On Monday, 15th August, Paros celebrates the great festival of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary ("Koimoisis tis Theotokou" or "falling asleep of the Virgin Mary") at the Church of the Ekatontapyliani in Paroikia.
The name "Theotokos" means "the Bearer of God" and the church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary who is regarded in Orthodoxy to hold a special place not only as the Mother of Christ, but also as interceding with God on behalf of mankind.
Preparations for the feast actually begin on August 1st with a period of fasting for fourteen days, during which time the Orthodox faithful consume no meat, dairy, oil or wine, except on the Feast of the Transfiguration on August 6th when fish is allowed.
On the days leading up to the 15th, the "Paraclesis" service of supplication and prayer, consisting of the "Great Paraclesis" and the "Small Paraclesis", is held in honour of the Theotokos and worshippers petition the Virgin to ask for her compassion and pray for her intercessions, especially to help them through difficult times.
The festival also celebrates the Assumption of the Virgin Mary - her ascent into heaven - and thus represents a central teaching of the Christian church on the resurrection of the body and of eternal life.
Reminiscent of Easter celebrations in Greece, the main church service on the 15th is followed by a procession around Paroikia with priests bearing the icon and the Epitaphios of the Blessed Virgin. This year, for the first time, the Litany and procession will be held in the evening instead of the morning (see full programme on page 12). There will also be live coverage of the event by the TV channel ERT and the procession will be followed by a firework display and traditional Greek music and dancing.
The church of the Ekatontapyliani is unique in Greece. Built on the site of an ancient gymnasium as the result of a vow made by the Emperor Constantine's mother, Helen, it dates back to circa 328, being rebuilt in its present form around 550 by the Emperor Justinian.
There are different explanations as to the meaning of the name "Ekatontapyliani" - it is sometimes known as the "Church of One Hundred Doors" ("ekaton" meaning "one hundred" and "pyliani" meaning "doors", but another explanation is that the name is derived from "kato poliani", meaning "below the city".
(See Paros Life August 2003 and December 2004 for previously published articles on the Ekatontapyliani).
Two sources of additional information on the church are the books "Paros Ekatontapyliani" by Theologos Aliprantis which has a section in English, and is available in the church bookstore and "Paros Church of a Hundred Doors: 1700 Years" produced by the Agricultural Union with photographs by Elizabeth Carson (from Bizas Bookstore and at the Agricultural Union shop).