I’ve been looking at old documents, well, photographs of them, which were forwarded to me recently. One of the most beautiful was the founding document of the Dionysiou Monastery in northeastern Greece. It is one of the 20 monasteries that make up the Mt. Athos communities. It sits on a cliff over the sea. Dionysiou Monastery was established in the year 1374, by Alexios III Comnenos, Emperor of Trebizon. It was dedicated to St. John the Forerunner. It still exists, with a community of 50 monks living and praying there now.
Alexios III gave St. Dionysius of Korysus a generous financial gift to build the monastery and its chapels, plus guaranteeing an annual grant for the future in order to keep it running. In exchange, Dionysios was to ensure that the Emperor and his family would be remembered in prayer for all time at church services. Additionally, any family member visiting the monastery would be given “special welcome”, to include automatic inclusion of any who wished to join the community. The document was quite beautiful, illuminated with drawings, gilded, hand-written of course.
I found myself wondering today, on All Souls Day: are the monks still praying for the soul of Alexios III and those of his family and his descendants? Are there any descendants, continuing to honor the annual grant in return for prayers “in perpetuity”? Perhaps the good monks are indeed still praying for the emperor’s soul–for it seems that 400 years later, the document was recopied, portraits and all, indicating a refreshing of the commitment for new generations to uphold.
It’s amazing to think that as nations and dynasties rose and fell, a single promise of prayer can still stand firm, even after 640 years.