Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Holy Belt (Zoni) of the Theotokos, and Vatopedi Monastery

Icon of the Most-Holy Theotokos holding her Sacred Belt (Zoni) (Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission)

The following is from a pilgrim's guide to the Holy Monastery of Vatopedi on Mount Athos, and tells about a great treasure of Orthodoxy that has survived to our days: the Holy Zoni of the Theotokos (translated commonly as "Belt", "Sash", "Cincture", and below as "Girdle". However, this final term, as used throughout the following excerpt, may possibly be confused with a separate relic of the Theotokos, her "Esthitos", which is more of a garment or robe as opposed to her belt. Each treasure is remembered on a separate feast day, July 2nd for the Robe of the Theotokos and August 31st for her Belt, but the common Apolytikion mentions both, as both were present in Constantinople and preserved the faithful for centuries.)
Detail from an icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos. Panagia is shown being brought to heaven, as she hands her Holy Zoni to St. Thomas (Icon courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission)

The Treasures of the Monastery - THE HOLY GIRDLE [as mentioned above, every instance of "Girdle" in the article refers to the Zoni, or "Belt" of the Theotokos] OF OUR LADY
The Girdle of the Blessed Virgin Mary, today divided into three pieces, is the only remaining relic of her earthly life. According to tradition, the girdle was made out of camel hair by the Virgin Mary herself, and after her Dormition, at her Assumption, she gave it to the Apostle Thomas. During the early centuries of the Christian era it was kept at Jerusalem and in the 4th century we hear of it at Zela in Cappadocia. In the same century, Theodosius the Great brought it back to Jerusalem, and from there his son Arcadius took it to Constantinople. There it was originally deposited in the Chalcoprateion church, whence it was transferred by the Emperor Leo to the Vlachernae church (458). During the reign of Leo VI ‘the Wise’ (886-912), it was taken to the Palace, where it cured his sick wife, the Empress Zoe.

[The following is a more detailed account of this healing, which is recounted on August 31st. The Placing of the Venerable Belt of the Most Holy Theotokos in a church of Constantinople's Chalcoprateia district took place during the reign of Emperor Theodosius the Younger. Before this the holy relic, entrusted to the Apostle Thomas by the Mother of God Herself, was kept by pious Christians at Jerusalem after Her Dormition. During the reign of Emperor Leo the Wise, his wife Zoe was afflicted with an unclean spirit, and he prayed that God would heal her.

The empress had a vision that she would be healed of her infirmity if the Belt of the Mother of God were placed upon her. The emperor then asked the Patriarch to open the coffer. The Patriarch removed the seal and opened the coffer in which the relic was kept, and the Belt of the Mother of God appeared completely whole and undamaged by time. The Patriarch placed the Belt on the sick empress, and immediately she was freed from her infirmity. They sang hymns of thanksgiving to the Most Holy Theotokos, then they placed the venerable Belt back into the coffer and resealed it. (taken from: http://www.antiochian.org/node/19337)] She, as an act of thanksgiving to the Mother of God, embroidered the whole girdle with gold thread, giving it the appearance which it bears today.

In the 12th century, in the reign of Manuel I Comnenus (1143-1180), the Feast of the Holy Girdle on 31 August was officially introduced; previously it had shared the Feast of the Vesture of the Virgin on 1 July. The Girdle itself remained in Constantinople until the 12th century, when, in the course of a defeat of Isaacius by the Bulgar King Asan (1185), it was stolen and taken to Bulgaria, and from there it later came into the hands of the Serbs. It was presented to Vatopaidi by the Serbian Prince Lazarus I (1372-1389), together with a large piece of the True Cross. Since then it has been kept in the sanctuary of the katholikon. Under Turkish rule, the brethren of the Monastery took it on journeys to Crete, Macedonia, Thrace, Constantinople and Asia Minor, to distribute its blessing, to strengthen the morale of the enslaved Greeks and to bring freedom from infectious diseases.

Picture of the Monastery of Vatopedi on Mount Athos (taken from: http://www.mountathos.gr/active.aspx?mode=en{bd411147-5023-4059-9fe0-465e1657a77a}View)
The miracles performed by the Holy Girdle throughout the ages are innumerable. The following are a few examples:
At one time, the inhabitants of Ainos called for the presence of the Holy Girdle and the Vatopaidi monks accompanying it received hospitality at the house of a priest, whose wife surreptitiously removed a piece of it. When the fathers embarked to leave, although the sea was calm, the ship remained immobile. The priest’s wife, seeing this strange phenomenon, realised that she had done wrong and gave the monks the piece of the Girdle, whereupon the ship was able to leave immediately. It was because of this event that the second case was made. The piece in question has been kept in this down to the present.

During the Greek War of Independence of 1821, the Holy Girdle was taken to Crete at the request of the people of the island, who were afflicted by the plague. When, however, the monks were preparing to return to the Monastery, they were arrested by the Turks and taken off to be hanged, while the Holy Girdle was redeemed by the British Consul, Domenikos Santantonio. From there the Girdle was taken to Santorini, to the Consul’s new home. News of this quickly spread throughout the island. The local bishop informed the Vatopaidi Monastery and the Abbot, Dionysios, was sent, in 1831, to Santorini. The Consul asked the sum of 15,000 piastres to hand over the Girdle, and the people of the island, with touching eagerness, managed to collect together the money. Thus the Holy Girdle was bought back and Abbot Dionysios returned it to Vatopaidi.

Picture of the Holy Belt of the Theotokos in its reliquary, treasured at the Monastery of Vatopedi on Mount Athos (taken from: http://vatopaidi.wordpress.com/2009/06/30/a-pilgrim%e2%80%99s-guide-to-the-great-and-holy-monastery-of-vatopaidi-8/)
What had happen with the priest’s wife of Ainos was repeated in the case of the Consul’s wife. She too, un beknown to her husband, cut off a small piece of the Holy Girdle before it was handed back to the Abbot Dionysios. Within a very short period her husband died suddenly and her mother and sister became gravely ill. In 1839, she wrote to the Monastery asking that representatives should be sent to take possession of the piece which she had removed.

In 1864, the Holy Girdle was taken to Constantinople, since there was a cholera epidemic among the inhabitants. As soon as the ship bearing it approached the harbour, the cholera ceased and none of those already suffering from it died. This strange miracle excited the curiosity of the Sultan, who had the Girdle brought to the Palace so that he could reverence it.

During the time when the Holy Girdle was at Constantinople, a Greek of Galata asked that it should be taken to his house, since his son was seriously ill. When, however, the Holy Girdle arrived at his house, his son was already dead. The monks, however, did not give up hope. They asked to see the dead boy, and as soon as the Girdle was placed on him, he was raised from the dead.

In 1894, the inhabitants of Madytos in Asia Minor sought that the Holy Girdle should be taken there because a plague of locusts was destroying their trees and crops. When the ship carrying the Girdle came into the harbour, the sky was filled with clouds of locusts, which then began to fall into the sea, so that it was difficult for the vessel to anchor. The people of Madytos, seeing the miracle, kept up a constant chant of Kyrie eleison from the shore.

Down to our own times, the Holy Girdle has continued to work many miracles, particularly in the case of infertile women, who, when they request it, are given a piece of cord from the case holding the Girdle and, if they have faith, become pregnant." (taken from: http://vatopaidi.wordpress.com/2009/06/30/a-pilgrim%e2%80%99s-guide-to-the-great-and-holy-monastery-of-vatopaidi-8/)

For more info on the Monastery of Vatopedi, see: http://www.mountathos.gr/active.aspx?mode=en{bd411147-5023-4059-9fe0-465e1657a77a}View, or the following blog which gives much information about the Monastery: http://vatopaidi.wordpress.com/. Specifically, this blog has over 40 posts telling of miracles from the Theotokos and her Holy Belt. These are in Greek, however, with the heading ΘΑΥΜΑΤΑ ΤΗΣ ΑΓΙΑΣ ΖΩΝΗΣ.

For a thorough account of the Agia Zoni, specifically during its time on the island of Santorini, see the following account (in Greek): http://www.phys.uoa.gr/~nektar/orthodoxy/history/mat8aios_mhndrinos_eyresis_timias_zwnhs_santorinh.htm.

Finally, for information of the Robe of the Theotokos, which is celebrated on July 2nd, see an earlier post: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2008/12/most-holy-robe-of-theotokos.html.

Another icon of the Most-Holy Theotokos and her Precious Belt, painted in the Monastery of Vatopedi (taken from: http://vatopaidi.wordpress.com/2009/06/13/%ce%bc%ce%af%ce%b1-%ce%b5%cf%80%ce%af%cf%83%ce%ba%ce%b5%cf%88%ce%b7-%cf%83%cf%84%ce%bf-a%ce%b3%ce%b9%ce%bf%ce%b3%cf%81%ce%b1%cf%86%ce%b5%ce%af%ce%bf-%cf%84%ce%b7%cf%82-%ce%bc%ce%bf%ce%bd%ce%ae%cf%82/)

Ήχος πλ. δ.
Θεοτόκε αειπάρθενε των ανθρώπων η σκέπη, Εσθήτα και Ζώνην του αχράντου σου Σώματος, κραταιάν τη Ποίμνη σου περιβολήν εδωρήσω, τω ασπόρω Τόκω σου άφραρτα διαμείναντα. Επί σοι γαρ και φύσις καινοτομείται και χρόνος, διο δυσωπούμεν σε, ειρήνην τη ποίμνη σου δώρησαι, και ταις ψυχαίς ημών το μέγα έλεος.
(taken from the full text in Greek of the Placing of the Zoni of the Theotokos, on August 31st: http://www.gerontas.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1170&Itemid=158)
Apolytikion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
O Ever-Virgin Theotokos, shelter of mankind, thou hast bestowed upon thy people a mighty investure, even thine immaculate body's raiment and sash, which by thy seedless childbirth have remained incorrupt; for in thee nature and time are made new. Wherefore, we implore thee to grant peace to the world, and great mercy to our souls.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
Thy precious sash, O Theotokos, which encompassed thy God-receiving womb, is an invincible force for thy flock, and an unfailing treasury of every good, O only Ever-virgin Mother.
Hymn after the Orthros Gospel - 2nd Tone
Παντάνασσα Δέσποινα, ρύσαι λαόν σου και ποίμνην εκ πάσης βλάβης, δυνάμει και χάριτι της παντίμου θείας σου Ζώνης ην εν πίστει και πόθω δοξάζομεν.
O Lady and Queen of all, deliver your people and flock from every danger, by the power and grace of your all-precious, divine Belt, which we with faith and longing glorfy.
(preliminarily translated from the full text in Greek of the Placing of the Zoni of the Theotokos, on August 31st: http://www.gerontas.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1170&Itemid=158)

Most-Holy Theotokos, save, help and protect us all! Amen!


Agioi_Anargyroi said...

I deleted the comment made here because it bore no relevance to any subject matter in this post.

MARKS said...


Could you please tell me the difference between this zoni and the one held at the monastery in Agis Napa (Cyprus). If you could email me at marksmarkou@hotmail.com I would be very thankfull


Agioi_Anargyroi said...

Thank you for your question.

From what limited information I found, the Church of Panagia that you are talking about is based on a miraculous icon of the Theotokos called: "The Icon of Panagia of Napa", or, "Panagia of the Forest", or "Agia Napa" for short. It is a very old and miraculous icon of the Theotokos in Cyprus that works many miracles. Tradition holds that the Virgin Mary stopped to rest at this place when she was visiting Cyprus.

The following is a quote from the Church's website (http://www.churchofayianapa.com/index.php?lang=2&cat=4&id=1):

"By the grace of the Virgin Mary, couples who are infertile and women who are experiencing difficulties during pregnancy, arrive at the monastery everyday to pray for help and request to gird the miraculous belt of the Saint of Ayia Napa [Panagia of Napa]."

Note that they don't directly mention that this was the Panagia's belt in life that she gave to St. Thomas. It could be something associated with the miraculous icon or that church.

But even if they are implying that this was Panagia's Zoni, it is known that the Relic kept in Vatopedi is only a portion of the original, so there is no reason for these to be contradictory.

I'm sorry I don't have any more information. If anyone knows more on the subject, feel free to comment.

Reese Sam said...

I just wish to add that the Holy Girdle was within the grave of St. Thomas in Mylapore, India during the initial centuries, from where it was taken along with the mortal Remains of St. Thomas to Raha in 394 AD and established in a church.

Unknown said...

Is there a place where I can get a ribbon that has been blessed on the belt of the Panagia?
God Bless

Agioi_Anargyroi said...

I would contact Vatopedi Monastery, Mount Athos. Here is their website: http://www.vatopedi.gr

Unknown said...

Hello i want to request a 3rd class relic of venerable belt of virgin mary.
Than you!

Agioi_Anargyroi said...

You would have to contact the monastery directly.

Ajacera16 said...

How can I request a third class relic belt from the Monastery?

Mikhail said...

According to the Church Tradition (see teaching of St. John of Damask and St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco on Orthodox veneration of Mother of God) She has not committed any sin and that’s why She was worthy to become the Mother of God according to humanity of Christ. I was sad when I saw ungodly comment questioning why we venerate holy relics. That question was properly answered by the holy fathers of 7th Ecumenical Council in 787 and it’s based on Holy Scriptures and Holy Tradition of Orthodox Church.