This monastery appears to be literally clinging to the top of the mountain, surrounded by large rock formations, where the air, with the passage of the ages, has carved hundreds of small caves, the largest of which were used as hermitages for ancient monks.
The monastery is designed, according to the form of Byzantine monasteries, with the appearance of a fortress, and the land which it occupies is significantly large, with its buildings designed in a rectangular shape, having a much larger length than width. Because of the steep landscape, and the monastery’s long and narrow design, it gives the impression of a labirynth, since other than the narrow central road, there are only narrow alleys that lead to the rest of the cells.
When you reach her highest point, the panoramic view rewards you, giving you a true sense that you are hanging in the air.
Regarding the historical beginning of the monastery, unfortunately, we do not have many details, and this gives us uncertainty as to what conditions were like then. We base the history on two documents, which are preserved to this day, and in the local tradition, where we see that the history begins as follows: Before 960 AD, two monks, who lived in asceticism on the opposing mountain, saw a light every night at the place near where the monastery today is built.
Seeing such a wonder, after a long while they decided to go investigate the phenomenon.
Having looked for a while, they were made worthy by the grace of God, to find the sacred icon of the Panagia “Panachrantou” (“The Immaculate One”) below a cave, near the place where today is found the Church of the “Photodoti” ([Christ] “The Giver-of-Light”), (the name which was given most likely by the light which was revealed here).
After waiting a significant time there, in case another monk lived there in asceticism, and praying towards the icon, having not found anyone, they took the icon back with them to their cell at the opposing mountain. That night, the light which they saw, did not reappear, which confirmed to them that this was due to the grace of the Panagia. When the new day dawned, the icon had disappeared from the place where they placed it, and to their greater astonishment, the light appeared again on the opposing mountain.
Returning to the place where they had found the icon, they saw that it had wondrously returned there!
Having entreated with tears to the Panagia that they might take her icon, they took it, but the following night, the Panagia returned again to her same place.
This occurred several times again, until they ultimately were enlightened to move their dwelling to near the cave, where they built a small hermitage.
Their fame spread quickly, and thus other monks came there and founded the first brotherhood. Later, in 961 AD, the Emperor Nikephoros Phokas, was battling the Cretans who had apostatized, but due to the wind being against him, he decided to stop on the island of Andros.
Desiring to pray somewhere for the difficult task that he had undertaken, the inhabitants of the island showed to him the hermitage, which the monks mentioned above had built. Thus, Phokas visited the place, and having venerated the Panagia, promised that he would help the monks build the monastery, which he would protect from possible attacks, if ultimately he would be victorious in war.
Phokas, in the end, liberated Crete, and returned to Andros, where he left a lot of money, which the monks used to build the first buildings of the monastery, which from then on was named the Holy Monastery of Panachrantou, in honor of the Panagia. From the foundation of the Monastery until 1590, unfortunately, not a single document survives from the archives of the Monastery, but most likely it played an important role during the long period of Frankish rule on Andros (1200-1566).
From 1590 and on, however, when Andros passed into the hands of the Turks, the monastery went through a great period, through the efforts of the then Metropolitan of Andros and Keas, Gabriel.
During this period, the Katholikon of the Monastery was founded (1602-1608), and took the form which exists to this day. Slowly, the strength of the monastery began to grow, and it reached the point where there were around 360 enrolled monks and large tracts of land throughout the largest portion of Andros, but also metochia (dependencies) in Constantinople, Chios, Mytilene, Rhodes and Smyrna.
In order to support this property, the monks traveled greatly, which likely played a role in the gathering in the Monastery of very many artifacts, along with a multitude of Holy Relics.
The most important of the Holy Relics treasured here is [a portion of] the precious Skull of St. Panteleimon, which was transferred here from Constantinople in 1705, with the consent of the then Patriarch Kosmas III, while furthermore there are preserved portions from the relics of Sts. Aethalas, Averkios, Charalampos, Tryphon, etc.
[At the following link is a recording (in Greek) of Fr. Evdokimos, the Abbot of Panachrantou Monastery, Andros, in which he discusses various spiritual topics, as well as miracles that have occurred through St. Panteleimon. It is interesting to note that at first Fr. Evdokimos was uneasy hearing that the Skull of St. Panteleimon was on Andros, as he had previously venerated it on Mount Athos. However, the Saint appeared to him and reassuringly showed him the part of his Skull which was on Mount Athos, and the other part, including some of his teeth, which was at Panachrantou Monastery of Andros. Fr. Evdokimos sought permission to open the Saint's reliquary, and confirmed that it was the same portion that the Saint had revealed to him in a dream.]
The great progress of the Monastery reached the Ecumenical Patriarchate, where the monastery was proclaimed to be “Stavropegial” in 1683, which gave greater independence to the Monastery, and privileges.
Monks of the Monastery extended to many places outside of Andros, and were then poised to place an important role in the historic events which marked our fatherland.
Before the period of the National Independence, first the monks of Panachrantou preached the revolution on the islands and historical places, granting energy to the first revolutionary endeavors. Furthermore, the monk of Panachrantou, Metropolitan Nicholas Roussos of TZias and Thermion, blessed the weapons of the revolutionary force of Moldovlachia, under Alexandros Ypsilantes, in February 1821.
We know, based on documents, in what manner and with what funds the Monastery helped, according to its strength, the Fatherland during that difficult period. Later, when Otto was King of Greece, the Monastery numbered many monks further, and for this reason it was not shut down, according to the order of Mauer, which shut down the majority of the monasteries, totaling five monks or less, along with all the convents with less than three nuns. During that period, the exiled monk Christophoros Panagiotopoulos, later known to us as “Papoulakos”, was sent to the Monastery.
This grace-filled monk lived here the final seven and half years of his life, where he reposed on January 18th, 1861.
The life of the Greek Monasteries is always woven together with the history of our nations, with a tender and loving relationship, though some people today do not wish to accept this. Regarding the Monastery of Panachrantou, the following two events show the truth/
The first is with the influx of refugees from Asia Minor. The Holy Synod of the Church of Greece accepted at that time the large portions from the land holdings of the monasteries, in order to strengthen these men. From the Monastery of Panachrantos, they took all of the lands outside of Andros, along with roughly the half of that which it had on Andros.
The second event occurred during the period of the German occupation. Together with witnesses of men who are still living, the then Abbot of the Monastery appeared without fear before the German administrator, and entreated him to allow him to feed the children from the villages of Andros, which occurred. Thus, in many ways they showed their thanks to the Monastery, as the many animals which they had and the untiring offerings of the monks helped many of them not to starve.
In later years, the Monastery began to decline in man power, with the result being that only a few years ago, there only remained one monk. Despite all of this, the Grace of God, appeared to have other plans for the Monastery, and thus, instead of falling into decline, it was totally renovated by a monk, together of course with the help of many people of Andros, who did all the work in order to not loose the traditional icon of the monastery. This monk was Archimandrite Eudokimos Frangoulakes, who is the Abbot of the Monastery today. Today there are five monks enrolled at the monastery, who continue their hospitality, and their work of offering of the Monastery, including Fr. Aetios and Fr. Philaretos.
The Monastery can be visited throughout the year from sunrise to sunset, and one might be allowed to stay at the monastery for a few days.
The largest feasts of the Monastery are those of St. Panteleimon (July 27), when a great multitude from all over Greece come to celebrate together, along with August 15th, the feast of Panagia Panachrantou.
The other days, the services are celebrated very early, according to the monastic typikon, by the light of candles, in a compunctionate environment.
The Monastery is very large for its number of monks, and thus the visitor feels that this is a deserted place. It is, however, most sure that within the mountains of documents (of which there are many), the ancient Holy Vessels (which today stand “eaten” due to their great use in the Monastery’s museum), the ornate polyeleoi, and the silver vigil lamps, the lofts emptied of monks, and the ancient chapels which fill the Monastery, you will hear the souls of all those who consumed themselves upon this rock, in order to, with their offering, and more importantly with their prayers, to appease God, to have compassion on men, and especially sinners.
(amateur translation of text from here)
For an amazing account of the recent revelation of many Myrrhstreaming Skulls of Holy Fathers of the Monastery, see here.
For another spiritual treasure of the island of Andros, see the following article on the Monastery of St. Nicholas.