One of the most treasured and revered Icons of Mount Athos is that of Panagia of the Akathist Hymn or Salutations of the Holy Monastery of Dionysiou. It is the oldest Icon chronologically of all of the others of Mount Athos.
It is made of beeswax and mastich, a product derived from tree sap along with myrh. On the back of the Holy Icon, a silver plate is fixed and the Emperor Alexios 3rd Komninos and Saint Dionysios, the founder of the Holy Monastery of Dionysiou are depicted on it. The following writing is also inscribed on the back. "This is the miraculous Icon which Patriarch Sergios held whilst circling the walls of Constantinople and which ridded the city of the barbarian siege and was donated to the Monastery of Dionysiou by Emepror Alexios."
It is therefore the Icon that Patriarch Sergios, during that historic night in the year 626 A.D., used to lead the procession with other clergy and faithful, around the walls of Constantinople, thus giving the small number of soldiers and the polpulation the courage to continue to defend the City of Cities. It is historically accepted that the supernatural powers of the Holy Icon was key in defending Constantinople and ridding her of the Avar invaders. There is no other historical explanation since the Byzantine army with Heraclius was in Persia waging war and was not there to defend the city. The leader of the Avars, Hagano, surrounded the entire city via land and sea. He sent a message to the defenders of the city, "Don't be fooled by your God, tomorrow I will be the ruler of your city."
This statement had a negative impact on the soldiers and population of the city and affected their confidence in defending the city. In the midst of this fear, Patriarch Sergios issued a statement to the soldiers and people of the city, in reply to Hagano’s comments. “It is a shame to lose faith. Think as people that they do not believe in God and in the results of a Holy war. I entrusted the city and its people into the hands of Our Lady, The Theotokos. Let us pray fervently to Panagia.” Once the message had spread, a sense of confidence and renewal in the soldiers and people took hold. Patriarch Sergios, immediately held a procession led with the Holy Icon of Panagia of the Akathist Hymn, the Holy Belt of Panagia, relics of saints and thousands of faithful around the city walls. One of the greatest miracles then occurred. The invaders heard what sounded like many thousands of soldiers commencing an attack against them. It was in fact an attack by an unseen force which destroyed the majority of their forces and left their remaining soldiers confused, who in turn fled.
This was the result of the fervent prayers and tears of the faithful who rejoiced with fervor at this joyous occasion and glorified the Lord and the Holy Icon of Panagia. All the faithful of the city gathered at the Church of Blacherna, where Patriarch Sergios chanted the famous hymn: Τη Ύπερμάχω Στρατηγώ τα νικητήρια….. for the rest of the night, a vigil took place before the Holy Icon, where all of the salutations of the Theotokos were chanted thus resulting in the first ever occurrence of the Akathist Hymn service, the service took its name from this occurrence.
The church of Panagia Blachernon as it stands today in Constantinople
In the 13th century, the Holy Icon of Panagia of the Akathist Hymn, was donated to the Holy Monastery of Dionysiou, Mount Athos, by Emperor Alexios. Another miracle attributed to the Holy Icon is as follows:
In 1592, an Algerian pirate named Ef Artavan Alfa took off from the island of Skyros, with a large number of his men, to loot the Monastery of Dionysiou. He had been informed that a highly revered Icon of the Theotokos was treasured at the Monastery. Once he reached the Monastery, he and his men, about 200 in number with heavy weaponry, began to threaten the monks of the Monastery. The Abbot of the Monastery in an effort to save the Monastery and the monks from certain destruction and death, decided to offer the pirates precious gifts. A monk from one of the windows of the Monastery, called out to Artavan “In the spirit of friendship lets end this without blood being spilt. We have decided to give you 50,000 florins, oil and wine”. Artavan the pirate responded with “We agree, however, I would like to select one item of my choice from your Monastery in addition to this”. The Abbot agreed, and Artavan with 10 men were allowed inside the Monastery. Once inside the Katholikon (Main Church) of the Monastery, Artavan immediately spotted the Holy Icon of Panagia of Akathist and went to take it from its stand. The Abbot immediately protested saying, Icons are for Christians not for Pirates, however, the pirate threatened them all with death if they dared to stop him. The Abbot then responded, take the Icon, however, you will leave here with my curses.
The pirates, having loaded their ship with all that was offered and the Holy Icon, departed the Monastery’s shores headed back to the island of Skyros. That night, Panagia appeared to Artavan in a dream and said to him “why did you take me sly one? Take me back where I was in peace immediately”. Artavan awoke immediately however, did not take this seriously. Within the hour, the weather changed and the pirates found themselves in the midst of a great storm. The ship was now in danger of sinking. Artavan now left with the possibility of losing everything he had gained, including thje Icon, went to the chest in which he had placed the Icon and found it full of myrrh with the most beautiful fragrance. At this point he realized that his actions had caused them to be in danger of their lives. He took the Icon in his hands, and immediately the storm ceased. All of the other pirates, with fear in the hearts, begged Artavan to take the Icon back to the Monastery.
A few hours later, they were back at the shores of the Monastery, Artavan, sent a pirate named Sarif to the Abbot, and he said “Man of God, we realize that what we did was a vile act, my lord awaits you on our ship to take back the Holy Icon and release us of your curse”. The monks immediately went to the ship and took the Holy Icon into their possession.
The most significant of this entire occurrence was that many of the pirates remained at the Monastery, were taught Christianity, baptized and became monks.
Another of the many miracles of Panagia of the Akathist took place in 1753. Bishop Evgenios Voulgaris, a teacher at the Athonias Academy of Mount Athos, was suffering from a very bad stomach ulcer.
At that time, his condition was considered as fatal, due to his inability to eat and from the enormous pain. His doctors were unable to cure him. As a last effort to save him, the Abbot of the Monastery thought it would be a good idea to bring the Holy Icon of Panagia of the Akathist to Bishop Evgenios Boulgaris, and cross him with it, in order to give him some strength. Bishop Evgenios immediately began praying with the salutations of Panagia and venerated the Holy Icon. Once the Icon touched his lips, he immediately felt the pain subside and he was cured of his terrible illness.