Monastery Iviron Mount Athos

The Monastery of Iviron is situated by the mouth of a dry river bed that meets the sea where the narrow and dusty dirt road winds down to the eastern shores of the peninsula, seven kilometers away from the capital of Karyes.

The name of the Monastery is derived from ancient Iberia, the name of the homeland of its founder - the area known as Geor­gia today. The founder of the monastery, John Thornic, was a nobleman and a gen­eral at die court of the king of Iberia, David. His military career had brought him a colossal fortune. After several expeditions in the service of King David, he forsook the world and. together with his son Euthymios, set off in 975 for the Monastery of the Great Lavra in order to become a follower of Athanasius, whom he admired and revered as a saint. At the same time, in Constantinople, the two princes, Basil II (976-1025) and Constantine VIII, sons of Theophano by her first marriage to Romanus II, had come of age and were of­ficially recognized as heirs to the throne. When the general, Bardas Scleros, tried to take over the throne by fomenting a re­bellion against the two young emperors who initially reigned jointly, Basil called to his aid the famous and distinguished general John Thornic, who left the monastery and routed the rebellious gen­eral at the battle of Pankaleia, in 979. The emperor richly rewarded Thornic, who returned once again as a monk to the Holy Mountain. As had been agreed, Thornic was also granted the land around the small lavra of St. Clement, where the Monastery of Iviron stands today.

With the blessing of his spiritual advisor, Athanasius, and the help of a monk by the name of John Varasvatzes and his son Euthymios, who later became the first hegumen of the monastery, Thornic laid the foundations for the main monastery in the small monastic settlement. A monk by the name of John Varasvatzes does indeed ap­pear as the hegumen of the monastery in 1030, but there is no evidence that he was indeed one of the founders.

From the start, the Greek monks of the other monasteries gave the name "Iviron" 10 this monastery, and this it has retained 10 this day, although in 1377 there were » few Georgians living in the monastery that Patriarch Callistus II was obliged to hand over the administration of the monastery to the Greek monks. The period of reconstruction and pros­perity of the Iviron monastery, which had been lavishly endowed by the Byzantine emperors, was followed bv a period of de­cline, until the time when Byzantine em­perors such as John Cantacuzenus and John Palaeologus, and Serbian kings such as Stephen Dushan (1331-1355), but also the ruler of Georgia, Georgan, and his de­scendants, began to bestow munificent gifts upon the monastery, thus assuring its liveli­hood.

In the mid-17th century, the daughter of Alexius, the Tsar of Russia, was healed of a very grave illness, thanks to a dupli­cate of the icon of the Virgin Portaitissa which, at the request of the Tsar, was paint­ed, blessed, and taken to Russia.

In thanksgiving, the Tsar granted to the Iviron Monastery, in 1648, the Monastery of Saint Nicholas, one of the grandest of Muscovite monasteries, which remained in Iviron's possession until 1932.

These material riches however, did not on-lv offer the monastery immense financial resources to cover the cost of repairs after the destruction caused by fires in 1845 and 1865, but also made it the object of severe reprisals on the part of the Turkish con­querors, because of the aid the monks of Iviron had offered to the other monasteries during the Greek War of Independence. The last monk of the small Iberian brother­hood died in 1955. The Katholikon, built in 1030 and restored in 1513, is dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin (15 August). It has an opus sectile floor, while the apses of the transept are adorned with several rows of plates of Nicaean (Iznik) faience.

Besides the murals, which date from 1592 but were painted over in later years, and the elaborate iconostasis, with its carved floral representations, particularly notable are the masterpieces of artistic metalwork, such as a silver Russian candelabrum in the shape of a tree, dating from the 18th century, three heavy chandeliers, and an iron railing. On the floor of the church, the following inscription can be read: "I have made these columns to stand firm, and they will not be moved to all eternity, Gregory, the Iberian, monk and founder".

Between the Katholikon and the main en­trance to the monastery stands a chapel holding Iviron's most important icon, the Virgin Portaitissa. At the time of the bit­ter iconoclastic controversy, during the reign of the emperor Theophilus in the 9th century, the owner of the icon, who lived in Nicaea, dropped it into the sea to save it from destruction. The icon floated to the shores of the Holy Mountain, where it was found by the hermit monk Gabriel, from Georgia. Af­ter the monk's death, the hegumen of the Iviron monastery brought the icon to the monastery for safekeeping, and placed it in the Sanc­tuary of the church. The icon disappeared from there, however, and reappeared above the main gate of the monastery. It was brought back three times, and three times it disappeared, to appear again at the same spot. One day, a voice from heav­en was heard, saying to the monks: "I did not come to you to be protected, but to protect". The monks then built, near the gate, a chapel in honour of the icon, which is cov­ered in a silver and gold casing, encrust­ed with precious stones. Numerous votive offerings surround it, and it has been revered, in this place, ever since.

The rich collection of books in the library, opposite the Katholikon, includes, apart from 2000 manuscripts - among which 123 on vellum - another 5000 printed volumes, as well as many illuminated codices such as, for instance, codex no.5 of the Iviron monastery, a precious Evangelistarion dat­ing from the 13th century. Also preserved here are precious Georgian manuscripts and, in particular, an illuminated codex of John Damascene, dating from the 13th century, which contains the epic poem of Barlaam and Jesaphet. It tells of the life of Jesaphet, the son of an Indian prince, who was so deeply stirred by the hermit Barlaam's preaching that he became a Christian.

Innumerable are the treasures which are kept in the sacristy, which is one of the most important on Mt. Athos. Among these are the elaborately embroidered vestments of patriarch Dionysius IV and the man­tle of Gregory V.

A special treasure is the veil of the Sanc­tuary Gate, which depicts the Dormition of the Virgin. It was embroidered by the celebrated seamstress Kokkona Orologa. Most impressive also are the silver lamp in the shape of a lemon tree with 3 gilded lemons - offered by pious Muscovites in 1818 - many superb gold-embroidered vestments and a mantle called the "sakkos of Tzimisces". This mantle, embroidered with the representations of ten lions and four Byzantine double-headed eagles framed by arabesque designs, was probably the vestment of a 15th-century prelate. Here are kept also many documents, sealed with precious seals. However, much more valu­able in the eyes of the monks than these treasures are the holy relics of honoured martyrs and fathers of the Church, pre­served in silver and gold reliquaries.

There are 16 chapels within the monastery compound. In one of these are kept the holy relics of 150 Saints, and parts of the tools which were used to crucify Christ. Under the jurisdiction of the Iviron Monastery are six kathismata and twenty-six kellia, of which sixteen are in Karyes. The Iberian (Georgian) skete of St. John the Baptist (Prodrome) is situated half an hour's distance away to the west of the monasters.

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