The Great Holy Monastery of Vatopaidi and Thrace* Chapter 16- Part 4

7 January 2012

* A speech at Komotini on the 21st January 1994.

source: Translated by Olga Konari Kokkinou from the Greek edition: Αρχιμ. Εφραίμ Βατοπαιδινού Καθηγουμένου Ι. Μ. Μ. Βατοπαιδίου, Αθωνικός Λόγος, Ιερά Μεγίστη Μονή Βατοπαιδίου, Άγιον Όρος 2010

Looking into our archives, we deduce that most Bishops seek the Vatopaidi monastery’s assistance for whatever needs their flock had. Thus the monastery assists the refugees and those afflicted by earthquakes and fires; it provides food for the hungry and those facing hardship and occasionally saves them from extinction. This was certainly known in Thrace since we possess letters written by bishops asking the monastery to assist in their needs.

Meletios Vatopaidinos, Metropolitan of Enos, was given the spiritual guidance of Xanthi and in 1867 he was asking the monastery to give him 200 pounds in order to depart for the region. He said he would regard the monastery as his benefactor.

Cyril of Andrianoupolis expresses his gratitude to the monastery for its assistance to those affected by forest fires to the amount of 53, 5 Turkish Pounds and 560 mentzetiedes.

The monastery has also greatly assisted the construction of churches not just financially but also through offering the necessary liturgical artefacts, priests vestments, liturgical vessels and holy relics.

Let us cite some instances of what has been offered to Thrace:

–         Dionysos of Ganou and Choras on the 21st July 1892 asks the monastery to send vestments for the priests in the deficient churches.

–         Alexandros Rodostolou, while in Xanthi on the 25th April 1909, asks the monastery to offer general assistance to the community which did not have a church and was unable to finish the roof of the church of The Apostles which was under construction. He later thanks the monastery for its gift of 40 Turkish pounds.

–         Joachim of Enos sends his head priest Joachim to Vatopaidi to collect the monastery’s aid for the construction of the monastery of St Panteleimon.

–         In 1912, the same Bishop sent 100 lottery tickets and asked the monastery to accept them in order to financially assist the construction of the St Nicholas church in Alexandroupolis.

Several Vatopaidi fathers throughout the monastery’s history became distinguished for their spirituality, their hagiorite and Greek conscience and their superior knowledge. These charismas enabled them to become the trustees of the holy traditions of our race and devote their lives in the pursuit of the main interests of the country. These great men did not remain unnoticed by the Mother Church. They were assigned important missions in protecting the interests of the Church and of the nation. Again this was a well known fact in Thrace since we are in possession of letters written by bishops asking for the monastery’s assistance in this respect.

          Meletios Metropolitan of Xanthis had written on the 5th August 1857, asking for a priest, speaking Bulgarian.

Cyril of Andrianoupolis, when asking for the visit of the Holy Belt in his region in 1865, he also requested that it be accompanied by a ‘hiernomonk speaking Bulgarian and Turkish in order to assist and benefit spiritually the region’s devout Christians’.

Having taken over the spiritual guidance of Enos, which at the time was in terrible state, Meletios Vatopaidinos asked for the dispatch of priests, deacons and as well as for ‘someone to act as a secretary’.

On the 5th February 1888, Ilarion of Xanthi asked for the dispatch of a spiritual father for his raea.

On the 7th September 1881, Ieronymos of Maronias and Komotinis asked for the dispatch of a chanter with a good voice.

Dionysus of Xanthi in a letter of the 12 January 1888 asks to be sent a devoted priest to take over as Abbot of the new monastery of St Athanasius in the Ali Tzelepi village.

In a touching letter, dated 2nd November 1831, undersigned also by the Commissioner of St Fillip, Xatzimilkos, the notaries and all Christians of Haskon in Filippoupolis, ask to be sent a hieronmonk as a spiritual father and in return they gifted to the monastery one house, to act as a dependency. Vatopaidi began its presence in Filippoupolis through this property. They wrote (rough translation): ‘We would like to inform your Eminence that as it is well known that our town has remained without a spiritual father for a long time and therefore the residents, farmers and others are deprived of the holy confession and the Holy Communion. Therefore we have agreed to gift one house to your holy monastery as a dependency in our everlasting memory. Consequently we ask your Eminence and the brotherhood to elect a devout spiritual father … to be assigned to us. We will welcome him graciously and with every appropriate honour. We pray that your supplications protect us’.

Several Vatopaidi fathers also rose to the offices of Patriarch, Metropolitan and honorary Bishop to the Ecumenical Throne.

Such great examples, as we have already seen, are the Metropolitans of Erakleias and thereafter Ecumenical Patriarch St Filotheos Kokkinos and St Theofanis Peritheoriou as well as the aforementioned Metropolitan of Enos, Meletios Vatopaidinos (1867-1872).

Also, a significant number of Patriarchs and Metropolitans, having retired from office devoted the last years of their lives in the glorious Vatopaidi monastery.

Thrace again made its presence felt through Gregory of Andrianoupolis (1830-1840). He was born in Constantinople in Neochorion of Bosporus and therefore he carried the surname Byzantios like his elder brother Theodore, the well known neo-martyr. The latter had been forced to espouse the Turkish faith from a young age, but he later returned to the Christian faith of his forefathers. He confessed his faith in Jesus in front of the tyrants and was hanged in Mytilini on the 17th February 1795. Gregory was ordained deacon in Andrianoupolis and archdeacon by the then Metropolitan Adianoupolis and neo-martyr, Patriarch Cyril of Constantinople. Later Gregory rose to the Metropolitan throne of Tiverioupoleos and Stromnitsis. In 1830 he served in Andrianoupolis as a Metropolitan until June 1840, when the Emperor ordered him to step down. He retired at our monastery until his repose to the Lord in 1860. In 1836 while still in Andrianoupolis the translation of the relics of St hiero-martyr Cyril took place and a feast day was established in his honour. A service in the name of the Saint was also written and a manuscript was found in our possession. It has recently been republished. The small piece from the holy relics of St Cyril, kept at our Skete of St Demetrius, was obviously dedicated by Gregory. It is kept in a small silver case inscribed with the phrase ‘A holy relic of the blessed Patriarch Cyril, martyred by hanging in April 1821(?)’. Both the holy relic and the service in St Cyril’s name attest to the ties Vatopaidi had with Thrace.

Gregory was particularly fond of collecting the biographies of saints and their liturgies and he either collected copies of the existing biographies or commissioned others to write new ones. Several codes in our possession carry the inscription ‘by Gregory, former metropolitan of Andrianoupolis’.  It was through his effort that the liturgical service in honour of his hanged brother, neo- martyr Theodore was written. Our monastery celebrates his feast day with special honour because of Gregory. He particularly showed great affection in the home icon of the Most Holy Lady Vimatarissa, whose copy he had commissioned and placed in the chapel of the monastery of St Demetrius. He also wrote a spiritual inscription referring to the Mother of God. (Not translated). We have witnessed several wonders performed by the said copy of the icon.

Another man from Thrace, Archimandrite Filaretos from the village of Teparakontomenou in the Orestiada region, has played an important role in our monastery and has performed many God-inspired deeds, sealing his bright personality. He had served for several years as the First Commissioner of the monastery, which was at the time idiorrythmic (ιδιόρρυθμο) and had won everyone’s respect, being held at great esteem. One instance of how he had benefited the monastery is the existing marbled slab on top of the central entrance of the narthex of Katholikon. With an inscription he expresses his affection for the monastery and his dedication to its embellishment in the name of the Lord. It was dated 1842. (Inscription not translated).  He also demonstrated his great affection to the Mother of God by commissioning the construction of the holy Synthronon inside the Katholikon which houses the home icon of Vimatarissa. He also paid for a beautiful altar made of expensive marble. On its top eastern part it is written: (Rough translation) ‘You, the administrator of the Holy Eucharist, may see this beauty and my brilliance. Gifted by Archimandrite, Filaretos. Therefore, pray for him in the service and remember him in the administration of the mysteries. December 20th, 1848’.

The above mentioned men from Thrace, Gregory of Andreanoupolis and Archimandrite Filaretos officiated at the translation of the holy relic of the Vatopaidi Saint, Eudokimos the newly found. The former was the Head Hierarch at the service and the latter as the Commissioner in Vatopaidi. The holy relic was discovered on the 5th of October 1840, in the osteofylakion where the remains of the Vatopaidi fathers are kept and was recognized as belonging to a saint because of its ineffable fragrance. This is an account of how the holy relic was found:

‘At the time when Arch. Filaretos was the Commissioner, the fathers decided to repair the cracked western wall of the Narthex of the cemetery out of devotion. When they removed the roof of the Narthex and the part of the cracked wall, a lot of debris fell into the cemetery over the accumulated naked bones. Thus, it was deemed necessary to clear out the debris, remove and clean the bones, before repairing the wall and reinstating the remains in their former position.

Three workers were assigned the task of removing the debris and separating the bones. They began on Monday and worked until the following day. On Wednesday, the 1st of October, two hours before noon a beautiful fragrance was given off. All those present were astounded and wondered whether the fragrance was an indication of sainthood, rising from a holy relic. A little later the holy remains were found and the whole place was overwhelmed with ineffable fragrance. The holy relic was found in this position: The head was attached to the prefemoral vertebrae. The rest of the body was covered in a cotton robe. All the bones were connected with each other. The holy relic was resting on the left shoulder and leg, facing the old eastern wall. The feet and knees were crossed and the hands were crossed in front of the chest.  An old icon was placed under the right hand. The icon seemed to be of Vimatarissa Theotokos.

This is how the holy relic was found and was flooding the whole place with ineffable fragrance. Everybody was ecstatic and rushed to tell the fathers and especially the Commissioner, Mr. Filaretos. Two archierarchs were staying at the monastery, the former Bishop of Smyrna, Mr. Chrysanthos and Gregory of Andrianoupolis. Once they all came and saw the holy relic they fell silent, astounded at the wonder. Mr. Chrysanthos said: ‘Why are you so astonished venerable fathers and remain silent? Hasn’t the Lord revealed the holiness of this father through the heavenly fragrance we have experienced? Who else apart from our Lord could have gifted such fragrance? Who else could have had this same fragrance which has overwhelmed us? How could bare bones and rotten flesh release such a fragrance? This relic gives out the fragrance of the holy myrrh. The miracle becomes more obvious since we are able to see that other bones surrounding the holy relic do not emit such a smell. In fact those which are further away do not release any smell at all, since these ones which are nearer have acquired a little fragrance from the relic. Let us therefore, not show any luck of faith in the face of such a divine miracle, which has revealed this holy relic today. Let me repeat that we ought not to show any luck of faith in the face of such a miracle, since it is truly a miracle for the reasons I have outlined above. Instead let us give glory to the Lord who is always glorified through His saints and let us honor this person whom He has revealed to be a saint.

All those present agreed and all praised the Lord saying: ‘Great art thou the Lord of the Christians’.   Having given glory to the Lord they venerably removed the holy relic from the old cemetery and placed it in the nearby church of the Holy Apostles and entered the monastery praising the Lord and his newly found saint all the time. The next day they were discussing what the name of the newly found saint might be, since they had no idea and they did not want to worship an unnamed saint in the Vatopaidi monastery. They were also wondering how it was found amongst so many other scattered bones. They thought it would be good to carry out an all night vigil in the saint’s honor and for the glory of the Lord. They unanimously agreed to call him Eudokimos, since the Lord had decided (evdokisen- ευδόκησεν) to perform this miracle for them at a time when Christian devotion was neglected as well as Christian duties… in order to recall us to the right path… Thus, the name Eydokimos was given to the saint by the Vatopaidi brotherhood and the two hierarchs…’

The presence of Thrace and of its Church in the monastery’s archives is particularly defined in the correspondence between hierarchs. Let us give the names of the following Metropolitans of Thrace whose correspondence is preserved in our archives:

-The Metropolitans of Enos: Dionysios (1772), Matthew (1807-1821), Gregory (1821-1831), Cyril (1831-1847), Gabriel (1855-1867), Sophrony (1847-1850) and Meletios (1867-1872).

-The Metropolitans of Andrianoupolis: Gregory (1820-1830), Cyril (1847), Dionysus (1873-1880), Neophytos (1880-1886).

-The Metropolitan Anastasioupoleos Anthimos and honorary Bishop of Maroneia.

-The Metropolitans of Viziis: Daniel (1792-1813) and Matthew (1856-1863).

– The Metropolitan of Ganou and Choras: Dionysus (1891-97).

-The Metropolitan Derkon: Joachim (1875-1884).

-The Metropolitan Erakleias Meletios (1741).

– The Metropolitan Theodoroupoleos Chrysanthos (1896).

– The Metropolitans of Kallioupoleos: Dorotheos (1892-1897), Jeremiah (1897-1909), Kallinikos (1910-1912).

– The Metropolitans Maroneias: Daniel (1821-1838), Cyril (1845-1863), Theoklitos (1863-1865), Anthimos (1865-1877), Jeronymos (1877-1885) and Constantine (1885-1888).

– The Metropolitan Myriofytou Neophytos (1795-1821)

– The Metropolitan Metron Dositheos (1874-1879)

– The Metropolitans of Xanthi: Serapheim (1806-1831), Eugenios ( 1831-1848), Meletios (1848-1858), Dionysus (1861-1867), Hirarion ( 18667-1872), Kallinikos (1872-1875), Filotheos (1877-1885) and Joachim (1891-1910).

– The Metropolitans Silibrias: Matthew (1834-1838), Meletios (1853-1861) and Constantine (1892-1900).

– The Metropolitan Trianoupoleos  Jacob (1857)

– The Metropolitans Filippoupoleos : Agathangelos (1814), Chrysanthos ( 1850-1857), Paisios (1857-1861), Neophytos (1872-1880) and Joachim (1884-1889).

Finally the Metropolitan Charioupoleos Anthimos (1837).

These are interesting documents from a general point of view since the Church during the Turkish occupation of Greece played a nationwide, active role in the lives of the enslaved Greeks. From these documents one may deduce many historic, socioeconomic and ethnic facts which refer to the region of Thrace.

          It is now time to mention the monks from Thrace who joined Vatopaidi from 1830 to the middle of the 20th Century. The book registering the monks (monachologion- μοναχολόγιον) unfortunately burnt in a fire and the names of earlier monks have not been spared.

          Athanasius from Komotini was a monk who played a crucial role in the monastery.  His secular name was Asterios Nikolaou and was born in Kommotini in 1853 to a Christian family. His parents were devout people and gave him a Christian upbringing, which set him apart from other Vatopaidi fathers. After learning how to read and write he was consumed by fervent zeal to become a monk at the Holy Mountain (1865). In 1873, eight years after he joined Vatopaidi he was tonsured a monk, while at the same time attending the school at the monastery which operated along the lines of the Halki Ecclesiastical School. In 1877, he was accepted in Halki and graduated in 1885. Four years after his return to Vatopaidi in 1889, he was promoted to the post of the Head commissioner and was assigned as the Head of the Athoniada School. He retained this post until 1899 and was commended for his numerous successes.  While at the Halki School he was described as an exemplary, virtuous and prudent student, honest, disciplined and benevolent. He was known as the ‘elder’ since he was mature in his relationships with other students both in the way he spoke and acted. He never gave the Head any occasion to reprimand him. He also excelled as the Dean of the Athoniada School. During the last years of his life he was sent to the Vatopaidi dependency in Thasos, where he reposed to the Lord in 1912. He was only 59 years old. He didn’t leave behind any written works even though he had good writing skills and had excelled as a Dean.

          We will also refer to other monks from Thrace from the beginning of the 19th to the first quarter of the 20th Century. We will only cite their place of birth and the time they entered the monastery. If anyone is interested he may find additional information in our archives e.g. as to their secular name, date of birth, date of tonsure and year of death etc.

*Dionysios monk from Prygos. He entered the monastery in 1835. (Thereafter cited only as 1835)

*Auxendios monk from Xanthi. 1840.

*Dionysios monk from Enos. 1840. He was a hieronmonk and an Overseer (Προιστάμενος).

*Andrew monk from Raidesto. 1842.

*Cosmas monk from Peristasis. 1855. He became an Overseer.

*Gennadios monk from Skopo. 1855.

*Athanasius monk from Almali, Thrace. 1856.

*Anthimos monk from Karagatsi, Andrianoupolis. 1858. He became hieronmonk and Overseer.

*Mathias monk from Forty Churches. 1858.

*Clemes monk from Deri-Deri Maroneias. 1859. He became hieronmonk and died in 1902 in Drama, while accompanying the Holy Belt.

*Doditheos onk from Deri-Deri Maroneias. 1861.

*Timothy monk from Madyto. 1865.

*Chrysanthos monk from Madyto. 1865. Became hieronmonk and Overseer.

*Diamianos monk from Asar. 1865.

*Caesarios monk from Stenimacho Filippoupolis. 1865.

*Daniel monk from Madritsa. 1869.

*Barnabas monk from Tsipankoy Dedeagats. 1870.

*Agapios monk from Skopo. 1872.

*Nikandros monk from Bkouf. 1882.

*Thalassios monk from Andreanoupolis. 1882.

*Nefon monk from Raidestos. 1884.

*Nikoforos monk from Xanthi. 1884.

*Synesios monk from Madytoy. 1887.

*Kyprianos hieronmonk from Ortakoyiou. 1891.Joined the Skete of St Demetrius.

*Theodosios monk from Kallipolis. 1892.

*Caesarius monk from Kallipolis. 1894.

*Averkios monk from Forty Churches. 1900.

*Parthenios monk from eastern Romylia. 1901.

*Kallistos monk from Krithia. 1902. Became Overseer.

*Matthew monk from Taiforio Kallipoleos. 1902. Became Overseer.

* Claudio monk from Sarakio Biziis. 1903.

*Panaretos monk from Enos. 1905.

*Christodoulos monk from Kessani. 1908.

*Iannikios monk from Ganochora. 1910.

*Anthimos monk from Madyto. 1911.

*Euthymios monk from Myriofytou. 1912.

*Agathangelos monk from Myriofytou. 1912.

*Dositheos monk from Myriofytou. 1912.

*Timothy monk from Krithia. 1917. Became a hieronmonk.

*Konstantine monk from Taiforio Kallipolis. 1922. Became a hieronmonk and Overseer.

*Nikodemus Metropolitan of Lititsi. 1928. He was 68. He died in 1930.

For 93 years, (1835-1928) forty two men from Thrace joined the brotherhood at the monastery; an unusually large number which does not apply to other parts of Greece. We believe that the reason is the presence of Vatopaidi dependencies in the region with their devout monks who were able to attract fresh, zealous fighters to the ascending path of Christ. Another reason is the distinctive devoutness which describes the people of Thrace. We can verify this in our dealings with them in the recent years.

Nevertheless the issue of the relationship between the Holy Great Monastery of Vatopaidi and Thrace can not be exhausted in one exposition. We had only attempted a general approach in order to be able to discern how this relationship affected the monastery, the region of Thrace and generally the nation.  A more intensive research into our archives on the issues touched upon will reveal the hitherto unknown aspects of life in Thrace and its history.

From our part, we request that professors in the universities encourage those students who would like to proceed to a doctoral thesis to choose a theme which will deal with the relationship between Thrace and the Holy Mountain and even our monastery.

We ask your Eminence for your prayers so that the Lord, through the supplications of his Mother, strengthens us and gives us His grace in our monastic struggle. Amen.