Saint Luke of Steiri (Hosios Loukas)

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st-luke-of-steirionThe Life (Vios) of Hosios Loukas, which according to the historian G. Kremos, who first published it in Fokika in 1874 “bears the stamp of history”, was written with great attention to detail by an anonymous monk a few years after the Hosios’ death. The author was deeply aware of the situation and events of the period, was an able theologian and accomplished man of letters. He offers indisputable information on the Church and the Monastery and provides historical evidence about the numerous raids by the Slavs, Arabs, Saracens and Bulgarians, among others, on Greece.

According to his biographer, Loukas was born in Kastri in Fokis, present-day Delphi. His ancestors came from the island of Aigina but were forced to leave in order to avoid the repeated and devastating attacks by the Turks. They settled in Ioannitzi, a location in Desphina, between ancient Kirra and Antikyra. Later, they withdrew to the neighbouring bay of Vathi, where Loukas’ father, Stephanos, was born. They finally settled in Delphi.

His father Stephanos married Euphrosyni, who also came from Aigina, and they had seven children. Loukas, their third child, was born on the 29th July 896 AD. His childhood was full of deprivation and hard work but was characterized by great faith in God. After his father’s death he absorbed himself in studying the Scriptures and in prayer. Aged fourteen, he secretly followed two monks from Rome to Athens and after their recommendation entered the Monastery of Pandanassa (Monastiraki). He returned to his family shortly afterwards and later became an ascetic at Ioannitzi, this time with his mother’s approval. He remained there from 910 until 917.

In 917, because of the pending invasion of the Bulgarians into Boeotia and Fokis, he crossed the Gulf of Corinth and settled at Zemeno with a stylite for ten years, 917-927. In 927 he returned to Ioannitzi where he remained for a further twelve years, 927-939. In 939 he abandoned Ioannitzi and went to Kalamos, a location near ancient Voulis, where he stayed for three years. He fled from here with others to the island of Ambelos, opposite Antikyra, to avoid a Turkish raid. In 945 he abandoned Ambelos and settled permanently at the Monastery’s present location, where he died on the 7th of February 953 AD.

At Steiri, he was visited by thousands who sought his support in their hardships and a shinning beacon to enlighten their lives. Among them was the general of the Helladic Thema, Krinitis Arotras, who has already been mentioned. Hosios Loukas died in his humble cell, next to the unfinished chapel of St. Barbara, seven years after his initial settlement at Steiri.

Two years after his death, his disciples completed the erection of the church of St. Barbara and turned his cell and consequent tomb, into an oratory. Thus, a new monastic community was founded in 955 AD. Just as the Hosios had cured illnes-ses and saved lives during his lifetime, so his holy tomb later became a beacon of hope and was said to “gush forth endless cures.”

The Hosios was hard-working, kind, virtuous, compassionate, hospitable and charitable. Also, he had been born with the gift of foresight which was proved unmistakable on issues of both national and individual importance.

Tradition has it that the Hosios’ holy relics had been removed during the 13th century by the Crusaders and had been taken to the Vatican. They later surfaced in Venice accompanied by the following legend: when the Turks conquered Boeotia in 1460, a group of monks, carrying the Hosios’ relics, found refuge on the island of Lefkada. After the island fell to the Turks, the relics were transported to Bosnia. In July 1463, Bosnia also fell to the Turks and Franciscan monks transported the holy relics to Venice. Much confusion had already been caused and it was thought that Hosios Loukas’ relics in fact belonged to St. Luke who had also been buried in Thebes. On the 16th December 1464, following numerous talks, it was proved that the relics which had been moved to Italy were in fact those of the monk of the Eastern Church, Loukas Steiriotis.

On the 11th October 1986, after 526 years and coordinated efforts by the Diocese of Thebes and Levadia and local officials, a delegation headed by the Bishop of Thebes and Levadia Ieronymos, the ex-bishop Nikodimos, the then abbot of the Monastery Nikodimos and the then dean and current abbot, Georgios, collected the holy relics and replaced them in the reliquary of the Katholikon at the Monastery of Hosios Loukas, on the 13th December 1986.

Feast Day: February 7

The Monastery of Hosios Loukas

The Monastery of Hosios Loukas, one of the finest, 11th century Byzantine monuments in Greece, is set on a picturesque slope on the western foothills of Mount Helikon, near the ancient town of Steiri.

The monastery’s two large churches (the Church of Panagia and the Katholikon), its Crypt, belfry, monk’s cells and other buildings, all devoted to the local, miracle-making Hosios, have a unique standing as they are considered paragons among all 11th century monuments in Greece.

Our main source of information on the monastery and Hosios Loukas himself is his Life (Vios), compiled by an anonymous disciple in 962 AD, a few years after the Hosios’ death in 953 AD.

The ascetic Hosios owed his close relationship with the generals in charge of the Helladic Thema, based in the then thriving town of Thebes, on his divine charismas. The generals Pothos, son of Leo Argyros, and Krinitis Arotras, both honoured the Hosios. Krinitis, in fact, began building, at his own expense, a church devoted to St. Barbara during Hosios Loukas’ lifetime.

Two years after his death, his disciples and fellow ascetics completed and adorned the Church of St. Barbara, turned the cell in which the Hosios was buried into a cross-shaped oratory and built new cells and visitor dorms. A new monastic community was thus established by 955 AD. According to E. Stikas, the Church of St. Barbara is in fact the Church of Panagia and the oratory is the present-day Crypt.

The erection of the Katholikon, which is chronologically set in the first decades of the 11th century, has been attributed by tradition, to three Byzantine Emperors: Romanos II (959-963 AD), Basil Bulgaroktonos (976-1028 AD) and Constantine IX Monomachos (1042-1055 AD).

In 941, Hosios Loukas foretold that “a Romanos will take over Crete”, referring to the island’s occupation by the Saracens. When asked if he meant the current Emperor, Romanos I, he answered: “not him, but another.” The erection of the Katholikon is therefore connected to this prophecy, for it would be only natural for the Byzantine Emperor Romanos II to want to build a majestic church out of gratitude to Hosios Loukas for the liberation of Crete (961 AD), which he foretold. Romanos I, however, died in 963 AD, only two years after the restitution of Crete. This two-year time-frame is not considered to have been adequate for the realization of such a majestic project.

There is no concrete evidence to support that the erection of the Katholikon took place during the reign of Basil Bulgaroktonos, as this most important event is not mentioned in the detailed, written descriptions of the Emperor’s triumphant march from Achris to Athens (1018-1019 AD).

In contrast, the possibility of Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos having contributed to the erection of the Katholikon has been widely supported because: a) there was a great flourishing in the arts and literature during his reign and huge amounts of money were spent on the establishment of majestic churches and public welfare institutions, and b) according to a particularly important piece of information recorded by the explorer Cyriacus of Ancona (1391-1455 AD), the Katholikon was erected during the reign of Constantine Monomachos (1042-1055). Cyriacus visited the Monastery during his tour of Greece (late 1435-March 1436 AD) and recorded his passing on an inscription within the church where he mentions that it was built by Constantine IX Monomachos and that he had read this in an old book he found at the Monastery. The theory which connects the erection of the majestic church to the aristocracy of the then prosperous town of Thebes is refuted by the size of the building, its type and the value of the materials used to construct it, which are all indicative of rich, imperial treasuries and of artists used to decorating imperial buildings. The title Vassilomonastiro (king’s monastery) reflects the monument’s richness and perfection as observed by later generations.

At this point, it is worth recording the historian Const. Paparrigopoulos, who supports that the erection of majestic churches during this era was a form of religious counterattack after the period of iconoclastic controversy and addressed the imperative need for national unity after continuous, barbaric invasions. Moreover, the late Pr. Aggelos Prokopiou suggests that the Monastery of Hosios Loukas was formed as a centre for the renaissance of Orthodoxy, a glorious monument for the victory in Crete but also as a shinning beacon for the hellenization of heathen peoples who had settled in Greece.

source: iera mitropolis thivon kai levadeias