|The Hermit, the Icon & the Emperor|
by Chrissi Hart
Last year, as part of our homeschool curriculum, my daughter and I read The Hermit, the Icon & the Emperor by Chrissi Hart. After reading the book, we made a pilgrimage to the Monastery it tells about, Kykkos Monastery in Cyprus. The pictures below are from the walls of the Monastery, and depict the story in the book.
We loved the story - a story from the High Middle Ages that tells of many Miracles. It begins with an encounter between the arrogant Governor of Cyprus, Duke Boutoumites, and a lowly Hermit, Isaiah. The encounter does not go well, and the Governor acts most inappropriately - assaulting the Hermit.
|The Governor assaulting the Hermit at their first encounter - Providentially leading|
to his eventual championing of the Hermit's cause.
|An Icon depicting St. Luke Writing the Icon of the Theotokos|
The Icon is in Constantinople, and the Governor rightly predicts that the Emperor will not be willing to part with such a treasure. But, the Governor also realizes that if the Theotokos herself has instructed him to ask for it, ask he must.
|The Theotokos visits the Hermit and instructs him to bring|
Her Icon to Cyprus.
So, the Governor and the Hermit set off in a boat and journey to Constantinople to ask that this historic Icon be given to them - despite having no hope of their request being granted. When they arrive in Constantinople, the Emperor's young daughter is ill with the same paralyzing illness that had beset the Governor - and of course the Governor knows that the Hermit must pray for her healing.
|An Icon depicting the visit of the Governor and the Hermit |
to the Emperor - and the prayers of the Hermit that resulted in the
Miraculous healing of the Emperor's young Daughter.
"Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and all that move in them" (Psalm 69:
Those who live in the region - including some of our own family - report that visitors can still find pine trees bowing there, in remembrance of this great event.
The story was powerfully told, and the book was beautifully illustrated. Like many Orthodox Children's books, the binding makes it look like a book for the very young, but the story in reality is one that will be captivating to people of all ages, and adults might enjoy it as much or more than children. I highly recommend this book for families to read aloud.
After reading the book, The Hermit, the Icon & the Emperor by Chrissi Hart, our family made a pilgrimage to Kykkos Monastery in Cyprus, where the Icon of the Theotokos written by the hand of St. Luke still resides. Because of its great significance, the Monastery attracts busloads of pilgrims. Thankfully, the Monks put a high priority on hospitality, while still maintaining a deeply Spiritual ambiance.
It is amazing to see how the Monks receive and accommodate such a large number of visitors - imagine if you had busloads of people showing up to visit YOUR home! I imagine it might be quite tempting to be inhospitable, but the Monks of Kykkos have made hospitality into an art - and as a result, a pilgrimage there is a pleasant and Spiritually uplifting experience. Inside the gates, while there are a few small shops with souvenir Icons and the like, the atmosphere is generally devout and peaceful. Outside the walls there is a nice cafeteria serving traditional Greek food, and lots of small shops with those things that tourists are often interested in buying - everything from fruit and nuts to more commonly-seen Cyprus souvenirs.
It was quite striking to see large crowds of chattering tourists getting off of buses - dressed like they were going to the beach (and, perhaps they were planning to visit the beach later that day), but then to see the same crowds inside the Church, speaking in reverent tones and venerating the many Christian treasures with a deep and profound piety.
To help in making the transition from tourist to pilgrim, there was a Monk sitting at the door and providing a robe- similar to a choir robe - to any visitor who needed it. Inside the gate, the walls of the Monastery outside the Church were decorated with Icons of scenes that I recognized from the story told in the book. In addition to those Icons, throughout the Monastery (and it is very large) there were many corridors of Mosaic Icons - many of which were written by the Father of a dear family friend. These Icons depict a huge variety of Christian Feasts, Saints & Bible Stories. (We took many pictures but I won't share all of them now - instead I'll save them to feature throughout the year).
|The Hermit Isaiah hears the chirping of a bird and understands that God's Will is that |
he build a Monastery in the Troodos Mountains - an event that is commemorated in a folk song.
Understandably, no photographs were permitted inside the Church. But, this amazing link will take you there: Kykkos Monastery Church (be sure to view it in Full Screen! It is stunningly beautiful, please take a minute to check it out.)
The Church itself is full of inspiring Iconography. The historic Icon of the Theotokos written by the hand of St. Luke is on the Iconostasis, next to the Royal Doors (as is Traditional in Orthodox Churches for Icons of the Theotokos). For reasons of both piety and preservation, it has been covered in Bas-relief Gold & Silver, but a replica, written by a devout Monastic can be seen next to it.
Similarly each Icon had a reprint in front of it, and a Lucite screen, so that the Icons would not be destroyed by crowds of pilgrims venerating them.
|The Emperor and the Patriarch bring the Icon to the ship that |
will take it to the Island of Cyprus.
As pilgrims venerated the Icons on the Iconostasis they were greeted by a Monk who gave them some Holy Oil, and asked where they were from. The Monk had a kind & gentle demeanor & made visitors feel welcome.
|Monks bring the Icon in procession during a time of drought.|
In addition to the famous Icon of the Theotokos, the Church also contains a good-sized room full of glass cases filled with reliquaries of Saints - the names of the Saints whose relics are in the room is like a "Who's Who" of Saints! (Unfortunately, the Saints' names were only written in Greek & Russian, not in English, so knowledge of one of the two languages - or someone who can translate for you - is a big plus if you're making a pilgrimage) There are Relics of a large number of Saints you would know from the Bible, as well as an equally large number from Christian history in the centuries after the Scriptures were written. The Relics are awe-inspiring and humbling - to think that so many courageously lived and died in Love & Devotion to God! This room may well be a "best kept secret" in Cyprus - it is so amazing and moving, yet I have never seen it so much as mentioned in a tour book or website. In this room, the "noisy tourists" were no where to be seen! They had been replaced by devout pilgrims! I found myself quite overwhelmed with the experience of seeing & venerating so many relics of such awe-inspiring Saints.
|Some of the Icons depict Miraculous healings associated with the Icon - |
this one depicts the healing of a gravely ill child.
I really cannot recommend a pilgrimage to Kykkos Monastery more highly. Certainly if you are visiting Cyprus, it is a "must-see." If you have to choose between visiting Kykkos & visiting the beach, a museum or any other traditional "tourist attraction" - choose Kykkos- you won't be sorry!
|Another miracle depicted in this and the following frame|
- when a Monk was saved from a bad fall.
Stay tuned for an upcoming post on the craft that our homeschool co op did to go along with this story!
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