THE MONASTERY OF ELONA
The history of this famous monastery originally begins before 1769. (There were no records kept on the exact development of this monastery before this date. We get this first date by the signature of a monk, next to some records written on a plaque hanging on the wall of one of the rooms in the Monastery.) The miracle of it's existence began one evening as a few sheepherders witnessed a bright glow shining from a distant mountain cliff. At first they though the light was perhaps a figment of their imagination, yet for the next few nights the light kept appearing, and they knew it was impossible for any human being to be able to physically sit or climb up that rough and rocky cliff.
The sheepherders then quickly notified the Bishop of the area, who then contacted many other Holy men and nobility of the area to go witness this unexplainable sight. Once there, they saw an icon with the Virgin Mary hanging from a small branch on the side of the cliff. Below it was a small lit lantern (kadili). This spot is now marked by the wooden cross which hangs over the present day Monastery. It was impossible to reach the icon or the small light. Ropes were pulled out for climbers to reach yet the rockiness and difficulty of the climb prevented anyone from coming close to the icon. Baffled by what to do, everyone sat below the icon all night trying to figure out ways to reach the icon and how to climb up to retrieve it. The following day those who had remained from the previous night, and now those Christians who had gathered to witness this sight all began to pray to the Virgin Mary to help them. As night fell, and the sunset began to brighten the red cliffs of the Arkadian Mountain side, the icon miraculously lowered to a branch where the climbers could finally reach and retrieve it. A small chapel was then built below the branch where the icon hung, to commemorate this miraculous event.
The Monastery of Elona was looked after by two monks, named Kallinikos and Dositheos. They were the first to take the honor of looking after the construction and devotion to prayer in the Monastery. They unfortunately were eventually murdered by a group of Turkish soldiers. After their murder, this group of Turks went to destroy the Monastery, yet as they entered the building a bright light within the Monastery burst before the group, and blinded them. They felt and feared a great force within the Monastery and quickly dropped their arms. Their Turkish leader ordered them not to destroy anything in the Monastery and allowed the Greek Christians to come and worship there. The Turkish leaders in the area feared the power that blinded their soldiers. Later on, during the great massacre of Peloponisos (also known as katakavmenos Morias)by the Turks, thousands of Greeks were murdered, houses and land destroyed throughout this area. The Monks at the Monastery of Elona were also murdered, the treasures within it were stolen and the Monastery was destroyed. It wasn't until 1785 that organization began to rebuild this holy Monastery. Many people throughout the Peloponese found a need to rebuild it, and donations came from all over, including the islands of Spetses and Hydra. Forty Monks eventually came to the site of Elona and began its new development. The modern day Monastery that we see today first began to be built in 1809. As the years passed, sections were continuously added on to develop into the existing large structure.
The Monastery of Elona symbolized an icon of hope during the Turkish occupation for Greeks throughout the province of Arkadia. The hope that one day the Greeks would be freed by the brutal occupation of the Ottoman Empire. It served as a refuge and hideout for many during WWI & WWII. Perched up top of a mountain, the water filled cave within this mountain peak is said to have cured many ailments. Many miracles have also been witnessed within this holy Monastery.
TODAY, During the week before Panagias (Celebration of the Virgin Mary, August 15) Neighborhoods and groups of people take a midnight hike up to the monastery. Everyone takes the hike for a different reason, but for myself, under the moonlight, stars and the sounds of the tzitzikas, it was truly a spiritual experience, which helped bring some direction in my life.
You usually arrive at the monastery by around 4 - 4:30am, just when the sun is about to rise. (Depending on how quickly you walk, the hike can take four to five hours.) A cafe and vendors next to the monastery wait for all the pilgrimers to sell their honey, teas, herbs, coffee and souvenirs. The monastery doors open at 5:00am and a service begins. Many people make a special prayer for a sick loved one at this time, in hopes that God will intervene and have mercy. The nuns at Elona are very friendly and always willing to provide you with information or even a nice hot cup of Greek coffee.
|Oldest sign found with the dating of the monastery||To the left is the icon of Panagia Elona|