2. The Katholikon
The katholikon is at the north end of the courtyard
and is dedicated to the Transfiguration of Our Lord. As is well
known, the feast of the Transfiguration is directly related to the
teachings about the uncreated light developed by St Gregory Palamas
and other hesychast fathers during the fourteenth century, a few
decades before the establishment of the monastery. Therefore, it
is not entirely surprising that the katholika of several monasteries
founded in that period were dedicated to the Transfiguration of
Our Lord. Examples are the katholika of the monastery of Vlatadon
in Thessaloniki founded by the disciples of St Gregory, and that
of Great Meteora founded by Blessed Athanasius Meteorites.
View of the monastery’s katholikon.
From an architectural point of
view the katholikon is a triple-apsed inscribed-cross church with
dome, a plan known as the “Athonite type”. However, it has a
substantial modification, resulting
from the elongation of the east apse and the addition of two externally
polygonal domed towers on the two corners of the sanctuary (typikaria),
which makes the architecture of the katholikon unusual.
Based on various pieces of historical
evidence, but also on more recent archaeological research, it emerges
that the church, with its lead-covered domes, acquired its present
shape only after three distinct phases of construction.
The first dates to the period of
the monastery’s foundation and includes the nave, the eastern part
of the esonarthex (lite) and the Chapel of the Dormition of the
Theotokos. The second dates to 1614 and involved the extension of
the sanctuary to the east, and the third relates to considerable
structural changes made in 1847 in the exonarthex, the lite and
the floor of the katholikon, paid for by Archimandrite Meletios
Katsoranos of Kydonies (his name is derived from Katsori, a metochi
The church in its original shape was consecrated
in about 1363. The inscribed marble tablet that used to be in the
katechoumena in the west of the katholikon and has since been moved
to the staircase leading from the exonarthex to the bell-tower,
was probably made in order to commemorate the inauguration.
(Remember, O Lord, Your servants Alexios and John the founders and
brothers in the flesh. Done in 1363.)
Four marble columns support the
central dome, with half-domes rising above conches to the north
and south. Approximately in the centre of the nave, to the right
and to the left, are two marble icon stands, made in 1896 by the
sculptor George Philippotis from Tenos. These were given by the
Monks Akindynos from Andros and Theophilos from Lesbos. Attached
to them are the mosaic icon of the Transfiguration and the miracle
working icon of the Blessed Virgin Gerontissa.
It should be noted that the presence of the Gerontissa on this large
icon (1.96m x 0.76m) of the nave is indeed very commanding as the
Theotokos is portrayed full-length, facing slightly to the right
in the Agiossoritissa posture.
According to the monastery’s traditions, this icon was brought from
Constantinople by the founders when they came to the Holy Mountain
with the purpose of establishing a monastery. They put it in the
place they had selected for building the monastery and work began.
However, the next morning they found the icon at the place where
the monastery stands today. They took it back to its initial location
and resumed work. However, the next day the icon was again found
at the present location of the monastery. After the miracle was
repeated for a third time, the founders began to build on the site
that Our Lady the Theotokos had selected. The initial position the
founders had chosen is identified with that of the Chapel of St
Athanasius the Great approximately 500 metres north-west of the
The nave. First Resurrection.
What follows is the “Narration of the miracle-working icon of the
Mother of God named Gerontissa” taken verbatim from the book Anotera
Episkiasis epi tou Atho (“Athos: in the Shadow of Heaven”) Constantinople
The miracle-working icon of Theotokos
“This icon stands today inside
the katholikon against the east column of the left choir. In earlier
days it was placed inside the sanctuary. In this monastery there
once lived a virtuous old abbot who fell sick shortly before his
repose, and who knew by revelation the time of it. As he ardently
desired to be worthy of and receive the Holy and Life-Giving Communion,
the flesh and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ before his departure
to eternity, he asked the officiating priest-monk to hasten the
end of the service but the priest would not respect his abbot’s
request and continued to perform the service at a slow pace. Suddenly
he heard a threatening voice coming from this icon of the Mother
of God standing in the sanctuary, ordering him to do as the abbot
wished. Owing to this miracle the icon was given the symbolic name
Gerontissa (‘the Elder’).
In this silver-covered icon, which
has been refurbished, the Theotokos is depicted full-length. The
jar depicted in relief on the silver cover of the icon was added
there in memory of another miracle. On a certain day and while the
abbot was praying in front of the icon, the empty oil jars of the
monastery were suddenly found filled with olive oil in a miraculous
At the time the Saracen pirates raided this Holy Monastery, they
threw this sacred icon into a nearby well. At a later time it was
found in there following the instructions of a relative of one of
those Saracens who had been stricken blind for his impudence and
folly. This reckless barbarian, being contemptuous of this sacred
item of the Christians, had attempted to cut it into pieces so that
he could light his pipe with one of its fragments, but at that same
moment he lost his sight because of his audacity and so the icon
remained in the well for more than eighty years.
Nevertheless this justly-punished barbarian, when he found himself
at death’s door, being in agony and repenting for his impudence,
and in the hope of receiving some relief and comfort from his afflictions
in return for his repentance, ordered his servants that they must
go to Mount Athos, even after his death, and recover there the icon
he and his companions had thrown into the well. Therefore the relatives
of the repenting barbarian, obedient to his will, came to Mount
Athos, indicated the place where this sacred icon had been thrown,
and recovered it in honour. This is the tradition maintained in
the monastery about this miracle-working icon.”
The silver covering of the icon
was made in Moscow in 1874 and according to tradition it is a votive
offering of a prominent lady from Constantinople in response to
a demand from the Blessed Virgin Mary who asked her to offer it.
The anthivolon (tracing of the icon) sent to Moscow in order for
it to be made is still preserved.
Right beside the marble one on
the south side, there is another icon stand where the icons of the
saints celebrated each day are placed in turn. This icon stand,
dedicated by Priest-monk Anthimos from Sifnos in 1716, is ornamented
with inlaid ivory, mother of pearl and carapace, a classic example
of the decorative arts of the Eastern Mediterranean at that time.
b. The Sanctuary
In 1614, very substantial renovations
were undertaken within the sanctuary. It was extended five metres
to the east and two typikaria were built, one on either side of
the apse. These typikaria are open rooms, polygonal outside and
circular inside, topped with domes. Those who contributed towards
the restoration were the Patriarchs of Constantinople Anthimos II
(1623) and Paissios I (1652-1653, 1654-1655).
The nave is separated from the sanctuary by a gold-covered carved-wood
iconostasis (templon) of excellent craftsmanship. This iconostasis,
with a floral decoration, is the third to have been installed in
the course of the monastery’s existence and was made by Chrysanthos
Klientis after the structural changes mentioned above had been carried
(† This sacred new templon was installed in this most venerable
church of God the Highest and Pantokrator at his most Holy Monastery
thanks to the money, eagerness and fervent desire of a pious man,
Master Matthew, whom you reward with the angels’ symphony, O Thou
Word, King of All, Pantokrator.
Completed in the year One Thousand Eight Hundred and Forty Eight.
Chrysanthos Klientis mon…)
This inscription is of particular
importance not only because of the information it provides on people
and dates, but also, as the archaeologist I. Papangelos points out,
because it is in this inscription that the term “templon” is used
to denote the whole screen separating the sanctuary from the nave
(iconostasis), and not just its epistyle or highest part.
Theotokos, “Joy of All”. Attributed to
Theophanes the Cretan. On the iconostasis in the katholikon.
Christ Pantokrator. Attributed to Theophanes
the Cretan. On the iconostasis in the katholikon. 1535-1546.
The templon is adorned with two splendid icons by Theophanes the
Cretan, that of Christ Pantokrator and that of the Theotokos Enthroned
(“The Joy of All”). The icon of St John the Forerunner, with scenes
from his life and his martyrdom depicted in its margins, was donated
in 1655 by Priest-monk Anthony of Chelandari.
Of equal value is the icon of
the Archangels placed to the right of the icon of Pantokrator and
dating from the seventeenth century. Depicted in its margin are
scenes from the miracles of the Archangels, of which the four scenes
depicting their miracle in the monastery of Docheiariou are the
most remarkable. The representation of this miracle is the oldest
one on a surviving portable icon. In the second tier of niches on
the templon are the icons of the Dodekaorton (Cycle of the Twelve
Above, at the highest point of the templon, rises an epistyle cross
of imposing dimensions, the work of a Cretan workshop of the end
of the sixteenth century. Its lepyra (two upright icons with the
figures of the Mother of God and St John the Theologian in mourning
postures on either side of the crucifix) are kept in the sacristy
of the monastery.
The two gilded carved-wood wings of the Royal Doors are the work
of Priest-monk Isaiadas and date to 1622 according to a partly illegible
inscription that runs across both.
The door wings are decorated with
31 miniature paintings depicting prophets and apostles and including
themes of the Crucifixion and the Annunciation.
Within the sanctuary the carved-wood ciborium dominates, covering
the marble altar. On its inside surface the Heavenly Liturgy is
depicted, Recently, and after some cleaning of the walls of the
sanctuary, older brilliant murals dating back to the seventeenth
century were exposed under the more recent ones.
c. The Esonarthex (Lite)
The doorway leading from the lite to
The space of the esonarthex (lite)
in the west is connected to the nave by a central marble doorway
constructed according to a classical design and with two flanking
side-entrances. During the restoration of 1847, considerable changes
were made in the lite by the master-mason Hadji Antonis Lytras,
the father of the great painter Nicephoros Lytras, when, according
to an inscription on the outer lintel: “The present narthex and
its floor together with the katholikon and the rest were restored
at the expense of the most blessed and learned holy Archimandrite
Master Meletios Katsoranos of Pantokrator from Kydonies in June
It was at that time that the two earlier narthexes were combined
into one under a single three-domed roof supported with marble columns.
The Chapel of The Three Hierarchs on the right-hand side of the
lite, where the tomb of the founders was located and where excellent
murals had been painted by Theophanes the Cretan, was also demolished
at that time. The restoration work and the painting over of the
old murals are also evidenced from a second inscription over the
lintel of the central door leading from the nave to the lite.
In 1847 a glazed exonarthex was added, framing the lite from west
and south, and a square bell-tower was erected where the old one
had been built in 1735 between the Chapel of the Dormition and the
north wall of the exonarthex. The oldest bell in the belfry is dated
1610 and is decorated with cast figures of saints. According to
Barskij, the belfry had a clock, the mechanism of which is presumably
the one still to be found in the monastery today.