Panagia Laodigitria

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Church of Panagia Laodigitria or Panagia Lagoudiani in Thessaloniki

According to a byzantine legend, a miraculous incident occurred in the place where the church of Panagia Lagoudiani [Rabbit place] or Laodigitria [Virgin Mary the People Leader] is built. A hunter looking for rabbit’s hiding place, put his hands in a burrow trying to cage the small animal. However, he drew up from the hole the miraculous icon of Panagia Tricherousa [the “Virgin with Three Hands] or Oglaitissa. During the Ottoman rule, the monastery was called “Tavsan Manastir”, that is “the monastery of the rabbits”.

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After this incident, a women’s monastery was built on this place and the central part of the monastery is today’s church. In the 15th century, it was the catholicon of a nunnery that was a dependency [Metochion] of Vlatadon Monastery (*)  According to another theory, the church took its name after the owner, Lagoudatos [Rabbit Man], who lived in the 14th century. In any case, this historical church is a rare archaeological gem and a monument of the post-Byzantine period  (1453-1800).

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The origins of the name “Laodigitria” is unknown but many researchers agree on byzantine sources of the 12th century when the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki mentioned the following: “…η Πάναγνος Θεομήτωρ η παρ ημιν του οδηγείν επώνυμος” [Virgin Mary, Mother of God, lead us…” Laodigitria Theotokos, the Leader of the people, became together with Saint Demetrius, the woman patron saint of Thessaloniki.

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During the Turkish occupation, the monastery was offering social work, by granting near Monastery’s properties against symbolic price for the sheltering of poor Christian families. This system was called in Turkish “Itzare”, ie. an once-off symbolic “lump” sum and with the payment of instalments of similarly symbolic sums throughout their lifetime, so that the monastery retained the legal [‘bare’] ownership of the monastery’s real property since they beneficiaries were not allowed to sell them. This measure proved valuable for homeless families in hard times since the number of lodgings/houses was more than 20.

In 1802, the church was restored and renovated (Oct 27, 1802) through the sponsorship of the merchant Ioannis Kaftangoglou and became a three-aisled basilica with wooden ceiling and matroneum [gynaeconite; an upstairs gallery on the interior of a church, originally intended to accommodate women (whence the derivation from “matron”)], following the Macedonian ecclesiastic architectural standards of that era. Its most recent ktitor [ie. the founder] was Christos Georgiou-Menexes, from the province of Agiou Phanariou (Agrafa Thessaly) and from the village Megala Vraniana, +Memory Eternal of his parents. 

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The church keeps a significant number of 18th and 19th-century icons, together with a miracle-working icon of the Virgin Mary. In the chapel adjacent to the southern part of the church, is located the holy water fountain, hence another name for this church, that of the Life-Springing Fountain of the Theotokos (Life-Giving Font of the Theotokos) [Ζωοδόχος Πηγή]. The church celebrates on this Feast during Bright Week and also honours Holy NeoMartyr Alexander the Dervish from Thessaloniki, Laodigitria (+ 1794).

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As of today, the little city hermit will be chanting in this historic church, next to the Wonderworking Theotokos icon, an amazing blessing, honour and privilege. This was the first-ever church I visited as a young teenager, about 14 years old, for Confession, spiritual guidance and holy water, agiasma. + Father Panagiotis of blessed memory was my first priest confessor. So many memories! This church feels so much like home …. This blogpost is also beginning another blog series, that of Paleochristian and Byzantine monuments of Thessaloniki, since lots of fellow pilgrims all over the world are asking me about Thessaloniki’s churches and monasteries.

*. The Monastery of Vlatadon is located on the northern side of Ano Poli of Thessaloniki, close to the castle walls with a magnificent view to the city. This small monastery is built on the site where St Paul is believed to have preached to the Thessalonians, was founded in the mid-14th century and has been in continuous use since then. But more about this byzantine monument at another blogpost.

Make Good Use of Pain

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“God will centrifuge each one of us” (!)  Those words by Gerondissa Philothei were repeated rather ‘ominously’ 3 to 4 times at the first (*) homily I attended at the Nativity of the Theotokos Monastery in Panorama. Doesn’t the centrifugal force cause an object to move out and away from the centre of its path? Is God through various afflictions centrifuging me away from the centre of my old self?

“How good it would have been if we did not let the pain go to waste! One way or another we will suffer. But our whole torture and struggle will go down the drain unless we make good use of pain unless we exploit it. …When we suffer, when a pain insists, let us think like that: “God wants something good to come out of this in me, and I act as if I do not get it. And all I do is moan and groan.” …. 

“Know this: When pain will have completed the work it is supposed to do, God takes away. It is not difficult at all for God to remove whichever pain. … A Christian is capable of making such good use of every pain so that he can constantly be in paradise. …. Let there be no complaint, no rebellion, no kicking about.

If possible, whichever pain you have, deal with it by saying these words: “Let it be blessed, my God. Whatever You Want.” This way our pain won’t get wasted but will be exploited to the full. We will take advantage of it, and the great good which saves will come to our hearts. When God visits you with sorrows, say: “Thank you, my God. As I had absolutely no intention to embrace a few ugly things, a few pains, and truly follow your path, you caught up with me and gave me a few. How can I thank you enough?” (!) [+S.K]

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(*) The first homily, that is after 35 or so years to be precise. Because Elder Symeon Kragiopoulos monastery was my starting point to the Church.  The moment I stepped my foot into the narthex, it all came back to me. Literally that “taste” and “fragrance” of life and teachings which I understood so little back then, yet never forgot since.  What an encouragement for my ‘new’ obediences!   The second ‘word’ which I received soon after was a mission to make pilgrimages and establish contacts with all nearby Thessaloniki monasteries. All nearby monasteries?! Quite bold a list of obediences for such a timid little city hermit. But may it be blessed. Your prayers

[Monastery Diaries 7]

 

 

The Monastery Diaries 6

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Nativity of the Theotokos Monastery

 

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Assumption Monastery

 

New 2020 obediences–New Envoy duties

 

This time to two monasteries at the suburbs of Thessaloniki, both at Panorama. The one is of the Nativity of the Theotokos, which belongs together with the nearby men’s monastery of the Holy Trinity, to +Elder Symeon Kragiopoulos’ monastery ‘complex‘. The opening photograph at their website shows both monasteries; the women’s monastery is the smaller one in the background); the second monastery is of the Assumption to the Theotokos  https://www.google.com/maps/uv?hl=en&pb=!1s0x14a846fddfe0e7d3%3A0xc72518e226191bdc!3m1!7e115!4shttps%3A%2F%2Flh5.googleusercontent.com%2Fp%2FAF1QipPPDnFBdX1QlSJkJUMbysQeSsbBjsnLEGKPQOrb%3Dw480-h320-k-no!5zzpPPhc69zrHOuc66zrXOr86xIM6ZzrXPgc6sIM68zr_Ovc6uIM6azr_Ouc68zq7Pg861z4nPgiDPhM63z4IgzpjOtc6_z4TPjM66zr_PhSDPgM6xzr3Ov8-BzrHOvM6xIC0gR29vZ2xlIFNlYXJjaA&imagekey=!1e10!2sAF1QipMNsnxgG8ntgkYI5Rvp_YnQPBa30XAbs3XvDizB&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiiq6-hs_nmAhURaFAKHRJ_BoMQoiowGHoECAwQBg

 

Never a dull moment! So much to discover… I hardly know anything about the inner life of these two monasteries. Your prayers

New Year’s Resolutions

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“Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt” (Matthew 2:13)

“The angel commands us, as he did Joseph. ‘Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt’ (Matthew 2:13). That is to say: renounce your sin and your slackness; take into your soul the Jesus you saw at Bethlehem and Mary, whom you must never separate from her son; flee the evil and the temptations that surround you; set yourself a hidden, retired, silent life, a life of intimacy with the small child and his mother — and also with Joseph”. (Lev Gillet, The Year of Grace of the Lord, p73).

The life of the Holy Family, whether in Egypt or later on at Nazareth — what an inspiration and a model for us! This is a year I truly want to hide and disappear together with Him. God willing, the goal will be the first three rungs of Saint John Climacus Ladder of Divine Ascent: 1.On renunciation of the world–2.On detachment–3. On exile or pilgrimage.

Blessed New Year 2020 to all!

Your prayers

 

 

Elder Gregorios 40 day Memorial Service

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Elder Gregorios

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“Love in Christ is a sacrificial Love, a self-sacrificing, self-denying Love, Agape. You sacrifice everything for the person you love, “your neighbour”. By “our neighbour”, we mean every person as God’s Image, even our enemy. By “love” we do not mean that we should do whatever the other person wants us to do, but to love him with Christ’s burning and flaming Heart, for his salvation” (+ Elder Gregorios Papasotiriou)

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This is how we have always felt and feel his love. Blessed Paradise, Elder. “Kai sta dika mas.” “And to our own!”  May we be reunited with you in Heaven in God’s Kairos!

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All the faithful present experienced an urge to pray to Elder, and not for him. 

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End of an era

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Christ is Risen! May Angels accompany you dear Father to your reward.

Gerondas Gregorios Tomb

The Monastery Diaries 5

A special commemoration diary and photo/video blog

GERONTAS-GRIGORIOS (1)

Dear brothers and sisters, Christ is in our midst.

This is going to be the most difficult post I have ever attempted as it is about the repose of my spiritual father, + Elder Gregorios Papasotiriou, a spiritual child of Saint Paisios, Elder and Founder of the women’s monastery of St. John the Forerunner in Metamorphosis, Chalkidiki.

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Gerondissa Euphemia of St John the Forerunner Monastery, St Paisios in the middle, Elder Gregorios on the right. She was absent at the funeral, other than very briefly to pay her last respects to the Elder, as she is about 90 years old and very frail in her health

+Wednesday 20/11. The funeral service took place in the morning of the following day, after the vigil of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, such an appropriate day for our spiritual father’s departure from this life and entrance into the Heavenly sanctuary.

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St. Porphyrios, when Elder Gregorios once told him that he is well, told him “no, you are not”. “Indeed, I am”, Gerondas Gregorios insisted, but it was St Porphyrios who was right. Later, when St. Porphyrios visited him at his cell in Metamorphosis, his cell exuded a sweet fragrance for six days!

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In God’s kairos, I may write more about my memories with him. His orphans and why it feels this is an end of an era for us. I really ought to start from my University years, when I would take the bus through Polygyros [ie. etymology: lots of curves] notorious curves to the  Metamorfosi village, then walk all the way uphill through olive groves to the monastery of Saint John the Forerunner, meet Gerondas Gregorios for Confession and make absolutely no plans about my stay or who we were going to spend the day and the night together. Quite an adventure back in those days …

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On Thursday morning, the village and the hill were packed with more people than I have ever seen in my life. People from all over the world, clergy, monastics and lay people who had come to pay their last respects to a father they owned more than their lives. And yet all this crowd were my spiritual brothers and sisters, with whom we had travelled in the past a mile or two in our pilgrimage, and we all had so many memories to share. Many of his spiritual children, when he became gravely ill, were “sent” to Gerondas Theoklitos, the Elder and founder of the monastery of St Arsenios, another spiritual child of Saint Paisios. God’s Love unites us all.

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Such a crowd! The police were regulating the parking and the traffic, as only the priests’ and monastics’ cars were allowed all the way up to the monastery. All nearby hotels opened their rooms for free, and local people with minibuses helped people drive up and down the monastery.

The warmth of faith full of the Holy Spirit. Gerondas Gregorios was remembered in the following days at the proskomede and at the great entrance in churches and monasteries all over the world. Memory eternal.

“Christ is Risen!” What bright sorrow, χαρμολύπη! At the end of the Memorial, the nuns and monks present chanted the whole Paschal, Resurrectional Canon of St. Saint John of Damascus. 

“And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.” (John 17:11)

For a video of the funeral, go here

For more video footage and photos, go here and  here  

For some photos, see below

The Vigil and the Four Gospels

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The Procession Around the Monastery Main Church (Katholikon)

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Second on the left is Gerondas Theoklitos, who prayed the traditional 100-knot rope for the departed: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on your servant Hieromonk Gregorios”

The Grave and the Burial

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Elder Euphemius, the spiritual son of Blessed Gerondas Isaac Atallah. He is now the current Abbot of the Skete that Blessed Atallah founded on Mount Athos and the spiritual father of the nuns at St John the Forerunner Monastery.  As a dear Father pointed out to me, “I see him contemplating this holy mystery of Gerondas repose in his eyes and “being with ” Gerondas spirit and not separated from him.”

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Elder Euphemios was the only hieromonk with a purely white epitrahelion and he was leading all the services.

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For more photos, go here and here

 

The Monastery Diaries 4

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A photo journal 
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Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Christ is in our midst!
What a beautiful vigil at St Arsenios’ annual Feast (+St Arsenios of Cappadocia, Nov. 10)! I do not think any of my photos can convey the holiness conveyed through the monks’ exquisite, prayerful chanting,  the Fathers’ prayers, the censing, the tears of the faithful, the dancing chandeliers at Polyelaios…
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Fr Synesios was throwing bay leaves inside the church before Vespers started

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There were lots of hieromonks, laymen and chanters invited to help with the chanting and the hospitality, and several priests and bishops all over the world since Saint Arsenios monastery is a very missionary-minded monastery and Gerondas Theoklitos has quietly and very discreetly founded together with several of his monks lots of monasteries all over the world.

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The Bishop Innokentios of Burundi and Rwanda

The Vigil was in two parts because the Feast was this year on a Sunday: on Saturday evening we had the Vespers and Matins, and on Sunday morning the Hours and the Holy Liturgy. Nonetheless, it was still too long, so long that the faithful were often seen collapsing in their stasidia and seats, and yet at the end, nobody wanted to leave. The monks though were so vigilant, like candles lit, not sitting down even for a minute during all these long hours.

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Some of the kollyva prepared by the faithful and the monks.
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At the end of the Holy Liturgy, the kollyva of the Saint were prayed in front of his icon. These kollyva were such perfect icons “written” on the boiled wheat that we did not want to eat them! Then, all the faithful were given in the monastery yard a bit of this kollyva, artoklasia and special treats for the Feast, the Fathers briefly disappeared in the arhondarikion, and when we thought that we were done with eating and feasting, we were all invited into the monastery’s trapeza for yet for food.
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During the agape meal, lots of chanters and two monks censing with a a katzion (special censer for feasts) and carrying a piece of holy bread,  a part of the proskomide’s holy bread, moved around all of us and we each picked up a very small piece. In that sense, the agape meal felt like yet one more Holy Liturgy after the Holy Liturgy in the church. Prayer seems to be seamlessly woven in all monastic activities, even in the washing-up that followed.

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Gerondas Theoklitos is on the left, Bishop Nikodemus of Kassandreia in the middle and the monk on the right , deeply bowing his head on the right is Father Arsenios. He was shining at his Saint’s Feast throughout the Vigil and the festivities that followed. He was honoured to read the Akathist before the Saint’s icon and the Synaxarion in the church and in the agape meal that followed at the end of the Holy Liturgy where all the faithful were invited to participate in a fellowship of Love and Holiness. Father Arsenios was the first to receive Holy Communion and the last to eat anything in the agape meal. In fact, I am not sure if he ate anything at all this day as he was so full of Joy and his Saint was feeding him with Heavenly food.

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This is Father Nikodemus who greeted me the first dawn here, on his way to a village parish, and we both admired the starlit sky, the “ison” for the worship unfolding in the monastery katholikon.

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Love and poor prayers,
LCH