Churches

ST. GEORGE


The Cathedral of Vassara, St. George, the way it looks today.

From history we learn that the church of St. George, who is the patron saint of our village, was built in the year 1824. In that year the dignitaries of the area, Theokletos Oikonomos and Serapheim Protopappas, both of them hieromonks, called upon thirty citizens of Kalavryta, who eventually built the church. It is 28 meters in length and 16 in width. The limestone that they used for the construction of the church was transported by the citizens of the village from the fountain of Madoures. Unfortunately, the church was burned down by the terrible invader Ibrahim and in the year 1830 the church was rebuilt from scratch and the new dome was
The Belltower and the church of St. George from the east side.raised, the first one having been completely destroyed by the fire. In the years that followed, the love, respect and patriotism of the Vassarians everywhere contributed so that we have this modern masterpiece, the Church of St. George, which adorns our whole village. With the generous offer of the brothers Karafotes it was perfected even more with the iconography of the famous iconographer, Mr. Mavrikakes. Every visitor to our village today, Vassarian or not, marvels at our church, and makes us brim with a sense of special pride. A few years ago, with the encouragement of our local newspaper, the Vassarian News, and with the assistance of the association in Boston, the citizens of the village, but also those of Australia, Canada and Greece in general, a central heating system was placed in the church, which except for the warmth that it provides to the remaining compatriots of Vassara, will also help in the preservation of the icons and frescoes, which for years suffered damage by the smoke of the woodstoves. Let us not forget, however, that the passage of time erodes all things, even churches. Thus, we have reached the point where our church needs a general renovation, internally as well as externally. As the parish priest and the church board have informed us, the architectural study for the restoration of the above mentioned holy church was submitted to and accepted by the 5th Board of Byzantine Antiquities of Sparta (Orig. Submission no. 3858/16-2-96), from where it will be sent to the Ministry of Culture for approval. The aforementioned church, has been declared a landmark monument (decree no. APX/BI/F30//7311/211, 16-2-96) and the damages it has suffered from the passage of time, are visible, internally as well as externally. Thus, without an approved analytical technical study, it would not be possible for any work to commence, because the parish priest and the church board would find themselves transgressing the law “regarding antiquities.” For this reason, the board
Dr Masganas, Dr Zaharacopoulos, Dimitris Koufos and others are dancing in the front yard of the church. has assigned to a licensed civil engineer the conducting of the study, so that the works of restoration may advance without any problems or delays by ineffectual actions. The priest and board, therefore, call out to all Vassarians to the ends of the earth to stand next to them and to provide them with whatever moral and material support they are able to, so that the holy church of St. George may be restored to its original magnificent presence. They go on to say that under no circumstances should we allow the erosion of time to destroy this significant Christian monument, which we have inherited from our ancestors, because the coming generations will lay heavy blame upon us for not having protected and not struggling to save that which our ancestors have, with religious piety and faith, have built and handed down to us. And they finish saying that they on their part [the priest and board] will guarantee the good and blameless stewardship of the funds and that they will eagerly, at any moment, submit to examination and handle any question. They pray that with everyone’s help and through the intercessions of St. George, God will grant all of us health and patience so that we may worthily and quickly begin our works of restoration. Except for the parish church of St. George, which commands magnificently the center of the village, there are many chapels (countryside churches), which are all used by the priest and the townsfolk, for celebrating the particular church’s nameday.

THE PRIESTS OF VASSARA


The Belltower.Here is a list of Vassarans who served the Church in their native village to the present.
1) Rev. Theoklitos Oikonomos {monk}
2) Rev. Alexios
3) Rev. Sarantos
4) Rev. Nicholas Protopappas
5) Rev. Antonios
6) Rev John Gianakopoulos
7) Rev. Demetrios Sakellaris
8) Rev. Nikolaos Protopappas
9) Rev. Gianikios{monk}
10) Rev. John Anastasopoulos
11) Rev. Spiridon Sakellaris
12) Rev. Demetrios Rontiris
13) Rev. George Mamounas 14) Rev. Demetrios Mamounas
15) Rev. Panos Arvanitis
16) Rev. Stavros Nikoletos
17) Rev. Panos Galanis

18) Rev. Anargyros Galanis

ST. GEORGE’S  ANNUAL FESTIVAL


Some people are talking outside the church.St. George is the protector of our village and villagers always ask for his help at difficult times.  Many years before the present church of St. George was built in Vassara, there were several other ‘St. George Churches’, in different surrounding areas such as ‘Potamia’, ‘Verroia’ and beyond the village –a testimony to how devoutly St. George was venerated.  His name’s day coincides with Spring, the beautiful time of year when nature is decorated with green boughs and flowers are blossoming, and the feast is celebrated with majestic splendor.

In the good old days, before the villagers left after World War II to immigrate to other countries, the most important and biggest celebration that took place in town was the feast of St. George.  This took place on the 23ed of April of each year.  (Now, the largest post war celebration in the village takes place every year on the 23rd of August, one of the feast days of the Virgin Mary.)  Many days before the feast, people would clean the streets, paint their houses white, slaughter one or two of their lambs or goats, and bake pastries.

In church, under the watchful eyes of Father Panos and Father Demetrios and later, Father Stavros, the villagers would clean the church inside and out, decorating the icon of St. George with wild spring flowers and flags.

The day before they celebrated the evening vespers, tradition has it, that after midnight, many people could hear the galloping of a horse, and some claimed they saw the rider and his horse go by the church only to disappear after passing.

Early in the morning on the day of the feast, the villagers would bring to church their customary offerings: the shepherds would bring a number of lambs and/or goats, and fresh yogurt for their friends and relatives, as well as for neighbors. Tall candles, the traditional large decorated breads and various other offerings, villagers would bring into the church, whereas the lamb, goats, roosters and other live domestic animals would stay outside. The inside of the church was so packed with people, there was no room for a ‘pin’ as the saying goes.  People came form everywhere – Sparta, and the surrounding villages, Athens, and many times from overseas.

Visiting vendors would display their merchandise and lucky was he who could afford to buy himself a whistle to blow, which contributed to the festive atmosphere.

The celebration of the day began with the strong sound of an explosion of a hand made ‘Molotov Cocktail’ and with the endless joyous ringing of the church bells of St. George, as well as of the bells of the Holy Trinity and the Annunciation Church. Then the procession began. The icon of St. George was to be carried throughout the village.  This was a most significant and impressive moment.

First in the procession would be the symbol of the Cherubin and then the Cross.  Following was the Saint’s Icon, which was decorated with beautiful roses and colorful wild flowers. Then followed the priests and behind them the worshippers, walking with reverence and devotion.

On this day all the village homes displayed the national flag of Greece on their balconies. Lit candles were everywhere, the floating fragrance of incense was permeating the air and the overwhelming aroma of traditional roast lamb with potatoes, was unbearable—‘it broke your nose’ as the saying goes.

The procession went all over the village: from the church to the main square, to ‘Kalliava’s Well’, to the Annunciation Church and back to the Church of St. George.  Every citizen, young and old, participated in the procession; all the elementary school pupils were together, escorted by their teachers.

The older folks, who could not follow the procession for health reasons, stayed behind and waited at the entrance of the church for the return of the procession.  They would bow reverently before the saint’s icon and then return to their seats inside the church.

When the Liturgy was over, the auction of the offerings (donated animals, breads and pastries) would begin outside in the church square. Villagers like Stavros Koutsavitis,
From a carnival celebration (Apokries). Dimitris Panorios with his clarinet, the famous initiator of the carnival George Bounos, Yiannis Katsiafouros (just his head), George Panagos and many more who participate on the celebration.Petros Diplaros and later, Yiannis Sgouritsas, would cry out the different products for people to buy.  The price would begin with 20-30 drachmas and would go up as high as 100-200 drachmas and people would gladly pay the price, which was donated to and collected by the church.

After dinner, people would visit the homes of relatives and friends who had someone in the family named ‘George‘ or ‘Georgia’. (And there were many villagers with that name) They would wish them ‘Chronia Polla’ – that is, many years of good health and prosperity.  There was wine for the adults, ‘meze’ and pastry for everyone.

In the early evening hours, the church bells would start ringing again, inviting everyone to the Church courtyard to begin the dance celebration.

First to dance was the younger of the two priests, the dashing, upstanding,

‘levendi’, Father Panos (Papapanos) and all joined in.  It was a joyous occasion and much fun for everyone.   Young people had the opportunity to hold the hand of someone they had a crush on -–or at least to make eye contact with that special someone.

Young and old danced.   Old folks like Uncle George Katsafouros,  90 years old, was able to dance the colorful and somewhat difficult dance, the  ‘tsamiko’- a dance usually reserved for young adults.

The festival lasted until the early morning hours under the light of a petrol lamp provided by coffeehouse owner, Nikolaos Vakalopoulos. (The village had no electricity then)

Everyone enjoyed the entire feast day!  Occasionally, those who had a little extra to drink got into a small fight – only to be forgotten the next day.

That’s how life was back in those days: simple and natural.

HOLY TRINITY


The Historic Clock of Vassara stands above the village on the hill, next to the Holly Trinity church.

This little church stands proudly above the village, and every year, on the feast of the Holy Spirit, it would live, and still lives, great moments with the panegyric doxology, the religious offerings and promises, the flag decorations, but also the panoramic view of the whole village and plain, which make you feel as if you are flying high in an airplane. In front of the church is the clock tower, which stands prideful, high up night and day, counting tirelessly the hours, months and years, which go by so quickly. About two years ago, it received some special lighting, which now beckons to all directions as a testament to the existence of Vassaras, and calls out to its children abroad to never forget this sacred place.


The Holy Trinity church the way it looks from outside of the Nikoleto house.

THE EVAGELISTRIA CHURCH

The first church at the edge of the village, is the Evaggelistria church along with the cemetery. At this sacred location, every year on March 25th, the whole village together would celebrate the double feast of the Annunciation of the Panaghia, and the anniversary of the Greek rebirth of 1821, where as one the whole of the Greek people, with a general insurrection, threw off the Turkish yoke and cried aloud: “Long live freedom!” The church, as well as all the balconies of the village homes, was decorated with the blue and white flag, and the walls, the houses and sidewalks all whitewashed, giving a vivid beauty to the whole village.
The main entrance at the Cemetery next to Evaggelistria church. The school boys and girls, dressed as Tsolias and Amalia (traditional folk dress of the 1800’s), filled the area with the throbbing and vibrant air of the feast, and then followed the offering of wreaths at the monument of those who had fallen, as well as the recitation of patriotic poems in honor of the fallen.

PANAGHIA OF THE LIFE-GIVING FOUNTAIN(Zoodochos Pege)This, also, most beautiful shrine is found at the upper reaches of the plain and is celebrated every year on the Friday of Bright Week. Indeed, a paschal feast takes place there, with the joyful paschal hymns, but also with the springtime, flowery dress of the surrounding area, which fills the air mostly with the sweet smell of that famous flower known as the “little fingernail,” i.e., the melilot.

PANAGHIA IN THE ROCK 


Panoramic view of the church “Panagia on the Rock”.

 


Panagiotakis Stavropoylos is auctioning off the koyloyres (cakes), diples and the other offerings to Panagia.

Above the church of the Zoodochos Pege, there is another tiny church, built entirely into a rock , from where it has taken its name and which, during the years of the Turkish occupation, was used as a fortress of salvation and hope for the villagers. As a powerful magnet it calls together every year all kinds of people, big and small from the ends of the earth, who come to venerate her grace, on the 23 of August, but also to enjoy the excellent view which the rising sun presents, spreading his bright rays to the whole length and breadth of the Vassarian plain, which the public road traverses from one end to the other like a great twisting snake. Plenty are the offerings every year, just as the bread rolls and the pastries, which so masterfully are put up for auction by
Todays motor donkeys, without the colorful “kilimia”the kindhearted Panagiotes Stavropoulos, with his accustomed: “We have gentlemen: one…two…three.” After the dismissal of the church and with the exchange of greetings, especially toward the Panagiotes, Panagiotas and Marias, the people begin descending for the town, and unfortunately nowadays the cars have substituted the former beauty of the donkeys and the mules, which were decorated with multicolored throws and gave that day a different type of picturesque sensation. The rest of the day continues with plenty of food and drink, until nightfall arrives and everyone lets out and an unending party with dancing begins until the early morning hours. It would be an omission if we did not mention that the dance is organized, with great success every year, by the cultural association of the town called “Demokritos,” and everyone awaits for it every year with great excitement.

Phantasmagoric view of Vassara square at a “Panagias” night. Papa Spiros preaches the gospel at the church of the Panagia in the Rock.

PANAGHIA THE LIBERATOR


This small complex of three small churches, as well as the adjacent hostel, is a creation of the ever-memorable Ourania Alexakou, since she is the one who provided for it, and this little ecclesiastical complex was built at very entrance to the village, almost next to St. Tryphon. She herself served these shrines for many years, until her strength left her and finally departed for the next life. Hundreds of pilgrims come from various areas of Greece to venerate these little churches.

ST. CONSTANTINE


It stands on a hill above the area of Pegadakia, and for many years it remained ruined and deserted, but due to the love and faith of the Vassarians for the most High God, it was renovated from the abutments and it is used for its feast day every year, just as all the rest.
ST. DEMETRIOS


It is found at the foothills of Stamateras and beyond the river, where it awaits patiently every year for the 26th of October, so that it may find itself in a festal environment, just like the rest of the country churches.

ST. ELIAS


On the same mountain range and above Stouditsa, there is a church of St. Elias, which despite the rough terrain, accumulates many pilgrims every year, but also visitors from far away. This is another significant spot where one can enjoy the beauty of nature.

Way up there, at the St. Elias church, vassarians from all over the world meet every year. On the left is Nick Pappas from Canada, Steve Rontiris from USA and George Panagos from Australia. On the right Anargyros Velisaris between Steve Rontiris and Peter Bounos.

 

ST. NICHOLAS


On the left picture the church of St. Nickolas and on the right the unveling of the column, in memory of the teacher George Sallidas.

This church is also in the plain, in a grove of pine trees, which the memorable teacher of our village, George Psallidas, created along with his students of that time, whom he loved very much. Justly, a bust has been erected in honor of the teacher in that location, which oversees the grove as a vigilant guard. We must make a note here that from that spot, every year, the local small marathon of Vassaras had its starting line, and it ended at the yard of the school.

ST. TRYPHON

As we have mentioned above, next to these churches is the church of St. Tryphon, the artistic creation of the master Mastrovaggeli, who, by himself, with great patience and skill carved every stone and every cornerstone, being able to create this church, a true ornament at the entrance of the village.

CHURCH OF THE SAVIOR


On the left is the church of Savior, on it’s celebration day August 6th, and on the right some of the worshipers try to avoid the hot summer sun under the shade of the cypress trees.

The church of the Transfiguration of the Savior stands proudly high on the plain and above the Katavothra, overseeing the cultivated lands of the plain and looking from afar at the view of Vassaras.
ST. BASIL

ST. KYRIAKE
When leaving Vassaras and going toward Verroia, we can see high up and to our left the ruins of the church of St. Kyriake, which unfortunately remains like this for many, many years.