Sometime during the 16th century (1501-1600) the continuously foul weather and intense winds prevented the “grain ships” from approaching Corfu for a long time. Easter was close at hand and there was no bread. Great hunger was seen on the people’s faces. How could they celebrate Easter without bread? With the grace of God, very early on Easter Saturday morning ships full of wheat sailed into Corfu harbour. They had already sailed from afar and were bound for a different destination. They had changed their route, however, because in their dreams the captains had seen Saint Spyridon commanding them to alter their destination and sail to Corfu which was suffering from a great famine. Their wheat, the Saint had told them, would be sold at a reasonable price.
The captains obeyed, made for the harbour of Corfu and of one accord rapidly unloaded the wheat for distribution amongst the Corfiots. Thus with the Saint’s miraculous intervention the Corfiots were saved from this terrible famine and they celebrated Easter (the greatest of all Orthodox festivals) with much joy, praising God and the Saint who with his miracle had confirmed Jesus Christ’s words: “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke: 18, 27).
The Corfiot historian Lavrentios Vrokinis (1847-1911) accepts that this procession is the oldest of all and was established before 1553. Tradition agrees with this.
In this procession, which follows a shorter route compared with the other processions of the Saint, the “Epitafios” (a gilt bier representing the body of Jesus Christ being borne to the grave) is also carried, protected by the baldachin, a canopy of rich, gold embroidered damask. The Holy Relic of the Saint accompanies the procession but without the protective canopy (the only procession where this is the case). This custom dates back to 1574 when the Venetian State (1386-1797) prohibited the Greek Orthodox processions of the “Epitafios” on Good Friday and directed that they should participate in the Catholic processions. For this reason the Orthodox moved their procession of the “Epitafios” to Easter Saturday and combined it with that of the Saint. The hostility of the Pope towards Orthodoxy can be seen in all this.
It is said that the Easter Saturday miracle was the first one worked by the Saint in Corfu, but of this there is no proof. Perhaps it was the first great miracle. He must have worked many lesser miracles between 1456 and 1553. Even today not all his miracles are recorded. Many sick people with deep faith appeal to him in the privacy of their own homes and are healed. When we were children we used to see them hastening to the Church in gratitude, to thank the Saint with smaller or larger votive offerings. Some by prior request to the Church arrange for the silver gilt case in which the Saint’s Holy Body rests to be opened so they can pay their respects. He has worked many miracles which have never been published in newspapers or elsewhere. Our ancestors used to say: “The Saint healed so and so,” but no one ever wrote about the particular miracle.
By Aleko Damaskinos