A document signed by Saint Stephen the Great at Zograf Monastery on Mount Athos

There is no monastery or skete on Mount Athos that did not receive support from a Romanian ruler. The name of Stephen the Great is emblematic in all; wherever we managed to visit, we encountered traces of his generosity and faith. At Vatopedi, today a Greek monastery, we discovered that Stephen the Great even lived for some time on the Holy Mountain, between the death of his father and his elevation to the throne.

Zograf Monastery, which today is Bulgarian, was completely rebuilt by Stephen the Great from a state of complete ruin. Today on display, there is a copy of a document signed by him in the year 1502, of which I received a translated copy: “And by another mercy, which shall be granted by God, the Knower of hearts and the all-seeing Eye, may the Holy Monastery and Church of God, the abbot and priests and all the brothers in Christ who live therein preserve and fulfill this establishment, in accordance with the canons of the Holy Church and with our wish, as we will now describe: before anything, may my lordship be listed at the Holy Proskomedia, in accordance with the custom of the Holy Fathers and with the establishment of the Holy Church, as well as my lady and my children granted by God: Alexandru and Elena, and may we be inscribed in the holy diptychs as written. And again, as long as the mercy of the All-Mighty God is upon us and we are still alive in this world, may the Holy Church chant a Paraklesis for us on Saturday evening and may wine be served on Sunday at lunch. On Tuesday, may the Liturgy be chanted and may wine be served at lunch; and may we be commemorated every day at Vespers, Compline, Midnight Office, Matins, and Liturgy, and at the Holy Proskomedia and wherever is the custom of the Holy and Divine Church. May this be done for us as long as we are alive. And after our years pass, after our lives pass, in the first year may the Holy Parastas be served and chanted in a synaxis and then the services on the third day, on the ninth day, on the twelfth day, on the fortieth day, and at half a year and again at one year. After one year has passed, may there be chanted every year, on one day, in a synaxis of commemoration, a Parastas on the eve together with kollyva and wine, and the Divine Liturgy in the morning again with kollyva and wine at lunch, unto the consolation of the brethren. May this custom be kept as long as the Holy Monastery lives.

I asked our guide, Father Damascene from Prodromos, if this custom is still respected and he ensured me that yes, it is. Even with respect to wine, for which Stephen showed such attention and this “unto the consolation of the brethren”. On Athos, customs are respected because they keep stone joined to stone. Or rather, they join the stones to heaven. But these monasteries, whether on Athos or on Ceahlău, would be nothing but bitter stones if they would not be animated from within by the monastic communities which form a world set-apart. Although it is a world in reduced numbers, you get the sense that their shoulders bear the weight of the entire human multitude surrounding them, that on their shoulders rests a part of the responsibility of life and death in the world, of eternity and salvation.