Monday, March 10, 2008

Inside the Church

At 3 PM, we headed to the church for Vespers. In the top photo, you can see Milenko as we come through the monastery's front gates and emerge into the main courtyard. Note that there is still quite a bit of reconstruction, in the aftermath of the 2004 fire.

The second photo is of some iconography on the ceiling of the exo-narthex, the first section of the church entered.

The third photo is from their much-revered, wonder-working icon of the Panagia.

In the words of one Serbian website:

"Miracles of various kinds occur in Hilandar. One of them is "the uppermost sanctity", the icon of Bogorodica Trojerucica (The Three-handed Mother of God). The legend says that John of Damascus, theologian, was punished with amputation of his hand. As he had been praying devotedly before the icon of Mother of God his cut off hand eventually healed by her grace. In gratitude for what had happened to him he added to the icon the third hand, made of silver. Since then many miraculous cures and magical powers have been assigned to the icon. Although it is not supposed to be taken out of the monastery, Trojerucica was in Thessalonica in 1993 when 1.5 million believers saw it exhibited."

The icon arrived at Hilandar in a miraculous fashion. When the Ottoman Turks took over Serbia, the people, afraid that the icon would be destroyed, strapped it to a mule and prayed for God to lead it to safety. Monks from Hilandar then found the mule wandering just outside their monastery.

The monks said a canon in front of this icon every night during Small Compline.

The bottom photo is a bit blurry due to lack of lighting, but it shows the iconostasis and the front of the church interior.

Also inside the church (but not visible in any of my photographs) is the tomb of St Simeon the Myrrh-Gusher, the Serbian king who abdicated his throne to become a monk, along with his son, St Sava, at Vatopaidi monastery on Mt Athos in the late 12th century. The father and son saints founded Hilandar in 1198. St Simeon reposed in the Lord the following year, and his relics were kept there for some time, until St Sava eventually transferred them back to Serbia. The tomb in which they were kept is still inside the church and venerated daily by the monks and pilgrims. It is located along one wall of the church and, famously, a vine grows out of the tomb and climbs alongside the outside of the monastery. More on this later.

Vespers finished around 4 PM, and we went straight into the trapeza (refectory) for dinner. Immediately after dinner, we went back into the church for Small Compline. As is the custom on Mt Athos, we were then able to venerate some of the monastery’s 250 relics, including a piece of the True Cross.

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