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Elias the Prophet's Name Day Celebration: An Experience at Sifnos Monastery

Nestled in the heart of the Aegean Sea, Sifnos, a quaint island in the Cyclades, becomes a haven for a unique celebration honouring Elias the Prophet. This celebration, held at the highest peak of Sifnos in a time-honoured monastery, is a spectacle of evening Mass, delectable dinners, spirited drinking, and joyous music and dancing that resonates till the break of dawn. That trip was in collaboration with Blue Star Ferries.

Get prints from Sifnos here.

Discovering the island of Sifnos

Sifnos is a small island, part of the Cyclades complex in the heart of the Aegean Sea of Greece. The Cyclades have a unique architectural style, an iconic Greek style with white houses and blue windows. I had never been to Sifnos before and all I had in my mind about the island was the local famous pottery and one picture by H.C. Bresson in an island's alley. 

Elias the Prophet Celebration by George Tatakis
Alleys of Sifnos

The island's capital, Apollonia, sits 5km away from the main port, where I had arrived. Wanted to explore the island, I've decided to walk this distance and also have the chance to stretch a bit from the boat trip. After passing by the main tourist shops of the port town, Kamares, I took the connecting road to Apollonia. The scenery was quite green, not too typical for Cycladic islands, planted with olive trees and vines, heavy with juicy, yet still sour grapes.

The Trek to the Summit

Luckily enough, I have met a few people in Apollonia who were involved in organizing this celebration. Elias the Prophet is celebrated at the highest peak of the island, at a very old monastery, named after the Prophet. This monastery sits at 682m above sea level. It is a tradition in Greece to build churches and monasteries named after Elias at the highest possible peaks in the areas. There is one at the peak of Mount Olympus, now ruined, at 2803m. 

They gave me directions, shared the celebration program and even found me a place to stay at the monastery, in a monastic cell. I had decided to reach the monastery on foot. I heard that some pilgrims make a vow to come every year to the monastery on foot from Piraeus, so since I had already done half the way, I thought why not?

I had to walk for maybe another hour to reach the point where the climb of the mountain started and then another hour of a climb to reach the monastery. Along the way, I met many people climbing, some on a horse, some on foot and some with the help of donkeys to carry food and supplies. They were all used to doing that so they were making it look too easy. Luckily enough one of them offered to carry my equipment on his donkey so he made the rest of the climb feel much more comfortable.

Elias the Prophet Celebration by George Tatakis
The monastery of Elias the Prophet

Monastery Oasis

What everyone kept saying was that as soon as we pass the monastery's door we will feel relaxed and forget all the effort we made to climb, since the monastery and its yard make you feel very calm. I didn't expect this to be true, but it was a great comfort thinking about it. To my surprise, the monastery was indeed so beautiful and the yard had a large open space which would make you feel calmer in no time. 

Elias the Prophet Celebration by George Tatakis
The inner yard of the monastery

Preparations and Camaraderie

The preparations had already begun although I had arrived one day earlier and the cooks and their helpers were already preparing the food for the next day. I had the time to explore the monastery and the catacombs and also sit with the organizers and have a cosy dinner and lots of wine to drink in the dining room of the monastery. A long room built of stone with a single long table in the middle, where everyone sits together. The team was raising glasses all the time, praising everyone who had helped in the celebration. The most common toast you would hear would be "Eviva ton ma'eron" (Cheers to the cooks!).

The Unveiling Celebration

The next morning, I woke up and had a coffee in the same dining room. The preparations now were much more intense and more people were helping the cooks to peel the potatoes and so on. Outside, more people were hanging flags and cleaning the place. People would start gathering in the afternoon, probably around five.

After the preparations, lunch was served to whoever was in the monastery, and then I decided to go have a quick nap to save energy for the celebration in my monastic cell. 

Elias the Prophet Celebration by George Tatakis
The monastery of Elias the Prophet in the morning

The priest, papa-Yannis, arrived early in the afternoon on foot, along with his best friend, his dog. His cell was next to mine. At this time of the day, an interesting phenomenon takes place, where the mountain casts a pyramid-like shadow on the sea. 

Get prints from Sifnos here.

Elias the Prophet Celebration by George Tatakis
Papa-Yannis arriving at the monastery

Dinner, Music, and Dance

Soon, papa-Yannis would ring the bells of the church to start the evening celebration mass. The Mass takes place both inside the church and outside where most of the flock is gathered and lamps are installed as well as a stand with the icon of the Prophet. After the Mass is complete, Papa Yannis goes to his cell to rest before dinner and music begin. 

The dinner is served in the dining room and the music begins. Due to the small size of the room, the visitors have to eat and then move out to the yard, so that the next ones will go and have their dinner. The music then goes on and a big dance starts inside the monastery's yard. The celebration holds until early the following morning!

Elias the Prophet Celebration by George Tatakis
Traditional instruments playing
Elias the Prophet Celebration by George Tatakis
Dancing to traditional music


Elias the Prophet's name day celebration at the Sifnos monastery transcends a mere event; it is an enchanting journey into tradition, camaraderie, and spiritual resonance. The fusion of solemnity and revelry, set against the backdrop of Sifnos' natural beauty, paints a vivid picture of a celebration that stands as a testament to the island's rich cultural tapestry.

Love xx

Get prints from Sifnos here.



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