October 18, 2009

The Holy Monastery of Mega Spelaion in Kalavryta (1)

On the Feast of the Holy Apostle Luke (October 18) we also celebrate the founders of the Sacred Monastery of Mega Spelaion, one of the most renowned monasteries in all of Greece. These founders are Saints Symeon, Theodore and Efrosyne. Mega Spelaion (Great Cave) is so renowned precisely because it has connections with the Apostle Luke. There is a firm tradition that the Apostle Luke founded churches in the region of Achaia, which is the exact region Mega Spelaion Monastery is located in Greece. It was revealed later on that in the Great Cave where the Monastery is located today, the Holy Apostle celebrated the Divine Liturgy and the faithful of the region would gather to receive Holy Communion from the Apostle's hands. Essentially therefore, the site where the Mega Spelaion Monastery is located today is a church with apostolic foundations dating to the first century and likely the oldest church in the world. Also, though it is not clear who the "Theophilus" is to whom the Apostle Luke's Gospel and Acts is addressed to, many believe he possibly held some high office in the region of Achaia. Both Julius Africanus and Jerome tell us, among others, that Luke lived in Achaia for a while converting many, and that he wrote the Gospel beariing his name in Achaia. In fact, it was revealed that the Gospel was written in the Great Cave itself, leading us to believe that it was a central location of the Apostle's ministry. There is also a firm tradition that the Holy Apostle Luke painted the first icons beginning with those of the mother of Jesus, the Holy Virgin Mary. Later revelation records that one of these wonder-working icons was discovered in the Great Cave by the three founders, and it is still housed in Mega Spelaion today. For all these reasons, this Monastery is renowned throughout the Orthodox world and bears a fascinating history which continues into our times.

When I visited Mega Spelaion in 1991 I was given a little booklet about the Monastery which was an updated version of a book published in 1957 written by Metropolitan Agathonikos. This series is a translation of this short book which covers the most important historical facts of this Monastery. It was already translated into English, but I have edited this translation a little bit for better readability. It is my goal to make this Monastery more well-known in English-speaking lands and encourage pilgrimage to this Holy Shrine of the Orthodox Church.

Below is the introduction written by Metropolitan Ambrose of Kalavryta and Aigialeia:

For the sake of the numerous, pious pilgrims to the historical Patriarchal and Royal Sacred Monastery of Mega Spelaion, who throng here from the ends of the world to venerate the sacred icon of the Most Holy Theotokos and Virgin Mary in order to receive her strength and grace and the health of soul and body, we undertake the publishing of this brief history of the founding of the Monastery for the following reason. Modern man needs brief narrations of the historic, sacred sites and religious monuments and shrines of our beloved fatherland, because on the one hand, he is daily flooded with masses of printed matter, and on the other hand, he no longer sets aside sufficient time for study.

Since we wished to remedy this need, we decided not to write a new history, but to publish a modern Greek translation of the well-known "Brief History of the Sacred Royal Monastery of Mega Spelaion" which was first published in 1957 under the auspices of our ever-memorable predecessor, the Metropolitan Agathonikos, and has had eleven successive editions, the latest in 1977. The tone of this little work is churchly, unaffected, and simple. Its purpose is to benefit the soul of the pilgrim and not to impress his intellect. Since we are of the opinion that modern man has a great need for precisely such a spirit of simplicity and evangelical innocence in order with humility to draw near to God in the heavens and to find his salvation, we decided to re-issue this already well-known text, translated by our esteemed associate, Mr. Evangelos Lekkos, a theologian and jurist. In addition, we are giving to this edition a more aesthetic form, in order to adjoin charm to edification.

We hereby deliver this text in English, for the sake of the foreign visitors to the Monastery. The translation is owed to the diligence and the labor of Mr. Peter Botsis, a writer, whom we cordially thank for his unselfish offer.

From what we have noted above, it becomes obvious this publication is not directed at researchers and archeologists. It is offered only to those who arrive at the sacred cliff of the Great Cave as pilgrims to the sacred icon of the Most holy Theotokos and Virgin Mary, which was revealed miraculously centuries ago in this sacred Cave and which is named Speliotissa.

Turning our mind and heart piously towards Mary the Mother of God, we beseech in the words of our fathers: "O Lady, accept the petitions of your servants and deliver us from every necessity and distress."

+ Ambrose
Metropolitan of Kalavryta and Aigialeia

In the Sacred Monastery of Mega Spelaion,
August 15, 1988

Part 2