For in my holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel, said the Lord GOD, there shall all the house of Israel, all of them in the land, serve Me: there will I accept them, and there will I require your offerings, and the first fruits of your oblations, with all your holy things.
In our world full of vanity, everybody at a certain point needs a break. Parishioners of the Church of Saint Sophia in Waterloo, Ontario and their Brothers and Sisters in Christ in the Eparchies of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada have a unique opportunity to find refuge from daily routine and to get closer to eternal matters during the regular visits to Orthodox Monasteries, organized by Saint Sophia’s spiritual pastor, Reverend Father Myroslav Shmyhelskyy.
Both Saint Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery in Bolton, Ontario and Holy Transfiguration Serbian Orthodox Monastery in Milton, Ontario are situated in picturesque woods “far from the madding crowd” — yet close enough to afford Orthodox Christians from nearby cities a chance to visit and draw closer to God in centers of humility and quiet prayer. The monasteries welcome everyone who wishes to find out more about monastic life; who is drawn to worship; or wishes to venerate the monasteries’ Holy Relics.
Among the faithful of Saint Sophia’s church are those who have committed themselves to journeying to monasteries farther afield — giving praise and worshiping God at Mount Athos, in Thessalonica, in Jerusalem, at Pochaiev, at the Lavra in Kyiv.
Pilgrimages to Mount Athos
Psalm 98: 9
Exalt the Lord our God
and worship at His holy mountain,
for the Lord our God is holy.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ,
A pilgrimage is first and foremost a journey — from the profane world to a place that is sacred — but it is a journey both within and without. In this way, it is akin to the Orthodox tradition of fasting: a challenge both of body and of spirit. Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia writes this of fasting:
“The primary aim of fasting is to make us conscious of our dependence upon God. If practised seriously, the Lenten abstinence from food — particularly in the opening days — involves a considerable measure of real hunger, and also a feeling of tiredeness and physical exhaustion. The purpose of this is to lead us in turn to a sense of inward brokenness and contrition; to bring us, that is, to the point where we appreciate the full force of Christ’s statement, “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
And indeed, our small band of four pilgrims to Mount Athos in late September / early October of 2012, can attest to the challenges the Holy Mountain presents; and also the feeling of tiredeness, hunger, thirst and physical exhaustion. But there is also a miracle in it. As the Metropolitan writes:
“Yet it would be misleading to speak only of this element of weariness and hunger. Abstinence leads not merely to this, but also to a sense of lightness, wakefulness, freedom and joy. Even if the fast proves debilitating at first, afterwards we find that it enables us to sleep less, to think more clearly, and to work more decisively… Fasting liberates our body from the burden of excessive weight and makes it a willing partner in the task of prayer, alert and responsive to the voice of the Spirit.”
So also, with pilgrimage. Unworthy as we were, unused to daily monastic practise, to the rigours of monastic prayer, work, obedience and struggle — without three words of Greek between us — we were everywhere greeted by the miracle of Christ’s boundless love; God’s all-encompassing mercy for those who approach Him, in the words of the Psalms: “with a broken spirit, a broken and humbled heart”. A place was made for us at the table, a place was given us to wash our bodies and rest our weary heads — and we were welcomed as brothers at the Holy Mystery of the Eucharist.
“True fasting is to be converted in heart and will; it is to return to God, to come home like the Prodigal to our Father’s house.”
And so, in pilgrimage on the Holy Mountain, it felt to us.
Спаси, Господи, людей Твоїх і благослови насліддя Твоє, перемогу православним християнам над супротивниками подай і хрестом Твоїм охороняй нас – оселю Твою.
Η Ιερά Μονή Φιλοθέου • Holy Monastery of Philotheou
The Holy Monastery of Philotheou stands on a plateau on the north-eastern side of the peninsula, near the ancient Temple of Asclepius. It was founded by the Blessed Philotheus, a contemporary of St Athanasius the Athonite, around the end of the 10th century.
Among the Byzantine Emperors who made donations to the Monastery, the names of Nicephorus Botaneates in the 11th century, Andronicus II and Andronicus III and John V in the late 13th and in the 14th century stand out.
Among Serbian princes, Stefan Dushan (1346) helped to provide the manpower for the Monastery. In the 14th century, St Theodosius, subsequently Metropolitan of Trebizond, and brother of St Dionysius, founder of the monastery of that name, was a monk in the Monastery. During the early years of Turkish rule, in the early 16th century, the Abbot Dionysios, known as the Blessed Dionysios of Olympus, succeeded in turning it from an idiorrhythmic into a coenobitic monastery. The former (also known as “erimitic” monasticism) is considered the original form of monastic life in Christianity, as exemplified by St. Anthony of Egypt (c. 250–355), and consists of a total withdrawal from society, normally in a desert or wilderness, and the constant practice of mental prayer. The latter form of monasticism, based on “life in common” (from the Greek koinobion), is characterized by strict discipline, regular worship, and manual work. St. Pachomius was the author of the first cenobitic rule — later developed by St. Basil the Great (c. 329–379).
Philotheou has six chapels and three outlying chapels. Of its 12 kellia, half are currently uninhabited. Philotheou prides itself on the possession of the miracle-working icon of Our Lady Glykophilousa, and of our Lady Gerontissa.
Among the objects kept in the sacristy, pride of place goes to the right hand of St John Chrysostom, a piece of the True Cross, other relics of saints, vestments, and sacred vessels. The library contains 250 manuscripts, two liturgical scrolls, and about 2,500 printed books (of which some 500 are in Church Slavonic and Romanian). The Monastery is dedicated to the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin, and since 1574 it has occupied twelfth place among the Athonite monastic foundations.
At present it has about 60 monks.
Η Ιερά Μονή Σταυρονικήτα • Holy Monastery of Stavronikita
Founded between the 10th and 11th centuries on the eastern side of the peninsula overlooking the Strymonian Gulf, between the Monasteries of Iviron and Pantocrator, the Holy Monastery of Stavronikita is the smallest in size on the Holy Mountain. It holds fifteenth position in the hierarchy of the Holy Mountain’s 20 monasteries. Its history, like that of the others, has been a turbulent one.
Evidence regarding the identity of its founder is uncertain — by tradition, this was Nicetas or Stavronicetas Nicephorus, an officer of the Byzantine Emperor, John I Tzimiskes (925-976). In the 12th century, as a result of pirate raids that plagued the Mediterranean, the monastery went into decline. By the 13th century, Stavronikita came under the control of the Transfiguration of the Saviour Monastery, located near Karyes close to the center of the penninsula; while in the 16th century it became a dependency of the Holy Monastery of Philotheou.
In 1533, hieromonk Grigorios, the Abbot of the Geromeriou Monastery, (an important monastic centre near the present-day border with Albania which operated both a seminary and local schools throughout the Turkish occupation in secret), bought Stavronikita from Philotheou and worked hard to revitalise it. That same year, it was recognised as a stavropegial monstery — and from 1541, the Ecumenical Patriarch Ieremias I worked to see that the Monastery functioned once again. He endowed Stavronikita with important metochia (dependant churches) at Kassandra and on Lemnos. The katholikon (the main church in a monastery), dedicated to St. Nicholas, was completely restored, and its interior was decorated in 1546 with frescoes by the famous representative of the Cretan School, Theophanis and his son Symeon. The refectory of the Monastery was also decorated by Theophanis, who was responsible for the depiction of the Twelve Great Feasts on portable icons.
The Monastery has suffered five times from fire — in 1607, 1741, 1864, 1874, and 1879 — each visiting varying degrees of destruction — the last being particularly devastating. After every such calamity, prominent Orthodox Christians donated generously to rebuild and restore Stavronikita’s damaged splendour. In the seventeenth century, Serban Kantakouzinos, Prince of Wallachia, provided the Monastery with a water supply. In the century that followed, Alexandros Ghikas, also a Prince of Wallachia, increased the monastery’s prestige by presenting it with the Monastery of the Holy Apostles in Bucharest.
Like the other monasteries, Stavronikita was almost brought to its knees by a system of punitive taxes imposed on Christian institutions by the Ottamans. Its debt was paid as the result of superhuman efforts on the part of the Abbot of the Vatopedi Monastery, Theophilos.
One of the most valued of the Monastery’s treasures is the icon of St Nicholas known as Streidas, a work of the 13th–14th century. Stavronikita has in its possession 171 manuscripts and a large number of printed books. Of particular importance is a Psalter of the 12th century with gold lettering (parchment codex No. 46). Its dependencies consist of four kellia and 33 kalyves (smaller kellia) in the settlement of Kapsala. The Monastery has four chapels and two outlying chapels. At present it has some 30 monks.
Η Ιερά Μονή Ιβήρων • Holy Monastery of Iviron
The Holy Monastery of Iviron was built under the supervision of St. Ioannes the Iberian (i.e., the Georgian), his son, St. Euthymius (the monastery’s future hegumen) and his brother-in-law, Ioannes Tornicius, between 980-983 AD — and soon attracted Caucasian clergy and priests. Indeed, the name Iviron derives from the Greek name of the ancient Georgian Kingdom of Iberia (Iveria). Both Sts. Ioannes and Euthymius are recognised as Apostles to the people of the Caucasus; while Ioannes Tornicius, who himself became a monk, distinguished himself in service to Emperor Basil II.
The monastery ranks third in the hierarchy of the Athonite monasteries. The library of Iviron monastery contains 2000 manuscripts, 15 liturgical scrolls, and 20,000 books, most of which are in Georgian, Greek, Hebrew and Latin. The monastery has the relics of more canonized saints than any other on Mount Athos. The Panagia Portaitissa, a famous 9th century icon, is also located at Iviron.
The katholikon (main church) is dedicated to the Dormition of the Theotokos. Its initial nucleus was built towards the end of the 10th century, altered in the early 11th century, and rebuilt in 1513. Among the Monastery’s famous treasures is the “Lemon Tree” — a silver seven-branched lamp — and the door between the exonarthex (the courtyard where cathecumes were permitted to be close to the Eucharist, but forbidden from witnessing its celebration) and the litē (the narthex) fashioned from silver and ebony. It also possesses the so-called dalmatic of Ioannes Tsimiskes, the episcopal vestments of Patriarch Dionysios IV, a Gospel book which was the gift of Peter the Great, sacred vessels, vestments and embroideries, and the relics of at least 150 saints. The library of Iveron contains more than 2,000 manuscripts and 15 liturgical scrolls, and more than 20,000 books, with important incunabula. The Holy Monastery of Iviron has produced many saints and scholars, and also counts governs the Skete of St John the Baptist, 11 kathismata, and 26 kellia; 16 chapels within its precincts and 10 outside.
The community today numbers around 30 monks.
Saint Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery
Since 2009, Reverend Father Myroslav has also organized a week-long group pilgrimage early in each new year to Saint Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery in Florence, Arizona. In 2012, the parish’s pilgrims have been honoured with the opportunity to worship at St. Anthony’s during the feast day of the monastery founder’s patron saint (Venerable Ephraim the Syrian).
A song of ascents. Of David.
Joy From Worshiping the LORD
I was glad when they said unto me,
Let us go into the house of the LORD.
Our feet shall stand within your gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is built as a city that is compact together:
Where the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD,
unto the testimony of Israel,
to give thanks unto the name of the LORD.
For there are set thrones of judgment,
the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
they shall prosper that love you.
Peace be within your walls,
and prosperity within your palaces.
For my brethren and companions’ sakes,
I will now say, Peace be within you.
Because of the house of the LORD our God
I will seek your good.
St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery — Florence, Arizona.
Archimandrite Paisios, Hegumen.
Spiritual Father: Elder Ephrem.
Holy Trinity Monastery Greek Orthodox Monastery — Smith Creek, Michigan.
Hieromonk Joseph, Hegumen.
Spiritual Father: Elder Ephrem.
Holy Transfiguration Serbian Orthodox Monastery — Milton, Ontario.
Hieromonk Vasilije, Hegumen.
St. Sabbas the Sanctified Monastery — Harper Woods, Michigan.
Archimandrite Pachomius, Hegumen.
Holy Trinity Monastery — Jordanville, New York.
Archimandrite Luke, Hegumen.
St. Kosmas Aitolos Greek Orthodox Monastery — Bolton, Ontario.
Mother Alexia, Hegumena.
Dormition of the Mother of God Monastery — Rives Junction, Michigan.
Mother Gabriella, Hegumena.