Holy Monastery of Prophet Elias Thira
The Holy Patriarchal Stavropegion Monastery of Prophet Elias is located on the hill of the homonymous mountain, on an altitude of 567 m., 3 km away from the village Pyrgos of the municipality of Kalliste, on the southeastern part of the island of Santorini.
The foundation of the monastery
According to the founder's letter (6 March 1711), signed by the bishop of Thera Zacharias Gyzis, the Monastery was founded in 1711. The founders are the brothers Gabriel and Ioakeim, the sons of Antonios Belonias and Aikaterini Sigala the daughter of Ioannis, from the village Pyrgos. Priest-monks and vicars, they secluded themselves and established the monastery using land belonging to their family. Two chapels already existed there, devoted to the Prophet Elias and the Ypapanti (Presentation) of Christ.
According to dedicatory documents and purchase titles kept in the Monastery's records, the prophet Elias chapel initially belonged to Konstantinos Pragiotis and was later transferred to the hierodeacon Parthenios Sigalas, a relative of the owners, who rebuilt the second chapel of the Ypapanti. Parthenios Sigalas granted this space to the brothers Gabriel and Joakim.
According to the founder's inscription of the bishop Zacharias, the Belonias brothers were authorized to "build a single male monastery to serve God". That is why, the bishop continues "I give this temple with the chapel that hosts our Virgin of Ypapanti to the saint priestmonk Gabriel Belonias and to his blood brothers and their attendance, in order to make it a monastery for men and a shelter for all Christians..." The founder's letter of the archbishop Zacharias Gyzis is also validated with the signature of Agapios Gyzis, the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Santorini, holding the title of the dear to God archbishop of Sotiroupolis.
The establishment of the Monastery and its declaration as Stavropegion
In order to build the monastery, Gabriel and Ioakeim started seeking financial help, nevertheless in vain, because of the general financial difficulties of Greece at that time. The effort to raise the necessary funds was then turned towards the thriving community of people from Thera in Konstantinople. The monk Gabriel traveled to Konstantinople, carrying special references by the bishop Zacharias Gyzis and other worthy people of Thera, where he found a positive response. At the same time, the priest-monk made sure that the newly founded monastery consolidated its rights as a patriarchal stavropegion (a monastery directly under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate).
In Konstantinople, he first met with the archimandrite (great dean) Azarias, son of N. Sigalas, teacher of the Great School of the Nation and preacher of the patriarchal temple, who mediated to the Patriarch Kyrillos II΄. The Patriarch composed a special patriarchal sigillion (decree) (May 1712), that he gave to Gabriel, according to which the Monastery is validated as a Patriarchal Stavropegion. The stavropegial rights were renewed by Gregory V, in 1798.
The Monastery as a Patriarchal Exarchate
The capacity of the monastery from mid 18th to mid 19th century varied between 15 and 20 monks, an especially large number compared to the rest of the monasteries in Greece at the time, with the exception of course of the monasteries of Athos. As a result of that growth, along with the reliability of the monastery towards the Patriarchate, the abbot was advanced to the dignity of a Patriarchal Exarch (representative of the Patriarchate with full authority).
The Patriarchal Exarch of the monasteries was responsible for safeguarding the regular order of the monasteries of his region and for the cashing of the "regular" debts to the Patriarch. He toured around the monasteries of his jurisdiction and in the presence of each high priest "he supervised the exact and clear account of income and annual expenditure of each monastery through the registered records of gear and real estate..."
The contribution of the Monastery
The monastery of Prophet Elias developed remarkable activity and contributed to the growth of the local community by promoting Greek culture, participating in national issues and doing charity. In a letter of thanks dated 5th of March 1849, addressed to the monastery by the Eparchate of Thera, we read: "...we thereby take the opportunity to express our praise, Reverend, for the benevolent attitude towards charitable institutions, that will be rewarded in good time".
One of the most
important charitable works of the monastery was the foundation of a Greek
school in the region of Martinou, at a small distance from Pyrgos. The region
is known up to this day as "Schools". Its founding was arranged for October
1799. The construction, on monastic land, started in 1803 and was completed in
1806. The abbot Paisios, appreciating the importance of this big project,
disposed huge amounts of money for its completion. The Patriarchate blessed
this new project of the monastery by publishing a relevant decree (patriarchal
sigillion). This sigillion establishes the primary administrative and educational
principals of the school in a detailed way, demonstrating the particular care
of the Patriarchate. A second sigillion arranges that "the school will be
forever named and acknowledged as Patriarchal and Stavropegial (under the
juridiction of the patriarchate)". The Greek school of Martinou operated for
more than 40 years, until 1845, and contributed to the development of Greek
education and spiritual revival. Today, after its maintenance and restoration
by the monastery in the 70s, the building is the only witness of its existence.
The contribution to the nation
During the fight for freedom of 1821 the Monastery offered every possible help, physically and spiritually. This great contribution is substantiated in many documents of the time, which are today kept in the Monastery's records as well as in the National Archives. In 1822, 16 monks, led by the abbot and other dignitaries of Thera, wrote to Alexandros Ypsilantis to declare their intention to take part in the rebellion.
The Monastery as a place of exile
In mid 19th century, the monastery also served as a place of exile for clergymen. The distance of the island from the mainland of Greece, along with the difficulty of communication in general, kept personalities that disturbed the status quo isolated.
Theophilos Kairis lived in exile in the monastery from 1840 to 1842. He was a clergyman and philosopher from Andros, who was expelled to Skiathos, to the monastery of Evaggelismos (Annunciation), before going to trial for his beliefs "... in order for him to take the time to repent and to return to the right path from which he deviated...". After that, because of illness, he is transferred with a royal decree, to Santorini.
The monk Christophoros Papoulakos from Kalavryta, at the age of 50, decided to preach the divine word to save people from sin. However, his acts caused upheaval and it was judged that they violated the Penal Code. He was sent to trial in 1852 and was exiled in the monastery. The exile rules were also settled and similar to those of Kairis. During his staying in the monastery he continued to talk about "the benefit of the soul", causing more strict rules of exile upon himself, until the year 1854 when he was transferred to Andros, to the Monastery of Panachrantos.
Dionysios Epifaniadis, a monk and literate from Skiathos. He was a counselor of the patriarch Gregorios VI and was later famous for his activity in Small Monastery of Konistria in Skiathos. In 1852 he was arrested for his beliefs and sent to exile to the Monastery of Prophet Elias, where he stayed for 10 years.
The Monastery today
In 1998, the monastery acquired a new brotherhood, which has been trying for the past seven years to revive the coenobion. With the sense of responsibility and concern for the present and future of the monastery they started a truly hard working task. The problems they had to face were complex and numerous.
Due to the fact that the monastery had been operating as a museum for a long time, the repairing and restoring works started from the first day, in order to restitute the monastic order and function. The program of masses and the monastic life was reorganized.
The biggest, most serious and complicated problem of the monastery was the antennas and their removal from the monastery and its surroundings. Since 1956, the settlements and the antennas of OTE (National Organization of Telecommunications) are hiding the east side of the monastery. To make things worse, in 1973, the state television building was erected next to the monastery, hiding its façade. At the same time, with the emergence of the mobile phone companies, the space was used for putting more antennas. The present brotherhood made every possible effort to remove all these antennas from the monastery's surroundings, by trying to offer a different place to the companies for their placement.
Innumerable trials and a heap of juridical and ministerial decisions took place and the European Court of Human Rights called to task the Greek State. The next step was the removal of all the antennas and the restoration of the holiness of the space.
With the obvious intervention of the patron and
curator of the Monastery, Prophet Elias, all the antennas were removed. All
that remains is the military radar of the Shooting Range of Crete, which,
trusting our Prophet again, we hope and believe that it will be removed.
Today the Brotherhood of the Monastery, of 9 monks, who with the daily sacred services, the coenobetic way of life, the monastic diakonimata and the service of all the pilgrims of the Monastery fight for the "spiritual and true" worship of God, the restoration of the Holy Monastery and the spiritual and material support, of the people of God.
Cultivation of agricultural products
The land of Thera, as is formed after the many eruptions of the volcano of Thera, has been enriched with chemical and natural elements and minerals which makes it extremely fertile. It is, therefore, possible to cultivate many species and with very satisfactory results.
Cultivation of traditional vineyards
Thira (Santorini), is most likely themost important vineyard of our country. The way it is pruned and the "wrapping" of the vineyard which likes like a basket named "kouloura" (loop) due to the difficult weather condition, which always existed on the island mainly very strong winds.the volcanic ground is an important factor for the production of high quality wines.
After the Monastery of Prophet Elias reopened in 1997 with the installation of the new brotherhood under Elder Damaskinos, one of the first projects carried out was planting olive trees. The aim was the self-sufficiency of the Monastery in olive oil, so that the produced oil could be used both for the feeding of the fathers and for the use in the candles of the Main Church and the chapels of the Monastery.