The monastery of Panagia Zourva is one of the most remote of the Greek Orthodox monasteries on Hydra Island Greece. It is reached over land or via 645 steps up from Zourva Bay if you go to the end of the island by boat. Its name day is celebrated on the 8th of September.
The Zourva Monestery is a complex of buildings with the main church at the centre.
It is a fully functioning monestery, which is run by only five nuns who live and work there all year.
In addition to the main church there are numerous dedicated chapels and many buildings with simple rooms where members of the congregation, visiting Greek Orthodox clergy or practitioneers can be accommodated.
As well as their religious obligations and observances, the nuns work tirelessly to maintain the buildings, grow their own food and tend their animals.
Name Day - 8th September
The 8th of September is the Name Day of Panagia Zourva when the nuns host hundreds of guests for the service. Some of the congregation arrive to stay with the nuns the week before to help with the preparations.
The name day service starts early in the morning around 6am. Many Hydriots, especially those who have decsendants buried at the monastery or were baptised there, will head out of Hydra harbour at around 7am to make the 'pilgrimage' to the monastery. Some will walk nearly 7km each way. Others will take a boat or water taxi along the coast to the bottom of the cliff at Zourva Bay and then walk the 645 steps up to the top.
On Name Days everyone is first welcomed with much needed water and coffee. The congregation often carry clothes to change into and can use the accommodation rooms to swop their outfits. Even babies are welcome to use the accommodation for 'power naps' before being introduced to the community. My five month old grandson made his first trip this year (2017) to meet the nuns and his Dad (Vasilis) paid his respects to his grandparents who are buried at one of the monastery's chapels. Everyone cools off after the 'hike', watching the light creep into the bay as the sun climbs to its zenith, before joining the congregation in the main church or on its terrace.
The service is a long one, starting at 6 and ending at 11. The church is small and the whole congregation can't fit at the same time. So there is a constant flow of people going in as people come out during the service.
Many people sit in the shady courtyard and exchange community news before the final prosession and blessing when the 'icon' is brought out of the church and is 'walked' around the perimiter of the church so that everyone can see it.
The service culminates in a blessing when santified bread is given to everyone.
After the parade (see video below) and the final blessing, the nuns offer the entire congregation, which by this time swells to hundreds, coffee, mastica liqueur, small cakes and sweets. Then the congregation disperses to climb back down the stairs to return home.
Steps Seen From Space
Those who choose to go by sea, are dropped at the foot of a cliff that towers above the bay. The Monastery is at the top of the cliff. It is reach by climbing 645 perfectly made stairs and then along the beautifully made level approach path to the side of the Monastery.
The steps were built by one man over a ten year period. He is Vangelis a local shepherd and member of the Monastery's congregation. His amazing work can be seen from space. It's a magnificent achievement and of course much appreciated by the locals as it's far safer than the original goat tracks!
If you look carefully at the photo below you can see people zig-zagging their way down the steps to the sea after the name day service (at about 11:30am).
On Hydra, many of the monasteries are popular hiking destinations because they are landmarks. They are all working places of worship and not 'attractions' so if you choose to visit please remember to be respectful in behaviour and dress.
If you visit Zourva and want to see inside, the nuns are very welcoming but please time your visit so that you arrive/depart between 11:00 - 13:00 so that it doesn't interfer with their religious obligations. You will need to knock on the main door shown in the centre of the photo at the top of this page.
Please remember to speak quietly, not show too much bare flesh and ask for permission to take photos.
A financial contribution towards the upkeep of the monastery is always welcome and appreciated.
Published 8th Spetember 2017
Copyright Kelsey Edwards - HydraDirect.