Monastery Pantokratoros Mount Athos

The waves of the Strymonic gulf beat al­most incessantly against the 50-metre high rocks on the eastern shores of the Athos peninsula, dominated by the Monastery of the Pantocrator, which lies to the south­west, a three-and-a-half-hours’ walk away from the capital. A document signed by the patriarch of Constantinople, Callistus, confirms the date of the foundation of the monastery. Construction work was begun on the katholikon in 1357, and the building was completed a few years later, as is testified by the inscription, according to which the monastery was founded by Alexius the Stratopedarch and his brother John, the Grand Primikerios, both of whom intended to become monks and to spend the rest of their lives in the monastery. The construc­tion work was completed in 1363.

The emperor John V Palaeologus, a relative of the founders, granted considerable sums of money to Alexius and John, and these grants were continued by his successors. An inscription, which mentioned a possible third founder before 1536, the Grand Logothete of Hungary-Wallachia, Stanlu, was removed in 1847 from the narthex of the katholikon when the building underwent modifications. Just twenty years after the completion of the construction works, in 1390, the Monasten of the Pantocrator was destroyed by fire, but was rebuilt thanks to the generous help of the founders, of the emperor Manuel II Palae­ologus (1391-1425) and of Patriarch Antho­ny IV (1389-1390).

At that time the smaller monasteries of Faki-nou, Falakrou, Soritis and Aghiou Dimitri-ou – which continues to exist as a Skete -came under the jurisdiction of the Panto­crator Monastery.

After die fall of Constantinople, the Rumanian rulers initially supported the monastery. Af­ter the tribulations it suffered at the hands of the Turkish conquerors in the 15th cen­tury, a period of great prosperity began in the 16th century, thanks to the generous as­sistance of the rulers of Wallachia. The po­sition it holds today of seventh in rank in the hierarchy of the Athonite monasteries dates from that time. The most important of the Pantocrator’s benefactors in the 18th century (1716-1719) was the Phanariot Greek, John Mavrocordatos. Catherine the Great of Russia also expressed her support by grant­ing permission to the Pantocrator’s monks to raise funds on her territories. A disastrous fire in 1773 once again destroyed almost the entire complex and once again reconstruc­tion was made possible thanks to the tremen­dous efforts of the monk and treasurer, Cyril. After the two World Wars, another fire broke out which razed the north wing of the Pan-tocrator. The buildings have now been re­stored by the Greek Department of Restora­tion of Antiquities.

The katholikon of the monastery of the Pan-tocrator is the smallest on the Holy Moun­tain. The older murals, dating from 1538, were painted over by Matthaios Ioannes of Naoussa; there are, however, fragments of older paintings such as a Deesis and a Dormition of the Virgin and several icons of Saints which have been preserved to our day. Besides the tombs of the founders of the monastery, the katholikon also contains a very fine iconostasis dating from the period between 1622-1640.

In the building alterations which took place in 1847, the two narthexes were joined into one large esonarthex, to which was added a new glass-enclosed exonarthex.

The Refectory, dating from 1741, is incor­porated into the wing containing the monks’ cells, opposite the katholikon; its murals were painted in 1749. The building was extend­ed in 1866. Many of the most valuable books and manuscripts in the library were thank­fully preserved from the fires. Today the col­lection includes 3,500 printed works, two scrolls and almost 350 codices. Some of the 70 or so parchments it contains are exquis­ite works of art. Special mention must be made of codex no. 61, an illuminated 9th­century psalter, as well as the silver-bound codex no. 234. Although its dimensions are 17 χ 12.4 cm., it contains 547 pages of fine vellum, and the minuscule writing of the illuminated text measures only a millimetre, so that a magnifying glass is necessary in or­der to read it.

In the treasury there are fragments of the shield of Saint Mercurius, miracle-working icons, fragments of the True Cross, gold-em­broidered altar-cloths and sacred relics, such as those of the two miracle-working saints. Cosmas and Damian, and many others.

The icon which is revered above all others in the Monastery of the Pantocrator is that of the Virgin Gerondissa. It is said that, main years ago, during a service, this icon, ordered the officiating priest to shorten the ritual so that the dying hegumen might receive the Sacraments.

The Russian skete of the Prophet Elijah, sit­uated on a wooded slope above the monastery, belongs to the Pantocrator. The well-known Russian reformer and monk, Paisios Veltsovski, came to live here in 1757. In the following years the Skete kept being extended, thus causing friction with the monastery. The pa­triarch, Neophytus II, ended the dispute by issuing a decree by which the Skete was fi­nally ceded to the monastery. Another 16 kellia and 30 kalyves also belong to the monastery, which is dedicated to the Trans­figuration and celebrates its feast-day on 6 August.