Seeking the majesty of the divine in Greece.
Religious tourism is not a new idea, something thought up recently. It is the oldest, the most important form of “tourism” in the history of Mankind. Every society has produced members whose quest was to commune with the divine. Religious travel has its roots in the pilgrimages of a bygone age. Since antiquity the desire to embark on a journey for religious purposes has inspired Greeks and non-Greeks to make their way to religious sites throughout Greece. From the earliest times it has been a custom of the Greek people to express their religious sentiments, their deep faith and their reverence for God, a key characteristic of the Orthodox faith for 2000 years.
There is a direct link between religion as a cultural phenomenon and tourism. Religion in terms of tourism is based on a clear cultural bedrock of tradition. Greeks and foreign visitors are stunned by Greece’s majestic churches of the Byzantine era, countless rural churches and metochia (monastery grounds and gardens), sacred places of pilgrimage and religious sites, all of which inspire awe. Whether they are here for religious purposes or purely for pleasure, visitors to mainland Greece and its islands are amazed by the countless number of sites of religious devotion and major references to the divine. Visitors have the chance to see buildings and religious sites related to various dogmas and religions, which all co-exist in a state of ongoing dialogue and thus highlight the rare historic and cultural mosaic of Greece.
Some of Greece’s most important religious centres include the monastic community of Mount Athos, the impressive monasteries of Meteora the Cave of the Apocalypse and the Monastery of Saint John Theologos on Patmos, the places where the Apostle Paul preached, and the pilgrim destinations of the Madonna (Panayia) of Tinos, the Panayia Soumela, the Panayia Ekatontapiliani, etc.
Such sites, with their divine immanence or their representation of preternatural forces, exist by the happiest of consequences side by side with the splendours of Greek nature. Every rock, every cave, every mountain and every island - each of them offers a route to the divine. A religious trip offers a journey through a different side of Greece, through expressions of religious sentiment over the centuries. Such a journey is, in effect, a trip through time, a journey that everyone should undertake at some time.,
All through the year, Greece plays host to religious festivals with customs and traditions that have become deeply rooted over the centuries. These festivals, some local, some celebrated all over Greece, offer a chance for merrymaking and an escape from the dull monotony of everyday life. Fortunate indeed is the visitor who ends up as a spectator at such popular religious events. Without even realising it, he will soon find he is not just a spectator, but also a participant!
The greatest of all these celebrations in Greece is Easter, with its host of religious events and popular traditions each spring (in Corfu, Patmos, Skiathos, Leonidio, etc.). The “summertime Easter”, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary on 15th August, is similarly spectacular and is especially popular in this country. The weather at this time of year helps, of course, and many festivals take place the length and breadth of the country. Many major Orthodox saints who play an important role in the Orthodox calendar of saints, often patron saints of different cities or countries, are also joyously celebrated on the day which is devoted to them, with major festivals or something on a smaller scale taking place in their honour.
Thousands of visitors are interested in seeing Byzantine or post-Byzantine works of art with a religious theme, such as icons, murals and mosaics, cultural tributes from the past which pay testimony to dedication and tradition and to the tenacious relationship between Art and Religion. The major Byzantine museums in Athens, Thessaloniki, Veria, Ioannina, Kastoria, etc., will stun you with the richness and quality of their sublime collections of exhibits.
Whether you come on a pilgrimage or to discover places and monuments that bring us closer to the divine aspect of our existence, come and visit these special places in Greece, where Man once raised his eyes up to search for the Divine Light. And then discovered it within his own soul!