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Τετάρτη, 13 Σεπτεμβρίου 2017

TV PROGRAM FOR TUESDAY, DEC. 25, 2007 THE ARCHANGEL OF MANDAMADOU ON THE ISLAND OF LESVOS






            During the beginning of the year nine hundred AD (tenth century) when the Byzantine Empire was at the height of its development, the Saracen pirates were also at the height of their activity in the Mediterranean.  They would attack the islands of the Aegean including Monasteries.  They would plunder, burn, murder and take hostage many of the inhabitants of the islands and the Monasteries.  These hostages would end up in the slave markets of the Middle East.

            The story of the Monastery that is to follow happened on the island of Lesvos  in the eleventh century.  We learn of the history of these islands from the local traditions which have been handed down to us from generation to generation.  The Monastery of the Archangel Michael was built like a fortress with high thick walls and a tower.  The pirates had taken notice of this particular Monastery and they were determined to attack it.  This particular attack took place during the springtime when the monks were preparing the Monastery buildings for Holy Week and Easter.  The leader of the pirates that wanted to attack this particular Monastery is called Sirhan.  He was a giant of a man.   He always looked fierce and angry.  He gathered his men together and said to them: “This time we will enter the Monastery.  The only thing that I want from the Monastery is the gold cup with which the monks use for the Divine Liturgy.  You may have everything else that you find there.”  Sirhan was armed with an ax and a sword.  They set sail for Lesvos.  They arrived at the Monastery about midnight and hid amongst the trees surrounding the Monastery.

            As we said previously, the monks had been white-washing the buildings of the Monastery in preparation for the Easter Holidays.    The monks felt secure because of the quietness of the winter and they did not assign a lookout to protect their Monastery from the marauding pirates.  At one point during the night, the simantron, was sounded in order to call the monks to prayer.  The simantron is a long carved piece of wood that is struck with a mallet.  Tradition tells us that this is what Noah used to call the animals to his Ark.  One could hear the footsteps of the monks as they hurried on the wooden verandah as they came down to the Church.  In a little while everything was quiet.  At that very moment the leader of the pirates gave the signal.  One of the pirates threw a hooked rope over the Monastery wall.  He climbed over the wall, jumped down into the courtyard and he proceeded to unlock the large main door of the Monastery. The pirates entered the Church while crying Ala Akbar.  Before the monks could come to their senses from the sudden attack, they were quickly put to death.

            A novice monk, Gabriel, was in the altar with the abbot.  He quickly exited the altar through a window and ended up on the roof of the Church.  The pirates saw the young novice exit the altar through the window.  They followed him up onto the roof.  Almost immediately a load noise was heard.  The roof of the Church appeared to be transformed into a ragging ocean.  Above the foaming waves appeared a huge and angry Soldier.  He was holding a sword that was giving off tongues of fire.  He lunged at the pirates.  The pirates fled for their lives as they abandoned their weapons, the stolen items and fled in panic.  The novice Gabriel was the only one that remained alive from the attack.  He was overwhelmed by the appearance of the Archangel Michael.  When he came to his senses, he quickly ran down into the Church to see if any of his fellow monks had survived the attack. When he ascertained that they were all dead, he went up to the icon of the Archangel Michael and asked: “What kind of a face was that that I saw on the roof of the Church? “My beloved Archangel Michael intercede and pray to the Lord that He will grant repose to the souls of my brother monks, also inspire me  to form the beauty of your face the way that I saw you on the roof of the Church.”  Suddenly, as if enlightened by the Archangel, he sought out a sponge and an earthen vessel.  He knelt reverently next to each of his brother monks and sponged up their martyred blood and filled the container with it.  He then went outside of the Church and mixed the blood with some white sand.  He took the mixture and immediately began the task of shaping the face of the Archangel that he saw on the roof of the Church.  From the very beginning of this endeavor, he felt the very physical presence and help of the Archangel.  His hands felt as if they were being directed by an invisible force.  He quickly formed the face of the Archangel.  It was the same angry face that also had a divine countenance.

            As this drama was being played out at the Monastery of the Archangel Michael, the people who lived nearby were unaware of the horror that was taking place.  But there was a shepherd boy that night that could see the ocean from high on a hill.  He suddenly saw pirate ships near the shore.  He mounted his horse and proceeded toward the Monastery in an effort to warn the monks.  When he arrived at the Monastery the scene that he found there caused him to faint.  When he came to his senses, he proceeded to inform Alexi, the village leader of Stenaka, what happened at the Monastery.  Alexi immediately left for the Monastery accompanied by fifty others on horseback.  When he entered the Church he could not believe what he saw.  He found the slaughtered monks.  They were bathed in blood.  The abbot was found dead in front of the altar table.  He clinched his teeth as he went into the courtyard desiring very much to avenge the killings.  The men mounted their horses and followed the trail of the pirates.  They approached a high point on the trail.  They stopped suddenly.  The scene they saw before them made them shudder.  They saw those whom they had been chasing dead and scattered all over the hill. They had been killed by one thrust of a sword.  The thrust of the sword went from the forehead all the way down to the belly.  Their bodies had been literally cut in two.  The cut of the sword was exactly the same on each of the pirates.  They all believed it was divine retribution meted out by the Archangel.     

             In the meantime, two pirates who had been waiting on the shore for their fellow pirates to return from the Monastery began to worry about their delayed return.  They decided to climb up the hill and look for their brother pirates.  When they reached the hill and saw the dead pirates they immediately returned to their ships.  Their leader was also waiting for them to return.  They informed him about the tragedy that had befallen their fellow pirates.  As soon as he heard the news, he hit the table with his hand and pledged to someday seek revenge.  This revenge came the following year when he put a plan together to capture the village of Stenaka.  A year later the pirates disembarked quietly on the coast and prepared themselves to attack the city at sunrise.  They believed that the residents were sleeping without being aware of the impending attack.

            During this very crucial moment for the city of Stenaka, the Archangel Michael intervened again.  Stephen, the son of the mayor Alexi, who had just prepared to retire for the night, suddenly saw before him the Archangel Michael.  He was very striking in his silver attire.  His blond hair fell upon his shoulders and the reflection of his silver clothing shined upon his wings.  He held a fiery sword in his right hand.  His left hand was lifted up and outstretched.  He smiled at the young man and with a sweet voice said: “Get up Stephen.  Go immediately with your father to prepare for the defense of the city.  The Saracens are coming to obliterate you.  Do not be afraid!  I and your patron Saint will be at your side.  We will protect you and we will direct you.  The pirates have anchored their ships down below where your city is.  A few of them will attack the castle first so that you will think they are not attacking the city.  They will then unlock the doors to the castle.  Then they will attack you at sunset.  You should be prepared to defend the city.”

            Everything unfolded just as the Archangel had said it would.  When the pirates attacked they found the defenders at the ramparts of the city.  At that very moment, a group led by Stephen, who had quietly gone down the embankment to the shore, set fire to the pirate ships.  The pirates saw the light from the fires; they panicked and ran for their lives.  The panic that followed is beyond description.  As they were running toward the ocean the defenders of Stenaka pursued them on horseback and the pirates were decimated.  One group of pirates led by Sirhan, managed to escape the attack and attempted to hide themselves in the wooded area.  But the group of defenders from the city that set fire to the ships encircled and annihilated them.

            Since that time many centuries have intervened.  The Monastery was eventually destroyed by the constant attacks of pirates.  In the eighteenth century an old small Church was replaced with a new and larger one.  But the bust of the Archangel Michael has been preserved there since the eleventh century.  It is the very same one that was created by the novice monk Gabriel.  It continues to have the same life-like features.  It has been unscathed over the centuries in spite of the fact that thousands upon thousands of pilgrims reverence it by kissing it. Some of the faithful try to take chips from the bust.  These of course leave marks on the face.  But miraculously these marks quickly heal themselves.  You must remember that the bust has been created from the mixture of human blood and fine sand.  Also remember this is not ordinary human blood it is the blood of martyrs. Every now and then the eyes of the Archangel become filled with tears.  The faithful gather up these tears with cotton balls. To this very day astounding miracles are performed for those who hasten to the shrine with faith.   

Translated from the Greek by:
+Fr. Costas J. Simones, May 16, 2014, Waterford, CT, USA

I and my wife have visited the shrine of the Archangel and it is truly awe-inspiring to see it up close.

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