Location
Historic
 


 1. Overall View
 2. The Katholikon
 3. The Tower
Art
Library
Figures and Issues
Skete of Prophet Elijah
 
 

2. The Katholikon



View of the monastery’s 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.

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 in Wallachia).

a. The nave

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 Monastery.



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 1861:


The miracle-working icon of Theotokos the Gerontissa.

“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 way.

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 out.



(† 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. 1535-1546.


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 Feasts).

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 nave.

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 1847.”

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.