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December 30, 2019

Saint Amphilochios Makris and the Kathisma of Saint Joseph the Betrothed on the Island of Patmos

In the south of Patmos, at the Bay of Stavros, is the area known as Kouvari. Kalliopi Nikitaki, later known as the Nun Martha and was the sister of Saint Amphilochios Makris (1889-1970), bought this land and had Saint Amphilochios establish a Kathisma (a hermitage with a small chapel that belongs to a monastery), which he dedicated to Saint Joseph the Betrothed.

In the chapel is an icon stand with an icon (116 x 82 cm) of Saint Joseph the Betrothed in his workshop. Under Saint Joseph's figure, which dominates the icon, four scenes are depicted: the birth of Christ (top left), the flight of Joseph and Mary to Egypt (bottom left), Joseph's dream (top right), and Joseph and Mary at the coronation with God the Father blessing them (bottom right). It should also be noted that in the scene of the flight to Egypt, the donkey that carries Mary and the infant Christ, behind which Joseph is walking, is guided by a boy inscribed “James”; obviously, he is no other than James the Lord's brother. The inscription of the icon states that it was made in 1860.

The reason Saint Amphilochios dedicated this Kathisma (now known as an Hesychasterion) to Saint Joseph the Betrothed, for whom not even a church or chapel in Greece existed at the time, is as follows, according to the booklet Hermits Of Patmos And Hermitages:

When Father Amphilochios was a young monk, he, along with the Monk Antipas, went to visit the hermit Theoktistos at Yenoupa. One day Theoktistos asked them: “Who do you think was the greatest saint of all?” They mentioned many different saints and their lives and accomplishments, but Theoktistos did not agree with any of them. “Saint Joseph the Betrothed was the greatest saint because he was the protector of the Lord and the Theotokos”, he told them.

After that conversation, Father Amphilochios decided: “When I am able to build a church, I will dedicate it to Saint Joseph the Betrothed.”

When it was time to fulfill this dream, Father Amphilochios could not decide the exact location for this church. This was the reason why he asked the Monk Nikephoros of Kouvari to make special prayers so that God would show them the exact place for the church. One night, while Monk Nikephoros was praying, he saw a light which frightened him. He ran out to see if there was a fire. At the location where the church was later built, he saw a fire that was not burning anything. He was frightened because he realized that this was not a natural phenomenon.

The next morning he told Father Amphilochios what had happened. Father Amphilochios asked to see the exact location of the fire. He realized that it was the will of God that the church should be built there. And that was the location where the Church of Saint Joseph the Betrothed was built.

The next concern of Father Amphilochios was the obtaining of an icon of Saint Joseph the Betrothed. This task was given to Father Paul Nikitaras, who was a spiritual son of Father Amphilochios. Father Paul was studying in Athens at the time. He also had been a former Abbot of the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian in Patmos.

In spite of all his efforts, he was unable to find an icon of Saint Joseph the Betrothed. No iconographer would undertake the task or responsibility of painting it because they had no knowledge of this subject. He even went to Paros to the Monastery of Longovarda for this purpose, but he still was unable to have this icon painted.

God solved this problem in another way. Father Paul discovered a large beautiful icon of Saint Joseph the Betrothed in the basement of the Church of Saint George in Nea Ionia in Athens. Father Paul served at this church while he was studying in Athens. Many icons that had been transported to Greece after the disaster in Asia Minor by the refugees were stored in the basement of Saint George Church. Also included with these icons were icons that were released by the Turkish Government under the Agreement of June 10, 1930 concerning the Exchange of Possessions and under the Agreement of friendship of October 30, 1930 which was signed by Eleftherios Venizelos and Ismet Inonu.

With the permission of the council of the Church of Saint George and the approval of the Archdiocese of Athens under the auspices of Vasilios Atesis, assistant to the Bishop, the icon was given to Father Paul who brought it to Patmos with much delight. As soon as he arrived in Patmos, he took it directly to the Hermitage of Christ which was the summer residence of Father Amphilochios. Father Amphilochios was so pleased that he immediately summoned the Monk Nikephoros to come to “Christ” from Kouvari.

When the Monk Nikephoros arrived at “Christ” from Kouvari, he told Father Amphilochios, “I know why you summoned me. It is to take the icon of Saint Joseph the Betrothed to the church at Kouvari.”

“How did you know this, blessed one?” asked Father Amphilochios.

“Last night I had a dream about Saint Joseph. He had lit all the votive lamps, which he had filled with oil!” said the Monk Nikephoros.

This was the way the Church of Saint Joseph the Betrothed obtained the beautiful icon. In 1966 a larger church dedicated to Saint Joseph was built. The former small church was rededicated; this time to Saint Ephraim the Syrian.

The Church of Saint Ephraim has a small iconostasis with only one entrance, the Great Portal. On the one side of the Great Portal is the Icon of Jesus Christ the Merciful and on the other side is the Icon of the Virgin Mary Diassozoussa (The Saving). On the right side, enclosed in a wooden holy icon stand which is artistically carved, is the Icon of Saint Ephraim the Syrian, portraying his Dormition (Death). All of these icons were painted by iconographer nuns of the Monastary of Evangelismos (Annunciation).

The Church of Saint Joseph the Betrothed is one of the few larger churches of Patmos. It was built by the gifts of the Monastary Evangelismos and other pious contributors. The building was supervised by the Monk Amphilochios Tsoukos.

Kouvari, today, reminds visitors of a location at Mount Athos. The closed Bay of Stavros was for Father Amphilochios the “Sea of Galilee”. When Father Amphilochios’ spiritual children would see a fishing boat near the cave of Glykonikita, they would think it was the fishing boat “Tiberias - Agios Iosif” (Saint Joseph). This brought back nostalgic memories of the days when Father Amphilochios lived among them. It also reminded them often of the joyful incident when once they were fishing and they caught many fish in their net. This incident was similar to the incident in the Bible at the Sea of Tiberias, which occurred after the Resurrection. “They counted about one hundred and fifty-three fish.” (John 21:11).