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Snakes of the Panagia


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#1 Robert Hegwood

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Posted 24 December 2008 - 09:37 PM

This is a bit of a strange topic to me. Before I was admitted in to the Church I had heard of miraculous icons that wept or bled or ran with myrrh. I have read of numerous stories of saints and the animal companions they had, but until today I have never heard of snakes venerating icons of the Theotokos (believe it or not I know a dog who venerated St. Seraphim but that's another story). Anyway...I found some entries on you tube and Orthowiki about holy snakes that come to this little church in Kefelonia during the Dormition and crawl all over the icons, are very docile and may be handled safely, then return to the wild where the rest of the year they are unsociable and aggressive. And apparently this has gone on for a few centuries.

Does anyone know anything more of this? I'm not sure what to make of it except to have fleeting images of little cabin churches in Appalachia passing around their favorite vipers. I guess though in some respect it fits well with the Theotokos' role as the New Eve...this time with the snakes paying attention to her, not the other way around. It's still very strange to see.




#2 Father David Moser

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Posted 24 December 2008 - 10:49 PM

Nina posted on this phenomenon here She pointed to the same video that you did, but perhaps she has had more experience with this.

Fr David Moser

#3 Vasiliki D.

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Posted 24 December 2008 - 11:57 PM

This is a bit of a strange topic to me. Before I was admitted in to the Church I had heard of miraculous icons that wept or bled or ran with myrrh. I have read of numerous stories of saints and the animal companions they had, but until today I have never heard of snakes venerating icons of the Theotokos (believe it or not I know a dog who venerated St. Seraphim but that's another story). Anyway...I found some entries on you tube and Orthowiki about holy snakes that come to this little church in Kefelonia during the Dormition and crawl all over the icons, are very docile and may be handled safely, then return to the wild where the rest of the year they are unsociable and aggressive. And apparently this has gone on for a few centuries.

Does anyone know anything more of this? I'm not sure what to make of it except to have fleeting images of little cabin churches in Appalachia passing around their favorite vipers. I guess though in some respect it fits well with the Theotokos' role as the New Eve...this time with the snakes paying attention to her, not the other way around. It's still very strange to see.



I actually posted the article on OrthodoxWiki ... unfortunately for you and for most of us .. the Wikipedia is informative to a point but it does not allow for someone to integrate the "mystery" associated with the particular topic at hand.

The snakes are amazing and they are not animals but real people ... they are the nuns of the monastery who were protected by the Virgin herself ... so, when we say that the snakes venerate the Holy Mother ... we are infact stating that their is a ""nun" in that body (mysteriously) who is venerating the Virgin ...

Many can scoff this miracle or try as they might to disprove it ... but there are MANY stories ... the Virgin herslef appears to people who do not believe and they then change their mind about the snakes ...

#4 Robert Hegwood

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Posted 25 December 2008 - 12:58 AM

I must admit to finding story you mentioned a bit of a puzzler. Now the version I saw that said the Theotokos used snakes to help defend the monastery makes more sense to me than for a human to be changed into a reptile. The theological implications of that are profound and a bit troubling. But since I don't know everything I will not immediately presume to say what is or is not possible or theologically sound. I will leave that to those more familiar with the occurrence and who have greater wisdom and authority to comment.

#5 Vasiliki D.

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Posted 25 December 2008 - 07:10 AM

I must admit to finding story you mentioned a bit of a puzzler. Now the version I saw that said the Theotokos used snakes to help defend the monastery makes more sense to me than for a human to be changed into a reptile. The theological implications of that are profound and a bit troubling. But since I don't know everything I will not immediately presume to say what is or is not possible or theologically sound. I will leave that to those more familiar with the occurrence and who have greater wisdom and authority to comment.


God said that with faith we can move mountains ... to question if the nuns were converted into reptiles is within your rights as it does seem far-fetched. However, Orthodoxy is also about tradition ... recently a non-believing man ran over one of the snakes and left it on the side of the road.

That very same evening, he had a vision of a lady in black who said to him ... why did you kill my daughter and just leave her on the side of the road? Go and take her to her home straight away so we can bury her.

When he woke up he thought he was mad .. he had the same dream two or three times until he realised what it was .. he took the dead snake to the church of the Virgin and it is there on the main icon to this very day .... how do you explain that?

In the same church is the other miracle of the Budding "Krina" each year ... there are dead sticks which will bloom a special flower ONLY on August 15 ...

#6 Robert Hegwood

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Posted 27 December 2008 - 05:15 AM

Christ is Born!

Blooming sticks are not an issue considering Aaron's rod that budded. I've also read Mother Gavriella would sometimes whisper to wilted cut flowers and they would perk up and become fresh again.

I can accept that for a particular reason a certain person or creature in a given area might be under the protection of the Theotokos. What gives me the most pause is the idea that a human being with a living soul created in the image of God would be changed into something less than that...a creature without a living soul, unless certain of these snakes is supposed to be an exception...a human in snake form, an idea that either radically expands what we may consider to be human in way I have no clue how to reconcile with the anthropology of the Church. Either that or the snakes as snakes have been somehow raised and included within the grace that has been to my knowledge particular to humans and perhaps angels, certainly God's sentient moral creations.

As for the Tradition I certainly don't want to be doubter and do not doubt that the Theotokos provided miraculous protection for the nuns. But from my perspective with such limited knowledge and experience in spiritual things as I have if presented with two accounts of a very strange ongoing phenomena and one involves humans turning into beasts and one involves beasts being called to the aid of humans then I know which one I am more initially inclined to find most credible.

The only other thing I've ever heard remotely like this is a saint story from Ireland where I believe St. Patrick or one of his disciples enable a small group of faithful to slip past some murderous bandits by either "transforming them" or giving them the appearance of deer passing across the open meadow. But that was something that just fooled the bandits they remained human afterwards. If the Theotokos gave the nuns an appearance as a means to frighten off the pirates, that would make sense too...but to say changed into animals...into snakes permanently...this is hard.

I suppose there might be more to the story that has been lost over time which would help out with the difficult bits...it would be good to know which story is the original.

But my faith does not rise or fall on the particulars of which version is correct and faithful...I will just have to let it be until I've got either better information or a better formed faith.

#7 Vasiliki D.

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Posted 27 December 2008 - 05:23 AM

Christ is Born!
But my faith does not rise or fall on the particulars of which version is correct and faithful...I will just have to let it be until I've got either better information or a better formed faith.


I hope you will be able to broaden your Orthodox perspective ... outside the logic of fact :) This one has to speak to your heart ...maybe you should make a visit to this island and see them for yourself :) I was blessed today with a miracle from God ... this thread has me concerned for you since I read it yesterday. I was at the shops just a few hours ago ... and ran into a lovely man from church who is from the island of Kefallonia ... DOxa to Theo ... speaking with him about this miracle lifted my heart BACK to normality.

The miracle is real ...and it occurs with the blessing of the Virgin and God ... I just hope you can see this for yourself fo rreal ...and it is ok not to understand things you know :)

God Bless.

#8 Robert Hegwood

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Posted 27 December 2008 - 08:33 PM

Christ is Born!

Thank you for your concern. Keep me in your prayers and God leads. That said, I do not doubt the church there experiences a miracle of the Theotokos, I'm just not sure how it came to be and what it means, not that my understanding of it is necessary to believe in it or for it to be.

#9 Vasiliki D.

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Posted 28 December 2008 - 06:22 AM

Christ is Born!

Thank you for your concern. Keep me in your prayers and God leads. That said, I do not doubt the church there experiences a miracle of the Theotokos, I'm just not sure how it came to be and what it means, not that my understanding of it is necessary to believe in it or for it to be.


I was thinking about it last night ... one more thought that might help ...

a) Moses rod turned from wood to a snake and ate the magicians snake. This defies logic ... it even appears in its essence to mimic magic and yet it is a miracle blessed by God for His reasons.
b) Moses parted the Red Sea, this defies logic and yet it is a miracle blessed by God for His reasons.
c) Prophet Elias has not died ....... a horse chariot of fire took him to the heavens. He is, therefore, technically not dead and living where till the appointed time for his return? This truly defies logic but is blessed from God
d) New Testament era ... there are some saints that slept through an entire century and were found in a cave asleep after 100 years. This defies logic but was permissed by God for His reasons.

The amazing thing with the snakes is that they have only twice in history NOT made an appearance during 6 - 15 August .. in both cases something MAJOR occured to the island.

They are tame as puppies between the transfiguration and the Dormition. Once the liturgy is complete on the 15th they CAN NOT be touched .. they become very hostile ... their actions are very unique and do not mimic logic.

Again, if Christ says .. if you have the faith you can move mountains ... why not your appearance take on the form of a snake but actually be who you are?

#10 John Litster

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Posted 28 December 2008 - 07:59 AM

I have heard of the snakes of the Panagia, and (personally) see no reason why it shouldn't be accepted as a true miracle.

The essential problem, however, with the notion of the snakes being inhabited by the souls of reposed nuns is that it basically confirms the transmigration of souls - which is akin to, though not the same, as reincarnation, and needless to say is a pagan concept which is totally alien to Christianity. That said, we must be careful what we call Tradition (in the uppercase) and the more localized traditions of the church, which are by no means the same thing. But that's a topic for another thread...

#11 Vasiliki D.

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Posted 28 December 2008 - 09:17 AM

I have heard of the snakes of the Panagia, and (personally) see no reason why it shouldn't be accepted as a true miracle.

The essential problem, however, with the notion of the snakes being inhabited by the souls of reposed nuns is that it basically confirms the transmigration of souls - which is akin to, though not the same, as reincarnation, and needless to say is a pagan concept which is totally alien to Christianity. That said, we must be careful what we call Tradition (in the uppercase) and the more localized traditions of the church, which are by no means the same thing. But that's a topic for another thread...


They are NOT reposed :) If you read my post earlier, a miracle occured recently where a non-church man ran over one of the snakes. The Virgin Mary appeared to him in a dream that night and asked that the body of her daughter be taken to her home so that they could honour it.

At first he defied this dream but then realised she was referring to the snake and realised that the folstory was true. He went back took the body of the snake and encased it with gold.

This gold snake has now been at the church at or near the icon for a few years.

This story shows that the nuns are not reposed. They are living in a mystical way in the form of snakes but are NOT snakes ...

I found an interesting link for your to read:
http://www.all-creat...leofsnakes.html

Edited by Vasiliki D., 28 December 2008 - 10:13 AM.
added a URL


#12 John Litster

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Posted 29 December 2008 - 08:29 AM

Dear Vasiliki,

Thank you for your response, and for correcting my error. But this makes the story all the stranger, it seems to me, and still in conflict with the principal against transmigration of souls. Please, with all due respect, consider what you wrote in your last post when you said that the nuns "are living in a mystical way in the form of snakes but are NOT snakes ..." What does this mean?? That humans, who are yet living, can live within their own bodies and another body simultaneously?

Christianity is about reality, and the idea that souls of humans, can somehow inhabit the bodies of animals, or take on the appearance or form of animals, is neither reality nor Tradition nor has any place in Christianity. The closest thing this resembles is Animism, or the most elementary form of paganism.

#13 Vasiliki D.

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Posted 29 December 2008 - 09:18 AM

Dear Vasiliki,

Thank you for your response, and for correcting my error. But this makes the story all the stranger, it seems to me, and still in conflict with the principal against transmigration of souls. Please, with all due respect, consider what you wrote in your last post when you said that the nuns "are living in a mystical way in the form of snakes but are NOT snakes ..." What does this mean?? That humans, who are yet living, can live within their own bodies and another body simultaneously?

Christianity is about reality, and the idea that souls of humans, can somehow inhabit the bodies of animals, or take on the appearance or form of animals, is neither reality nor Tradition nor has any place in Christianity. The closest thing this resembles is Animism, or the most elementary form of paganism.


How can I explain this miracle when no one else can? Perhaps I need to apologise for speaking without giving thought to the wording of it ... I dont believe I said that this is an act of animisim or paganism or anything of the like ... i said its "mystical" because for me that is exactly what it is .... it is mystical and can not be explained.

My logic tells me that in 1700 the nuns prayed to be protected from rape and violance by the pirates and this miracle was granted ... how it happened is beyond my comprehension but I know IT IS! It is not heretical and it is beautiful.

The snakes venerate the virgin between the transfiguration and the Dormition and as soon as the liturgy finishes they become hostile ..there is no scientist who can explain this behaviour - snakes CAN NOT be trained! This is not a trick of a human(s) and they act with reverence to the icon of the Virgin and they act with reverence at the moment that the priest reads the Gospel ...

Furthermore, Christian is about WHo's reality? If it is human reality then you go against fundamental Orthodox teaching .. if it is God's reality then we are showing a display of disbelief by doubting this miracle ....

I will call a Spiritual father and ask more about this .. because you are taking this discussion to a level of sophistication which used the head and not the heart ... I am not qualified with the head and find it hard to reach out to you with a logical response and Im so sorry. I wish I could talk to you scientifically about it so that it makes sence.

#14 Vasiliki D.

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Posted 29 December 2008 - 09:35 AM

Ok, so I just called Kefallonia and spoke to a priest from the Metropolitan offices just to at least put some peace to this situation.

I dont know who I spoke to he was a greek priest and this is what he said so we can obviously presume then that this is the position or recommendation of the church.

He said that the story of the nuns is folklore and may or may not have a historical basis. Since there is no proof then we presume it is a nice little story that the people of the village created ...

That it is a natural phenomenon is a fact. As soon as the bell starts to chime for the 6th August celebrations the snakes start to come from the belltower and head for the church. They stay in the general vicinity of the church are peaceful etc etc and then with the conclusion of the liturgy for the Virign on 15th they head straight back to the belltower and are not friendly.

So, this is not natural snake behaviour and scientists can not explain it and it is considered a miracle but that the nuns are inside the bodies of the snakes is not true and not considered a religious miracle.

I hope this calms you down :)

#15 Deacon Jonathan

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Posted 29 December 2008 - 10:34 AM

Thank you for all this information. It is incredible stuff, but then our God is an incredible God.

That the snakes being nuns is folklore makes more "sense" though, I must admit. After all, if the snakes were nuns, then why do they behave agressively for the rest of the year? Maybe if I tried to enter a female monastery I'd think differently, but it doesn't seem like the behaviour of nuns to be agressive like snakes. If the snakes are real snakes that become peaceful during a feast of the Theotokos and swarm to her icon... well, this is more reasonable, while at the same time remaining incomprehensible and miraculous.

#16 Vasiliki D.

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Posted 29 December 2008 - 10:57 AM

Thank you for all this information. It is incredible stuff, but then our God is an incredible God.

That the snakes being nuns is folklore makes more "sense" though, I must admit. After all, if the snakes were nuns, then why do they behave agressively for the rest of the year? Maybe if I tried to enter a female monastery I'd think differently, but it doesn't seem like the behaviour of nuns to be agressive like snakes. If the snakes are real snakes that become peaceful during a feast of the Theotokos and swarm to her icon... well, this is more reasonable, while at the same time remaining incomprehensible and miraculous.


That folklore exists in the first instances implies that something DID happen. So, I would never be quick to dismiss the tale ... if then people can not be animals etc etc ... the only logical/plausible missing link is this, I think.

What are the facts? there are two. One is the folk story and two the snakes are unique and have the scientists baffled.

Put these two together we can presume that possible ... there WAS in the 1700s a nunnery .. the pirates did come and the nuns in prayer to the Virgin asked for intercession. Is it plausible to assume that it is at this point the snakes first appeared out of the bell-tower thereby scaring the pirates away?

Its a miracle ... you can easily see how the locals could make this story bigger than ben hur yet it still retains a plausible between the two facts we have present day?

Any thoughts?

#17 Deacon Jonathan

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Posted 29 December 2008 - 01:54 PM

Well, it's difficult for us to say to someone who has experienced a miracle: "No, you're understanding is wrong, you didn't see what you saw." But now that we know from the Kefallonian priest you spoke to that the specific detail of the snakes being nuns may or may not be true, I think we can debate it without being uncharitable.

Because, if it is folklore that stemmed from the villagers, then it may be that this explaination was their own rationalisation of what is clearly happening; that the nuns became snakes is what made most sense to them. But someone else, like me, confronted with this miracle would have problems with this explaination - because it raises some odd questions like the one I posted above: why would the nuns turn aggresive for most of the year?

So, I prefer your explaination - which uses the facts (the miraculous icon, the nunnery, the pirate attack) to come up with an alternative "theory" as to where the snakes came from.

And also, if the snakes are just snakes and not nuns, then we can imagine the miracle to be showing us the Theotokos as the Second Eve, as Robert brilliantly said in the original post. The serpent tempted Eve with the fruit that brought death and turned her away from the worship of God; now, serpents branded with the Cross are tempted by the Second Eve to come and venerate the Fruit of Life she holds in her hands. That's beautiful to me.

Anyway, I'm getting distracted. I came here specifically to reply to Ryan's thread about Orthodoxy in China; so I will do that know. Good night, Vasiliki.

#18 Nina

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Posted 29 December 2008 - 04:18 PM


but that the nuns are inside the bodies of the snakes is not true and not considered a religious miracle.


I just read this thread now and yes this is what I know. When I was told this story (by a nun from Athens who was for many years my spiritual mother) I was never told that these snakes are the nuns. The snakes today represent the nuns and are there for God's greater glory and for reminding generations of the miracle that occurred.

We have many miracles (histories) which replicate an original one, and there are solitary stories which do not resemble to any of the things we are used to read. For instance the story of St. Markela of Chios, the 7 Youths of Effesos and so on.

#19 Vasiliki D.

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Posted 29 December 2008 - 10:02 PM

And also, if the snakes are just snakes and not nuns, then we can imagine the miracle to be showing us the Theotokos as the Second Eve, as Robert brilliantly said in the original post. The serpent tempted Eve with the fruit that brought death and turned her away from the worship of God; now, serpents branded with the Cross are tempted by the Second Eve to come and venerate the Fruit of Life she holds in her hands. That's beautiful to me.


Hey Jonathan, a bit of distraction is not bad :) In Genesis the text specifically prophecies this, you know :) Genesis 3:15-16.

I just read this thread now and yes this is what I know. When I was told this story (by a nun from Athens who was for many years my spiritual mother) I was never told that these snakes are the nuns. The snakes today represent the nuns and are there for God's greater glory and for reminding generations of the miracle that occurred.

We have many miracles (histories) which replicate an original one, and there are solitary stories which do not resemble to any of the things we are used to read. For instance the story of St. Markela of Chios, the 7 Youths of Effesos and so on.


Well, it is interesting all my years I have heard the story and thought that they were the nuns. I never felt uncomfortable with this because I just had absolute faith and trust in God's church ... and there is nothing wrong with that! However, God looks after those who wish to learn and the point has come in my life where I have been given the opportunity to reason the truth and that is here :) Glory to God for that - it is one less thing I have to worry about.

The snakes representing the nuns is something I am comortable with. Although, I shudder to thing what actually happened to the nuns in the monastery. If they were never turned into snakes then what happened to them? Where they saved from the pirates or did they meet a terrible fate? Then again, if the snakes appeared miraculously during this siege and the pirate from fear left them alone ... the nuns obviously continued their life in solitude and prayer and the snakes continue to return annually to remind us of the Virgin's protection and blessedness :)

You have peaked my curiosity with regards to St Markella. I was in Chios just last month and am wondering what you mean by history replicating the original. Is the story of Markella ALSO a myth? I saw the place and have taken some photos of it too (you can visit http://www.orthodoxw...rkella_of_Chios to see photos I uploaded). If you would like you can email me in private if it is getting too off topic!

Filakia to all.
Vasiliki

Edited by Vasiliki D., 29 December 2008 - 10:07 PM.
Insert Bible reference


#20 Nina

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Posted 30 December 2008 - 12:07 AM

Vasiliki, no, I did not mean it for you. Just wanted to clear up that I personally had no knowledge of the snakes being the nuns... although they have crosses over their heads as I remember. About history I meant that we have many martyrs, or saints which departed this life in the same way. And there are other saints that their stories do not parallel other stories.

The life of St. Markella of Chios is true! No intention to say her life not true. Just it is unparalleled. There are no stories with details like hers.

I just meant that also she was enveloped in the rock. So what happened to her? We do not know exactly. Are her relics somewhere? Maybe the same is with the nuns in Kefalonia. God knows everything and He allows us to know as much as we can understand.

There are many people that God has saved from occupators, pirates etc. we do not know all the stories but we can beleive as you say what the Church teaches.

Thank you for the photos. You are blessed to have visited. I would love to go also because I LOVE St. Markella. The blessed one how she suffered!




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