Feast of the Annunciation at Vatopaidi20 April 2013
We left on Saturday morning from Thessaloniki, headed for the Holy Mountain, to attend the all-night vigil at the Monastery of Vatopaidi on the occasion of the Feast of the Annunciation.
After a rather troublesome journey, we set out from Ouranoupolis, with hundreds of other pilgrims who were going to honour Our Lady in her Bower.
We arrived at 4 o’clock in the afternoon and, after we’d been received in the monastery’ guest-quarters, we were given the usual refreshments and then assigned rooms where we could rest for the short time remaining to us. Before we went for a few minutes’ rest, we were told the time-table of the monastery.
Small vespers began at 4:30 and was followed by a meal in the refectory. At seven on the dot, the All-Night Vigil began, the singing being particularly harmonious. This year the Annunciation coincided with the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross, so the rubrics for the service were especially magnificent, with hymns dedicated to the Honourable Cross and the veneration of a large piece of the Honourable Tree [the Cross], which is kept in the Monastery. The katholiko (main church) was full of devout pilgrims, who numbered more than 650 and had come from a variety of countries (Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Germany, Russia, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria, Georgia and elsewhere) to embrace the wonder-working icon of the Vimatarissa and receive her grace. The occasion was blessed by the presence of His Eminence Pavlos, Metropolitan of Glyfada, who officiated, and by the Abbot of the Monastery of Hilandar, Elder Methodios. According to an eight hundred-year-old tradition the abbot of Hilandar is present every year at Vatopedi’s patronal feast [And vice versa. The practice is a result of the fact that the founder of Hilandar as a monastery (it already existed as a small house) was Saint Savva, who had been a monk of Vatopaidi].
Singing in the right choir was Fr. Stefanos of the Daniileï, together with Fr. Thomas and Fr. Filippos from the Thomades, Fr. Spyridon of the Yerasimeï; on the left were Fr. Antipas of the Kelli of Saint Ann and the fathers from the kelli of Saint Nikolaos the Typographer, Karyes, together with the lay chanters Yeoryios Konstandinou and Kostas Lanaras. The sound generated was wonderful, truly a musical feast. Likewise, at the Service of the Liti, the choir of the monastery’s brotherhood was also in fine voice.
A particular impression was created during the serving of refreshments in the monastery common room when His Eminence, Metropolitan Paul, recalled his personal experience of a visit to the Holy Monastery of Vatopaidi as a student of the Theological School of the University of Athens, some fifty years earlier. Visibly moved, he referred to the dire straits in which the monastery, then idiorrythmic, found itself in the 60s, with no more than seven monks and very few visitors. As a witness today to the host of the faithful taking part in the great feast, as well as the large numbers of monks and clergy, he extolled the bounty of Our Lady, who protects the monastery and its holy brotherhood.
At the hour of dawn on Sunday, there was a blessing of the waters and a procession, and the Episcopal Liturgy began at 7 a.m. The celebrations ended with the festal board in the refectory and a prayer service at 1 p.m., that is a total of 18 hours. Also present at the Divine Liturgy was the Civil Governor of the Holy Mountain, Aristos Kasmiroglou, while more pilgrims, kelliotes from Karyes and others also attended. About a thousand portions were served in the refectory, and since such vast numbers could not be accommodated in one space, neighbouring buildings were pressed into service, as were sites outside the monastery proper.
Not long afterwards, at 4:30, Vespers began, followed by a memorial service for the founders, concelebrated by Metropolitan Pavlos, Abbot Methodios, His Eminence Nikodemos, Metropolitan of Kassandria (who had been at the Holy Monastery of Simonos Petras in the morning and had tonsured two monks), Bishop Filaret of Lvov in the Ukraine, Abbots Alexios and Gavriil of the Monasteries of Xenofondos and Pantokrator respectively and other Athonite monks. As has been the case for hundreds of years, after the feast there is a memorial service for the founders and benefactors of the monastery, as an act of gratitude, since, had it not been for them, the monastery would not exist today. As the venerable Metropolitans and Abbots pointed out during the serving of refreshments, founders, protectors and benefactors are particularly honoured by the Church because, in essence, they are the source and continuation of the spiritual and liturgical life of any given place, or, in this case of a coenobitic monastery.
At the evening meal in the refectory, the chanters who had been invited to the feast sang hymns, most of them dedicated to Our Lady. Finally came the Service of Compline and thus the cycle of the festal celebrations for the Annunciation of the Mother of God and the Veneration of the Cross came to a close at 9:39 p.m.
We ordinary pilgrims were filled with joy and satisfaction by our participation in the feast in honour of the miraculous event of the Annunciation to the person of Our Lady. We would like to express our particular gratitude to Elder Efraim, the Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Vatopaidi and to the whole brotherhood for their lavish hospitality.
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