Did you ever heard of «Panagia Aphroditissa»? Aphroditissa is one of the many epithets and cults of the Virgin Mary in Greece and Cyprus, known in both countries as «Panagia» (The most holy one) and «Ourania mitera» (Heavenly mother), where she is highly venerated in her capacity as «the mother.»
In the Cypriot village Kouklia there is a church dedicated to Panagia Aphroditissa. It was built on the ruins of the goddess’ temple. Her monastery in Troodos, Cyprus, is situaded 1,380 metres above the sea level, exactly where Aphrodite Akraia (Of the high mountain) was worshipped. There she is also known as Panagia the Olympian. And like in earlier times, women still pray to her to bring fertility. Though the church changed her name recently, her worshippers still call her by her traditional name.
Most non-Hellenes know Aphrodite only as the goddess of love and sex. But she is also the mother, the goddess of heavenly love and renewal. As a mother she is holding an infant (Eros) in her hands. Just like Panagia, the «Most Holy One,» who is almost always depicted as a mother holding little Yeshua. Aphrodite is, of course, not identical with Panagia, but nevertheless, what is coming to the fore here is the timeless, resilient veneration of the divine mother.
The Christian part of my family prays to her and venerates her icons more than Yahwe or Yeshua. Well, the warrior and mother goddess was always very important to the Greek Pontioi, who remained matriarchal. It is still the grandmother, the mother that calls the shots in the family. Just a generation ago, the mother’s will was absolute, which, however, did not always produce good results.
My mother’s grandmother, who had lost five children to the genocide of the pontic Greeks in the Ottoman empire and who had narrowly survived it herself, was a healer and a warrior. During the cold winter war in the early 1940s she smuggled weapons and food packages under her skirt to the resistance fighters in the mountains of northern Greece. She also smuggled her medicine to the war prisoners (under the guise of giving them only food), and nobody really cared, since she was just «an old woman.»
But this old woman was as hard as iron. Unbreakable.
And so is the veneration of the divine mother among the Pontic Greeks.
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