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THE MONASTERY OF HILANDAR represents the powerful spiritual and historical connection of Serbia and Mt. Athos, dating from its founding in the 12th century. Rastko, the youngest son of Stefan Nemanja, was born in 1170. He governed the HUM appendage. Despite his excellent education and his love of hunting and warfare, in the fall of 1191 he traveled to the Russian monastery Russikon on Mt. Athos and took his monastic vows. Subsequently, desiring to improve his Greek and get a better understanding of Greek monastic services, he reached Vatopedi. On November 2, 1197, six years afterwards, the monk Simeon arrived having taken his monastic vows in Studenica. Thus, he is simultaneously Sava’s biological father and spiritual son. Simeon brought with him impressive financial funds, which Sava and he used in Vatopedi to build a number of smaller buildings and to expand and paint the dining room.
The two of them are remembered as Vatopedi's, Karyes's, Iveron's and Lavra's co-founders, owing to the substantial gifts they have bestowed upon the aforementioned monasteries. During their pilgrimages, Simeon and Sava discovered the abandoned Hilandar monastery (founded in the 10th century by monk George Hilandarious) and decided to reconstruct it for Vatopedi. However, the knowledge that Mt. Athos has non-Greek monasteries as well spurred their wish of founding a Serbian monastery.
Our Lord himself inspired St. Sava for this feat by sending him a religious man who told him:
"Try to pray for this place or this abandoned monastery and after you have recovered it, confirm to your motherland that it is indeed Serbian, so that those loving God and wishing to escape the worldly life can find a port of salvation even after your departure. If you succeed, Our Lord shall love and honor you more."
Emperor Alexius III issued a golden-stamped charter proclaiming Hilandar Simeon's and Sava's possession and naming it the eternal gift to Serbia.
Simeon and Sava built the church of the Presentation of Mary, St. Sava's tower, Camban bell tower and St. Simeon's cell.
The monastery is organized similarly to other great Mt. Athos monasteries, as it is independent, self-governing and idiorrhythmic. Sava wrote the monastery's Typicon so as to define the norms of monastic life.
Sava's biographers claim that not only did he aid Hilandar and Karyes, but he also helped recover many other Mt. Athos institutions. He is greatly credited for recovering the monasteries of Karakallou, Xeropotamou and Philotheou, which earned him the right of being named as co-founder during services. After Simeon's death, St. Sava moved to a cell in Karyes, which is where he wrote the Karyes Typicon - the oldest document preserved in Hilandar's treasury.
During his final journey before death, Sava brought the most famous Hilandar icon of the Three-handed Theotokos with him from Palestine (from the monastery of Great Lavra of St. Sabbas the Sanctified).
St. Sava died in Trnovo on January 14th 1236.
Hilandar experienced a considerable expansion and financial progress during the long reign of King Milutin.
In 1320, the catholicon was built in the place of the old Sava's and Simeon's church, dining room and graveyard chapel. He greatly improved the monastery's defenses by building the towers of Hrusija and Milutin. King Milutin also contributed to the reconstruction of St. Sava's cell in Karyes.
Almost all Serbian rulers helped Hilandar, with Prince Lazar being among the greatest benefactors, building the narthex on the Presentation of Mary church.
As with all monasteries, Hilandar's history was tumultuous. It was raided multiple times by the Crusaders and pirates and it suffered from fire, as well.
From the mid-17th century, the once great number of Serbian monks diminished, whereas Bulgarian monks grew in numbers. Consequently, they took over the monastery in the 18th century. This is the time when Paisius, the renowned Bulgarian monk and author of Bulgaria's history, inhabited Hilandar. The visit from the Serbian king Aleksandar Obrenović marked the turning point in Hilandar's history.
The king provided substantial financial aid. In 1896, Serbia repaid the monastery's debts and Serbian monks started arriving in growing numbers, making Hilandar Serbian once again.
In terms of monastery's grounds, Hilandar comes second after Great Lavra. It is the only monastery having two ports - arsanas.
The arsana in the west is named Jovanjica and the eastern one Hrusija, where the church of St. Basil stands. Jovanjica is a 45-minute drive away from Hilandar or 5 hours on foot. In the east, Hilandar is just less than 3 km away.
Among the sights along the road are:
Next to St. Basil's church (built in the 3rd decade of the 14th century by Milutin's son, King Stefan Dečanski), on the coast, there is a new vineyard, funded generously by the St. Sava society from Novi Sad.
Milutin's tower stands above the vineyard - a fascinating defense tower of 5 stores.
Further along the road on the right is an olive tree planted by Emperor Stefan Dusan. On the left, there is the Pamjatnik with a wooden cross of emperor Dusan, in the place where he met the monastery's procession.
On the left, there is a chapel in the place where according to legend, a donkey died, who was previously carrying the wonder-working icon of the Three-handed Theotokos from Prizren, Serbia.
On the same side, some 100 meters on the road to the monastery, Deacon Voja Bilbija of Hilandar carved the image of St. Simeon in a stone. Beneath the monastery's walls is a small church dedicated to St. Tryphon.
Hilandar had 12 chapels, which are all painted in frescoes. In the center of the courtyard there is a baptistery - phiala, propped on 8 pillars, built and painted in 1847. Two Cypresses trees grow in the vicinity, which were supposedly planted by Sava and Simeon. The dining room is located across the main church entrance.
Walls are painted entirely in frescoes, which are the works of the renowned icon- and fresco-painter Georgije Mitrofanovic. A monk of Hilandar, he meticulously worked from 1621 to 1623.
Hilandar holds a rich collection of medieval textiles, charters and old icons. Its treasury preserves around 500 icons, dating from the 12th to the 19th century. Most certainly, the most famous is Our Lady Hodegetria, dating from the 13th century, which is considered a masterpiece of European art and one of the most beautiful icons in Christianity.
A fascinating icon of Christ Pantocrator originates from the same period. The oldest is the mosaic icon Hodegetria, dating from 1320 when Hilandar's catholicon was built. It has enormous artistic value, stemming from the Palaiologos renaissance period.
Among the works of applied arts there are: the shroud of John the Metropolitan of Skoplje, embroidered drapes made by nun Jefimija in 1399 for the emperor's palace, which is among the most beautiful embroidery works in the world.
The drapes that Ivan Grozny presented to Hilandar in 1556 also have exquisite beauty.
The catholicon holds the iconostasis made in woodcut dating from 1774.
The Three-handed Theotokos sits on the abbot's throne. Many legends surround it. St. John of Damascus experienced a miracle in front of it. His hand was severed by iconoclasts and as he prayed in front of the icon, his hand regenerated. Thus, he ordered that another hand be added to the icon, hence its name.
The silver sarcophagus of St. Simeon is stored behind the throne, a gift from Deacon Vojislav Bilbija. St. Simeon's vine sprouts from the sarcophagus, penetrating the southern church wall. Even nowadays, 8 centuries afterwards, the vine gives grapes that help infertile women.
Hilandar and the emperor's Lavra are ranked 4th in the Mt. Athos hierarchy. Every fourth year, the monastery chooses its representative - prota, to govern Mt. Athos.
The governing system has never been altered, as Great Lavra, Vatopedi, Iveron and Hilandar each have a quarter of a gold stamp. Nowadays, around 50 monks inhabit the monastery, with about a dozen living outside its premises.
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