Αη Outline of the History of the lveron Monastery

Αn Outline of the History of the Iveron Monastery


The foundation of the Monastery is to be linked with the presence οn the Holy Mountain of Athos of members of the great Iberian (Georgian) family of the Tornikioi, and the valuable services which they rendered to the Byzantine Empire.

There is evidence that John the Iberian and his son Euthymius, relatives of the Tornikios family and at the head of a group of Georgian monks, were οn the Mountain after 963, at the Lavra Monastery, where they became disciples of St Athanasius the Athonite. Α few years later, they were met there by the patrician Tornikios, who had in the meantime been tonsured as a monk under the name of John and who had close connections with imperial circles in Constantinople, particularly with the Emperor Basil ΙΙ the Macedonian. When the general of the East Bardas Sclerus revolted against Basil, Tornikios was called upon by the Emperor to put off the monastic habit and to go to Constantinople to help deal with a situation which threatened the dynasty. His substantive contribution to the defeat of the rebel (979) brought him generous rewards, including the acceptance by the Emperor of his plans for the building of a monastery οn Mount Athos.

The Iveron Monastery was founded in 979/980, immediately after the return of Tornikios (the monk John), who received the title of syncellus. The Georgian brotherhood, leaving the kellia with which St Athanasius had provided them near the Lavra, established themselves at the monastery “known as Όf Clement”‘, which was dedicated to St John the Baptist. The recognition of the prominent position and the very rapid development of the new monastic foundation were due to a combination of the exceptional talents of the small aristocratic group: the ascetic John the Iberian was also a spiritual leader, Euthymius contributed his profound Greek culture and literary training, and Tornikios his organisational skills – as well as the material wealth which he had gained οn the field of battle. The spiritual bonds with the Lavra remained close: St Athanasius appointed John the Iberian, with Euthymius as his successor, as commissioner of his monastery, and in the Typikon, drawn up by the founders in imitation of that of the Lavra, the commemoration of St Athanasius was enshrined.

When the founders had repaired the existing buildings, they embarked upon major projects, among which was the building of the katholikon, which they dedicated to the Theotokos. One of the first concerns of the first Abbot, John the Iberian (980-1005) was the organisation of a library and a scriptorium in which manuscript translations of works of Greek

ecclesiastical literature systematically made by Euthymius from Greek into the Georgian language were copied. This work of translation, which Euthymius continued when he became Abbot (1005-1019), made the Monastery a centre through which the torch of Greek Christian learning was handed οn to Georgia.

The term of office as Abbot of George the Athonite (1042-1056) was particularly creative. Οn his frequent visits to Constantinople, George obtained benefits and privileges from the Emperor Constantine Monomachus, had the founders recognised as saints, and revitalised the work of the scriptorium and of translation which Euthymius had begun. The Monastery constantly occupied a leading position in the Athonite hierarchy: in the Typikon of Monomachus (1045), the Abbot of Iveron had the privilege of being attended by four servants at the common gatherings of the Athonites, and down to 1366, with very few exceptions, the Monastery occupied second place in the hierarchy of abbots, after the Abbot of the Lavra.

The renown enjoyed by Iveron was closely bound up with the presence there of its patronal miraculous icon of Our Lady Portaϊtissa, whose chapel was probably built after the middle of the 11th century, near the central gate of the building complex. Α little later, the Iveron Monastery itself is frequently referred to in the sources as the Monastery of Our Lady Portaϊtissa.

Ιn the 11th century the Iveron Monastery was already a populous foundation, with 300 monks. Το the large numbers of Iberians who had manned it from its foundation, as early as the late 10th century, many Greeks had been added, so that before the middle of the 11th century there were two monastic groups which followed a separate liturgical Typikon and attended services in different churches – in the katholikon of the Theotokos in the case of the Georgians, and in the Church of St John the Baptist in the case of the Greeks. The latter from the 12th century οn must have formed the majority, and, although the abbots continued to be Iberians, the distribution of administrative offices between the two groups is indicative of this.

Ιn the 12th century, a place of particular importance is occupied by the abbacy of Paul (1170- 1183/84). Major works were carried out in the building complex at τhat time: there is evidence of work οn the Chapel of the Portaϊtissa, the katholikon of the Theotokos was repaired and decorated, the fortifications were strengthened, an infirmary was built, major water supply projects were undertaken, ruined cell wings were restored, and particular concern was shown for the metochia.

Ιn the first half of the 14th century, as was the case with most of the Athonite monasteries, the Monastery seems to have enjoyed a period of great prosperity. Confirmations of its ownership of its immovable property and grants of privileges and tax exemptions by Byzantine Emperors such as Andronicus ΙΙ, John Cantacuzenus, and John V are indicative of the particularly favourable policy of the dynasty of the Palaeologues towards the Holy Mountain of Athos.

Ιn spiritual matters, the monks of Iveron played an active part in the Hesychast movement, which had a decisive effect οn the reform of monastic life, a fact which must be linked with the presence of major figures of the movement in the wider area of jurisdiction of the Monastery. St Gregory of Sinai and his disciple Callistus, later Patriarch of Constantinople, lived for a considerable time at the Magoulas skete. Callistus, after spending a long period at the skete, finally joined the brotherhood of Iveron, where he stayed until his elevation to the patriarchal throne.

It was in the mid 14th century that the presence of Georgian monks in the leadership of the Monastery and the subjection of the Greeks –the majority- to a constantly dwindling minority formally came to an end. Ιn the 13th century there had already been a significant reduction in the number of Georgian monks coming to the Monastery; contact with Georgia became less frequent, while even earlier, in the 12th century, there seems to have been a decline in the translation of works of ecclesiastical literature from Greek into the Georgian language. Α patriarchal sigillium of Patriarch Callistus Ι, of 1355- 1356, laid down that the Abbot and the Ecclesiarch must be elected from among the Greek monks of the Monastery. At the same time, the Georgians lost the right to hold services in the katholikon of the Theotokos and, from then οn, held them in a small church, probably the Chapel of St John the Baptist.

After the Ottoman conquest, and particularly in the last decades of the 15th century, the Monastery seems to have passed through a serious economic and demographic crisis. Its landed property- though we do not know the extent of the losses- shrank, the delapidation of the buildings was extensive, and the number of monks fell dramatically. Isaϊas of Chilandari in his Itinerary of 1489 mentions only 50 monks (in contrast with the other two major monasteries, Vatopedi and the Lavra, which had 300 and 330, respectively). At the same time, as was the case with almost all the monasteries, observances grew slack and the idorrhythmic way of life gradually established itself as the internal system of organisation of the Monastery. Ιn these difficult circumstances, the monks of Iveron turned towards the princes of Georgia. Their journeys to those parts resulted in generous economic support for the Monastery. The walls were repaired, a tower was constructed and equipped with a cannon, an infirmary was built, the katholikon was repaired, and the icon of the Portaitissa was clothed with a precious revetment.

Recovery, from the early decades of the 16th century, was rapid, and was reflected in the numbers of the monks. Αn Ottoman census of 1520 put their number at 151, three times the figure for 1489. From this point οn, the brotherhood of Iveron constantly increased in size, and by the 19th century it was one of the three most numerous οn Mount Athos. Ιn 1560, the figure of 250 monks is mentioned, and in 1583, 193. Ιn the 17th and 18th centuries, there were more than 300 (1648: 365, 1677: 400, 1761: 337). Although the total accuracy of the figures could be called into question, the order of the magnitudes must reflect the true situation. The princes of Moldavia and Wallachia contributed gready to the Monastery’s econornic recovery by dedicating large monasteries as metochia in Romania, as did the use made of the metochia in Macedonia.

However, the most important aspect of the Monastery’s history in post-Byzantine times was its emergence as a major spiritual and intellectual centre for the Greek world of the Orthodox East. From the early 16th century, many famous men of letters joined the Iveron brotherhood, where they copied manuscripts, wrote works of their own, and enriched the library with their own books. Between 1511 and 1523, the priest-monk Theodosios, known as the Blessed Theophilos ‘the Myrrhobletes’, a renowned calligrapher, was working at the Monastery. Prompted by the Abbot Dionysios, an otherwise unknown but important figure of the period, he finally left to the Monastery a wealth of manuscripts copied in his own hand. Α little later, before 1535 and for a number of years, the Monastery was the home of the well-known 16th century man of letters Pachomios Rousanos of Zakynthos, and before 1540 received into the brotherhood Theophanis Eleavoulkos, Great Rhetor of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, who left the Monastery his books. Ιn the second half of the century, Symeon Kavasilas, the learned teacher of Constantinople, lived at Iveron, while a little later the Monastery acquired the valuable collection of manuscripts and printed books of Maximos Margounios, Bishop of Cythera.

The spiritual influence of the Monastery and the fame of the Portaϊtissa extended beyond the Balkans. Α copy of the icon, painted in 1648 at the request of Nikon, subsequently Patriarch of Moscow, became an important object of pilgrimage in the Κingdom of Muscovy. From 1653, it was housed in the Monastery of St Nicholas in the centre of Moscow, which was ceded as a metochi to Iveron. Such a donation must be seen as a sign of particular favour, since, with the exception of the gift of a metochi-guesthouse of minor importance to the Chilandari Monastery by Tsar Ivan Ν (the Terrible), St Nicholas is the only metochi to have been ceded by the Russian authorities to an Athonite monastery before the 18th century. This mark of favour coincided with the presence in the city of the famous Greek scholar Dionysios of Iveron, with the mission of Arsenij Suchanov to the Holy Mountain to collect manustripts (from the Iveron Monastery alone he took to Moscow 158 precious manuscripts), and with the active involvement of Greeks in the events of the religious and cultural life of Russia. The metochi, whose official title deeds were issued in 1669 by Tsar Alexei Mikhailovitch, developed into a place of accommodation for all the Greek clerics residing in Moscow and a centre where all the fermentations in the spiritual and intellectual life of the Russian capital took place.

The tradition of donating private libraries to the Monastery and the residence there of scholars continued in the 17th century. Ιη 1678, Patriarch Dionysios Ι Mouselimis made a gift of his considerable library, to which were added, in 1722, the books of Neophytos Mavrommatis, former Metropolitan of Arta. The latter accompanied this donation with the building of a chapel, annexed to the katholikon and dedicated to St Neophytus, and of a library, in which the books were housed. At the same period, the Monastery witnessed the labours of Ierotheos the Peloponnesian, renowned for the sanctity of his life and deeply versed in philosophy and Greek and Latin literature, teacher at one time at the school οn Skopelos, and, a little later, of his disciple Meletios, known for his connections with Evyenios Voulgaris and the Athonite Academy. Ιn the late 18th century, Christophoros Prodromitis of Arta, a pupil of Evyenios Voulgaris, lived at the Skete of St John the Baptist, an important dependency of the Monastery which had already been greatly flourishing from the first half of the 18th century, where he wrote a large number of works, chiefly of hymnology. Grigorios V, during the period when he was deposed from the patriarchal throne, also lived within the bounds of the Monastery.

The part played by the Monastery in the uprising against the Ottomans of 1821 is linked with the vigorous figure of the Iveron monk Nikiphoros the Chartophylax, who had connections with Greek revolutionary circles, and particularly with Emmanouil Papas, and was appointed during military operations “commander and judge of the Holy Mountain”. Successive confiscations of monastic estates, by the Romanian Government in 1863 and by the Russian in the 1880s and the expropriations in Greece in the 20th century led the Monastery by degrees to economic decline, but it nevertheless remained a centre of monastic learning.

Kriton Chryssochoidis

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