September 15, 2016

Saint Bessarion II, Metropolitan of Larissa (+ 1540)

St. Bessarion II of Larissa (Feast Day - September 15)


From the earth you departed to the heavens Bessarion,
Healing through your prayers and sacrifices.

Our Holy Father Bessarion* was from a village called Porta Panagia,** near Trikala in Thessaly. He was born in 1490 with the name Vasilios Tsigaridas (or Ganas) and raised by Orthodox parents. While pursuing his studies he became passionately in love with the monastic life at the age of ten. For this reason he went to Metropolitan Mark of Larissa*** and stayed with him for a long time as a novice, then he passed through all the canonical ranks of the priesthood, first becoming a Reader, then a Subdeacon, then a Deacon, then a Priest. After this he was ordained Bishop of Domeniko and Elassona at the age of twenty-seven in 1517.

As the Saint went to his diocese the people would not accept him and drove him away. It is believed this was either due to his young age, or because of a certain rivalry because this diocese had once been made an independent archbishopric, and they refused to be subject to the Metropolitan of Larissa. Therefore they appealed to Patriarch Theoleptos (1513-1522), and they received Archbishop Neophytos, whose body was indissoluble after death. The blessed Bessarion therefore, being an imitator of Christ, did not take to heart the rejection of his people, but took it as an opportunity for quietude, and went once again to live with his spiritual father and elder Metropolitan Mark. There in Larissa he served and healed with his words and actions those who were sick and poor both physically and spiritually.

After serving the people of Larissa in this way for four years, the Diocese of Stagoi (today known as Kalambaka) was without a shepherd. Therefore they asked for the Saint to preside over them as Exarch in 1521, which he did for six years. But this position brought him nothing but trials and tribulations, and it resulted in his exile by one called Dometios. Metropolitan Mark reposed in 1527, and at the request of all the Bishops, Clergy and Laity, Bessarion was elected and made Metropolitan of Larissa in 1522 by Patriarch Jeremiah (1522-1546).

His service as Bishop was marked with many God-pleasing actions, for he cared not only for the spiritual needs of his flock, but also offered them practical help in time of need. He therefore ransomed many who were held captive, and he planned and supervised the construction of a bridge over the Aspropotamos, which was a daring venture that no one before him was able to accomplish due to the increasing waters of that river when it rains, and it still stands as a reminder of his labors.****

He founded and built from the foundations the beautiful Monastery of our Savior Christ, known as Dousikou, in the village of Agios Vissarion (formerly Dusan) in Pyli, along with his brother Bishop Ignatios of Phanarion (1527-1534). This Monastery was later enlarged and embellished by his nephew Neophytos II, Metropolitan of Larissa (1550-1569). Saint Bessarion established this Monastery to be avaton, which means that it is not to receive female visitors, and it remains so to this day.

After having overseen his flock in a God-pleasing manner, Saint Bessarion departed to the Lord at the age of fifty on 13 (or 15) September 1540, after giving his last words and blessings to the clergy and monastics of his diocese from his deathbed. His holy relics were later stolen and sold by a Turk, except for his skull, which was miraculously saved. This sacred skull flowed with abundant myrrh and is a source of numerous miracles, especially healing people of diseases from plague and pestilence to those who flee to him with faith.

The Monastery of Saint Bessarion

The Monastery of Saint Bessarion (Dousikou) is 25 km away from Trikala, near the town of Pyli and in the village of Agios Vissarion (formerly Dusan). The monastery is called Monastery of the Savior of the Great Gate because of its association with the nearby and dissolved today monastery of the thirteenth century, Porta Panagia. It was established between the years 1527-1535, on the site of the ruins of the monastery of 13th-14th century dedicated to Christ. The first church of the monastery was built by the founder Saint Bessarion. With the help of his brother Ignatios they built the Katholikon in place of the old one, and rebuilt in 1557 by Neophytos, who is the second founder of the monastery, and is also given due for the expansion of the cells. The monastery was one of the rich and active monasteries of the area with land in Romania. Tradition says that in its heyday it possessed 365 cells, a bank (1682) and a rich library. In 1771 and 1820 the monastery was plundered by the Turkish-Albanians and in 1823 after the arrest and imprisonment of the abbot of the monastery, followed by the slaughter and looting by the soldiers of Schultze Korytza. The monastery suffered new damage by fire and the bombing of 1943. Today it operates with only a few monks and is inaccessible to women.

Formerly, the entrance to the city walls of the monastery was made by means of a mobile wooden scale, which was pulled up after sundown. Today, the visitor enters the precincts of the monastery through the main entrance, which is located approximately in the middle of the south side. The main building of the courtyard is the monastery church, dedicated to the Transfiguration of the Savior. This is an Athonite type temple with added narthex and exonarthex. Over these spaces are the chapels of the Virgin Mary, John the Baptist and Saints. The hagiography of the Katholikon, the work of painter Georges, was completed in November 1557. Of the three chapels of the monastery, the chapel of the Virgin Mary bears decoration of 1675, the chapel of Saint John the Baptist of 1693 and the chapel of All Saints in 1746. The wood-carved iconostasis of the Katholikon dates back to 1813. The church is surrounded by three-storey buildings with wooden balconies that house the other activities of the monastery. Left of the entrance to the monastery is the Bank. Many of the original buildings of the monastery, like part of the west wing of cells, were destroyed and today have been restored.

The small church and the hostel attached to the west side of the original enclosure of the monastery, were built in the 1960's to accommodate the needs of female pilgrims, which were denied access to the original monastery complex. These needs are now covered in the hostel and chapel built in recent years, a short distance south of the monastery.

Patriarchal Sigillum of 1490


* The Synaxarion also commemorates today his predecessor in the See of Larissa, Saint Bessarion I (1490-1499), who was previously the bishop of Demetrias, and abandoned his post as bishop of Larissa in 1499 due to old age. His existence was not known, although there is a Patriarchal Sigillum of Dionysios with which Bessarion I was raised to the Metropolitan throne of Larissa in 1490. His existence was confirmed in 1920 when it was discovered that both Saints Bessarion I and II appeared together in a fresco in the Chapel of the Holy Anargyri in Trikala. This fresco in fact depicts seven metropolitans of Larissa. We know nothing else of his life. He is officially known as "Bessarion the Sanctified".

** Pyli is located at the entrance of the lowland region of Thessaly to the mountain of Pindos. Pyli is separated from the settlement of Porta Panagia by Portaikos river. In the area of the settlement Porta Panagia was the Roman/Byzantine city Megali Porta (Great Gate), which was called Porta Pazar during the Turkish occupation. The English traveler WM Leak passed from there in 1810, and refers to it as Apano Porta (Upper Gate) or Porta Panagia, in contrast with the new settlement of Porta, which was already developed on the right bank of the river Portaikos and was referred to as Kato Porta (Lower Gate) or Porta-Nicolas. Both names (Pyli and Porta) relate to the geographical location of the town. The bishop of Larissa, Bessarion II (1490-1540), was born in the settlement of Porta Panagia, and was declared a protector of Trikala, Kalambaka and Pyli.

*** The See of Larissa was transferred to Trikala in the middle of the fourteenth century.

**** Crossing Portaikos river around Pyli, there are four bridges from different eras (1514-1981) and different construction techniques (one stone arched, two of concrete, one hanging). The stone arched bridge was built by Saint Bessarion, apparently beginning in 1514, and was the only bridge until 1936 which connected the plain with the area of Aspropotamos.

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
You are the offspring of Pyli, the luminary of Thessaly, the majesty of Trikki and a source of miracles, thrice-blessed one; having endured all manner of trials in Christ, you are glorified brightly with the exaltation of the Angels. Most-excellent Saint Bessarion, intercede to Christ God to save our souls.

Another Apolytikion in the First Tone
The shepherd of Larissa and guardian of Trikki, the wonderworking Hierarch of Christ, Bessarion, let us the faithful honor with hymns; you gush forth abundant healings, and release from destructive diseases the pious who cry out: Glory to Him Who brilliantly glorified you, glory to Him Who works miracles through you, glory to Him who through you works all manner of healings.

Apolytikion to Saints Bessarion I and II in the First Tone
Let us honor with hymns the renowned shepherds of Larissa, who are of the same name and shined with lives equal to the Angels, the first Bessarion O faithful, as well as the other of the same name, Bessarion the second, crying out together: Glory to Him Who crowned us, glory to Him Who works wonders, glory to Him Who who performs for us all manner of healings.