April 20, 2018

Saint Joasaph the Former King, Second Founder of the Great Meteoron Monastery (+ 1423)

St. Joasaph of Meteora (Feast Day - April 20)


Athanasios with Joasaph in the heavens,
Now dance together have shared in hard work.

The real successor of Saint Athanasios and the second founder of the Great Meteoron Monastery was the holy monk Joasaph. He was born around 1349/50, and baptized with the name John. John was son of the Greek-Serbian King of Thessaly and Epirus, Symeon Uros Palaiologos (1359-1370), whose seat was at Trikala. His mother, Thomais, was daughter of the Despot of Epirus Nikephoros II (+ 1359). From his father’s side he was related to the Roman imperial family of the Palaiologoi, whose surname he was proud to bear. Maria Palaiologina, great-granddaughter of the Roman Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos (1259-1982) from her father’s side (John Palaiologos), and granddaughter from her mother’s side (Irene) of the great logothetis Theodore Metochetes, founder of the famous Chora Monastery at Constantinople, was married to John’s grandfather, the Serbian King Stephen Uros III (1321-1331). John had a younger brother named Stephen. His sister Maria Angelina Komneni Doukaina Palaiologina (+ 28 Dec. 1394), the great benefactress and donatrix of the Great Meteoron Monastery, had married the Despot of Ioannina Thomas Preliubovic (+ 23 Dec. 1384).

Symeon Uros Palaiologos, John’s father, died in around 1370, and his son succeeded him to the throne. Since 1359/60 he had already been proclaimed to reign jointly with his father at the age of ten. However the young king, infused with divine love, quickly rejected temporal power and the pleasures of the world and exchanged the royal purple for a monk’s habit.

He relinquished the administration to Caesar Alexios Angelos Philanthropinos, and thus the last scion of the glorious Serbian dynasty of Nemanija came to the Great Meteoron, where he was received as a monk taking the name Joasaph at the age of twenty-two, sometime between November 1372 and June 1373.

His last (and perhaps the only) official action as a king were two decrees issued in November 1372 for the benefit of Neilos, the Abbot of the Skete of Stagoi. Copies of the two documents are found in a unified folio in the museum of the Monastery of Transfiguration (Great Meteoron).

In a letter written in June 1373 by sister Theodouli Koteanitzaina to the Monastery of the Great Meteoron, there is mentioned the “respectable Caesar” Alexios Angelos Philanthropinos, successor of John Uros, which means that at that time John had already renounced the world to become a monk.

Joasaph left his monastery and went to Thessaloniki and Mount Athos twice for unknown reasons. When Athanasios, shortly before his death, according to his biography, wishing perhaps to relieve himself of administrative and other responsibilities, granted to the former king and now monk Joasaph “every power and authority.” Joasaph, after a while, left his monastery and his dignity and migrated to Thessaloniki. This event must have happened around 1379/80.

However shortly after Athanasio’s death at around 1380, Joasaph returned to the Monastery of the Great Meteoron to assume his duties as successor of his spiritual father. Already in November 1381, in the ecclesiastical letter of the Metropolitan of Larisa Neilos, Joasaph signs – together with many others - right below the Metropolitan: “John Uros Palaiologos renamed Joasaph, monk through the angelic schema.” In May 1386, the wife of the Despot of Ioannina, Maria Angelina Palaiologina, sent a letter to her brother about her donations to the Great Meteoron Monastery. This letter is also found in the museum of the monastery.

According to official papers in October and November 1394, Joasaph along with three other monks - Serapion, Gerasimos amd Philotheos - left the monastery and settled in the Monastery of Vatopaidi in Mount Athos. This probably happened because of Vayazit’s invasion in Thessaly and the final conquest of the whole region by the Turks (end of 1393 or beginning 1394). In 11396, as concluded by a letter of the Abbot Neophytos (Jan. 1400) of the Monastery of Dionysiou in Mount Athos, Joasaph had already returned permanently to his Monastery of which he had earlier been renovator and second founder (after Athanasios).

Joasaph also migrated temporarily to Ioannina for family reasons at the end of December 1384 and the beginning of January 1385 after the assassination of the Despot of Ioannina Thomas Preliubocic (+ 23 Dec. 1384), husband of his sister Maria Angelina, who got married again this time to Esau Buondelmonti, “brother of the duchess of Kefallonia” on 31 January 1385.

Joasaph, according to official inscriptions of the monastery, in the year 6896 since the creation of the world, which corresponds to the year of our Lord 1387/88, enlarged and rebuilt the original church erected by Athanasios, transforming it into a magnificent edifice: “And then a very beautiful church was built in honor of the Savior Christ, part of which later was demolished by him who received the cell from (Athanasios) himself, the illustrious Joasaph who built it anew to the height and length you see now” (Athanasio’s Biography). This is the cross-shaped sanctuary of the present katholikon of the monastery which is embellished with exquisite frescoes from the year 1483.

In 1385/86 Joasaph financed the copy of the codex 555 of the Transfiguration Monastery (the Acts of the Apostles) by the archivist of the Diocese of Trikala, Thomas Xeros. His personal vademecum, a wonderful vellum with the four Gospels of small size (12x9,5 cm) written calligraphically on a very fine parchment of excellent quality and with an exquisite luxurious silver binding, is kept today in the National Library in Athens (manuscripts no 58), where it was transferred in 1882 along with other manuscripts from Meteora. In the inner side of the front binded cover it bears the signature: “Joasaph.”

In 1389/90 Joasaph contributed to the foundation and promotion of Hypsilotera Monastery, the so-called “of the Calligraphers,” on the inaccessible steep rock opposite to the Great Meteoron.

Joasaph “the evergreen and high-haired tree … which warms everyone, the holy, the sweet, the meek, the quiet, the clever, the scion of the royal stock,” as he is described by Joasaph the Metropolitan of Larisa in his letters of the years 1401/2, died probably around 1422/23.

Athanasios and Joasaph, “the inhabitants of Meteora and the builders of the Holy Church,” are ranked among the chorus of saints and are honored on 20 April. An anonymous hymnographer (codex 354 of Great Meteoron) magnifying and praising the virtuousness of the holy founders, remarks: “Ascending on a high rock, holy Joasaph and wise Athanasios, you ascended the heights of virtuousness, and from there up to the heights of heaven.”