Romanians at Athos (Part I)

Mount Athos (Greek: Oros Athos) is a mountain on the peninsula of the same name in Macedonia, of northern Greece, called in Greek Agion Oros (transliterated often as Hagion Oros), or in English, "Holy Mountain". Politically it is known in Greece as the Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain. This World Heritage Site is home to 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries and forms a self-governed monastic state within the sovereignty of the Hellenic Republic. Spiritually, Mount Athos comes under the direct jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The mountain is dedicated to the Holy Mother of God, and by an imperial document (typicon) the avaton was established and no female may set foot on the peninsula. Most of its inhabitants are Orthodox monks living in monasteries, sketae (cloisters), cells and hermitages, and those who are not members of the clergy, such as employees, workers, but also the numerous visitors to the Agion Oros, who come for the purposes of meditation, prayer and study. Entry into the area is strictly controlled and only male monks are allowed to live there.

The Romanian Skete Prodromos (Romanian: Schitul românesc Prodromu) is a Romanian cenobitic skete belonging to the Great Lavra Monastery, located in the eastern extremity (called Vigla) of the Eastern Orthodox Monastic State of the Holy Mountain Athos, between the Aegean Sea in the East and the peak of Athos rising 2033 m in the West, nearby the cave of Athanasios the Athonite. Its name, Prodromos, is the Greek for "The Forerunner", a cognomen of St. John the Baptist. Currently, 25 monks live there.

The oldest records of Romanians in this place are from around 1750, when a few monks, under the guidance of a hieromonk Macarie, lived there in seclusion near the chapel of St. John the Baptist (which gave its name to the skete). Around 1800, there were three Romanian hermits, confessor Iustin the Vlach and two apprentices, Patapie and Grigore. It is said that once Iustin drove out a swarm of locusts from the Great Lavra by sprinkling them with holy water. As the number of Romanian monks increased around him, Iustin thought of broadening their cell by making it into a skete, and made a request to the Great Lavra, who agreed and gave its blessing. But Iustin died in 1816. His successors asked the Great Lavra for a deed to establish the skete. In 1820, they received a document of 13 articles, stating the operating conditions, that it belongs to the Great Lavra, that it will be a cenobitic skete, will have an hegumen, will have its own seal, and will obey to its duties to the Great Lavra (like the other Athonite sketes). 1821 marks the beginning of the Greek Revolution, and the skete cannot be founded. Monks Patapie and Grigore left for Romania, taking the deed to Neamţ Monastery. The two died, but other two monks, Nifon and Nectarie, from Horaiţa Monastery (in Moldavia), found the document and in 1851 redeem the Prodromos cell from Greek monks for 7000 lei. The Great Lavra strengthened the deed, and added three more articles. Then, Nifon and Nectarie started the fund-raising. The Prince of Moldavia Grigore Alexandru Ghica contributed the largest amount, 3000 ducats, along with Metropolitan Sofronie of Moldavia and Metropolitan Nifon of Wallachia. In 1856, Patriarch Cyril VII of Constantinople approved the establishment of the skete. The building of the skete’s church began in 1857 and ended 1866 when, on 21 May, on Saints Constantine and Helena feast day, it was sanctified. The service was conducted by hegumen Isaia Vicol from Golia Monastery, in Iaşi. The church was sacred to the Baptism of Jesus.

The church, 30 m long and 8.5 m wide, has three domes, and it was painted in 1862-1863 by painters from Romania in a Renaissance inspired style (typical of 19th century Romanian paintings). On the southern wall of the porch there is a depiction of Mount Athos with the monasteries and the saints living there, between which there are 14 of Romanian origin. Over the main entrance in the skete there is a 23 m high belfry and a chapel sacred to the Dormition of the Theotokos.

The skete, like all establishments of the Holy Mountain, holds holy relics in its church. There are parts from St. John the Baptist, St. Trifon, St. Archdeacon Stephen, St. Matthew the Evangelist, St. Barbara, St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory the Theologian, St Modestus of Jerusalem, St. Charalampus, Saints Cosmas and Damian, unmercenary physicians and St. Martyr Trifon.

The skete has, alongside icons of saints celebrated over the course of the year, five large icons, of which three are thought to perform miracles. The Icon of Theotokos "Acheiropoietos" (i.e. not made by human hands) (Romanian: Maica Domnului «Prodromiţa») is the most well-known of the skete. Few icons in the Orthodox world are considered to have been miraculously painted. There are also The Icon of Theotokos, the one protecting from fire, The Icon of St. John the Baptist, The Icon of Three Holy Hierarchs, The Icon of the Holy Mountain.

The skete's library has over 5000 volumes and about 200 manuscripts of which The History of Athonite Monasteries, written by anchorite monk Irinarh Şişman (1845-1920) a century ago, consisting of 10 volumes, with beautiful ornaments, depicts the history of the Holy Mountain, all its monasteries, and the Romanian establishments in them (after Wikipedia).