September 10, 2015

The Story of Saint Isaiah, Founder of Kykkos Monastery in Cyprus

St. Isaiah of Kykkos Monastery (Feast Day - September 10)

One of the many and famous monasteries of Cyprus is the Monastery of Kykkos, which is dedicated to the Panagia Eleousa. Here is kept the miraculous icon of the Panagia, which according to tradition, was painted by Luke the Evangelist. And this thanks to the actions and admirable perseverance of the elder ascetic Venerable Isaiah.

Where this Saint was born, who his parents were or what his education was, we don't know. What we do know about him is that, in the area where there is now the large monastery, in the eleventh century this holy figure was living as an ascetic in a cave.

According to tradition, as he was praying on his knees, he heard the singing of a strange bird, which said over and over again: "Kykou, Kykou, the mountain monastery will be born, a golden Lady will enter and never will she leave." The old ascetic heard this, but could not grasp the understanding of its meaning.

At that time, as it is today, it was common during the summer months for the many inhabitants of the plains to go to the mountains and enjoy their coolness. The Governor of Cyprus, which was then under the protection of the great Roman Empire, was Duke Manuel Voutomitis, who lived with the other officials in Nicosia. All these used to leave Nicosia during the summer months to go to the mountains to escape the excessive heat of the capital. Around the year 1100, Voutomitis left Nicosia and went to the village of Marathasa in the countryside. At that time in the mountains of Cyprus and the famous Akamas, there lived many hermit monks, among whom was Saint Isaiah.

One day Voutomitis was out in that area with some friends to hunt wild mouflons, and breaking away from his friends he wandered through the dense forest alone. Tired and distressed, as he roamed he came upon a cave. As he approached the entrance to the cave, he saw a man with very poor and ragged clothes. He came down off his horse and asked him who he was and why he was there. The ascetic did not speak. In an effort to not become known, he left that place. The duke considered this attitude very offensive. Annoyed, he attacked the ascetic, not only verbally by calling him a dirty old man, but he also beat him wildly and threw him to the ground, kicking him ruthlessly.

Despite experiencing pain in his skinny body, the monk told him in a calm voice and with tears from his heartbroken soul, that he was a servant of Christ and that the Lord would recompense the evil since he was a sinner. Angered, the duke left, without considering the few words of the Saint.

As the summer passed, Voutomitis returned to Nicosia and a few days later fell seriously ill from lethargy. The members of the official became totally paralyzed. He could move neither his feet nor his hands. In this situation, he remembered the words of Saint Isaiah, and in his pain he prayed with tears asking forgiveness from God. When the Holy God beheld the repentance of His creation, He gave the duke what he asked - his health. The words of the Spirit of God, "My child, call upon Me in your time of trouble and I will release you and you will glorify Me," were realized by Voutomitis.

The very next day, Voutomitis with his servants left for the mountains. He desired to arrive an hour earlier to the cave of the elder Isaiah to ask forgiveness for his conduct. That same night as the old man was praying on his knees for hours, he leaned over to lie down. Before he fell asleep the strange bird outside his cave began to sing over and over: "Kykou, Kykou, the mountain monastery will be born, a golden Lady will enter and never will she leave." With this song the hermit shut his eyes.

Sleep overtook him immediately, and a dream bothered him all night. The Panagia appeared to him in his cave and told him that at dawn he would be visited once again by the duke who had beat him in order to ask forgiveness. He will mention that he is willing to rectify the error by giving him what he asked, so he is to ask the duke to ask for the icon of the Panagia kept in the palace of Constantinople that was painted by the Apostle Luke and have it brought to Cyprus.

Before dawn Isaiah rose, as he was used to doing, to do his prostrations, prayers and handiwork. In the evening he heard a noise. He came out of the cave and waited as he said his prayers. Soon after through the branches that somewhat covered the mouth of his cave, he saw a team of men approaching. Before them was the duke. He did not recognize him immediately. Deeply touched, he stood and waited. The meeting was very unexpected. The official with compunction in his soul greeted the hermit and asked for his forgiveness for what took place in the past.

The hermit without any hesitation rushed over to him and said that he forgave him with all his heart. When Voutomitis told him that he was willing to give him whatever gift he desired to rectify his error, the elder Isaiah remembered his dream he had seen the night before and asked him to bring to Cyprus the icon of the Panagia painted by the Apostle Luke that was in the palace of Constantinople.

Although Voutomitis considered this request almost impossible, as this icon is one of the most precious treasures of the Emperor, he promised to try and help. Therefore Voutomitis suggested Saint Isaiah accompany him to Constantinople, and he accepted.

When, after some time, they arrived in Constantinople, Saint Isaiah was unwilling to change his ascetic life by living in lavish houses, so he stayed in a monastery he knew about while the duke Voutomitis visited Emperor Alexios Komnenos to update him on the happenings of Cyprus. This took place two or three more times, but regarding the subject of the icon he did not dare say anything because he was afraid of the emperor's answer.

After some time, when Saint Isaiah could no longer bear with life in the bustling city monastery, he decided to return to Cyprus. When he informed the duke, he became sad. The mere thought that the humble ascetic would depart without realizing the purpose of his trip made him very unhappy, but he didn't want to keep him there involuntarily. The duke therefore went to an iconographer and commissioned the painting of two icons. One depicted the Master Christ seated on a throne and the other the Holy Trinity in the image of the hospitality of Abraham. At the bottom of this icon, he commissioned to depict the Most Holy Theotokos with the elder Isaiah on her right and Manuel Voutomitis on her left.

Once the icons were finished, he visited the ascetic and gave them to him with a lot of money and the permission to return to Cyprus. With tears he sent him off begging him to pray for him and promising him to do everything possible to bring the icon to Cyprus. With this promise, the two travel companions separated.

After a relatively good trip the elder arrived in Cyprus with the help of God, and without rest he returned to his cave. His joy was great to regain his peace, but the sadness that he returned without the grace-flowing icon was not little.

From the first day he lay down to sleep in his cave, he again saw the same dream that he had before departing for Constantinople, and again he heard a voice saying to not be sad, for soon the all-august icon of the Mother of God would arrive in Cyprus.

With joy on his skeletal face, the elder awoke. Without losing time he called for assistants to build a church dedicated to the Holy Trinity, as it was commanded him. Upon completion, he placed inside the two icons given to him by the duke, and around the church he built cells for a monastery.

Back at the palace, God economized for the eldest of the three daughters of Emperor Alexios to become ill with the same sickness Voutomitis had. Voutomitis regarded this as a God-given opportunity to speak and request for the icon. The emperor listened to the words of Voutomitis carefully, and he promised to give the icon if his daughter became well.

Almost immediately, the daughter of the emperor became well, but he did not keep his promise. God does not forget, however, nor can He be mocked. And as Voutomitis was going to the emperor to remind him of his promise, the emperor was leaving Constantinople for Cyprus, thus causing the emperor himself to come down with the same illness as his daughter.

In a bed of pain, the emperor remembered the promise he made to Voutomitis, but because he could not give him the icon he requested, he thought to order an excellent iconographer to paint an identical icon of the old one and send it to Cyprus. He believed in this way he could satisfy Voutomitis and thus the august icon could remain in his possession. That night, however, the Panagia presented herself in his sleep and recalled for him the promise he made.

Terrified, the emperor awoke. Without losing any time he called on the people around him to immediately prepare the royal ship, place the august icon inside, and find a pious monk and abbot to travel together with it and remain in Cyprus. He also sent enough money to have an excellent temple built to place within the miraculous icon. These were given to the duke Voutomitis and he was ordered to hand it all over to the monk Isaiah to do whatever he wanted.

As soon as the ship arrived in Cyprus at a port in Tylliria, immediately the governor of the island Manuel Voutomitis and the old man Isaiah were advised. On hearing the news that the ship with the wonderworking icon of She Who is Full of Grace arrived, the old man Isaiah, despite his age, with "happy feet" came down from the mountains of Kykkos to the port. There he found Voutomitis with thousands of Christians who heard the news and left their villages and work and gathered at the harbor.

There Voutomitis handed to the ascetic Isaiah the holy icon and the money. Since Saint Isaiah built the monastery, he placed the august and wonderworking icon of the Panagia inside the church.

Venerable Isaiah, after living the rest of his life in the monastery, departed in peace.

Holy Father Isaiah, pray for us sinners.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

Apolytikion in the First Tone
You have become the first renowned builder of Kykkos, all-blessed Father Isaiah, and you greatly enriched it, with she who bears the form of Eleousa, the august work of the sacred Luke, from the City by divine will, and to you we ascribe praise: Glory to Christ Who glorified you, glory to Him Who does wonders, on behalf of your children forever, do intercede thrice-blessed one.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
The mountain of Kykkos you sanctified Father, by your ascetic conduct and struggles, and you prepared a throne for the Mother of God, the august icon, bearing the form of Eleousa, wondrously painted by Luke, and you now intercede before the Good One, O Isaiah, for those who honor you.

Rejoice, the founder and protector, of the august Monastery of Kykkos, the guardian of the island of Cyprus, Father Isaiah, the initiate of the Eleousa, without rest beseech Christ on our behalf.

Below are depictions of miracles of the Theotokos associated with her wonderworking icon in Kykkos Monastery: