Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mt. Athos: Docheiariou

On Saturday, I set off with a full carload to Ouranopouli for my ninth trip to the Holy Mountain, and the first since last summer.

There were five of us squeezed into the little car -- three men bound for Mt. Athos, and two women slated for the boat tour around the Holy Mountain.

We set off about 6:15 Saturday morning and made good time to Ouranoupoli, arriving just two hours later.

We took care of all our paperwork and tickets and then enjoyed coffees and spanikopita while we waited for our boats.

The men's boat left at 9:45, so the women explored the small museum inside the Tower of Ouranoupoli until their boat left at 10:30. I took the photo of them above from the entrance to the Tower, which is next to the dock.

This is their tour boat, which runs a 3-hour tour up and down the southwest side of the Holy Mountain. The boat runs 500 meters off shore, which is the closest women are permitted to come. Click here for a map of the Holy Mountain. You can see Ouranoupoli in the upper left hand part of the map. The boat then runs all the way down the left-hand side to the Holy Monastery of Agiou Pavlou before turning back. Almost no boats sail around the tip of the Holy Mountain, because the waters are quite treacherous. About 400 B.C., the Persian navy was delayed three years in their attack on Greece because the navy could not sail around this part. They thus had to build a canal over land to move their ships.

Meanwhile, I and two fellow Americans were on board the ship heading directly to the Holy Mountain. Above, you can see Justin in the foreground and Dimitri in the background. Justin is from Texas but lives here in Thessaloniki now with his Greek wife, Kalliopi. Dimitri is also married to a Greek woman, but they live near Philadelphia. He and his family are in Greece visiting his wife's family in Athens and he made a trip up north to make his first trip to the Holy Mountain, something he's been dreaming of since he was six years old. We got to know each other through this blog, which he follows. One day, he wrote me and we started a correspondence. When he said he was coming to Greece, I suggested we go to the Holy Mountain.

In the photo above, you can see the two of them on the boat as we prepared to get off at the first monastery located on the water, Docheiariou.

Here we are, waiting to get off quickly, as the boat's ramp lowers and it pulls into the port of Docheiariou. You've got to be quick getting on and off the boat. In the background is Docheiariou.

Here we are walking up from the port to the monastery. According to tradition, the monastery took its name from its founder, St. Euthymios, who was the docheirares at the Great Lavra on Mt. Athos, i.e. he was in charge of the storeroom.

This is where the monastery first receives guests. On the right, you can see an orange cooler of cold water and a box of loukoumi (Turkish delight), which is traditionally given to visitors. The cool water was much appreciated, as it has been very hot recently, and Saturday was particularly bad. But more on that later.

The door in the foreground to the left in the photo above leads to the chapel with the famous icon of the Panagia "Quick to Hear." The monk who greeted us led us into this small chapel, where we venerated the large icon and he told us its story.

The icon is actually a large wall mural located in what was originally the corridor between the katholikon (main church) and the trapeza (refectory), which are traditionally located across from each other. The monks in charge of the refectory would frequently have to use a torch to make their way through the corridor during the pre-dawn services. The smoke from the torch, however, blackens the icons over time. One day, around 1600, the monk in charge of the trapeza walked by the mural with his torch on his way to his job. A voice then called out to him, "Don't pass this way again with your torch, because it is sullying my image." The monk thought it must be one of the brothers playing a joke on him and he ignored it, going again through the corridor a few days later with his torch. The voice complained again, and this time the monk was struck blind. He fell to his knees and beseeched the Panagia to forgive him and heal him. His sight was restored, and he then heard the voice a third time, telling him that his prayer had been heard and that he should go and tell all the other monks to flee to her in times of distress, because she would be quick to hear them.

The corridor was then sealed off and made into a chapel around this icon, which has become probably the second most famous on Mt. Athos after the Panagia Portaitissa at Iviron.

The main church is along the right-hand side here. The covered area in the courtyard to the left covers the well and water supply. As you can see from the photo below with Justin, it is covered with iconography.

After admiring the monastery for a few minutes, we then set off on foot to our main destination for the day, the neighboring Monastery of Xenophontos.

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