Monastery Philotheou Mount Athos

On the eastern inclines of Athos, sloping down to the Strymonic gulf, and at a distance of half an hour's climb from the monastery of Karakallou, stands the Monastery of Philotheou, surrounded by or­chards. Built at an altitude of 330 metres, it offers a panoramic view, particularly to­wards the north. On the horizon one can dis­tinguish, above the tree-covered hills, the monastery of Pantocrator, situated five hours away on foot from Philotheou.

According to tradition, there stood here, in ancient times, an Asclepieion, while centuries later a small monastic settlement was built on the same spot. It is not known when this setdement developed into a large monas­tic community. Tradition places the foun­dation of the monastery towards the end the first millennium, and mentions as it founders three monks, contemporaries d Athanasius the Athonite: Arsenius, Dionysius and Philotheus, the latter giving the monastery its name. According to histori­cal sources, in a document of the Protepistatis Nicephoros, dating to 1015, the name of George, hegumen of Philotheou, is also mentioned.

In the second Typikon of 1046 there also ap­pears a Luke, hegumen of the Monastery of Philotheou, which is ranked twelfth in the hierarchy of the Holy Mountain, a position it holds to this day. The financial means for the erection of the grand buildings were provided by the emperor Nicephoros III Botaneiates (1078-1081) who has since then been honoured as the monastery's second founder. Besides material gifts, the emper­or donated to the monastery numerous holy relics of saints and martyrs. A particularly precious gift is a nail said to have been used in the Crucifixion of Christ.

Two centuries later, the Palaeologan em­perors Andronicus II (1282-1328) Andron-cus III (1328-1341) and John V (1354-1391) provided funds for the maintenance of the monastery. After the fall of Constantinople ind the collapse of the Byzantine empire, the gifts of the Byzantine emperors ceased, and the financial support of the monastery was assumed by Rumanian rulers.

A document dating from 1483, signed by the hegumen in Slavonic and not in Greek, in­dicates that a number of Slavs also lived in the monastery. At that time, the Serbian ruler Stephan Dushan sent considerable sums of money, and, as a chrysobull from 1346 shows, he ordained that Serbian and Bulgarian monks should come to Philotheou, which was then almost totally deserted. For a long time these monks constituted the majority m the monastic community.

After a new period of decline, the rulers of Iberia, George Leontinos and his son Alexan­der, became the monastery's patrons, and their lavish gifts helped the monks to completely restore Philotheou. "This monastery was restored thanks to the generous assistance of the God-fearing emperor of Iberia in June of the year 7050", reads the inscription carved in marble, over the entrance, in commemora­tion of that event (1540).

However, the financial situation of the mastery continually worsened as the Turkish conquerors had imposed a tax on the land, and much of the monastery's proper­ty had to be sacrificed in order to meet ex­penses. In 1573 Philotheou also sold the de­serted Kelli of Stavronikita to the bishop Gregorius Geromerius, who later developed it into a large monastery. Relative relief, in the dire financial situation in which the monastery found itself, was offered a centu­ry later by the Tsar of Russia, who granted permission to the monks to raise funds on his territories. Only by the provision of sig­nificant annual grants however, could some way out of Philotheou's financial impasse be found. A chrysobull of the ruler of Wallachia, Gregory Ghikas, guaranteed these annual grants for the monastery, on the condition that it send to Wallachia one of its holy relics, the right hand of St. John Chrysostom. A new period of prosperity then began for the Monastery of Philotheou, which ended suddenly with the great fire of 1871. Almost the entire complex was burnt down, ex­cept for the Katholikon and the library. This time, the pace of the restoration was very slow but, thanks to the many benefactors and donors, the rebuilding was eventually com­pleted.

In recent decades the influx of young and enthusiastic monks has been great and the monastic community has been considerably reinvigorated, a fact to which also contributed the conversion of Philotheou from an idiorrhythmic to a coenobitic monastery. This re­sulted in the model restoration of the entire complex.

The Katholikon was built in 1746 on the ru­ins of the previous one, and as one can read in the inscription on the wall of the right-hand choir, its walls were painted in 1752. The esonarthex and the exonarthex walls were adorned a few years later, in 1765, with marvellous scenes from the Apocalypse, while the marble floor and the iconostasis were completed almost a century later (1848 and 1853 respectively). The church is dedicated to the Annunciation, commemorated on 25 March.

The bell tower, incorporated into the katho­likon - a feature not at all characteristic of Athonite architecture - bears the date 1764. The superb frescoes adorning the Refecto­ry, which are attributed to the Cretan School, have fortunately been preserved. The phiale in front of the church is made of carved white marble.

The construction of all these edifices was completed thanks to the rulers of Rumania, Constantine Mavrocordatos and Gregory Ghikas, who provided large sums of money. Their successors continued to provide funds, and it was thus made possible for the monastery to be rebuilt after the terrible fire of 1871. Besides the fragment of the True Cross, a gift of the emperor Nicephorus III Botaneiates, in the sacristy of Philotheou is also preserved the right hand of St. John Chrysostom, a gift of the emperor Andronicus II. Here, too, are kept numerous relics, crosses, vestments and liturgical vessels, but chiefly portable icons, of which the one held most precious by the monastery is the miracle-working icon of the Virgin Glykophilousa. This icon, on the left icon-stand of the Katholikon, portrays the Virgin "sweetly embracing" Jesus. According to tradition, in the time of the emperor Leo II the Isaurian - during the period of the iconoclastic controversy – Victoria, the wife of the Byzantine patrician Simeon, herself a devout Christian, threw the icon into the sea to save it from destruction. The icon sailed across the straits of the Dardanelles and landed on the eastern shore of Mt. Athos, where it was discovered by the abbot of Philotheou. From the spot where the icon was found, in the anchorage below the monastery, holy water sprang, which since then has healed many paralytics and many sterile women. Among the miracles attributed to the icon is also the rescue, in 1817, of a ship carrying pilgrims, which was in danger of sinking off the island of Imbros, during a terrible storm. The Virgin appeared at that moment and, holding the helm herself, steered the ship to a safe harbor.

Another well-known icon treasured at Philotheou is that of the Virgin Gerontissa. Among the 250 manuscripts which have been preserved, a number of them written on vel­lum, particularly precious is the illuminated Philotheou cod. 33, a tetraevangelon of the 10th century bearing the oldest known rep­resentation of one of the Evangelists and ex­ecuted after the Iconoclast controversy. With­in the monastery precinct there are six chapels, dedicated respectively to the Archangels (1752), to St. John the Baptist (1776), to St. Marina, to the Five Martyrs, to St. Chrysos-tom and to St. Nicholas. Outside the walls there are another three chapels, one in the cemetery, one in the gardens and one at a kathisma. All three Kellia which belong to the monastery are inhabited today.

PHOTOS OF MONASTERY

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