Monastery Hiliandariou Mount Athos

The Monastery of Chelandari is built at a distance of about five kilometres from its little port, in a verdant valley on the northeastern side of the Athos promontory.

The origin of the Serbian monastery's name has not been historically ascertained, but its curved outlined could suggest a ref­erence to Byzantine warships, the "Chelandia". It is, however, more probable that Chelandari took its name from the hermit monk, Gregory Chelandaris, a well-known Athonite monk who, it is conjec­tured, sometime around 980 built a little church and a house for himself and a few other monks on the site occupied by the monastery today.

The figures honoured as founders of the monastery in its present-day form are the Serbian prince Rastko and his father, the Grand Zhupan of Serbia, Stephen Nemanja. Already by 1191, Rastko, the suc­cessor to the throne, had come to Athos against the wishes of his parents, had taken the name of Sabbas and had become a monk in the Russian Monastery of Thessalonikeos, which is today completely destroyed. A few years later, when he him­self was living in the Vatopedi Monastery. Sabbas persuaded his father to give up the throne and devote his life to God. Stephen followed his son's advice and, as Symeon, an Athonite monk, he requested permis­sion of his son-in-law and emperor of Byzantium, Alexius III, to found a mona­stery. The emperor ratified the foundation of the monastery by a chrysobull, while in a second document, in the same year, he fur­ther strengthened his decree by granting the monastery to the Serbs as a "gift in per­petuity". Sabbas' brother Stephen II, who, in 1217, was crowned king of Serbia by the pope, contributed to the building of the monastery both by generous donations and the granting of special privileges.

Almost a century later, another Serbian ruler, king Stephen V Miliutin, provided the monastery with very important funds. During the period between 1293 and 1303 the Katholikon was restored and made more splendid, as a copy of an old inscription on the church wall attests.

The close relationship between the Serbian state and Chelandari exerted such a strong influence on the architectural style of the churches of that country that, even in later years, churches in Serbia were frequently modelled on the Katholikon of Chelandari. The monastery's spiritual and religious importance to the Serbian state continues undiminished to this day. For centuries, many bishops of the Serbian Orthodox church have come from the monastic community of the Chelandari monastery. Until the mid-16th century, a school of Serbian lirature flourished here. Later, however, in the 16th and 17th century, it began to decline. Almost the entire monastery was destroyed by fire in 1722 and only the strong walls of the tower were able to with-stand the fury of the blaze. The influx of novices from Moldavia and Wallachia ceased. A large part of the treasures in the monastery were saved because they were in the tower of St. Sabbas at Karyes.

Serbian monasticism on Athos found a great patron and benefactor in Alexander I King of Serbia. During his visit to the Holy Mountain, he had seen the ruins of the monastery, which had been destroyed five years earlier, and had only found Bulgarian-speaking monks there. On his return home, he arranged for the buildings to be restored and sent eminent monks from Serbia to work on the spiritual revival of the monastery, which has continued to flourish ever since. It was then that the monastic complex took on the general appearance that it presents today: that of a disparate assembly of buildings erected at various times. In spite of this - or rather, because of this - the variety of buildings produces a pleasant feeling of unity and architectural perfection. In 1913 the Protepistatis was requested by Chelandari to offer all possible assistance to the Greek struggle for freedom and towards the incorporation of Mt. Athos into the Greek State.

The Virgin has been revered as Abbess ever since the time when the monks attempted to set the icon of the Virgin "Tricheroussa" in the iconostasis of the Katholikon, and the icon kept disappearing and reappearing again on the hegumen's throne. The miracle happened three times, after which the monks deferred to her wish and reverently ceded to their "Abbess" the position she claimed.

The murals of the Katholikon, for which a dating to 1319 or 1320, that is during the time of the founder Miliutin, has been suggested, were painted over in 1803. However, the old Byzantine murals are still perceptible underneath the layers of colour that were added later. Behind the hegumen’s throne lies the grave of St. Symeon, who lived in the monastery until his death. St. Sabbas, his son, was later ordained archbishop and left Athos. From St. Symeon's tomb one day sprang forth a vine, which still bears fruit, supposed to bring fertility to barren women. Even now, many women ask the monks to send them dried grapes from this vine.

In the old Refectory, murals dating from 1629 are preserved; these, however, cover the older, 14th-century wall paintings. The library contains a great number of manuscripts, over 400 seals and documents, among which are also found the chrysobulls of Byzantine emperors, as well as an important collection of books of Serbian literature of the past centuries. Among the 181 Greek and 809 Slav codices, there are, apart from 47 manuscripts on parchment, some very ancient scrolls, seven of which are in Greek and five in the Slavonic lan­guage.

Among the treasures and votive offerings there are five precious stones with 12th-century engravings of the Virgin, of Christ and of Saint Demetrius; also carved wood­en crosses containing fragments of the True Cross. Many of the relics, the icons, and rich vestments are gifts of Serb rulers and Russian Tsars. The Monastery is dedi­cated to the Presentation of the Virgin, cel­ebrated on 21 November.

Thirteen chapels, most of them decorated with magnificent murals, belong to Chelandari, while, a few years ago, some very fine old murals were discovered in one of the monastery's Kellia.

PHOTOS OF MONASTERY

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