November 21, 2011

The Monastery of Panagia of Machairas in Cyprus

The Monastery of the Panagia of Machairas is built on the Troodos mountains beneath the foot of Machairas Hill where Pedaios River runs. This river is the most important on the island of Cyprus. Machairas Monastery is in second position in terms of prestige in Cyprus, after the Monastery of Kykkos.

Tradition says that the icon of the Panagia of Machairas is one of the seventy icons painted by the evangelist Luke. The icon of Panagia of Machairas is miraculous, and is known in Cyprus for producing many miracles. The Panagia of Machairas is especially known for healing wounds.

According to local tradition, the Monastery was visited in 1337 by Alix d'Ibelin, wife of the Lusignan King Henry IV in 1337. She did not show any respect towards the monks nor the Orthodox Faith and ignored their pleas not to enter the Monastery which was avaton and therefore inaccessible to women. Once she entered the Holy Sanctuary, she was hit by the Panagia of Machairas and remained mute for three years.

Tradition links the founding of the Monastery with Iconoclasm. According to an oral tradition during the time of Iconoclasm (716-843 AD), a hermit brought the icon of the Panagia Agiosoritissa, later Machairiotissa, to Cyprus from Constantinople, and settled in a cave at the site where the Monastery is now. After the death of the ascetic, the icon was forgotten and bushes covered the entrance of the cave until the 12th century, when the Virgin Mary miraculously gave a knife to the ascetic saints Neophytos and Ignatios, to cut the bush in order to find the icon (hence the name Machairas, which is translated as "of the knife"). After Saint Neophytos reposed, another monk came to live with Ignatios, an old monk by the name of Prokopios. When the brotherhood became too crowded, these two fathers decided to build a monastery, which would operate under the coenobitic model followed by the great monastic centers of the period. The two monks, were subsidized by the then emperor of Constantinople, Manuel Komnenos (1143-1180) and initially they built a small chapel and a few cells. The Monasteries of Machairas, Kykkos, and Saint Neophytos had acquired special privileges from the time of the Roman Emperors. For this reason, they are Imperial and Stavropegial Monasteries, which means that they have a Cross lying under their foundation stone, and that makes them autonomous from the Archbishopric of Cyprus.

The Monastery of the the Panagia of Machairas played an important role in the struggles of the Greek Nation. This Monastery is where important figures such as the Archbishop and Ethnomartyr Kyprianos and the revolutionary monk Ioannikios came from, while during the years of the armed struggle between 1955-59 against the British, the Monastery became a refuge for the hero Gregorios Afxentiou, and there is a small museum with the hero's belongings there.

In 1530, a large fire completely destroyed the Monastery, and only the icon was saved. During British rule, in 1892, the Monastery was burned again completely, but again, the icon of Panagia Machairiotissa survived. The icons of the iconostasis and the most important historical relics that were in the library of the Monastery were also saved. In 1905, the Monastery was rebuilt again.

Today the Monastery has 25 extremely active and modest monks. They mainly live from agriculture and the donations from Christians. It celebrates on the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple on November 21st.

Read also: Neophytos, Ignatios, Prokopios and Neilos, Founders of Machairas Monastery