July 20, 2015

The Holy Skete of the Prophet Elijah in Mount Athos

The Skete of the Prophet Elias (Elijah) is located west of Pantocrator Monastery, of which it is a dependency, and has a panoramic view of the sea.

Before the Skete was built, even prior than the 15th century, within the vicinity of the Pantocrator Monastery there were some cells of hesychast monks, which became a single Cell. In 1492 Vlad III would cut 1000 silver coins for the Cell as an annual grant. Soon after, in around 1500, the Protos, Kosmas of Hilandari Monastery, retired here.

In early 1757 there settled in this deserted Cell of the Prophet Elias the Russian hesychast Paisios Velichovsky (1722-1794) with 35 of his disciples, who turned the Cell into the standard Skete. The primary work of the Skete was to be devoted to hesychast prayer, study and the translation of ecclesiastical texts from Greek to Russian. As a cenobitic community, it became a model of a cenobitic skete. Although no evidence exists of a constitution governing the operation of this establishment as a Skete, it was nevertheless recognized as such by the Ecumenical Patriarch Seraphim I who was staying in the Monastery at that time. In 1762 Paisios with his disciples left the Skete and went to Simonopetra Monastery, and from there to Wallachia bringing hesychasm to Slavic lands.

After his departure, the Monastery ceded the Skete to Greek monks who changed its order to idiorrhythmic. It kept this status until the Greek Revolution of 1821 when it was devastated. After the withdrawal of the Turkish garrison from Mount Athos in 1835, St. Paisios' strong tradition was followed by the successor at the Skete, the monk Aniketos, who was also a Russian with 15 disciples. They settled in the Skete in June of 1835. With the settlement of Aniketos, the Skete became widely known. The brotherhood worked intensely to build imposing buildings, in the South (1839) and West (1849).

There followed a period of controversy between the ruling Monastery of Pantocrator and the Russian monks of the Skete, which ended in 1839 with the mediation of Mr. Petroseski, the interpreter of the Russian consulate in Thessaloniki, and Constantine Spandonis. “A pact was concluded regulating the relations between the ruling Monastery and the Skete and which was ratified by the Holy Community.” A portion of the Skete held to the theory of Panslavism and there was blackmail from part of the Monastery when the Russian Dikaios Tobias attempted to enlarge the Skete and build a new kyriakon. The document from 1839, validated subsequently in 1871, 1873 and 1879, was an agreement from both sides that was often set aside. The evil perpetuated when both sides went to the secular courts, as well as the Great Church in Constantinople, which instead of issuing the 7 articles of the document from 1839, issued 22 conditions in 1892, in which Tobias succeeded in securing approval for the construction of new premises and the settlement there of 130 monks and 20 novices. But within ten years the conditions failed and the population of monks in the Skete doubled. Peace eventually came to both factions with concessions and acts of Christian love, and on Easter Tuesday both came together and embraced each other to commonly celebrate the Resurrection.

In 1893 work on a new five-storey kyriakon was begun with the design and signature of Duchess Alexandra Petrovna in October 1892. She showed such favor towards the Skete that in July of 1891 she visited Athos and from her yacht was able to see the protected Skete. The foundation was laid in the presence of her representative, Admiral Gkolovatsef, without the presence of a bishop. The inauguration took place in 1900 by Ecumenical Patriarch Joachim III.

In 1900 the Russian Admiral Virilof and Patriarch Joachim III laid the foundation stone of an imposing and luxurious katholikon, at the unlimited expense of the Russian czar, and was completed in 1903. It was dedicated to the Prophet Elias, together with St. Alexandra and the Apostle Andrew, whose holy skull is contained within. Its internal decoration is rich, however the church has no frescoes. There are also three chapels in the Skete, dedicated to Sts. Metrophanes and Theopatores, St. Nicholas, and the Annunciation. Nevertheless, the tension and the reaction to the plans of the Russian monks of the Skete are reflected in the following remark of Gerasimos Smyrnakis: “In the end, the result was the development and expansion of a Skete that was in fact a magnificent and populous Monastery but was euphemistically called a Skete in mockery of those who tolerated its existence.”

After a period of decrease and decline during the last century, the Skete of Prophet Elias was occupied again in 1992 by the devout and diligent brotherhood of the industrious Elder and Dikaios Archimandrite Joachim (Karachristos), an event signalling the start of a new period of sound administration and spiritual flourishing for the Skete.

The Skete possesses a rich library and a number of valuable liturgical objects. These include the miraculous icons of the the Weeping Mother of God (Dakrirooussa) and the Lactating Mother of God (Galaktotrophousa). Among the holy treasures are crosses and a holy bread box. Today it is occupied by 12 Greek monks.