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.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

0070 - A Rare Book on Mount Athos (Part 3)

In Part 3 I will continue re-writing from the newspaper article from the Church Times dated April 17, 1924 and titled HOLY WEEK ON MOUNT ATHOS.

More than a thousand were there in 1914, when the abbot threw off his monastic robes and showed the uniform of a general underneath, and with the help of his three priors as colonels turned his soldier-monks into a very creditable brigade! However, that is over now, and if the Russians erred, verily they have been punished.

The Greek monasteries, however, are emphatically alive, though, as their own wiser heads are ready to admit, new life is wanted for the old frame, and intelligent adaptation old machinery to new needs. Thus, at Vatopedi, where hospitable monks received us for the night when our day's wandering was done, the life of an Orthodox Monastery flourishes as of old. Here, as is general with the older houses of the Holy Mount, the plan of the whole declares that it was designed to keep monks safe from pirates when those gentry swarmed in these waters.

A great fortified square of 150 yards, with one of the series of towers magnified till it serves as a keep in the days of need, gives the main outline. The original principle church stands in the centre, while the monastic buildings, placed against the inside of the wall, formed the banquette for the defences of the battlements. But the original design has been outgrown in all directions in picturesqueness; churches, libraries, refectories, wells, have been put in any convenient place, and storey after storey of monastic cells, projecting on wooden struts over the wall-line, accommodated additional inhabitants, showing as many as four tiers of cloister along the interior of the court.

A kindly guest-master, warned by telephone of our arrival, for that convenient anachronism connects the more important houses together, led us in by the great gate, not failing to point out the first of the wonder-working ikons of Vatopedi as he did so. During the war of 1912, a Turkish soldier had fired, in drunkenness or wantonness, at a fresco of the Panagia over the gate, and the bullet struck the hand of the figure, making a dint religiously preserved. Yet vengeance for once was not slow, "for within five minutes Kyrie, he went off and hung himself on that tree you see there."

It was a very busy day at Vatopedi, for it was the patronal festival of the Monastery (the Feast of the Annunciation), and the services of the "panigyris" were being united, as transference is unknown to the Orthodox with those of Holy Week. Hence, said our host with needless apology, only a few could come to welcome us, for the bulk of them were in church, where he must join them, when the duties of hospitality were done. We may claim some knowledge of oriental services, and are at least prepared for long rites; but here for once we were both bewildered and alarmed!

Service of eight hours in length, followed after a brief break of three hours by rites that endure nine hours more, tax even experienced patience, and when the officiant jumps perpetually, without warning, from rites of the Annunciation to those of Good Friday, even an expert may sometimes wonder where he is. With the help of a friendly Deacon and a missal, one could follow the rarely celebrated Liturgy of St. Basil from the post of privilege in the sanctuary, and the Liturgy done, examine the marvels of that treasure house.

For a thousand years now pilgrims of any rank from Imperial downwards, have brought their offerings hither, and the result is a collection that a Roman Catholic member of the party thought superior to that in St. Peters in Rome! Here, too, are the relics of which the mass of gold and jewels are but the setting, large fragments of the true Cross (in one case festooned with emeralds as large as one's finger-nails), and the "Zone of the Virgin" that stays plague in the land.

It is true that the main treasure of Vatopedi was at the moment not in the sanctuary, but in the nave, for special reverence on the festal day. This is the "Talking Eikon" of the Blessed Virgin, which once, says the story, ordered the Empress Pulcheria out of this Church, when she built it and came in to say her prayers. "You may be a Queen outside, but here there is another Queen. Leave the Church!" So the poor Empress had to go, and by the way of being on the safe side, it was ruled that no female was ever to set foot on the island thereafter! As the tale represents Our Lady as somewhat lacking in courtesy, it may be well to add that point of fact the Monastery was founded in 862 by "pious men of Adrianople," and that there were actually nunneries in the neighbourhood to a much later date!

More characteristic of the season was the ceremony of the "Periphora" on the night of Good Friday - a rite usual in all the Balkan lands, if not all the Orthodox Church, but here carried out with unusual pomp and elaboration. In the centre of the "Naos" (the architectural nave, but ritual choir, of the church) there stood a magnificent bier, and on it lay, on cloth of gold, the embroidered figure of the dead Christ, the "Epitaphion." The hundred monks of the monastery (black figures and cowled heads) stood round it in their olive-wood stalls, while the Narthex without was packed with a crowd of pilgrims. There was no light in the great church, save from the wax torches carried by every worshipper, and marvellous was the effect of the half-seen masses of marble pillar and mosaic wall, gold eikonostasis and pavement of "Opus Alexandrinum."

Much of the first part of the service that lasted well over three hours (11pm to 2am) was dreary to a Western, consisting as it did of droned litanies, in which, as was remarked, "they do not chant the words, they chant the letters."But what bored us, to be honest, struck a very different chord in the mind of our Greek companion, who wept unaffectedly all the service through. If the rites of the Orthodox Church have that effect on an educated mind of the type for which they are intended, who can say that they are out of touch with them? It may not be our way, but it takes all sorts to make a Catholic church, if only uniformity-fanatics could believe it.

At last the litanies ended, and every member of the congregation, filing two and two before the bier, made solemn obeisance to it. Then came the "Periphora" itself, in which six priests, black vested, took the Epitaphion on their shoulders and bore it out of the Church. The congregation, forming in rough procession, and all bearing their torches, followed, chanting funeral anthems: and so we proceeded, with halts at various stations, all round the great court the monastery and back into the church once more. Finally, the Epitaphion was borne into the sanctuary, there to rest till, forty-eight hours later, the white robed priest could issue thence, to announce to the crowded congregation, "He is Risen."

It was a most interesting ceremon, and if one worshipper at least felt that what he saw might count kindred, not only with the empty tomb at Jerusalem, but also with the hall of mysteries at Eleusis, with the "night of torches" and the carrying of the dead and reviving God round the fields that he was to fertilise-well, were not these "Mystae" also feeling after Him that they might find Him?

It would take a volume to tell the half of what there is of interest on the Holy Mount, where one's hosts are delighted to find the foreigner who really cares, that they seem to expect one who can spare but days to spend months among them. In our case, duty called the British officers back to Athens, and we felt bound, Easter Day once over, to accept the courteous offer of an American naval captain, and take the passage home on his "destroyer," for Mount Athos is hard to get to, and get away from, and, indeed, were it otherwise, would not long remain what it is.

One wonders how long the great institution can go unchanged, for monasticism is changing here as in the West, and Russian destruction apart, the older monks complain that novices are fewer now than of old. Membership of the monastery does not shelter you from Ottoman law, now that the place is no-longer Ottoman territory, nor does it protect you from Greek conscription. So changes will come here as elsewhere, and it is well that the wiser heads in the Orthodox Church should see their necessity, and strive, as they are striving, to prepare for them. Every Anglican will sympathize with an well-thought-out scheme for making this home of the old-world piety into a centre of Orthodox learning and education for the Church to whom it belongs.


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 ...