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The Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner of Mesa Potamos, is situated on the southern slopes of the Troodos Mountains. Information for the Monastery’s establishment and its founders is unfortunately not known, but it is considered to be of the same age as the other major monasteries of Cyprus, namely Kykkos, Macheras, Trooditissa, Trikoukkia, Saint Nicholas of Stegi and others. The Monastery dates back to the Byzantine period, and more precisely to the 12th century, during the same time the other monasteries in the region were built. This date can be witnessed by the icon of the Mother of God the Odigitria dating back to the 12th century. The icon is also known as Mother of God “Saitiotissa”, named after the village Saittas, situated 5 kms on the south of the Monastery.  The icon received this name because it was initially located in an old metochion of the Monastery in the same village.

 

The first written historic testimony about the Monastery comes from a document of the Frankish king of Cyprus James II, who in 1468 granted to the abbot of the Monastery of Mesa Potamos, Father Gregory and his nephew, a quantity of wine and five “Byzantine Dinars” from the kazan (provincial department) of Kilani for each consecutive year and for lifetime.

 

A second reference to the Monastery is made by Stephen Lusignan, who refers to Saint Theofanis, the Outpourer of Myrrh, Bishop Solia. Stephen Lusignan mentions that after his resignation from the Diocese of Solia, Saint Theofanis came to the Monastery of Mesa Potamos where he became a monk, and after his death he made many miracles. In addition to this story, Archimandrite Kyprianos (1735-1815) relying on the notes of the above historian, also states the cause of the Saint’s resignation from his post. It was because one day, he notes, the Saint confronted his Ekonomos (higher priest) about a fault that he made, and the Ekonomos who was a brash man slapped the Bishop on his face. Then, the Bishop, being humble as he was, felt that he was no longer worthy of being in charge of the Diocese’s administration. After he resigned from his post, he lived a secluded and ascetic life as simple a monk it the Monastery of St John the Forerunner. We also learn that six years after his death, during the opening of his tomb, his relic was found intact, a point which was a proof of his sainthood. An icon dedicated to Saint Theofanis dating from the Turkish Period was discovered some years ago in the village of Tris Elies, which indicates the preservation of his memory. His relic has been lost and today it is not known where it is.

 

A third chronological evidence about the Monastery is the inscription on the 1584 icon of Saint John the Forerunner, which states that at that time the abbot of the Monastery was someone by the name of Father Sofronios. The said icon is now found in the new church of the Monastery. The old church of the monastery, dated back to the 16th century, is made of a single aisled room, covered by a wooden roof.

 

During the Ottoman Period the Monastery fell into decline. So much so, that when the Russian traveler, monk Basil Grigorovich Barsky visited the Monastery during 1735, we learn from him that besides the abbot, the Monastery had only two monks. More specifically he states that “the Monastery has a small church and only two or three cells which are covered by tiles against the snow, an abbot, two monks, a garden and some vineyards. The monks make their living through agriculture and by grazing goats”. He supplements, “with a single word it is a very beautiful place, isolated from the world, appropriate not only for a monk’s life, but also for an ascetic life as well.”

 

Afterwards, according to a sign found at the old iconostasis of the church of the Monastery, the Bishop of Kitium Makarios I (1735-1776) took on the care for the Monastery’s renovation, while the iconostasis was also gold plated. After 1821, we learn that many monks fled to the Monastery, possibly to save themselves from the massacres and persecutions that followed during the Greek War of Independence. During that time a rudimentary school for the region’s children was also founded at the Monastery. However, at the end this Monastery was also abandoned like many others at that time. The Monastery continued its operation until the end of the 19th century. The last referred monk that lived in the Monastery was Hieromonk Ioannikios, whose name appears on a cross of 1868 and on a disc of 1883.

 

At the beginning of the twentieth century there were attempts to revive the Monastery by monks from the Monastery of Stavrovouni who came and settled there. However, this effort at the end ultimately failed, because at the time the Bishop of Kitium Meletios Metaxakis (who was from the village of Parsas on the island of Crete, and who was subsequently elected as Archbishop of Athens and All of Greece), adapted the Monastery to a hotel, wishing that it could retain its function both as a Monastery and a hotel! The monks from Stavrovouni, as it was expected, returned to their Monastery.

 

The Monastery was then adapted exclusively to a hotel and new buildings were constructed with plans made by architect G. Vondas, a Greek from Alexandria in Egypt. This hotel started business in 1915 and was running for many years until 1950. In the meantime, the Monastery became subject to the newly made Bishopric of Limassol. In 1950, the situation in the region led to the closure of the hotel. In this way, the place was again abandoned, and until 1998 the church was heavily damaged. Then, that is in 1998, the Bishop of Limassol Chrysanthos, made efforts for the restoration of the church, which continued by the next Bishop of Limassol, Athanasios.

 

Finally, the Monastery was restored in 2003 under the guidance of the Bishop of Limassol Athanasios and the contributions made by late Konstantinos Leventis. In the same year, the Monastery was manned by five monks from the Monastery of Macheras. The Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner of Mesa Potamos was at the time the first men’s monastery belonging to the administrative region of the Bishopric of Limassol. It follows the typicon of Mount Athos.

 

 

It is imperative to note that during the early 1980’s, the beautiful and miraculous ancient icon of Saint John the Baptist, was stolen from the church of the Monastery and was sold abroad. It was purchased by a German collector who in 1996 donated it to a Roman Catholic museum of Christian Art. The icon was finally identified and from the actions taken by the Church of Cyprus, it was returned to Cyprus and is now back on its iconostasis, at the church of the Monastery.

 

Notes

Troodos is the largest mountain range in Cyprus, located in roughly the center of the island. Its highest peak is Mount Olympus, also known as Chionistra, at 1,952 metres

Around 1914, when the Monastery was adapted to a hotel by the Bishop of Kitium Meletios Metaxakis, the icon was transferred to the church of the Holy Cross, in the nearby village Kouka. In turn, during 2003, the icon was transferred to the Bishopric of Limassol.

ST JOHN THE FORERUNNER MONASTERY

OF MESA POTAMOS

A BRIEF HISTORICAL REPORT

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