inside, they beheld a strange sight. In front of the iconostasis, to the left of the Beautiful Gate, was a lit candle and a nun was kneeling there. The soldiers were amazed. How could this nun be living there at a time when Eurytania was completely abandoned by its residents? How did she live, what did she eat, where did she get oil for the lamp? When they asked her, she replied modestly and with pain: "My children, I've been living here alone for two and a half years. For my own life, I don't need food and bread. It is enough for me to have my lamp lit."

The soldiers grew tired of this business, and were in a hurry to leave, so they paid no attention to her words. But the next day, when they thought about it, they realized that this was a wondrous thing. Later, when they passed through Naupaktos, they begged their commanding officer for permission to visit Metropolitan Christophoros of Naupaktos and Eurytania. The hierarch welcomed them with love, and after hearing their story, he was able to shed some light on the mystery.

"The temple that you visited," he told them, "belongs to the now abandoned Prousiotissa Monastery, whose wonderworking Icon has been kept here for more than two years, in the chapel of our metropolis, at Saint Dionysios. Go there and venerate it, and then you will understand."

They did go to venerate the Icon. Then suddenly, everyone understood the mystery. In the Icon of the Mother of God, they recognized the nun they had met in the chapel of the cave, high above Proussos!