Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Monastery of St John the Theologian

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As is often commented, the Monastery of St John the Theologian looks more like a fortress than a monastery. Given the reasons I just outlined in my previous post, this is completely understandable.

The monastery was founded in 1088 by the scholar-monk St Christodoulos Latrenus (whose relics are still in the monastery’s katholikon). In the monastery’s very impressive museum, you can see the long parchment scroll from 1088 in which the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus granted St Christodoulos the whole island of Patmos for a monastery in honor of St John.

(Incidentally, Patmos is only about 34 square km – about 17 km long and 2 km wide.)

As another side note, I was particularly impressed by another document in the monastery’s museum – the famous Purple Codex (Codex Purpureus, or simply coded ‘N’ to New Testament scholars), which is an early 6th century manuscript of the New Testament, on purple-dyed vellum with silver letters. It is one of the oldest and most important New Testament manuscripts in existence.

Anyway, in spite of the vast historic importance of the monastery, it is currently in a rebuilding period. There are only 7 permanent monks there now, with another 6 ‘on loan’ from other monasteries to help out. Famously, Bishop Kallistos Ware is a monk of this monastery, and he reportedly hopes to finish out his days there.

We attended the Great Thursday night service at this monastery, and had a very pleasant meeting with the abbot.

We arrived just a minute after it started, and there was a monk reading the psalms. There were one or two seats left along the side, near this monk, so I grabbed one. After he finished reading, I heard him say (in English): Excuse me, I’m sorry, but I was sitting there.” I looked up and saw that the monk was actually the abbot. “That’s ok,” he laughed, “you can be the abbot for today.” He talked to Brendan and me for a few minutes and was extremely friendly. We ended up talking with him several times over our visit, and he even offered to have some of us come back during the summer to help out at the monastery with Greek/English for pilgrims and tourists – with a free house and meals provided! (Tempting offer…)

All the photos here are from inside the monastery. The first one is looking up at the bells. The second one is of the exo-narthex of the katholikon. And the bottom one is of some of the bells, taken from the second story.

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