ATHENS Greece's holiest pilgrimage site on the Aegean island of Tinos has launched an email service allowing those too poor or sick to visit in person to have their prayers read to its icon of the Virgin Mary.
Tinos, part of the Cycladic archipelago some 120 km (75 miles) from Athens, attracts around 1 million visitors a year to its church of the Virgin Mary, whose icon is revered in Greece's Orthodox Church for its reputed healing powers.
Many pilgrims, especially at the August 15 height of the pilgrimage, crawl nearly a kilometer from the ferry wharf to the church on their hands and knees as a sign of devotion. Many fulfill a pledge to light a candle as tall as themselves.
"Those of you who are not in a position to visit the holy island of Tinos and pray to the icon, can write to us via email and we are happy to send you (free of charge) a blessing (an icon of the Virgin Mary, holy water etc)," the church said on its Web site www.im-syrou.gr.
"You can communicate with us by email sending your heart-felt prayer to the Virgin Mary and we will read the names in front of the icon," the Web site said.
Greece's Ta Nea newspaper quoted the priest in charge of the Web site as saying he receives around 20 emailed prayers a week, most of them from Greeks living overseas.
"The email service is not used instead of a prayer. It serves to facilitate those who are not able to come to Tinos," said the priest Flavianos.
In recent years, Greece's Orthodox Church has striven to find ways to stem declining attendance, particularly among young Greeks.
(Reporting by Lila Chotzolgou and Tatiana Fragou; Writing by Daniel Flynn, editing by Tim Pearce)