Esphigmenou Monastery (Athos)
|Holy Monastery of Esphigmenou|
|Rank or attached monastery||Eighteenth|
|Type of community||Cenobitic Monastery|
|Founded||Late 10th Century|
|Approx. size||about 100 monks|
|Music used||Byzantine chant|
|Feastdays celebrated||Ascension of Our Lord|
The Esphigmenou Monastery is located on the northeastern coast of the Athos Peninsula in northern Greece close to the Monastery of Chilandari. It is ranked eighteenth in the hierarchical order of the twenty monasteries located on the peninsula. As is case of the other institutions on Mount Athos, life at Esphigmenou is coenobitic.
Esphigmenou monastery has existed since the tenth century, although Athonite tradition attributes its founding to Empress Pulcheria, the sister of Emperor Theodosius II, in the fifth century. The origin of the name for the monastery is uncertain. The name of the monastery came from a founding monk who wore a tight belt or from the name of the site upon which the monastery was built. The monastery is built near the sea as at the time it was built the sea was safe from foreign attackers. Manuscripts, however, record serious raids in 1047 and 1534. The 1534 raid was the most severe and was preceded by a fire in 1491.
In between the raids and fire Esphigmenou was favored by the emperors in Constantinople as imperial chrysobulls record the acquisition of property for Esphigmenou in Prolakas, Sloutarass, Krosouvo, Vrasta, Thessaloniki, and Constantinople. Also, Esphigmenou is noted as being the home, in 1310, of St. Athanasius who was Patriarch of Constantinople and of Gregory Palamas, in 1335, who was Archbishop of Thessalonki.
In the seventeenth century, Esphigmenou entered into a period of decline due to serious financial difficulties. The monastery began a recovery during the following century. This recovery was aided by Grigorios, Metropolitan of Meleniko who made payment of the monastery’s debts his main project.
In early part of the nineteenth century, Theodoritos of the Lavra, as the abbot of Esphigmenou, reorganized the monastery as a coenobium and began the construction of a new katholikon in 1806 on the site of an earlier church built in 1010. He built other new buildings such as a new refectory as well. Between 1821 and 1832 Esphigmenou ceased to exist as a monastery as the Ottoman Turkish army commandeered and used the monastery buildings as barracks during the Greek war for independence. With the departure of the Turkish forces, the monastery was restored by Agathangelos Ayiannanitis. The rebuilding effort continued until 1870 and resulted in the construction of the monastery’s modern buildings. These included the addition of a exonarthex on the katholikon, construction of the bell tower and a number of chapels and the southern gateway.
The katholikon is dedicated to the Ascension of Our Lord. There are eight chapels in the katholikon and seven outside of it.
While Esphigmenou is ranked eighteenth among the twenty monasteries on Mount Athos, it withdrew its representative from the Holy Community in 1974 and does not take part in the assemblies of the Community. The withdrawal by the monks was precipitated by a break with the Ecumenical Patriarch for violations of the doctrines of the Church in regards Patriarchate relations with non-Orthodox, particularly the Roman Catholic Church. The abbot, Methodius, stated that the monks of Esphigmenou Monastery do not want some fifteen million euros that was offered by the European Union to the monastery, noting that offers of such large amounts of money surely are made in the expectation of receiving something in exchange.
The monastery library contains 372 manuscripts and over 8,000 printed books. Among the treasures held by the monastery, Esphigmenou’s most treasured possession is the icon of Our Lady Eleousa. In addition to relics of saints, the monastery possesses the so-called cross of Pulcheria and a large part of the tent used by Napoleon. The tent remnant is used as the curtain for the sanctuary door in the katholikon on the feast day of the Holy Ascension.