September 12, 2015

Two Monasteries Associated With St. Photios Recently Discovered

St. Photios the Great, Patriarch of Constantinople

By John Sanidopoulos

The Lost Island of Vordonisi

There are nine islands (Prince’s Islands) on the southern coast of Istanbul: Büyükada, Heybeliada (Halki), Burgazada, Kınaliada, Sedef Adasi, Kasikadasi, Yassiada, Sivriada, Tavsanadasi. In fact, there is another one that we can’t see on the surface today: Vordonas, Vordonisi or Horeke Rocks as the fishermen call it.

Vordonisi, located near the Dragos and Maltepe coast on the Asian side, is one of the Istanbul islands that sank about 1000 years ago during a Constantinople earthquake with the monastery and the monks in it, as it is believed.

Due to recent earthquakes, the sunken island has risen a few meters and has allowed Turkish researchers to confirm the existence of this lost island in 2013 that was known to the Eastern Roman Empire. The monastery that existed there flourished from the eighth to the early eleventh century. In 1010 a major earthquake struck Constantinople causing the island to sink a few meters below sea level. According to Byzantine historians, this monastery was known as Gordonos or Armeniakon. Today there is a light on the rocks, the highest part close to the surface.

This monastery is associated with St. Photios the Great because he was banished here in 886 for his second exile, where he passed his time in studying and writing. During the altercations between Emperor Basil I and his heir Leo VI, Photios took the side of the emperor. Consequently, when Basil died in 886 and Leo became senior emperor, Photios was dismissed and banished, although he had been Leo's tutor. According to one source, he died and was buried here four years later in February 891. His relics did not remain on the island, but were transferred to Constantinople for a while, then brought to the island of Halki.

The Monastery of the Holy Protection on the Bosporus

After 800 years, the lost Monastery of the Holy Protection (Agia Skepi) on the Bosporus, near Koc University, has been discovered. The exact location of this holy monastery was written about in the recent past by Paul Magdalino, Byzantine scholar and professor of Byzantine history at Koc University, the English historian Micheal Angold, and the Australian historian Andrew Stone. For this reason Turkish researchers searched the area out of curiosity, and the investigation brought concrete evidence that the location of this monastery was indeed there.

After three weeks of excavations there was a discovery of a large hole leading to a tunnel that belonged in the wider area of ​​the monastery. The tunnel lies at a depth of four meters below the earth's surface, it has a length of approximately 250-300 meters and leads to the remains of the first building of the monastery, which after eight hundred years has now come to light.

This monastery is associated with St. Photios the Great because this was where his first exile took place. There were two emperors in the East at the time, Michael II and Basil I. Michael plotted to kill Basil, but Basil found out about the plot and murdered Michael. Patriarch Photios refused to accept the murder of Michael and refused Basil communion on a great feast day. This angered Basil, so he had Photios imprisoned at Holy Protection Monastery on the Bosporus in 867. He suffered great privations here, and was not even allowed to read books, except the Holy Scriptures. Instead, he wrote some profitable books, such as the famous Amphilochia. In this book he answers 320 questions and problems drawn from Holy Scripture. He also wrote Against the Manicheans, Explanation of the Epistles of the Holy Apostle Paul, the Nomocanon, and also some ecclesiastical hymns and important letters. He was recalled back to Constantinople in 875, highly revered and honored by all.

It is interesting that the discovery of this monastery, lost for 800 years, took place two years after the discovery of the Vordonisi, lost for 1000 years, and they are both directly associated with the struggles of St. Photios the Great.