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Returning from Ephesus and Antioch, the Mother of God then remained in Jerusalem for a considerable period. During this time, St. Lazarus, whom the Lord had raised from the dead on the fourth day of his repose John, 11:14-44, was living on the island of Cyprus. The Apostle Barnabus had consecrated him as bishop.
Now St. Lazarus had a great longing to behold the Theotokos who he had not seen in a long while. However, he dared not enter Jerusalem for fear of the Jews, who still sought him. The Thoetokos learned of this and wrote St. Lazarus, the true friend of her Son, a letter wherein she conforted him. She asked him to send a ship to her that she might visit him in Cyprus, for she would never demand of him to come to Jerusalem for her sake. When the holy Lazarus read her letter, he was filled with tremendous joy and, at the same time, he wondered at her great humility.
Without a moment's delay, he sent a ship for her together with a letter of reply. Whereupon, the Theotokos together with Christ's beloved deciple, John, and others, who reverently accompanied them, set sail. It is said that she had sewn St. Lazarus an omophorion (a bishop's stole, pall) with epimanikia (cuffs) and that she wished to present them to him personally. The year was 52 A.D.
A STORM AT SEA
The Virgin and her company set sail from the Holy Land on a bright and glorious day. As the ship parted from the shore, the Virgin prayed to her almighty Son that He pilot their vessel, according to his will. It happened that, after a time at sea, a violent sea storm raged and the sailing vessel was forced off course. By divine intervention, as the storm abated, they found themselves outside the port of Clemes (Clementos) on Athos. Athos was the farthest east of the three promotories of Chalkidiki, a Greek peninsula that streaches into the Aegean Sea between the Thermaic and Strimonic gulf. It is some seventy km. in length varying in width from eight to twelve km., covering in all an area of about 400 sq. Km.
At that time, Athos was inhabited by pagan tribes. However, in ancient times, the citizens of that region were mostly young virgins dedicated to the godess Diana and destined to become priestesses to serve in the idolatrous temples of Greece. To this purpose, young girls were sent there from all parts of Greece. It was forbidden, under penalty of death, for men to enter; especially "Kerasia",which is today the area of the Holy Monastery of Great Lavra. (The main monastery of the twelve on Mt. Athos) The name "Kerasia" being a corrupted form of the Greek word korasia, meaning "virgin maiden".
Agapios the Cretan writes that when the ship carrying the Virgin Mary approched Athos, Jupiter's statue, at the top of the Mountain (In a Greek temple dedicated to Jupiter) fell and shattered to pieces in a thunderous noise. The presence of this statue is mentioned in ancient history. Plutarch and Anaximander and others also mention that at the top of Athos there was a great gold-ivory statue of Jupiter which, instead of eyes, bore two large gems, reflecting the starlight. Emitting flashes by night, they served as lighthouses to the seaman sailing around Athos.
THE VIRGIN GOES ASHORE
It is said that they came ashore close to the present Monastery of Iveron which is situated above a pictureesque inlet on the northeastern side of the peninsula. There, the holy Virgin rested for a while, overwhelmed by the beauty of the place, she asked her Son to give her the Mountain, despite the fact that the inhabitants were pagans. A voice was then heard saying, "Let this place be thine inheritance and garden, a paradise and a haven of salvation for those seeking to be saved." The Virgin then brought to mind the words of the Archangel Gabriel, who told her some twenty years earlier, after the Pentecost, that her lot would be a Mecedonian peninsula, Mount Athos. Thus it was consecrated as the inheritance and garden of the Mother of God, and immediately aquired the name Aghion Oros or Holy Mountain, because our Lady the Theotokos chose this Mountain and placed it under her own protection.
Upon asking and receiving Athos as a heavenly gift, in that moment, the ground shook and the pagan statues in all the temples fell prostrate and broke into pieces. Then, even the trees of the peninsula bent forward, as though offering veneration to the Theotokos who had reached the port of clemes.
THE INHABITANTS OF ATHOS
On the peninsula there was a great temple and shrine of Apollo. Diabolic works such as fortune telling, diving and witchcraft took place there. All the pagans greatly honored this place as one chosen by the gods. In fact, people from all over the world gathered there to worship. Therein, they would receive answers to their questions from the diviners. Therefore, when the Mother of God entered port, and all their idols had collapsed, shouting, confusion and uproar were heard from all the idols in Athos. Cries could be heard, saying, "Men of Apollo, get ye all to Clemes harbor and welcome Mary, the Mother of the Great God Jesus!" Thus, all the demons inhabiting the idols, forced against their will, could not resist the power of God and they proclaimed the truth.
Whereupon, all the inhabitants of Athos hastened from all parts to that port. Once there, they welcomed the Theotokos. Meeting her with honor, they took the Theotokos, St. John and all their fellow passengers to the common hall, called the Synagogeion (meeting house or assembly room).
They then asked her, "What God didst thou bear and what is his name?" Opening her divine lips, she explained, in detail, to the people everything about Christ. The natives diligently poses questions concerning the mystery of providence in the divine incarnation. They even wondered at how she, a Hebrew women, explained everything to them in the Greek language. As a result of all the excellent and supernatural occurrences attendant with her arrival, they believed. Upon being catechized by her teaching, they accepted the Christian faith.
They then fell down to the ground and worshiped the God Who was born of her and showed great respect to the Virgin who bore Him in the flesh. The Mother of God also worked many miricles on the Holy Mountain. After their baptism, she appointed a leader and teacher for the newly-illumined from among them that were in her traveling party.
TRULY GREAT IS THY FORETHOUGHT FOR US, O EVER-VIRGIN !
Rejoice, O all-holy Lady, who hast hallowed Athos by thy coming! Rejoice, thou who cast down the idols in that place!. Rejoice, thou who didst plant the true Faith on the Mountain! Rejoice, thou who didst drive unbelief from thence!.
Rejoicing in Spirit, the Theotokos said, "Let this place be my lot given to me by my Son and God." After these words, the Theotokos blessed the people.
When God divided the nations according to the number of his angels, then He foresaw that thou, O Virgin, would be His all-pure Mother, and He set the great Mount Athos apart for thee as an inalienable inheritance. (10)
Most pleased with the place, she (Theotokos) prayed for it and said, "My Son and my God, bless this place , this lot of mine. Pour thy mercy upon it and keep it free from harm till the end of this world, together with them that dwell therein for Thy holy name and mine. And through their little fatigue and through the struggle of repentance, may their sins be forgiven. Fill their lives with every good and necessity in this age, and with eternal life in the future age. Glorify this place above every other place and show thy miraculous power in every way. Fill it with men from every nation under the sky, who are called by Thy name and extend their habitations in it from end to end. Exempt them from eternal punishment, save them from every temptation, from visible and invisible enemies and from every heresy, and pacify them in right worship (Orthodoxy)" (11)
Rejoice, thou who hast chosen Mount Athos as thy portion! Rejoice, thou whose will hath been to be the helper of that place! Rejoice, bestower of earthly blessings upon the faithful who abide there! Rejoice, suret of their eternal salvation! (12)
(A Latin Rite Benedictine Abbey was established on Mount Athos and prospered till about the 12 century due to Papal suppression)
To be continued pg. 437
Excerpt above, from The Life of The Theotokos
By Mother Mariam
Published by Holy Apostles Convent and Dormition Skete, 1989
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