The Site of the Sacred Monastery
The sacred and historic Monastery of the Great Cave in the martyric and much-suffering region of Kalavryta is three hours distant from the city by foot or fifteen minutes by automobile. It is a palace built by God to which, like clouds and like doves with nestlings, crowds of the faithful come in order to worship the image of the all-holy and grace-filled countenance of our Mistress and Queen of all, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, which was painted by St. Luke the Evangelist, and to seek the grace of the Mother of God. This monastery is that blessed land which scatters abroad spiritual perfumes and scents of heavenly sweetness, because it possesses this treasure of great price.
For this reason, every soul which loves God longs to apprehend in every way this beautiful religious monument which is an unfailed fountain of consolation and strength. Furthermore, for all those who approach with faith, there results a refreshment of soul, joy of the heart, illumination of the eyes, sweetness for the mouth, help for the helpless, deliverance for those in need, guidance for the fortunate, and establishment of the virtuous.
Symeon and Theodore
The blessed fathers Symeon and Theodore, who discovered the holy icon, were brothers according to the flesh. They were born, according to the Synaxarion, at the beginning of the fourth century in Thessalonika, the bride of the Thermaic Gulf and the capital of martyric Macedonia. It is also argued they lived in the ninth century however, since the details of their life only seem to fit with this time period.
They had the good fortune to be the children of a pious and holy family, which was diligent to rear them with all care and planted in them divine love and an inclination to strive continually for perfection and the exercise of the virtues. Since they had been educated in a manner pleasing to God and had acquired the character of the first man Adam, they subjected completely the carnal and earthly will to the knowledge and commandments of Christ. They studied rhetoric, philosophy, and poetry but principally applied themselves to understand the doctrine of theology. They succeeded in forming in themselves the figure of the ideal Christian who combines harmoniously in his life religion and virtue. Their principal goal was how to become pleasing to God and to gain Him. The angelic life of the monks of the desert aroused and literally enraptured within them the desire to abandon all worldy dreams of vanity and withdrew to the desert. Looking only to the true and eternal life, they were clothed with the habit of the monastic and angelic life.
Desiring greatly that spiritual mount where ascends and stands he "whose hands are innocent and is pure of heart", they ascended in the beginning Mt. Olympus where they remained a good time. From there they went to Mt. Ossa and later reached beautiful Mt. Pelion, thus "running with patience" that good race which they had entered. Living in continual prayer and study of the divine words and looking only to "Jesus, the author and finisher of our Faith", they became temples of the Holy Spirit and most pure abodes of God. They also never ceased to glorify the Mother of our Lord, the immaculate Theotokos, whom they invoked as an intercessor to her only-begotten Son and God for the sake of themselves and the world.
After they had exercised themselves in the contest for virtue in the aforementioned mountains for a long time, they then visited Mt. Athos where they came to know many illumined hesychasts and men of the desert. From these unique, living figures of perfection they gathered many elements useful for the life according to God. Later, being urged on by longing for the divine, they travelled to worship those places where God walked, Jerusalem and Mt. Tabor.
They travelled to and venerated all the places where the feet of the God-Man, our Savior, walked and where were accomplished the mysteries of universal salvation. Moreover, they travelled to Sinai, that mountain walked upon by God, and where "the Lord spake" to Moses the God-seer "face to face as one speaks to his own friend". They kissed there with tears in their eyes the holy earth of that mystic bush that burned yet was not consumed prefiguring the great mystery of God's dispensation. They visted all the shrines that exist in those places which are tokens of God's manifestations there, conversed with venerable elders in the desert round about, and so experienced indescribable joy. Finally, after they had returned by divine command to Jerusalem, they received the great office of the priesthood from the most sacred Maximus, bishop of the Holy City Jerusalem.
While the blessed pair were living there, each one seperately was deemed worthy to see the same vision in a dream and to receive from above the same divine and sweet command. The Queen of Heaven, mary the Mother of God, appeared unto them, crowned with divine glory and splendor and escorted by the apostles Paul, Andrew, and Luke. They ordered the brothers to go to Achaia to find the icon of the Virgin Mary sculpted in relief by the Evangelist Luke, and which, by the goodwill and grace of her Son, is an exact likeness of her divine countenance. When the brothers awoke, they narrated everything to the most sacred Maximus. After glorifying God, they departed from Jerusalem for Achaia, which had been spiritually sown, watered, and cultivated evangelically by those same three venerable and divine men, the holy Apostles Paul, Andrew and Luke.
1. A historical study published in 1985 by Panselinos Editions of Mt. Athos, titled The Thessalonian Saints Symeon and Theodore, First Dwellers of Athos and Patrons of All Greece, written by El. Anagnostaki and the Hieromonk Justin, places the birth and activity of the Saints in the ninth century, during the Iconoclast Controversy. There is no record of the Monastery before this time as well, and it would still place them as the first recorded monastics of Mount Athos. However, there may be some sort of tradition that did originate in the fourth century, or, as is sometimes the case, the Synaxarion may have confused the lives of these two Saints with someone else.
2. Bishop Maximus III of Jerusalem (333-348). The naming of Bishop Maximus is one argument that supports the fourth century date for these Saints.
The Exhibition Hall of the Monastery. It was completely renovated by Archimandrite Nikephoros Theodoropoulos in 1985.
To be continued...