Linking Two Worlds: The Arsanos at Docheiariou
The harbor (arsanas) in front of the Docheiariou Monastery provides the monks access to the outside world. Mount Athos itself is naturally isolated from the rest of Greece by its remote location and wild nature. Moreover, within Mount Athos, the access between each individual monastery through the land is extremely limited. Therefore, the sea route is the most common way of connection between monasteries as well as between Mount Athos and the rest of the world. The Docheiariou Monastery is comprised of several buildings that were added at different times since its foundation in the 10th century. The life in Docheiariou, as in other monasteries on Mount Athos, is a self-sufficient one. The buildings closer to the shore, such as the boathouse, workshops, stables, warehouses, are closely related to the day-to-day survival. The high fortress-like walls in the background enclose the monastic cells with windowed facades and balconies at left, and communal worship space with domes visible at right (Katholikon), and a fortified tower as refuge in times of danger.
The goal of monastic life is reaching God through prayer and meditation, and the cultivation of stillness. This can be achieved through living in seclusion in monasteries and eliminating any distraction from the world. Monks start their day very early with prayers and daily services, and then get back to work on the land or in the buildings on their assigned tasks. The arsanas is a great symbol and reality of “connection” to the monastery, as well as an outlet to the rest of the world, hence to “temptation.”
According to tradition, Docheiariou Monastery was founded in the 10th century by St. Euthymius. He was a disciple and companion of St. Athanasios and worked as an ancient equivalent of “minister of treasury” (docheiaris). St. Euthymius founded a small monastery dedicated to St. Nicholas, not far from the current location of the monastery, which was named “Docheiariou” – of docheiaris. Not long after that, St. Neophytus founded the permanent establishment of the monastery at the present site. The new monastery is dedicated to Archangel Michael; however, to keep the memory of St. Nicholas alive, St. Neophytus erected a chapel dedicated to St. Nicholas. Athonite monasteries were frequently attacked by pirates and Crusaders, therefore they constructed walls and secured their towers with pots of boiling oil. Throughout the centuries, Docheiariou Monastery was conquered and looted several times. A surviving wall painting on one of the buildings depicts an image of a pirate holding a sword as a testimony to the troubled past.
The main catholicon of the monastery was built in the 16th century by the Prince of Moldavia, Alexander, and his wife Roxandra. It has two narthices, like other Athonite catholica, and the wall decorations inside are characteristic of the Cretan School.
One of the most famous miraculous icons at Mount Athos is the wall painting of Panagia Gorgoepekoos (All Holy Mother of God the Quickly Responsive) on the eastern wall of the refectory, today enclosed in a chapel. One of the monks at the Docheiariou Monastery frequently brushed the wall with his torch while passing in front of the building and Theotokos warned him a few times “Do not burn my icon.” When the monk did not pay attention to the warning, he was blinded. However, Theotokos quickly forgave him and healed him. Today many services and celebrations are held in Her honor.
Kadas, Sotiris, Mont Athos, Ekdotike, Athenon S. A, Athens, 1980.
Holy Monastery of Dochiariou, Brief Historical Guide, Mount Athos: Holy Monastery of Dochiariou.
Friends of Mount Athos website:
Celebration of Virgin Gorgoupikoou at the Docheiariou Monastery
3D Tour of the Docheiariou Monastery