Everywhere in Greece, from the major urban centers to the remotest island and village, and in all corners of the world where Greeks live, there is a church dedicated to 'Panagia', the Virgin Mary.
On August 15, the feast of the Dormition (Assumption) of the Virgin Mary, tens of thousands of Greeks flock to her churches to piously pray to her and seek her grace.
In the words of the late Fotis Kontoglou, the refugee from Asia Minor who has been called the "father" of a whole generation of artists known as the "thirties generation" , the August 15 feast is the "Easter of summer", as it is celebrated as widely and devotedly by the Orthodox Church as the Resurrection of the Christ.
The Pontian (Black Sea) Greeks of the US and Canada have their own special church devoted to the Virgin, the church of the Panagia Soumela, at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains in West Milford, northern New Jersey.
It all began in 1982, when the Panagia Soumela Pontion Amerikis (Panagia Soumela of Pontians of America) Institution was set up in New York for the purpose of reviving the August 15 devotion in the "Pontian Land of the New World". Twenty-three years later, in 2005, the "Holy Institution Panagia Soumela, Inc". purchased a large land expanse in West Milford, that now has an Orthodox Christian church and a cultural center. It is here that the annual three-day panegyr takes place from August 14 to 16, attracting devout from many other states in the US and from Canada.
The name 'Soumela' comes from the Greek 'stou Mela', meaning 'at Mt. Melas' signifying a specific locality in the Pontos in Asia Minor. The revered icon of Panagia (of) Soumela takes its name from the historic Monastery of Panagia Soumela in the Pontos, and has been kept there for centuries.
According to tradition, the icon was painted by St. Luke the Evangelist (Apostle Luke) and is older than the Monastery. The icon was originally kept in Athens, originally called the Panagia Atheniotissa (Panagia of Athens), but was later removed to Pontos for safe-keeping, when the Saracens destroyed the city of Athens, by two monks, St. Barnabas and St. Sophronios who are also said to be the founders of the Monastery of Soumela.
The original icon is now in the new monastery of Panagia Soumela in Greece, southwest of Veria, in the village of Kastanies on the slopes of Mt. Vermion, which was founded by refugees from the Pontos, while one of three exact copies of the miraculous icon lies in the monastery in the Pontos.
The Dormition of the Theotokos (Feast of the Assumption) is commonly celebrated by the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches on August 15.
In Greece, the feast day -- the third most important religious holiday after Christmas and Easter -- is commemorated with church services and panigiria (festivals) throughout the country.
The Church of the Megalohari (Great Grace) on Tinos and the Panagia Soumela Monastery in northern Greece draw most of the country's faithful this time of the year.
On the Cyclades island of Tinos, the Feast of the Assumption is celebrated with distinct Byzantine splendor, while in northern Greece, the Pontian (Black Sea) Greeks' most revered religious site within the country, the Panaghia Soumela Monastery in the foothills of Mount Vermio, also hosts celebrates the feast day in great splendor.