Monastery Simonos Petras Mount Athos

On the western shore, at a distance of two hours from Daphne, the Monastery of Simonos Petra (also known as Si­monopetra) towers high up on the ridge of a rock, at an altitude of 200 metres above the sea. As one turns one's glance from the shore towards the monastery, one feels trans­ported to another world.

The story handed down by tradition re­garding the foundation of the many-storeyed monastic fortress, centres around a vision which appeared to a hermit monk, Simon, in his cave, near the present site of the monastery. On Christmas eve he saw a star shining with a wondrous brilliance on the rock where the monastery stands today. Simon interpreted his vision as a divine command to build a monastery on that spot. He did not dare to do so, however, since the spot was extremely isolated and precipitous, so he began to build near his cave, where the ground was more level and safe. Each night the walls Simon built during the day collapsed, until at last he took courage and began his work on the site indicated by the star. With the help of his followers and other monks, he started to build above the precipice. Many of his men could not stand the danger to which they were exposed day after day, and finally decided to give up the job. Simon then asked the deacon, Isaiah, to give the departing men a little wine and bread for the journey. As Isaiah was approaching the building, he slipped and fell, over the precipice. However an angel stopped his fall and his friends, who believed him dead, found him standing on a ledge of the rock, holding the jug with the wine, unspilled, in his hands. Seeing this miracle, Simon's followers took courage and finished this unique edifice.

Simon gave the monastery the name of "New Bethlehem", which it kept until the 19th century, when the monastery, which had been burnt down for the third consecutive time and was being rebuilt thanks to the untiring efforts of the hegumen, Neophytus Molakides, was refered to as the "monastery on Simon's rock - Moni Simonos Petra", a name that stuck and was eventually adopted by the Athonite monks. Already in the 14th cen­tury the imposing edifices gave the monastery a most impressive appearance. This was around 1368, when the Serbian ruler John Uglesha ratified its foundation by a chryso­bull.

During the reign of Stephan Dushan (1331-1335), Serbia had reached the height of its power, its authority extending all the way to Mt. Athos. After Dushan's death, when Stephen V Urosh (1355-1367) acceded to the throne, the territories conquered by Dushan began to obtain their autonomy and eventually came under the control of feudal lords. In 1365 the leadership of southern Serbia was assumed by duke John Uglesha, who is mentioned in the history of the monastery as a great benefactor and the second founder of Simonos Petra. This period of develop­ment and prosperity came to a sudden end when a terrible fire completely destroyed the monastery. Only the tower, which had been especially built to withstand such catastrophes, was spared. The monks who had sought shelter in the tower, taking with them the monastery's treasury, were able, after the fire, to rent part of the monastery of Xenophontos and settle there for quite a long while. This was fortunate for the monks of Xenophontos as well, since the rent mon­ey enabled them to pay off the debts incurred by their own monastery.

The archives of the monastery were com­pletely destroyed in this fire, the flames hav­ing devoured almost all the official docu­ments, chrysobulls and contracts. In the following years the monastery was rebuilt very slowly, despite the enormous privations suffered by the monks and the considerable financial assistance offered by the Ruman­ian ruler Michael Viteasul the Brave (1593-1601), the voivode who, around 1600, had managed for a short period of time to unite under his rule the provinces of Moldavia, Wallachia and the Heptapyrgion.

However, all the sacrifices and privations of the monks were suffered in vain, since, as soon as the reconstruction of the monastery was completed, a new destructive fire broke out. The monastery went through a period of total decline until 1762, when the Ukrain­ian hieromonk Paisios Velitskovski appeared on the scene with his followers, and began efforts to revive the monastery.

During the same period, money for the restora­tion of the monastery was being collected by a Greek named Jehoshaphat, from the is­land of Lesbos. It was Jehoshaphat who bought from pirates the holy relic of the left palm of St. Magdalene, which has been preserved until this day in the monastery.

The third great fire of 1891 completely de­stroyed the monastery of Simonos Petra. This time, the church and the library with its treasures were also destroyed. The monks escaped by jumping out of a small window, but they were able to rescue only a few holy relics, icons and official documents.

Lavish donations, especially from the tsars of Russia, once again permitted the reconstruction of the monastery.

In August 1990 a house in the Skete of Provatas caught fire. Carried by the surrounding trees, the blaze spread rapidly towards the Monastery of Philotheou but, just before it reached Monastery, the direction of the wind changed and the flames, passing through the hills to the west, approached Simonos Petra, where they consumed the forest all the way down to the west coast. From there the fire took a northerly direction towards Daphne and the Monastery of Xeropotamou. The little village of Daphne was saved thanks to the efforts of the inhabitants, who doused the houses, and especially the roofs, with sea water. Just before reaching Xeropotamou, the flames miraculously stopped and died out. It was the Monastery of Simonos Petra, however which suffered the greatest damage, but fortunately at least no lives were lost.

Although it has lost all its historic buildings and almost all its treasures, Simonopetra still radiates a nobility and profound serenity which fills the pilgrim who gazes out from this heavenly pulpit over the verdant undulating hills or the boundless sea with wonder and awe.

The Monastery of Simonos Petra is de ed to the Nativity of Christ
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