January 31, 2016

A Historic Divine Liturgy After 600 Years in the Cretan Monastery of the Three Hierarchs

By John Sanidopoulos

The 14th century scholarly monk Joseph Philagres (or Philagrios) was born in Crete, when the island was under the Venetian occupation (1204-1669). His original name was John and took the name Joseph when he became a monk and priest. He studied Aristotelian philosophy, rhetoric, logic, and ethics in the Pandidakterion at Constantinople.

Joseph then returned to Venetian occupied Crete as a priest-monk, scholar, commentator of the works of Aristotle, great theologian and apologist against the Papal Church, and established a Monastery dedicated to the Three Hierarchs on Mount Kofinas in the Asterousia Mountains, in the area of Lousoudi, close to the settlement of Kapetaniana, as a dependency of neighboring Koudoumas Monastery. Next to the Monastery was established an Aristotelian School of Philosophy. There he taught Theology, Philosophy, Astronomy, Grammar and Medicine. At the same time he set up a Scriptorium where he and a team copied ancient Greek and patristic texts that he supervised over, and provided commentaries (scholia) on the side of the texts. These texts not only were distributed to Crete and Constantinople, but even traveled to Europe, contributing to the preservation and dissemination of ancient Greek thought, especially Aristotle, which was the starting point of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Copies of Philagres' texts have been found so far in the National Libraries of London, Paris, Vienna and Bucharest, and can also be found in places like Rome and Mount Athos.

The goal of this School was threefold:

1. Teach the Greek language at a high level.

2. Disseminate Orthodox Theology in opposition to the Latin Theology of the Papal Church. Joseph Philagres, Joseph Bryennios and Nilus Damilas were contemporaries and all three while in Crete wrote many important works of scholarship in support of Orthodoxy, and against the Union of Churches and the falsehoods of the Papacy.

3. Copy manuscripts of patristic texts and ancient Greece, especially Aristotle.

The reason the mission of this School is significant is not only that it was the starting point of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, but it helped preserve the Greek language and history and Orthodox theology in Crete during harsh Venetian rule and persecution. Especially in the 14th century, the Doge of Venice began a campaign in Crete with three objectives:

1. Restrict and prohibit the teaching of the Greek language and the writings of Aristotle ("because he was the founder of the exact sciences"), closing all schools taught in Greek, whether they be private or monastic.

2. Establish a feudal system with debilitating taxation, not only to shatter the rural economy, but also to impoverish those who lived in the cities. This led to the break out of two revolutions, one in Kallergon (1365-1367) and the other at Agiou Titou (1363-1365). "They were joined, for public interest, Venetian feudal lords and local rulers (Titus Venier and Francesco Gradenigo), who opposed the Venetian authority, in response to the imposition of new taxes to repair the port of Candia" (C. K. Papazoglou, Joseph Philagres or Philagrios, a Scholar, Cretan Priest and Aristotelian Commentator of the 14th Century, Komotini, 2008, in Greek).

3. Venetian authorities recognized only the Latin Church as their official Church, abolishing the leaders of the Orthodox Church, namely the Bishops, preventing Orthodox ordinations as much as possible, and they did this leaving the Vatican unaccountable. In this way the Venetians sought to subjugate Crete to the Papal Church and keep the Orthodox clergy and people in constant terror. This especially took place in the 14th century, with an unprecedented wave of propaganda and repression and demand to embrace Latin doctrine.

Joseph Philagres, Joseph Bryennios and Nilus Damilas opposed the imposition in similar ways and kept in close personal contact at this time. In 1383 Philagres wrote a text against all the Latin doctrines which Orthodoxy opposed while residing at the Monastery of the Three Hierarchs, according to the information preserved in a manuscript at the Academy of Bucharest.

In 2012, after being lost for centuries, the location of the Monastery and School were discovered and uncovered. Over the course of 600 years, the Monastery was left in ruins and the School has not been found. Only the ruined, single-nave katholicon (central church) of the Monastery with a few traces of wall paintings survive to the present day.

The late Professor Athanasios Paliouras brought to light the Monastery and restored the Church of the Three Hierarchs. All this was done at the expense of the Koudoumas Monastery and its Abbot Makarios Spyridakis. The supervision was done by the Archaeological Service and the Architect Hercules Pyrgianakis. The whole land plot on which the Monastery was located was donated to the Koudoumas Monastery by the monk Hilarion Stamatakis.

On Saturday, January 30, 2016 the church for the first time liturgized again after 600 years on the feast of the Three Hierarchs, and the Inauguration will take place, barring unforeseen circumstances, in the first week after Easter 2016. This marks somewhat of a triumph not only of the Greek language and history, but also Orthodoxy in the land of Crete.

This is because nothing must die and be eventually lost, especially in the field of literature, culture and religion. These are our history.