December 13, 2016

Saints Neophytos, Ignatios, Prokopios and Neilos, Founders of Machairas Monastery

Sts. Neophytos, Ignatios, Prokopios,Neilos (Feast Day - December 13)

The Monastery of the Panagia of Machairas is built on the Troodos mountains beneath the foot of Machairas Hill where Pedaios River runs. This river is the most important on the island of Cyprus. Machairas Monastery is in second position in terms of prestige in Cyprus, after the Monastery of Kykkos.

Tradition says that the icon of the Panagia of Machairas is one of the seventy icons painted by the evangelist Luke. The icon of Panagia of Machairas is miraculous, and is known in Cyprus for producing many miracles. The Panagia of Machairas is especially known for healing wounds. It celebrates its feast day on November 21st, since it is dedicated to the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple.

Tradition links the founding of the Monastery with Iconoclasm. According to an oral tradition during the time of Iconoclasm (716-843 AD), a hermit brought the icon of the Panagia Agiosoritissa, later Machairiotissa, to Cyprus from Constantinople, and settled in a cave at the site where the Monastery is now. After the death of the ascetic, the icon was forgotten and bushes covered the entrance of the cave until the 12th century, when the Virgin Mary miraculously gave a knife to the ascetic saints Neophytos and Ignatios, to cut the bush in order to find the icon (hence the name Machairas, which is translated as "of the knife").

After Saint Neophytos reposed, another monk came to live with Ignatios, an old monk by the name of Prokopios. When the brotherhood became too crowded, these two fathers decided to build a monastery, which would operate under the coenobitic model followed by the great monastic centers of the period. The two monks, after traveling to Constantinople in 1172, were subsidized by the then Emperor of Constantinople, Manuel Komnenos (1143-1180), and initially they built a small chapel and a few cells. The Monasteries of Machairas, Kykkos, and Saint Neophytos had acquired special privileges from the time of the Roman Emperors. For this reason, they are Imperial and Stavropegial Monasteries, which means that they have a Cross lying under their foundation stone, and that makes them autonomous from the Archbishopric of Cyprus.

In a written provision Saint Ignatios left as his successor Saint Neilos, who was the first enthroned abbot of the coenobium. In 1201 Saint Neilos wrote a rule to govern the monastic life and ensure the smooth operation of the coenobium. This document exists still today and from it we derive all the information we have concerning the founding of the Monastery.

In 1209 Neilos was elected Bishop of Tamasos, and he left as his successor Joachim. It is quite likely that Ignatios became Archbishop of Cyprus from 1215 to 1221. As Bishop of Tamasos he endorsed the rule he wrote as abbot and founded a female monastery dedicated to the Theotokos, which he called Blachernitissa. The Monastery of the Panagia of Machairas received further grants from two other Roman emperors: Emperor Isaac II Angelos granted cash and land in Nicosia and Emperor Alexios III Angelos donated 24 serfs.

Read also: The Monastery of Panagia of Machairas in Cyprus

Apolytikion in the First Tone
Let us honor with hymns the four Christ-bearing founders, who in the divine space of Machairas lived as monastics, Neophytos the base of the Monastery, Ignatios the rule of asceticism, divinely-minded Prokopios and wise Neilos. Entreat the Lord, that He grant us strength in the Spirit, that we may appear with you, in the habitations of the Kingdom.

Rejoice, the revered venerable four, founders of the divine space of Machairiotissa, Neophytos, Ignatios, Neilos and blessed Prokopios, our guardians.