August 31, 2010

The Holy Girdle (Zoni) of the Theotokos

The Holy Belt (or Zoni; Cincture; Sash) of the Theotokos (Feast Day - August 31)


Like an all-golden garland, O august Virgin,
I set your Belt on the year’s end as adornment.
On the thirty-first, they enshrined the Belt of the All-pure.

According to Sacred Tradition and the history of our Church, the Most Holy Theotokos three days after she reposed rose from the dead and ascended bodily to the heavens. During her ascension, she gave her Holy Zoni (which is translated as either "Belt" or "Girdle") to the Apostle Thomas. Thomas, along with the rest of the Holy Apostles, opened up her grave and didn't find the body of the Theotokos. In this way the Holy Belt is proof for our Church of her resurrection and bodily ascension to the heavens, and, in a word, of her metastasis (transposition).

The Holy Zoni, according to tradition, was made by the Blessed Virgin Mary herself from camel hair. Originally it was kept in Jerusalem and later in Constantinople. During the reign of Emperor Arkadios (395-408), the honorable Zoni of the Mother of God was brought from Zela of Cappadocia to Constantinople, and placed in the Church of the Theotokos in the section of Chalkopratia. In 886 Emperor Leo VI the Wise opened the Holy Coffin (the case which contained the Zoni) for the first time since Arkadios, in order to heal his wife Zoe of being disturbed by an unclean spirit, and she was miraculously healed. Previously the Empress Pulcheria, who had a great love for the Theotokos, embroidered the Zoni with gold thread, as it is found today, but divided it in three pieces. During the 12th century under Manuel I Komnenos (1143-1180) an official feast day for the Zoni was established on August 31st, on which day it was transferred to the Blachernae Church; previously it had shared the Feast of the Robe of the Virgin on 2 July.

In the 12th century, when, in the course of a defeat of Emperor Isaac by the Bulgar King Asan (1185), the Holy Zoni was stolen and taken to Bulgaria, and from there it later came into the hands of the Serbs. It was presented to Vatopaidi by the Serbian Prince Lazarus I (1372-1389), together with a large piece of the True Cross. Since then it has been kept in the sanctuary of the katholikon.

Under Turkish rule, the brethren of the Monastery took it on journeys to Crete, Macedonia, Thrace, Constantinople and Asia Minor, to distribute its blessing, to strengthen the morale of the enslaved Greeks and to bring freedom from infectious diseases.

Numerous are the miracles that have taken place up to today with the Holy Zoni. Its value is priceless because it's associated with the Blessed Virgin Mary. She has the grace and to her the miraculous power is attributed, which in many ways she transmits to the faithful.

The Holy Zoni maintains unaltered the grace of the Most Holy Theotokos, because it became connected with her person and her life and because saints are Spirit-carriers during not only their life, but also after their death. The same phenomenon is mentioned in the Holy Scriptures when objects that the Prophet Elijah and the Holy Apostles wore actually performed miracles, because they had the grace of the saints. For this reason the Church attributes it honorary worship, as it does to the Holy Wood of the Cross of the Lord.

The following are a very few examples of the many miracles attributed to the Holy Belt of the Theotokos:

1. At one time, the inhabitants of Ainos called for the presence of the Holy Belt and the Vatopaidi monks accompanying it received hospitality at the house of a priest, whose wife surreptitiously removed a piece of it. When the fathers embarked to leave, although the sea was calm, the ship remained immobile. The priest’s wife, seeing this strange phenomenon, realized that she had done wrong and gave the monks the piece of the Belt, whereupon the ship was able to leave immediately. It was because of this event that the second case was made. The piece in question has been kept in this down to the present.

2. During the Greek War of Independence of 1821, the Holy Belt was taken to Crete at the request of the people of the island, who were afflicted by the plague. When, however, the monks were preparing to return to the Monastery, they were arrested by the Turks and taken off to be hanged, while the Holy Belt was redeemed by the British Consul, Domenikos Santantonio. From there the Belt was taken to Santorini, to the Consul’s new home. News of this quickly spread throughout the island. The local bishop informed the Vatopaidi Monastery and the Abbot, Dionysios, was sent, in 1831, to Santorini. The Consul asked the sum of 15,000 piastres to hand over the Belt, and the people of the island, with touching eagerness, managed to collect together the money. Thus the Holy Belt was bought back and Abbot Dionysios returned it to Vatopaidi.

What had happen with the priest’s wife of Ainos was repeated in the case of the Consul’s wife. She too, unbeknown to her husband, cut off a small piece of the Holy Belt before it was handed back to the Abbot Dionysios. Within a very short period her husband died suddenly and her mother and sister became gravely ill. In 1839, she wrote to the Monastery asking that representatives should be sent to take possession of the piece which she had removed.

3. In 1864, the Holy Belt was taken to Constantinople, since there was a cholera epidemic among the inhabitants. As soon as the ship bearing it approached the harbour, the cholera ceased and none of those already suffering from it died. This strange miracle excited the curiosity of the Sultan, who had the Girdle brought to the Palace so that he could reverence it.

4. During the time when the Holy Belt was at Constantinople, a Greek of Galata asked that it should be taken to his house, since his son was seriously ill. When, however, the Holy Belt arrived at his house, his son was already dead. The monks, however, did not give up hope. They asked to see the dead boy, and as soon as the Belt was placed on him, he was raised from the dead.

5. In 1894, the inhabitants of Madytos in Asia Minor sought that the Holy Belt should be taken there because a plague of locusts was destroying their trees and crops. When the ship carrying the Girdle came into the harbour, the sky was filled with clouds of locusts, which then began to fall into the sea, so that it was difficult for the vessel to anchor. The people of Madytos, seeing the miracle, kept up a constant chant of "Kyrie Eleison" from the shore.

6. Down to our own times, the Holy Belt has continued to work many miracles, particularly in the case of infertile women, who, when they request it, are given a piece of cord from the case holding the Belt and, if they have faith, become pregnant.

For more information on the Holy Belt on the island of Santorini, see here, here and here.

For information on pieces of the Holy Belt in the Roman Catholic Church, see here.

Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
O Ever-Virgin Theotokos, shelter of mankind, thou hast bestowed upon thy people a mighty investure, even thine immaculate body's raiment and sash, which by thy seedless childbirth have remained incorrupt; for in thee nature and time are made new. Wherefore, we implore thee to grant peace to the world, and great mercy to our souls.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
Thy precious sash, O Theotokos, which encompassed thy God-receiving womb, is an invincible force for thy flock, and an unfailing treasury of every good, O only Ever-virgin Mother.