Monastery Zografou Mount Athos

In the heart of the northern part of the Athos peninsula lies a verdant valley stretching inland from the western coast and branching out into three smaller valleys rising up into the hills. On this spot and in the woods is situated the Bulgarian monastery of Zographou, at a height of 180 m. Taking the path to the right, the walker might get to Chelandari in two hours and if he chose to continue straight on, it would take him an­other two hours to come to the Monastery of Esphigmenou, on the eastern coast of the promontory.

The monastery's advantageous position saved it repeatedly from destruction. The keeper of the port was usually able to warn the monastery in time when pirates or other raiders were seen approaching. Often, how­ever, the attackers were able to trick him or even to kill him. They could then approach the monastery without any trouble and plun­der it.

As regards the foundation, but also the name of the monastery, tradition has it that it founded by three brothers and monks, Moses, Aaron and John from Ochrid, who could not agree on the choice of a patron saint for their newly-founded monastery. To resolve the question, they locked a wooden panel in the Katholikon, and prayed that they might be sent some heavenly sign. That same night, many miles away from Athos, the Saracens attacked and pillaged the Monastery of Phanuel in Palestine, and the icon of St. George was in danger of being destroyed. A miracle took place, and the next morning the monks, who were praying for the heavenly sign, discovered in their church the icon of St. George which "had not been made by a human hand". It is said, moreover, that in the night the icon had emitted a brilliant light. From that day on, the monastery was named the monastery of the (heavenly) Painter (Zographou).

The first historical source to mention the mastery is the first Typikon of 972, the "Tragos", which is also signed by the hegumen George of Zographou. At that time there it most probably already Bulgarian monks living in the monastery, but unfortunately very little about their history until 13th century. Towards the end of this century, soldiers of the emperor Michael Palaeologus, who together with patriarch John Bekkus was a supporter of the union of the Eastern and Western churches, tor­tured and burnt alive twenty-six monks of the Monastery, who were fanatical support­ers of the anti-unionist cause. A monument, erected in 1873 in the courtyard near the monastery's entrance, testifies to this event having occurred in 1276. Nonetheless, it was finally Michael who helped the "Bulgarian monastery" by granting it considerable sums of money.

The raids by Catalan mercenaries in 1307-1309 were extremely destructive. The Cata­lans killed many monks, plundered the monastery and finally set fire to it, burning most of its buildings. Almost all the surviv­ing edifices date from the 19th century. Af­ter these calamities, the Serbian rulers and the Palaeologan emperors provided financial support for the reconstruction of the monastery. During the years of Turkish oc­cupation, Zographou was also assisted by the rulers of the Danube states. This brief peri­od of prosperity was soon followed by decline and the monastery remained almost com­pletely desolate. When the monks had almost given up hope, a new benefactor appeared on the scene in the person of the Hungari­an ruler, Stephen VI the Good, who con­tributed significantly to the monastery's re­vival.

In 1716, the southeastern wing was built. At that time, besides the Bulgarians, there lived in the monastery both Serbian and Greek monks. Since 1845, however, only Bulgarians have lived in Zographou and the liturgy is performed in Bulgarian only.

Between 1862 and 1869 the northern wing was built, as was also the fortified gate, whose doors are made of wrought iron and have survived to our day. The last fire broke out in Zographou in 1976. The katholikon, which was built in 1800, was painted in 1817, although the narthex was only painted in 1840. The phiale is covered by a cupola supported by eight columns. In its centre is a fountain, adorned with lions' heads and with a marble figure of a monk as its base. Of the 16 chapels of the monastery, eight lie within the monastic precinct. The two most important ones are the chapel of the Virgin of Akathistos Hymn in the courtyard, next to the Katholikon, and that of the saints Cyril Methodius, which is adorned with exceptionally fine wall paintings. Regarding the icon of the Akathistos Hymn it is said that once a monk sang the entire Hymn before the icon without a pause. To reward him for his piety, when pirates once approached the monastery, the Virgin warned him to sound the alarm, thus saving the monastery. The well-ordered library of the monastery, housed in the tower, includes 10,000 print­ed books, numerous Greek manuscripts, some rare Slav and Bulgarian manuscripts, and particularly valuable codices. The most im­portant one is the Bulgarian cod. 47, the Ravomir psalter, dating from the 13th cen­tury. It measures 14 x 10 cm, and, besides the many illuminations, it contains a unique miniature portraying a cart drawn by four dragons with the body of a bird and the head of a dog. Three Slav manuscripts must also be mentioned: the 13th-century menologion of Dragan relating the lives of martyrs, the Slav Tetraevangelon cod. 28, dating from 1569, and lastly the Slav cod. 1, the first record­ing of the history of Bulgaria written by the monk Paisios in 1745. Besides the first icon of St. George, which is covered with gold, sil­ver and diamonds, and is immediately re­lated to the history of the foundation of the monastery (it probably dates from the 12th or 13th century), among the icons of the monastery are a second icon of St. George of Arabian origin, as well as a third one, offered by Stephen IV of Moldavia-Wallachia in 1484. In the treasury are kept the relics of saints, vestments, liturgical vessels, many icons and exquisitely carved wooden cross­es. One of the icons is that of the Virgin Epakouousa ("She who answers prayer"), in relation to which the following story is told: The devout monk, Cosmas, was deeply concerned with the question of which was the best way to approach God in order to save one's soul. As he pondered, he suddenly heard a heav­enly voice ordering him to leave the monastery and to live the rest of his life as a hermit.

The feast day of Zographou's patron saint, St. George, is celebrated on 23 April.

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