Tuesday, August 24, 2021

0077 - A tribute to His Eminence Metropolitan of Kinsasa Nikiforos (Former Headmaster of Athonias Ecclesiastical Academy Mt Athos)


There comes a time when we all must say goodbye, in this life, to those that have made a significant impact upon us and have moulded us to whom we are today. 

These people are considered by us as charismatic and life changing. 

I must admit, that it has taken me at least 4 weeks to build the courage to write about him. It has been a difficult to come to terms that he is no longer there, to talk to, to exchange a text message with and to seek his advice. 

His loss has been something that has affected me deeply, perhaps, due to being so sudden. There were so many more conversations to be had, so many more ways to help his mission work in Congo so many more spiritual discussions to be had at his beautiful monastic home the Cell of the Archangels in Mikra Agia Anna, Mt. Athos. 

I guess these conversations can still take place, however, in the realm of prayer, asking from God to give rest to his saintly soul and grant to him, his deserved place, in the tents of the righteous. 

Fr. Nikiforos (Πάτερ Νικηφόρος) as he liked to be called, was a person of deep charisma, firm minded yet gentle, strict yet just and always approachable. 

I first met him as young boy, 12 years old as a 1st year student at Athoniada. He immediately took me under his wing and guided me through what is usually a difficult transition from an Australian household and into a boarding school, on the other side of the world, without knowing much Greek. 

He guided me at every crossroad in the boarding school life, trust me there were many, with much love and concern. He was a second father and a person I relied on heavily from the age of 12 - 16.

He instilled in me a deep love for the Holy Mountain, the same deep love which I maintain to this very day. 


Even after my departure from the school, we maintained dialogue via phone and letters and later through more modern means of communication such as Viber and FaceBook.

He loved each and every one of his students, always remembering them and asking about them. 

He was a very humble person and did not like attention, especially when it came to his very important mission work. 

I recall the last time we met in person....

I was in Northern Greece in my wife's paternal village, just outside Giannitsa. I had spoken to him a few days before asking him what his movements were whilst he was in Thessaloniki. Usually, the limited time he had in Greece was mainly spent meeting with people and securing funding for the significant mission work he was conducting in Africa. 

Out of the blue, he called me and asked where I was (knowing I was somewhere in the Giannitsa region) and asked if he could come by the village to visit. 

I, of course, gave him the details and he said he would come by upon return from Edessa. An hour later he called and said he was on his way. 

We had just finished vespers at the village Church (it was a Saturday) and we had gathered at my wife's cousin's home for coffee in memory of her late uncle. Most of the people in the small village were gathered there.

He eventually arrived at the home and sat down to have a coffee and a rest from his journey. No one apart from our relatives knew that Fr Nikiforos was the Metropolitan of Central Africa. He did not announce himself but rather humbly sat down on the plastic moulded outdoor chair like the rest and drank his coffee. 

After having a rest we took a walk together around the village in what was a deep and meaningful spiritual and practical discussion which I cherish to this day. We arrived back at the home, he farewelled us and continued his journey back to Thessaloniki.

After his departure, the villagers asked "who was that lovely priest?" "Where is he from?". I replied, he is not a priest, but rather the Metropolitan of Central Africa. They were amazed at his humbleness and simplicity, never introducing himself as Bishop etc. but rather, the simple Fr. Nikiforos. 

To my beloved Fr. Nikiforos, may the Almighty Lord grant you, your place in His kingdom, in the land of the living and in the tents of your righteous. 

You will always be remembered and your guidance and sacrifices for all of us, cherished forever. 

Rest in peace my dear father. Καλό Παράδεισο!

Fr George Frangos, 

Melbourne, Australia. 

Sunday, March 7, 2021

0076 - The Land Border to Mount Athos (Coast of Ouranoupolis)

 0076 - The Land Border to Mount Athos (Coast of Ouranoupolis)

A short walk from the ruins of the Zygou Monastery, the border between Mount Athos and the rest of Halkidiki can be found. 

Photo above - On approach to the coastline. 

Friday, February 19, 2021

0075 - Zygou Monastery near Ouranoupolis

0075 -  Zygou Monastery near Ouranoupolis

When you hear the words “Mount Athos”, your mind will be immediately drawn to Monasteries. 
What isn't widely known is that the border of Mount Athos, extended much further beyond Ouranoupolis in the past. 
Remnants of Monasteries and their dependancies can be found all around the Chalkidiki region. 

One of those forgotten Monasteries from the Golden Age of the Peninsula (around the 10th Century) is the Monastery of Zygou.

This religious and architectural heritage site stands 2 kms to the east of Ouranoupolis, walking distance to the border of Mount Athos. 

Zygou Monastery is considered to be one of the oldest uninhabited ruins of an Athonite Monastery.  
It was discovered by the group of archaeologists, coordinated by Ioakeim Papaggelos in 1984.

A brief history of the Zygou Monastery. 

The first reference regarding the Monastery dates back to the middle of the 10th century. 
In the year 958 St. Athanasios The Athonite, also known as the founder of organised monasticism on Mount Athos and founder of the oldest Monastery Megisti Lavra, first settled at the Zygou Monastery.

 This is when the name of Zygou Monastery is first mentioned, however, it is more than likely that the Monastery was a group of small cells (kellia) at the time and not, as it was to become.

The first exact mention of the Monastery dates back to the year 998, when it was considered one of the  elite monastic centres of Mount Athos and had great influence in the Athonite Administration.

The monastery began to flourish in 1018 after the appointment of Nephon to be the abbot. 

He led the expansion of the Monastery’s area and  
the construction of the Catholicon (the main Church). 

The excavations show that the building complex, included five-sided castle like walls and 11 towers, which were established throughout the course of a 100 year period.

As was the case with many Athonite Monasteries which were situated close to shore with easy access to ships, the monastery was abandoned late in the 12th century. 
This is more than likely attributed to raiders and pirates who frequently raided the Monasteries on the Athonite Peninsula that had easy accessibility and no natural defences. 

 The Monastery and its lands were granted to the Hilandariou Monastery for utilisation and renovation. 

During the period of the crusades, it was used as a base Latin crusaders to launch attacks on Mount Athos under the leadership of a Frankish lord, in order to force union between the East and West. It is because of this that it is referred to sometimes as Fragokastro (Frankish Castle). 

After that period , the Monastery was left in ruins. The Monastery, which was once a flourishing religious centre, became the source of building materials. 
The locals quietly removed the stones and decorations of the Monastery, evident in many of the oldest local buildings around Ouranoupolis. 

The complex comprises the old central construction (western), which was doubled in the course of expansion in the eastern direction. Recent excavations found foundations of a much earlier building dating back to the 4th Century B.C.  

The Catholicon (Main Church)  sits in the mid-east part of the building. The first stone was put into its foundation in the first half of the 11th century. Its construction included four phases. 
The first phase of the building construction included the establishment of a Church with a narrow narthex. The second – added the northern Chapel. 

At present, the monastery is partially reconstructed. 
Unfortunately, the majority of its marble relics were either destroyed or stolen. 
The four marble columns, which were holding the dome, are now lost to History.  The interior of the monastery was covered with fine-grained stucco one might see in the Churches of Mount Athos and features a large number of frescoes.
 The narthex has partially preserved fresco of the Annunciation, adorned with gems. 

In the niche of the south chapel, you can see two layers of frescoes, depicting the life of Saint Nicholas.

The floor of the Catholicon northern chapel is perfectly preserved. It is made of marble using a specific technique of stone carving, which provides us with the opportunity to admire the works of the architects from the 11th century. The floor is decorated with some of the best examples of mosaics from the first part of the 11th century.

During the excavations of 1984, the archaeologists found many artifacts, which are now included in the collections of many museums in Greece. Among the artifacts are:

A tablet with the depiction of an Archangel. 
Three lead seals of the 11th century Monastery.
Glass mosaics which were the part of a mosaic composition. 
Silver medals with carved depictions of St. Paraskevi. 
Coins belonging to various time periods. 


Wednesday, October 16, 2019

0074 - Ouranoupolis the entry point to the Holy Mountain.

Ouranoupolis is a village with splendid charm and character, one of my favourite places to visit and spend time in before entering Agion Oros and when coming out.
Lets look into the origins of this village in more detail.

Very little is known about the ancient town of Ouranoupolis which gave it's name to the present day village. 
It was certainly built around 300 B.C. by Alexarhos the brother of Macedonian king Cassandros. 
The exact position of the ancient town is not known but it was certainly located on or close to the current village. 
It was important enough to have struck it's own coinage. Some of these coins have been found in the area and three of them are exhibited in the British Museum. 
It appears that ancient Ouranoupolis did not survive for very long. Monumental walls and possibly the remains of an ancient town have been discovered in the sea. 
One Autumn in 1954 a Swedish underwater expedition believed to have found the remains of a town, stretching westwards from the foot of the tower towards the islands. They are said to have found the walls of houses with roads among them, a bridge and substantial walls under the sea in front of Ouranoupolis.

The famous tower of Ouranoupolis was built during the 14th century A.D., certainly before 1344. It was the principal building of the metohi of Prosforion which belonged to the important monastery of Vatopedi. 

In May 1379 the ruler of Thessaloniki Ioannis Palaiologos stayed in the tower and issued various concessions in favour of The Vatopedi Monastery. The Emperor removed the obligation for the metohi around the tower to pay any tax and the original document is still kept at the monastery of Vatopedi. 

The farm prospered and expanded, taking over all the land in the area, including that of the monastery of Zygou which had declined by then. (More on the Zygou Monastery in future posts). 

The tower was used as the living quarters of the monks who were charged with the upkeep of the metohi (dependancy) until 1922. 

Since the ancient times Greek populations lived not only along the coast of Asia Minor but deep inside it. 
Large Greek communities lived in Constantinople and in Smyrna. Entire Greek villages existed on the Princes Islands in the Propontis and in Caesarea deep into Turkey. 
Most of them kept their Greek language and their Greek Orthodox religion, living in relative prosperity in concord with the Turkish populations. That ended in 1914 when the Turkish army started large scale genocide of the Armenian and Greek populations in Turkey.
An ill fated Greek military expedition against Turkey in 1921 ended in disaster and offered an excuse to the Turks to start a systematic genocide of all the Greeks living in Turkey. 
The League of Nations intervened and devised a plan to exchange the Greek populations living in Turkey with the Turks living in Greece. Whole villages were uprooted, took with them whatever they could carry and boarded boats and trains bound for mainland Greece. 
Smyrna, a prosperous city with a large Greek population was burned to the ground and most of the Greek inhabitants were killed. Greece was presented with the problem of housing half a million destitute and traumatised people. Initially the refugees were taken to various holding areas from which they were dispatched to every corner of Greece to start a new life.
As a solution to the problem the Greek government decided to appeal to the Monasteries of Mount Athos to donate land for the purpose of helping the refugees. The Vatopedi Monastery donated all of Ouranoupolis and also the entire island of Ammouliani which is located directly across. 

The first refugees arrived in 1922. They were from Caesarea, former merchants and carpet weavers. 

They initially moved into the donated monastic buildings and used them as communal living quarters until the first houses were built. 

More refugees arrived every subsequent year until 1928 and gradually a small village of 90 cottages was formed. 

Those later refugees were from the Princes Islands in the Propontis, former prosperous fishermen.
The village was initially named Prosforion and was attached to the town of Ierissos. 
In 1946 the village’s name was changed to Ouranoupolis, a reference to the ancient town and it became a village in it's own right. 
The first refugee houses, white-washed, red tiled, one bedroom single story houses with small gardens were built. 
To help the refugees each family was given a cottage, a plot of land to cultivate, some olive trees and ten sheep which died soon after from starvation and were replaced by more resolute goats. 
Fishermen were given a grant to buy a boat. Living was harsh because fresh water was scarce and the dry land produced very little. 
The only available source of employment was on Mount Athos. The men of the village would enter Mount Athos for many months, where they worked as labourers in order to provide for their families.

 It was a harsh place for anyone to settle in, more suited to monasticism than the establishment of a village. The waterless land was decaying granite, heavily covered with thick vegetation.
In the early days of inhabitance, the village was isolated from the rest of Halkidiki because there was no road by land due to an old law from the village’s monastic past that prohibited roads by land to be constructed. The only access to the village was via boat or via an old goat track.
In 1959 the first road to the village was constructed by the villagers. Soon after the road was constructed properly and a daily bus service was established. 

This brought the first tourists a trend that gradually lifted the village out of poverty and into a more prosperous future as a tourist resort.

Today, Ouranoupolis is a bustling village, heavily visited in the summer months by Tourists from the world over, and visited by pilgrims all year that are entering Mount Athos. 
Its main street has a variety of shops catering to the pilgrims the tourists and the locals alike. The tavernas offer great food and you can pick up great souvenirs from the many tourist shops. 
Although it is a busy place, the architecture of the village and its original charm, still manage to enchant each person that comes to spend time in Ouranoupolis.  
Next time, a more detailed look at the Prosforion tower and its connection to Australia. 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

0073 - Cooking with Fr Epiphanios of Milopotamos at Holy Monastery of Iveron

Upon my visit to the Holy Monastery of Iveron last year to partake in the great feast of The Dormition of Our Lady, I had the distinct pleasure of chatting with Elder Epiphanios of The Holy Cell of Milopotamos.

The all night vigil is long and between liturgical commitments I set aside some time to seek out Elder Epiphanios.

It didn't take long to find him, on my first walk to the back entrance to the kitchen, there he was, taking a much needed rest from the hot fire.

We spent some time together, chatting about Australia and the Holy Mountain, food and wine also.

It was a blessing to have spent some time with Elder Epiphanios after so many years.

Monday, June 25, 2018

0072 - St Athanasios of Paros (Parios) +June 24th

On the 24th of June we commemorated St. Athansios Parios a Saint with very close ties to Mount Athos and the Athonias Ecclesiastical Academy (Athoniada).

Our venerable and God-bearing St. Athanasius Parios, known as "Master of the Greek Nation," was a hieromonk who was an eminent theologian, philosopher, educator, and hymnographer of the eighteenth century. 
He was the second leader of the Kollyvades movement, succeeding Neophytos Kausokalyvites (1713-1784). He also wrote the lives of a number of saints.
Neophytos Kausokalivytis

In 1752, he traveled to Mount Athos and enrolled in the Athonias Academy, where he studied under Neophytos Kausokalyvites and Eugenios Voulgaris. 
Evgenios Voulgaris

At Mount Athos, he was ordained a priest by St. Marcarius of Corinth. He later studied at Corfu under Nikephoros Theotokis. 
The Old Athonite Academy 

Ruins of the old Athonite Academy

At Mount Athos, Fr. Athanasius became a leading member of the Kollyvades movement that began at Mount Athos in the mid eighteenth century. 
The group consisted of Athonite monks who adhered strictly to Holy Tradition and opposed unwarranted innovations. 
They favored frequent reception of Holy Communion, unceasing prayer of the heart, and insisted memorial services not be performed on Sundays, as it was the day of the Lord's Resurrection. 
Between 1767 and 1770, he taught at Thessaloniki, after which he returned to the Athonias Academy to become its director. 
As a member of the Kollyvades movement, he came under attacks by those who opposed the movement. 
In 1788, St. Athanasius moved to the island of Chios where he taught and served as director at the gymnasium until 1812. 
A leading educator and distinguished theologian, St. Athanasius revived the art of eloquent speech on Chios by teaching logic, rhetoric, metaphysics,and theology. 
After retiring, at the age of 90, as the Director of schools in 1812, St. Athanasius joined St. Nicephorus of Chios at the Hermitage of St. George the Refston at Resta, Chios where he spent his final days. 
There, he reposed in the Lord on June 24, 1813.

Friday, May 18, 2018

0071 - Hieromonk Stephanos The Photographer of The Holy Cell of St. Thomas Karies

In continuation of my series of posts relating to a rare book on Mount Athos by Hieromonk Stephanos, Greek - ΛΕΥΚΩΜΑ ΤΟΥ ΑΓΙΟΥ ΟΡΟΥΣ ΑΘΩ, french - ALBUM DU MONT - ATHOS, we will explore the author and his biography.

Upon conducting an extensive search of the web in Greek and English regarding Hieromonk Stephanos, I could not find many sources, however I did manage to find a short biography and other short references to him which I will collate below:

Hieromonk Stephanos of Karies (1885 - 1965)

The Hieromonk Stephanos, worldly name Stergios Lampropoulos, was from the village Rodovistsa in the province of Tsotiliou in the state of Kozani. He was born in 1885 and was tonsured a monk in 1903 at the Cell of St. Thomas of Fr Serapheim in Karies, Mount Athos.

In 1906 - 1907 he founded, along with Panagiotis Stournaras, the Photographic workshop "Athos", and eventually maintained on his own after 1912. The workshop was located in the yard of the Cell.
He was also the official photographer of the Holy Epistasia (Governing Body), of Mount Athos.
He publicised the well renowned and above pictured book, containing a series of pictures of Mount Athos (1913-1928) and a series of post cards.
A close co-worker of his was the Hieromonk Vasilios.

In 1928 the above-mentioned book was published in Magdemburg with its famous and impressive photos of Monasteries, Sketes, Towers, Boat houses, Phiales and other treasures of Mount Athos.
The book also contains a photo of his cell of which only the church remains to this day.

The book was republished in 1986 by the publishing house Malliari, along with three photographs from the book/album Griechenland (Berlin 1928) of Hanns Holdt and Hugo Von Hofmannstahal, titled Athos within old photographs, with text and descriptions written by writer Dimitris Bambakas.


And a special thanks to "Keliotis" or Giannis Konstiotis for guiding me in the right direction.

0077 - A tribute to His Eminence Metropolitan of Kinsasa Nikiforos (Former Headmaster of Athonias Ecclesiastical Academy Mt Athos)

  There comes a time when we all must say goodbye, in this life, to those that have made a significant impact upon us and have moulded us to...