The Patron Saint of Lemnos is Saint Sozon.
Greek Orthodox tradition records that Sozon was a shepherd, born in Lyconia. As a Christian he was killed by the Romans for his faith at the nearby city of Pompeiopolis in 304.
This was followed by many tragic events on the island: pirate raids, battles between imperial families for its control, the intrusion of the Franks, the Venetian conquest, the fall of Constantinople, and finally the Ottoman occupation of the island in 1479. Because of these events and changes, old habits gradually became forgotten.
In the mid-eighteenth century the island began to recover from its poverty. Limnian sailors and merchants would come into contact with Europeans, Russians and Egyptians. With their newly acquired wealth they began to rebuild many of their old humble and ruined churches in the villages. Limnian captains would sail to Constantinople, Smyrna, Alexandria, the ports of the Aegean islands and the Black Sea. On their way to the Dardanelles they would look upon their island from afar. There they would sea a small chapel from afar on the south coast of Limnos that would give them strength and courage to continue their battle with the sea. This was the Church of Saint Sozon, located near the village Fisini (Physsini).
The sailors would look upon Saint Sozon as their savior, because at one time he saved certain castaways when he turned his cloak into a boat. When they would light their candles in the church, they would cross themselves and say a prayer that they would return unharmed to their island. When they were in danger or threatened by a storm, they would pray "Saint Sozon, save us!" Then they would present their offerings: one person an icon, another a liturgy, whatever one was able to do.
At the same time, the residents of Limnos began to pray to Saint Sozon, even making vows to him that their loved ones would return to the island safe. In this way, for Limnian seamen and their families, Saint Sozon became a patron saint, and every year on September 7th they would go to the chapel of the Saint and honor his memory. Towards the end of the nineteenth century Saint Sozon was seen by all on Limnos to be their patron saint.
In a list of official holidays celebrated on the island of Limnos in 1887 there is no mention of Saint Sozon. The earliest written testimony to the celebration of Saint Sozon as patron of the island is in 1906. In this year the Limnos Brotherhood of Alexandria decided on September 7th to host a feast of the patron saint of Limnos Sozon with a Great Vespers on the evening prior to the feast and a Divine Liturgy with an artoklasia on the day of the feast. Therefore, the exact date of the establishment of Saint Sozon as the patron of Limnos is to be found between 1887 and 1906.
The Chapel of Saint Sozon stands in the small village of Skandali, on the south-eastern tip of Limnos from medieval times. In old maps this area was known as Cogito, which is a distortion of the name "ston Agiosoznta" (στον Αγιοσώζ’ντα). The name Cogito was first reported by the Italian scholar Porcacchi in 1572. Therefore, the Chapel of Saint Sozon existed at least since the early sixteenth century. Previously in this position there was also a small fortress, which in 1572 was already in ruins. In today's church the oldest evidence comes from some icons of the nineteenth century.
Recently, the cells of the church were restored by the brothers Stenou. Today the church is deserted but on its feast day, the 7th of September, it is the place where a big three-day festival takes place in honor of Saint Sozon.
The evening before residents from every town and village would gather around the church, and they would receive hospitality from the residents of the nearby village of Fisini. Eventually cells were built around the church to house all the pilgrims who came for the feast. After Great Vespers all would celebrate the feast with violins and lyres. Following the Divine Liturgy in the morning a procession with the holy icon took place, then the festivities would continue till the next morning. The next day the families with their animals would depart for their villages. This feast continues till today.
Limnians of the diaspora in Australia, Canada, the USA and South Africa still uphold the old tradition to gather and celebrate the feast of Saint Sozon. The celebration of the Saint is a link they have with their homeland and remind them of their childhood years on the island.
|Saint Sozon's image at the Lemnian Community of Victoria's Hall|
Thanks to the website of John Sanidopoulos for this information. To go to his site click here.
Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee