Foundation, history and name of the Monastery

In a letter of Patriarch Matthaios, from the year 1400, to the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki, Gavriil, the Monastery in mentioned for the first time, under the name of the Monastery of the Pantokrator (=Christ the Lord of All), and reference is made to "Lord Dorotheos, who also indeed, established the monastery of the Pantokrator in the beginning". Other sources also mention that the Monastery is dedicated to Christ the Lord of All. The name which has predominated, however, has the founders in the plural: "Vlatadon" or "Vlat(t)aion", which means that there were at least two. In the oldest metropolitan document, which is kept in the Monastery Archive (1488), it is termed the Monastery of the Pantokrator of the Vlatadon or Vlataion. Besides, in manuscript no. 92 of the Monastery, there is another reference, probably from the 14th century concerning the venerable Monastery of the Pantokrator of the Vlatadon, while elsewhere in the same document, it is called the Monastery of the "Vlataion".

There were, indeed, two priest-monks known at that time who bore the name "Vlat(t)is", Dorotheos and Markos. They were friends and disciples of Saint Gregory Palamas, whom they followed to Constantinople, when he was called to appear before the synod which was to deal with the hesychast controversy and his theological differences with Barlaam the Calabrian. Having witnessed and shared the tribulations of Saint Gregory Palamas during the years 1341-1350, Dorotheos came with him to Thessaloniki and took up permanent residence in the city. He later occupied the metropolitan throne of Thessaloniki (1371-1379). Markos, who it seems was somewhat older, quickly left Constantinople for the Holy Mountain, where he lived as a monk at the Great Lavra. He, too, then came to Thessaloniki to be with his brother, in 1351.

An inscription set into the wall above the lintel of the west door to the Katholikon states that the Monastery was established "by the founders Vlateon, men of Crete". This inscription, however, is much later (1801) and there is no historical evidence to support it, as regards the founders' birth place.

It should be taken as read that the Vlatades were born in Thessaloniki. The Thessalonian patriarch Philotheos Kokkinos a childhood friend of the two brothers, says of them:" Both Dorotheos and Markos, who were brothers of the same family as well as being monks of rare worth, sprung from Thessaloniki the great, were the best of friends with Philotheos from childhood, fellows in spirit and in asceticism".

The Monastery must have been founded immediately after the enthronement of Saint Gregory Palamas, once the brothers had taken up residence in the town, perhaps in 1351, or even a little later. It was dedicated to the Transfiguration of the Savior, of which the light was for them, their teacher Saint Gregory and the Hesychasts the centre of their theological thought and life.

To this day, the Monastery tradition commemorates empress Anna Paleologina as founder, together with her husband Andronikos III, who had, of course, been dead for some time. Once Anna had taken up residence in Thessaloniki, in 1351, she remained there permanently as Governess until her death. A gate in the east wall of the city, close to the acropolis, which was built by her, bears an inscription with her name (1355). It was probably at this same time that construction work on the Monastery was being carried out.

The Monastery is called royal because it was established by a grant from Anna Paleologina and through a royal chrysobull, which has not survived, but which must have been issued in 1354, in the name of the emperor Ioannes Kantakouzenos and the empress Anna Paleologina, during the term as patriarch of Philotheos, friend of the founder. It is also called patriarchal and stavropegic because a patriarchal sigillium was issued for it, shortly afterwards, by the Ecumenical Patriarch Neilos, and the cross was places there. Another form of name which was used during the period of Turkish rule and is still used by many local people even today is Cavus Monastir. The most likely explanation of this name is that at some time a unit of Turkish troops was billeted there, with a cavus or sergeant in command. When the Turks captured the city of Thessaloniki for the first time, in 1387, they established a garrison in the acropolis, with a strong guard-post outside the south wall on the flat platform of the premises, and to watch the postern-gates which were in the walls at that point. The church was also taken over and converted into a mosque to meet the needs of the soldiers. After the second capture (1430), a guard-post must have been established there for the same reasons. The commander of the post, a "cavus", gave his name to the monastery. The grave of one of these commanders is to be seen in front of the south door of the Katholikon.

Another tradition is of great interest. It maintains that a certain guard commander damaged the church and the building installations a good number of years after the fall of the city. After this, he became gravely ill. Then, in a dream, he saw an elderly man who promised to cure him on condition that he repaired the damage to the church. The commander did so and was cured. From then on he was wont to go there to enjoy the view. He also did the Monastery a good many kindnesses and because of this the monks buried his remains outside the Katholikon.

All these traditions echo certain historical events, of which particular attention should be paid to the damage done to the monastery, the burial of his mortal remains outside the church and the privileges later accorded to the Monastery.

Papageorgiou P., at the end of the last century, expresses another view, which is worthy of note and may be linked to the above traditions. According to Papageorgiou, the church and the monastery took the name "Cavus" because they were next to the tower of Cavus Bey, which is part of the fortified walls in the upper town of Thessaloniki (Yedi Kule). On this tower there is the inscription recording the fact the Cavus Bey repaired the tower and settled there in 1431, one year after the capture of the city. Cavus Bey was on friendly terms with the Monastery and granted it a good many privileges, among which was that of immunity in 1446.

Quite apart from what has been written so far on this subject, it ought to be stressed that the Monastery of Vlatadon, because of its privileged positioning terms of location and security, would hardly have been left unused by the Turks. For this reason, it should not be linked only with the tower in the fortified walls, which, in any case, is not so close to the Monastery, but rather to the use of the premises by the Turks. It is this historical relationship which must be reflected in the tradition concerning the Cavus (commander) who fell ill and was cured after the Monastery was restored.

When the Turks captured Thessaloniki for the first time, in 1387, the Church of the Savior (Transfiguration), i.e. the Katholikon of the Monastery, was sequestered, as were the others, according to the testimony of Symeon of Thessaloniki: "And then, indeed, at that same time, the greatest number of the buildings of the churches fell to them, of which the first was the holy church of the Savior in the acropolis and as many others as were towards there and again as many monasteries hard by the acropolis , and these were, alack, trampled underfoot and the infidels rejoiced in them. Then later most of the religious buildings in the city were despoiled, while altars were demolished and sacred things profaned".

This passage concerns the Katholikon of the Monastery, and is confirmed by the traces of its conversion into a Muslim mosque. It seems that the entire monastery was confiscated, together with its lands, because it was a "royal" monastery, and according to the Turkish practice, every item belonged to the crown - even if only formally so - in lands which had been captured passed automatically into the possession of the sultan. They avoided seizing monasteries, although they did take over the churches and turned them into mosques. This sequestration must have remained in effect until 1403, when the Turkish garrison withdrew from the city, according to the treaty which followed the battle of Ankara. Despite this, however, two years earlier, in 1401, a document from the Patriarch Matthaios refers to the presbyter Theodotos as holding the Monastery of Vlatadon: ":the priest Theodotos, has put forward claim to become abbot in the monastic house of Saint Athanasios, which belongs to the Monastery of the Pantokrator, of which he is now in charge". This last item of information can probably be explained by the fact that the Turks canceled the sequestration of the Monastery of Vlatadon before the Treaty of 1403, because it had, in the meantime been proclaimed patriarchal and stavropegic and was no longer exclusively royal. This monastic house of Saint Athanasios, as a dependency of the Monastery of Vlatadon, had also been sequestered and then released from sequestration as a result of the freeing of the parent Monastery of Vlatadon. This is why Theodotos put forward his claims

When Thessaloniki was captured for a second time by the Turks (1430), the status of the Monastery was not affected, and it continued to function as a monastic foundation throughout the period of Ottoman occupation of the city. At the beginning of the 16th century, it appears to have housed the holy relics of Saint Gregory Palamas for a short time. When the church of Aghia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) in Thessaloniki, where the relics of the saint had been placed, was taken over by the Turks to be converted into a mosque, the relics were taken to the Monastery, where a small chapel in his name was built to house them. This no longer exists. After a short time the church was built which is now the metropolitan church of Thessaloniki and the relics were transferred there. The new church bore the names in common of Saints Demetrios and Gregory Palamas as the two patron saints of Thessaloniki. It was at precisely this time that the icon was painted representing both of them, which is kept in the sacristy of the Monastery.

At the time of the decline of the monasteries of the Orthodox Church, which occurred at the end of the 16th and throughout the greater part of the 17th centuries, the Monastery attempted to re-structure its possessions and retain its land holdings. The Ecumenical Patriarch Ieremias II, with a sigillium of his dated 1579 which is kept in the Monastery, stated that he had seen an old imperial chrysobull and had read a sigillium letters of his predecessors. Patriarch Neilos (1380-1388) and Ioasaf II (1555-1565), through which the monastery was recognised first as a royal and then as a patriarchal, while its autonomy was recognised and it was offered donations. With its own sigillium, Patriarch Ioasaf confirmed the title of the Monastery over what it had in its possession, especially over the dependencies. Despite this, it was unable to ensure a satisfactory level of functioning, because of the negligence of the monks as is reported in another sigillium published by the Ecumenical Patriarch Kyrillos Loukaris (1633), through which the Monastery was made subject to the Monastery of Ivirion on the Holy Mountain. This dependence was not of long duration, however. After fifteen years, Patriarch Ioannikios gave it back its sovereignty with another sigillium. Since then it has continued to function without hindrance down to our own days.

It seems that, from the first decadres of Turkish rule, because of the difficulty of maintaining coenobia (monasteries where the monks lived under a common rule) the system of administration through committees of wardens obtained in the Monastery of Vlatadon, too, until 1713. In the following years, one of the wardens, Anthimos Ypsilos, was elected abbot and retained the office for twenty-two years.

During this period, which lasted a hundred and twenty-two years (1714-1836), eight abbots were in charge of the Monastery. Prominent among them was Ignatios Konstantinou, who was in office for thirty-nine years (1755-1814) and proved very active, to the benefit of the Monastery. It was in his time that the buildings of the Monastery were renovated, especially the Katholikon.

The Same period saw the introduction of the system of lay wardens, who helped the abbots in the performance of their duties. During the period in office of Ignatios, Warden Ioannis Gouta Kaftantzoglou contributed to the rebuilding of the Monastery after years of stagnation. Members of the Kaftantzoglou family continued to give benefactions to the Monastery of Vlatadon until recently.

Later, for thirty years (1836-1866), the mechanism of administrating the Monastery through two-men committees of monks was in place. Since the monks often failed to administer and run the Monastery properly, however, this was taken over, on the initiative of the Ecumenical Patriarch, by lay wardens, prominent among whom were Athanasios Papageorgiou.

The Ecumenical Patriarch, in order to restore canonical order, later brought back the institution of the abbacy. Towards the end of the period of office of the first abbot, Nikeforos Demetriades (1866-1870), the dependency church of Saint Athanasios was taken over by the people who lived in the neighborhood, and successive abbots were unable to secure its release. During the time of his successor, Kallinikos Theologides (1871-1892), the income from the land holdings of the Monastery was granted by the Patriarchade to the Theological School in Chalke, and a new period of poverty set in.

During the period in office of Abbot Kallinikos Georgiades (1892-1923), it became clear that the building complex was largely in decay and some rough repairs took place.

The modern period begins with the liberation of Thessaloniki (1912) and found the Monastery with the same abbot. During the time in office of his successor, Ioakeim of Iviron, a scholarly man (1923-1940), the new building of the abbot's quarters was constructed, as were the sacristy and the chapel of the Mother of God, the expenses being met by Professor Anastasios Mysiroglou.

On the other hand, however, the Monastery lost its extensive lands in Kalamaria, which were expropriated to be given to the landless or to be used for other social purposes. At this time it was a meeting-place for scholars and academics of the city. During the period in office of his successor. Pangratios of Iviron (1940-1966), the Patriarchate passed a set of rules for the internal administration of the Monastery, which applied for a short time.

In the last twenty years, the following have occupied the position of abbot:

Stylianos Charkianakis, at present Archbishop of Australia (1966-1975)

Apostolos Papaioannou, Metropolitan of Ainos (1975-1976)

Ezekiel Tsoukalas, Metropolitan of Pisidia (1976-1977)

Nikodemos Anagnostou, at present Metropolitan of Ierissos, the Holy Mountain and Ardamerios (1977-1980)

Theodoretos Tsirigiotis, Bishop of Elaia (1980-1985)

Panteleimon Rodopoulos, Metropolitan of Tyroloe and Serention, Professor and former Rector of the University of Thessaloniki (1985).

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