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The Monastery of Megisti Lavra of Mount Athos (Agion Oros)

The Monastery of Megisti Lavra is the largest in extent area Monastery and the first in the hierarchy of Athos monasteries.
This monastery formerly had other names like, "Lavra of Melanon", "Lavra of Cyru Athanasius", "Lavra of St. Athanasius", "Megali Lavra" or simply "Lavra". The location of the Abbey is idyllic, as it is "placed" on a rock plateau just northern from the southeastern tip of Athos peninsula. By car, the distance from Karyes is a half an hour away and if you are lovers of hiking, you will need to travel a distance of about seven hours, while from the coast is about 20 minutes, where the coastal building complex of the monastery is.

The route is quite interesting but the road is rough, gravel-paved with sharp turns and narrow. Over the road were crossing rivers and over rivers a small bus.
Under adverse weather conditions, especially when the weather is rainy, the crossing becomes prohibitive and for this reason at the entrance of the monastery was constructed a helipad for emergencies.

The monastery is very large, with the so-called "zematistres" above its entrances, from which the monks threw hot oil to avoid the pirates, and has architecture that reminiscent a castle. Outside there are vegetable crops, the cemetery and high on the mountain is the hermitage of St. Athanasius.

The monastery was founded more probably on the location where the Pelasgian ancient city Akrothosi was, by St. Athanasius the Athonite in 963 AD.

Entering from the main gate, to the left of the formed dome, is a mural of Virgin Mary. Someone heathen shot it with three bullets (the traces of which are still shown). One of them ricocheted and hit him in the heart. In the courtyard there is the chapel (one of the 37) of Our Lady of Koukouzeliotissa, where is the miraculous image. It took its name from St. John the Koukouzelis, who was famous for his chant skill as a chanter in the palace. But, desiring the monastic life, he left secretly and came to Megisti Lavra by another name, so not to be found by the Emperor and he pretended to be illiterate and ignorant.
He assumed, this educated, the official, the much honored, the deaconship of the shepherd. But the emperor who had his people to search for him, he discovered him.

He admired his humility and didn’t force him to return to Istanbul. So, he remained in the monastery, where he became a cantor.
According to one tradition, a day as he was chanting in front of the picture, he felt tired and drowsy. Then, the image of Our Lady spoke and said: "Courage, continue and I will reward you." And She gave him a gold coin.

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The Catholicon of monastery is quite large. Great is the heavy double leaf wooden door that separates Catholicon from the main temple, donated by Fokas, loot from the wars.
Even more marvelous is the tall ornate temple.
In the adjacent chapel is the tomb of St. Athanasius, which, however, has never been opened. Once, a patriarch of Alexandria went there, with great reverence to the Saint, to get his relics from his tomb. But, once he opened it, thunders and lightning came out of him. Since then, nobody dared to open it again. In 1981, (relatively recently) the period when the monastery from non-monastic (each monk lived as he wanted) changed in collegiate (obedience to the abbot, common prayer, etc), in front of many worshipers the tomb was emitting much myrrh.
This chapel was once dedicated to the Saint and Catholicon to Virgin. But Our Lady was presented in abbot’s sleep and ordered him the church to be dedicated to St. Athanasius on 7/5, while the chapel was dedicated to 40 witnesses.
The Altar is located directly opposite the church, and, between them, there is a towering age-old and, as it seemed from the trunk, cypress, which is over 1000 years old, and was planted by St. Athanasius, who was killed along with six other monks tumbling from a scaffold in 1000 or 1001.

The prosperity of the monastery began with its inception. At the end of the 10th century it had already one hundred and sixty monks, while in the 11th century it had nearly seven hundred.
The golden age for the monastery was the 14th century, when many holy fathers became ascetics there, among them Gregory Palamas.
The 15th century was a difficult time, as the monastery was attacked by pirates, suffered of disasters, resulting in the adoption of the non-monastic way of operation, so there is a minimal function. At the end of the century, the monks were able to restore the damaged buildings and the paintings in Catholicon and the chapels.

The monastery consists of twenty chapels inside, and has many outside, as these of the Prophet Elijah, St. Gregory, St. Paraskevi and St. Athanasius and the cemetery church of the Holy Apostles.
It has three Cloisters, Seats, several Cells and Hermitages, some of them clustered and other scattered.
The Cells are located in the areas of Provata, Morfonou, Kerasia, Agios Nilos and Karyes.
In Karyes it has its representative office where St. Anna is honored, eight Cells, in which resident a total of 10 monks and three lodges and enough woodland. By 1930, there were other Cells on the place of the current square of Protatos, including that of the Church and Typography.
The Cells of the monastery that have a defined territorial area are hundreds, but most are dilapidated. Of these 60 are habitable and 45 of them are inhabited already by 65 monks.

The Monastic manpower of the monastery is ranging today among 320-330 people.

It is worth visiting the monastery not only to worship or admire the wonderful location, but also to get acquainted with its history. You can see from close the frescoes of Theophanes the Cretan in Catholicon, dating back in 1535 and the Altar, as well as the tomb of Saint Athanasius the Athonite, located also in Catholicon. Furthermore, worth of seeing are the rich sacristy and the icon sacristy, the “Fiali" and the historic "Vagenario" with the huge barrels of wine storage.

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