March 9, 2010

Xeropotamou Monastery and the Forty Holy Martyrs

Xeropotamou Monastery on Mount Athos is dedicated to the Forty Holy Martyrs of Sebaste. Oral tradition makes the founder of the Monastery the Empress Pulcheria, who lived in the fifth century, while another version regards the founders as the tenth century Emperors Constantine VI Porphyrogenetus and Romanus I Lecapenus. Saint Paul of Xeropotamou is said to have become an ascetic in a cell near an old monastery where Xeropotamou now stands. This old monastery is the one said to have been built by Empress Pulcheria and dedicated to the Forty Holy Martyrs after the discovery of their holy relics in her time. St. Paul of Xeropotamou also wrote the Canon to the Forty Martyrs. The katholikon today is dedicated to the Forty Holy Martyrs and was built in between 1761-1763 on the site of an earlier church; the iconography was done in 1783. It celebrates its main feast on March 9. Among the treasures of Xeropotamou are the paten of Pulcheria, made of steatite, relics of many saints including those of the Forty Holy Martyrs, gold embroidered vestments, and priceless episcopal staffs, but its greatest treasure consists of two pieces of the True Cross, the largest anywhere in the world, which have a hole made by one of the nails of the Crucifixion. According to St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, the library contains manuscripts detailing the lives of the Forty Holy Martyrs.

(For the history of the icons and manuscripts at Xeropotamou pertaining to the Forty Martyrs, see here. There is an english summary on page 8 which is followed by some icons of the Forty Martyrs from Xeropotamou.)

Two Miracles of the Holy Forty Martyrs at Xeropotamou Monastery

A. The Forty Martyrs and Sultan Selim I (d. 1519):

Xeropotamou Monastery has survived many earthquakes and fires, having been rebuilt many times over by several rulers. One of these rulers was Sultan Selim I. Pirates had burned down the monastery in 1507, and one day the Forty Holy Martyrs appeared to Selim in a vision to restore it. In return for this restoration, the Forty Martyrs promised him that they would help him in his battle against the Arabs. Long after the sultan's death in 1519, his successors continued to provide oil for the lamps before the icon and relics of the Forty Holy Martyrs in the katholikon of Xeropotamou. Today the monastery has in its archives a Hatt Shariff from 1517 documenting the large donations Selim made to the monastery and its facilities.

Here is the official record of Selim's vision:

"During his residence in Egypt, Sultan Selim saw forty large-bodied lads with golden chariots, which appeared to be running like angels, and they said: "We are, O King, helpers of the Ottomans and co-workers in the victory against your enemy. As a reward for the good we have done for you, when tomorrow comes, if you will, some spiritual (Ρουχμπάνιδες) hermits will come asking of you a will of your kingdom to restore our house, in which is found our relics. If you have love and want to have us as friends on other occasions, you must not only grant them a will to build our house, but to give them some of your imperial friendly treasures as well."

The 10 Articles of the Hatt Shariff defined the following:

1. Restore Xeropotamou after a recent fire.

2. Give permission to the monks to restore the Monastery as necessary.

3. 40 oil lamps are to burn before the relics of the saints.

4. For the Monastery to be able to see the four parts of the horizon.

5. The monks are to be granted immunity.

6. 10 of the best workers are to be brought to draw up the borders of the Monastery and the Metochion, with the caretaker of the Monastery being Ibrahim Agha.

7. Confirms the Hatt Shariff of Sultan Murad Yao.

8. If a monk leaves the Monastery for another, he is to be punished with a fine of 100 piastres, having received this Monastery from the Agha's land, and for Xeropotamou to be notified.

9. No one should inherit all of Mount Athos, but only the Monastery to which they belong.

10. The present Hatt Shariff should be kept in the Monastery, and only a copy is to be used when exported by the fathers for use in courts, etc. Mentioned also here are aphorisms against the violators of this document.

B. From the life of Elder Ambrose Lazaris (+2006):

The blessed elder told me [Abbot Ephraim of Vatopaidi] in a conversation that after his military duty was completed (he was a Tsolia for the Palace Guard), he wanted to go to the Holy Mountain. However, he did not know where nor how to go. Suddenly there appeared to him a young man around 25 years of age and said to him: "I know those lands. Come with me." And this is how it happened.

They embarked together, went to the sea and boarded the ship. "He also gave me," he said, "bread which we ate together all the days we were together. His name however he did not tell me, though I also never asked him. This is how we arrived in Daphne and from there we walked into the Holy Mountain.

"As long as he was with me, I felt greatly protected. Moving on he showed me the Monastery of Xeropotamou where the Holy Forty Martyrs are honored. He asked me if I wanted us to go venerate and I approved. We entered the church (the katholikon of the Monastery) and as I was venerating the icon, forty young men encircled us. Then the young man told me that 'it is the Forty Holy Martyrs and they are rejoicing because you are becoming a monk'.

"From there we continued along the road and arrived at Karyes and from their the Holy Monastery of Koutloumousiou. Here the young man stopped, he showed me the Holy Monastery, and said: 'Here you will live Spyro. You will become a monk, you will be patient and be obedient to the elder' ... and he disappeared."