The Olive Tree and Panagia (Virgin Mary)
The importance of Virgin Mary and the olive tree in the lives of Greeks abroad
During the recent devastating wildfires in Melbourne, the Mt. Mela in Flowerdale, Australia, also fell victim to the fires. These premises were of significant importance to the Greeks of Melbourne, since they had been planting olive trees and hosting annual tree planting events.
Greeks saw the vast majority of the 2,500 olive trees planted destroyed. Greeks mourn the loss of so many trees, because they were a focal point for their celebrations and annual events, especially for the traditional Feast days of Hellenism, such as the August 15th.
What was amazing, though, was that an icon of Virgin Mary placed on Mt Melas, dating back in 1800 from Pontus, was saved, completely intact.
When asked about the icon of Panagia (as Greeks call Virgin Mary), the local Greeks of Melbourne already knew the answer; it was a miracle for them, a little sparkle of hope amidst the disaster.
It is not something unusual in the Greek history though; many times, during huge events and disasters, some of the main symbols of the Orthodox Tradition and Hellenism survived.
The icon of Panagia is a sacred and much honoured symbol of the Greek religion and tradition, which is indissolubly connected and associated with the Greeks.
One of the best known feast days in Greece is the August 15th, or Dekapentavgoustos. It is a day of sadness and religiousness, a day of commemoration and veneration. Traditionally, Greeks celebrate the Assumption of Panagia, with religious and church services, and panegiria (open air celebrations with music, food and dance in a traditional way). Pilgrims from every spot of the country gather to the main Churches of Panagia all over Greece- mostly though to Tinos and Soumela on Mt Vermio – so as to worship and hallow the mother of Christ.
According to the Greek lore, the icons of Panagia are considered to be miraculous and have been associated with several benefactory and salutary incidents throughout history. Greeks are sentimentally tied with this day and the notion of Panagia, who plays a dominant role in the Greek Orthodox tradition and the hearts of the locals.
In fact, this unbreakable bond with the traditions and customs of their country of origin is what makes Greeks carry their little habits with them, wherever they are. The expats in Australia, Canada, or US, and all over the world honour the basic symbols of the Greek earth: the olive tree, a symbol of wealth, wisdom and mental peace for the Greeks, accompanies them wherever they are.
It is not accidental that Greeks plant olive trees wherever they are and they organise their celebrations, on the important days of Hellenism, surrounded by the olive trees. It is a reminder of their sacred soil, a little piece of their homeland that always protects them.