Like the Panagia Portaitissa, the Glykophilousa Icon is one of those which were saved during the iconoclastic period and brought miraculously to Mount Athos. It originally belonged to Victoria, the devout wife of the senator Symeon. Victoria was one who venerated the holy icons, especially that of the Most Holy Theotokos, before which she prayed each day. Her husband was an iconoclast who found her piety offensive, for he, like Emperor Theophilos (r. 829-842), found the veneration of icons distasteful. Symeon told his wife to give him her icon so that he could burn it. In order to save the icon from being destroyed, she threw it into the sea, and it floated away standing upright on the waves. After a few years, the icon appeared on the shores of Mount Athos near the Monastery of Philotheou, where it was received with great honor and rejoicing by the Abbot and Fathers of the Monastery, who had been informed of its impending arrival through a revelation of the Theotokos.
A spring of holy water sprouted forth on the very spot where they placed the icon on the shore. Every year on Monday of Bright Week there is a procession and blessing of water. Numerous miracles have occurred.
Although there are many miracles of the Glykophilousa Icon, we will mention only a few. In 1713, the Mother of God answered the prayers of the devout Ecclesiarch Ioannikios, who complained about the poverty of the monastery. She assured him that she would provide for the material needs of the monastery.
Another miracle took place in 1801. A pilgrim, after seeing the precious offerings (tagmata) hanging from the icon, a certain pilgrim planned to steal them. He stayed in the Temple after the Ecclesiarch closed it. Then he stole the offerings and left for the port of Iveron Monastery. There he found a boat that was leaving for Ierissos. After a while the ship sailed, but despite the excellent weather, it remained stationary in the sea. When the Ecclesiarch saw what had happened, the abbot sent monks out in various directions. Two went to the port of Iveron and when they saw the immobile ship, they realized what happened. Getting into a boat they went to the ship came aboard. The guilty man who committed this fearful sacrilege asked for forgiveness. The monks were magnanimous and did not want the thief to be punished.
A pilgrim from Adrianopolis visited Philotheou Monastery in 1830. He listened attentively to a monk tell the story of the holy Icon and the miracles associated with it, but he regarded the account as a fictitious tale which only a child might believe. The monk was grieved at the man’s unbelief, and tried to persuade him that everything he had said was absolutely true. The unfortunate pilgrim remained unconvinced.
That very day, as the pilgrim was walking on an upper balcony, he slipped and began to fall. He cried out, “Most Holy Theotokos, help me!” The Mother of God heard him and came to his assistance. The pilgrim landed on the ground completely unharmed.
The Glykophilousa Icon belongs to the Eleousa (the Virgin of Tenderness) category of icons, where the Mother accepts the affection shown by the Child Christ. The icon is commemorated by the Church on March 27 and also on Bright Monday. The icon depicts the Theotokos inclining toward Christ, Who embraces her. She seems to be embracing Him more tightly than in other icons, and her expression is more affectionate.
The Icon is located on a pillar on the left side of the katholikon (main church).
The Holy Monastery of Philotheou stands among chestnut trees on a plateau on the north-eastern side of the peninsula, near the ancient Temple of Asclepius. It was founded by the Blessed Philotheus, a contemporary of St Athanasius the Athonite, around the end of the 10th century.
Among the Byzantine Emperors who made donations to the Monastery, the names of Nicephorus Botaneates in the 11th century, Andronicus II and Andronicus III and John V in the late 13th and in the 14th century stand out. Among Serbian princes, Stefan Dushan (1346) helped to provide the manpower for the Monastery. In the 14th century, St Theodosius, subsequently Metropolitan of Trebizond, and brother of St Dionysius, founder of the monastery of that name, was a monk in the Monastery. During the early years of Turkish rule, in the early 16th century, the Abbot Dionysios, known as the Blessed Dionysios of Olympus, succeeded in turning it from an idiorrhythmic into a coenobitic monastery. However, the reaction of Bulgarian-speaking monks was such that he was forced to leave the Monastery. In about the mid 17th century, the Tsars of Russia gave permission to the monks to go there every seven years on alms missions. The policy of support for the monasteries was also followed by the Greek princes of the Danubian provinces. Grigorios Ghikas was one of the Monastery's best known benefactors.
In the 18th century the missionary of modern Greece St Cosmas the Aetolian was a monk at Philotheou. A fire which broke out in 1871 left unscathed the new katholikon, which had been built in 1746 on the foundations of an older church, but caused the Monastery economic problems, so that in 1900 the Holy Community took it under its guardianship. Of the other buildings of the Monastery, the holy water phiale is of fine white marble, and the refectory was extended in the 16th century. Philotheou has six chapels and three outlying chapels. Of its 12 kellia, half are now uninhabited. Philotheou prides itself on the possession of the miracle-working icon of Our Lady Glykophilousa, and of our Lady Gerontissa.
Among the objects kept in the sacristy, pride of place goes to the right hand of St John Chrysostom, a piece of the True Cross, other relics of saints, vestments, and sacred vessels. The library contains 250 manuscripts, two liturgical scrolls, and about 2,500 printed books (of which some 500 are in Russian and Romanian). The Monastery is dedicated to the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin, and since 1574 it has occupied twelfth place among the Athonite monastic foundations. Since 1973 its has followed the coenobitic system. At present it has about 60 monks.
Selected hymns from the service of Panagia Glykophilousa (written by Fr. Gerasimos of Little St. Anne's Skete, of Blessed Memory), commemorated on the Sunday of St. Thomas (Antipascha) (amateur translations below).
***Note: On the Sunday of St. Thomas (Antipascha), all the Monasteries of Mount Athos commemorate the driving away of the Turks from the Holy Mountain.
Which came to us from Byzantium,
Let us who have gathered venerate it, crying out:
I behold you as a Mother of the Pantocrator, [full of] sympathy,
Grant the gifts of your compassions
To those who cry out: Hail, O Queen of All.