The history of Machairas Monastery
The history of Machairas Monastery
The Sacred, Royal and Stavropegic Monastery of the Virgin of Machairas, is built near Mount Kionia, at an elevation of 870 meters, and surrounded by dense pine forests and much natural beauty, the monastery towers like a fortress on a steep hillside. Just below it flows the longest river in Cyprus, the Pediaios. The contrast between the ruggedness and the beauty of the landscape forms a magnificent harmony, such that it depicts the arduousness of ascesis and the beauty of the virtues blossoming from her. This most suitable place for asceticism and prayer was chosen by the Mother of God for the lovers of the Kingdom of God; those elect souls who would later reside under Her protection and care. The centre of the history and life of the Monastery of Machairas is the Virgin Mary, to whom the monastery is dedicated and her icon, the Machairiotissa, which, according to tradition, is one of the seventy icons painted by the Apostle Luke.
This same pious tradition informs us that the icon had been placed above the Holy Soros, or reliquary, of the Virgin Mary in the Church of Blachernae in Constantinople.
During the eighth century, when the heresy of iconoclasm held sway, a devout monk saved the icon from destruction by bringing it to the area known today as Machairas.
After the monk slept in the Lord, the icon remained forgotten in a cave until the 12th century, when the providence of God brought two holy ascetics from Palestine to Cyprus —Neophytos and Ignatios.
Miraculously, the Queen of Heaven and earth provided the two monks with a knife, which they used to cut away the bushes at the entrance to the cave where they found the icon. Since then, the icon, which had previously been named Agiosoritissa, was given the name, Machairiotissa.
The God-bearing fathers knew that it was God’s will to build a monastery on Mount Machairas. For this reason, Saint Ignatios and another ascetic, Saint Prokopios, travelled to Constantinople, where they received the needed assistance from Emperor Manuel Comnenus for the construction of the monastery, along with the privilege of the monastery being Stavropegic, or self-ruled.
In the days when Cyprus was groaning under the harsh rule of the Frankish conquerors, two monks from the monastery—Gennadios and Gerasimos—joined the monks of Kantara Monastery in boldly confessing the Orthodox faith before the Latin clergy and authorities. After three years of imprisonment and horrible tortures, the Frankish rulers ordered them to be tied behind horses, dragged along the dry bed of the Pediaios River and their mutilated bodies burned.
Equally debilitating for the people of Cyprus was the Ottoman period, during which a monk from Machairas and later Archbishop of Cyprus, Kyprianos, stands out as a martyr for his faith and country, preferring to lose his life rather than deny Christ and betray his flock.
In recent times, when the Greek-Cypriots were fighting to overthrow the British yoke, the monastery offered shelter, food, clothing and medical care to the deputy leader of EOKA, Gregory Afxentiou and his fellows. However, he was betrayed and, on the 3rd of March 1957, his hideout near the monastery was discovered. He managed to hold out against British troops for many hours until they poured petrol into the cave and burned him alive.
During its long history, the Monastery of Machairas has stood alongside the suffering people of Cyprus. It strengthened faithful folk spiritually and ethically, and helped them in any other way it could. By the middle of the 20th century, the number of monks in Cyprus had dwindled, and the community of Machairas was no exception to this. However, the return to his native Cyprus of Athonite priest-monk Athanasios, a spiritual descendant of the saintly elders Joseph the Hesychast and Joseph of Vatopedi, and his enthronement as abbot in 1993, gave the monastery a much-needed boost. The priority of Father Athanasios was to organize the life of the monastery according to the ancient coenobitic, or communal, monastic tradition found in monasteries on Mount Athos. This spiritual reawakening drew many young men to the monastery of Machairas, resulting in a significant increase in the numbers of the community. The enlargement of the brotherhood demanded the expansion of housing and liturgical space. Along with two large churches, many chapels, monastic cells, places of hospitality such as the reception centre and guest houses, a refectory, a sacristy for the holy treasures and other auxiliary spaces were also built. At the same time, all the old structures were renovated, especially the main church, called the ‘katholikon’. Abbot Athanasios, responding to the urgent need to care for substance abusers in Cyprus, founded the therapeutic Community of Holy Protection (Agia Skepi) with the assistance of pious Christians on a parcel of land owned by the monastery near Filani. Since then, the community of Holy Protection has been very successful and it’s considered one of the best communities of its kind in the world.
In 1999, after Abbot Athanasios was unanimously elected Metropolitan of Limassol by clergy and laity, the brotherhood of Machairas voted priest-monk Arsenios as its new abbot. Father Arsenios continued the work of his spiritual father and predecessor with much zeal. On the 11th of September 2004 however, while on board on a helicopter flying to Mount Athos with the Patriarch of Alexandria Petros and other dignitaries, the helicopter crushed in the sea under unknown circumstances. Unfortunately, none of the passengers on the helicopter survived the accident.
Following this most painful trial, the brotherhood elected priest-monk Epiphanios as its abbot. On 2007 priest-monk Epiphanios was ordained archpriest with the unanimous decision of the Holy Synod of the Church of Cyprus receiving the title Bishop of Ledra, while still withholding his position as abbot of Machairas. Following his election as Metropolitan of Limassol, elder Athanasios focused on the renewal and restoration of abandoned monasteries in his diocese, to which the Monastery of Machairas offered its assistance by providing monks and re-establishing two old monasteries. A team of five monks manned the Monastery of Mesa Potamos in August of 2003 and, six years later, another team of five went to the Monastery of Symvoulas, located near the Metropolitan city of Limassol.In monasticism, there is a special program with regulations that governs daily life in the community that was developed by the Holy Fathers and desert ascetics over the centuries. Under the auspices of this tradition the monks of Machairas follow a common daily program. The fathers arise at 3:30am and at 4:00 am they begin the Midnight service, Matins and Divine Liturgy. At the end of these morning services around 8am, and after a light breakfast the monks begin their designated works or diakonimata according to monastic terminology. Preparing food for cooking, laying the tables in the refectory, hospitality, gardening, and housekeeping are among the basic tasks of a monastery. In monasticism, work takes the dimension of offering service to the neighbour, and for this reason It’s called diakonima, or service. Following lunch there is some time for rest before the services of Vespers, a light supper and then Compline in the early evening. After Compline, each monk withdraws to his monastic cell, alone with God for his personal program of reading and prayer. Afterwards, he will rest a few hours until the following morning’s service. With daily adherence to this program, the practical application of the virtues of fasting, vigil, prayer and obedience aims to attract the grace of the Holy Spirit into the heart of the monk. The struggle to acquire this grace is lifelong, and sometimes harsh, until the Christ-fashioned man takes form inside him and he becomes a new creation in Christ.