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December 16, 2021

Saint Theophano the Empress and the Founding of the Monastery of Saint Anastasia the Pharmakolytria in Thessaloniki

According to tradition, the Chapel of the Dormition of the Theotokos pre-existed the Sacred Monastery of Saint Anastasia the Pharmakolytria, having been established in 803 AD, and a brotherhood of monks lived in monasticism in the historic chapel of the Panagia who especially honored Saint Anastasia the Pharmakolytria. The Chapel of the Dormition was built within the Royal Estate of Empress Theophano Augusta, wife of Emperor Leo VI the Wise.

Theophano lived in Byzantium with her husband Leo VI the Wise during the reign of Emperor Basil the Macedonian (867-886). A misunderstanding between her father-in-law and her husband resulted in Emperor Basil the Macedonian ordering the exile of Theophano and her husband Leo VI the Wise to the Royal Estates, a dowry of Theophano which was the area where the Monastery of Saint Anastasia the Pharmakolytria is now built, in Vasilika of Thessaloniki.

While in exile from Byzantium, Theophano resided in her Royal Estate, and during her exile she asked her courtiers to take a tour of her estate. Theophano therefore embarked on her tour of her Royal Estate with her courtiers, spent the night on the road and camped. She spent the night somewhere at today's intersection between the Polygyrou National Road and the Monastery. During the night, Theophano noticed a light high on the mountain and asked her courtiers who was living inside her estate. The courtiers told her that they did not know anyone was staying at the spot, and Theophano asked at dawn to head to the spot where it was shining. So the next morning they started to the point that aroused Theophanos' interest high on the Great Mountain. Arriving there, Theophano and her entourage found a brotherhood of monks with an old chapel dedicated to the Dormition of the Theotokos, and they especially honored Saint Anastasia the Pharmakolytria. Theophano, with the reverence that distinguished her, allowed the monks to continue to live on the spot and to honor Saint Anastasia the Pharmakolytria. Then the Empress Theophano Augusta made a vow to the monks, that if the Saint they revered solved the misunderstanding between her father-in-law and her husband, then she would build a majestic monastery in honor of Saint Anastasia the Pharmakolytria. Some time passed and the misunderstanding was resolved and Theophano and her husband Leo returned to Byzantium. There Theophano did not forget her vow and gave the order to build a majestic monastery in honor of Saint Anastasia the Pharmakolytria on her Royal Estate for the monks.

Theophano, after fulfilling her vow to Saint Anastasia by building the majestic Stavropegic and Patriarchal Monastery of Saint Anastasia of Pharmakolytria in the year 888, during the Patriarchate of Saint Photios the Great, she then granted a chrysobull to the Monastery, which honors Saint Theophano as the first Founder of the Sacred Monastery.

To this Patriarchal and Stavropegic Monastery of Saint Anastasia, Saint Theophano gave as gifts the sacred skull and a portion of the right foot of Saint Anastasia, together with a Crucifix that contains a portion of the True Cross, the sceptre of Emperor Leo the VI the Wise, chrysobulls and other valuables. Unfortunately, the sceptre, the chrysobulls and other valuables were destroyed when the Turks set fire to the monastery in June of 1821. On April 23, 2012 the relics of Saint Anastasia were stolen, and continue to be missing. However, the Crucifix with the portion of the True Cross does still survive and is used in various liturgical services for feasts of the Cross to be venerated by the faithful.
The sacred relic of Saint Theophano rests today in the Church of Saint George at the Phanar of Constantinople at the Patriarchate. She is commemorated on December 16th.