The Holy and Great Monastery of Vatopedi (Greek: Βατοπέδι, pronounced [vatoˈpeði]) on Mount Athos, Greece, was built during the second half of the 10th century by three monks, Athanasius, Nicholas, and Antonius, from Adrianople, who were disciples of Athanasius the Athonite.
From then onwards, several buildings have been constructed, most of them were built during the Byzantine period and during the 18th and 19th centuries when the monastery reached its highest peak.
About 100 monks live in the monastery today, where extensive construction projects are underway to restore the larger buildings.
Sketes attached to Vatopedi
Two large Sketes (monastic style communities) are attached to Vatopedi: the Skete of Saint Andrew in Karyes and the Skete of Saint Demetrius near the main monastery. Other smaller sketes are also attached to the monastery.
Main buildings within the walls of the monastery
- The Katholikon (primary church), dedicated to the Annunciation of the Theotokos (Virgin Mary)
- The Refectory, or trapeza
- The Byzantine period clock tower
- The 10th century NE tower which now houses the monastery's library
Treasures held within the monastery
The Monastery of Vatopedi holds the Cincture of the Theotokos, a belt held by some believers to be the actual belt of the Theotokos, which she wore on earth and gave to Thomas the Apostle after her death and during her transition to heaven (the equivalent in the Western Church is the Girdle of Thomas). The silver and jewel-encrusted reliquary containing the skull of St. John Chrysostom is kept in the Monastery and is credited by Eastern Orthodox Christians with miraculous healings. The monastery also contains the Iaspis, a chalice fashioned of a single piece of the precious stone jasper, and numerous icons.
The library holds 2,000 manuscripts and 35,000 printed books. Among manuscripts from Vatopedi, now at least partly in other collections, are Uncial 063, Uncial 0102 and the Vatopedi Psalter in the British Library.
- Other manuscripts
Land deal controversy
In September 2008, the monastery was implicated in a real estate scandal. The monastery is being accused of trading low-value land for high-value state property in a deal with the New Democracy government of Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis. The cost to the state is believed to have been at least €100 million.
The financial writer Michael Lewis reports that a Greek parliamentary commission estimated the value of government property received by the monastery at one billion euros. Michael Lewis, in his book Boomerang, compares Father Arsenios and Father Ephraim, respectively, to the Enron executives Jeff Skilling and Ken Lay, as "poster children for greed and corruption". Lewis details the building of a commercial real estate empire worth about $1 billion in efforts to restore Vatopedi to its former glory.
After the story became public in August 2008, the government cancelled the land deals and two ministers resigned, under huge pressure from the media and public. Additionally, Parliament voted unanimously to set up a commission to investigate the deal. However, after investigations, the estimations of the public agencies for the exchanged real estate objects were found to have been in order.
In December 2010 a Court of Appeals found guilty and imposed a ten-month imprisonment (with three years suspension) to ex-judge Maria Psaltis on charges of misconduct and violations of judicial secrecy. The same penalty was issued to Abbot Ephraim and monk Arsenios on instigation. As of December 2011, 3 years after the reveal of the alleged scandal, none of the two different investigating parliamentary commissions and various trials had found any of the persons involved guilty of illegal money transactions or real estate fraud. Then, in late December 2011, the Abbot Ephraim was arrested, and jailed pending trial, for alleged fraud and embezzlement.
On January 11, 2012, the Criminal Division of the Supreme Court accepted the proposal of the Deputy Prosecutor of the Supreme Court Law Mr. Tsangas: it set aside the decision under which Psaltis, Ephraim, and Arsenios had each been sentenced to 10-month imprisonment (with three years suspended). The Supreme Court considered that the contested decision of the Court of Appeals had no legal justification and presented logical gaps, inconsistencies, and shortcomings. Moreover, the Supreme Court ruling that any disclosure of the outcome of the conference only a court is no longer a criminal offense [sic], which means that the three defendants will be treated under more favorable conditions when judged again by the court.
In October 2013 it was reported that fourteen persons, including Abbot Efrem and monk Arsenios were indicted on several counts including money laundering related to the Land Deal Controversy, which has been referred to as the "holy exchange"
Miracle-working icons within the monastery
There are seven icons of the Mother of God in the monastery purported by believers to be miracle-working: Elaiovrytissa, Ktetorissa (Vimatarissa), Esphagmeni, Pantanassa, Pyrovolitheisa, Antiphonitria and Paramythia.
- Michael Lewis, "Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds." Vanity Fair, 1 October 2010.
- Michael Lewis, Boomerang, Allen Lane, 2011
- Review of Michael Lewis’s ‘Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World’ Washington Post
- , Greek SKAI Television Documentary
- Greek minister quits over scandal, BBC
- Greek MPs vote to investigate Vatopedi monastery land deal, Herald Sun
- , Kathimerini Newspaper
- Greece jails Abbot Ephraim in Mount Athos fraud case, BBC
- , Ta Nea, Newspaper
- Icone della Ss.ma Madre di Dio – Hodigitria