Iveron icon of Mother of God
Not far from the Iberian monastery on the shore of the sea a healing fountain has preserved until our days, which broke out at the very moment God’s Mother stepped on the ground of Athos peninsula in Greece. The place is called now Clement’s marina. This was the exact place where miraculously appeared in the pillar of light the world’s famous Iveron icon of Virgin Mary, known also as Panagia Portaitissa (“keeper of the gate” in Greek)or Iveron Theotokos (Iveron Mother of God).
During the reign of the iconoclast emperor Theophilos (1829-1843) a faithful widow in Nicaea in Byzantine Empire had this icon of Holy Virgin and Her son. Soon it was discovered. Guards arrived to take the icon of God’s Mother away. One of them even stabbed it with a sword and the icon started bleeding. Later the widow put her prayers on it, brought it to the shore of sea and put in the water and the icon swam away over the surface of the sea. More than a hundred years passed on from that moment. In 1004 in miraculous way, surrounded by a huge pillar of light to the sky, the icon approached the shore of Athos through the sea. Monks from the nearest Iberian monastery together with other monks practicing at the Athos Mountain were rushing to see the miraculous event. They were trying to reach the icon on the boats, but the icon was distancing from them. Then monks gathered in the main cathedral of Iberian monastery and were praying to God’s Mother to let them take Her miraculous icon.
At that time near the Iberian monastery was practicing blessed Elder Gabriel, the native of Iberia in Georgia. He was leading ascetical life of hermit and uninterruptedly practicing Jesus prayer. Throughout days and nights he was studying Sacred Writings and works of Holy Fathers. His only food was herbs of the mountain and spring water. This was the faithful men who had a vision of God’s Mother, who told him to take Her holy icon out of the water and announce to the brotherhood of Iberian monastery that She is giving them Her holy icon. Iveron monastic brotherhood went to the sea in a procession, with religious songs singing praises to the Holy Virgin. Revered Gabriel went into waters of the sea and the icon of God’s Mother started rapidly to approach the shore. Then he went towards it over the waves like on the ground and the icon came to him right in hands. At the spot where Starets Gabriel came out of the water with icon in hands later a chapel in honor of Blessed Lady Panagia Portaitissa, Iveron Mother of God, was built. The miraculous event took place on Tuesday right after the Easter.
Brotherhood of Iberian monastery brought the miraculous icon of Blessed Virgin to their monastery. Three days in row servants were serving All-night Vigils and Divine Liturgies to pay gratitude to Holy Virgin for the mercy She had shown. At first Iveron icon of God’s Mother was placed in the main cathedral of Iberian monastery. But at the morning of the next day it was found on top of the gates of monastery. The same scenario repeated for several consecutive days. Blessed Virgin appeared again to Rev. Gabriel and told:
Go to monastery and tell to Hegumen (Abbot) and monks so they don’t try to tempt me. I appeared not to be guarded by them, but to be Myself a guardian of them and not only in this century but also in next. And tell them also: until on this mountain monks will be living with fears of God and with respect and will work to the best of their abilities to gain a virtue, they can have the confidence and hope for the mercy of my Son and Ruler, because I have been begging for them to my Son and he gave them to me. And let be my icon as a sign of my words: as long they will see it in their monastery, as long the mercy and blessing of My Son will be with them.
From that time onwards they started to call Iveron icon the Gate-keeper (or Panagia Portaitissa in Greek) and in a while there was built a special chapel for Her, right next to the gates of Iberian monastery.
Once, during a raid of Saracens (group of Muslims) one of barbarians hit the icon with his sword. Icon started bleeding at the same moment; even today it is possible to see remains of blood on it. Attacker repented and became a monk with a name Damascus, be he used to call himself a barbarian. The servant reached sainthood and the icon with him has preserved in the monastery.
Divine punishment befell on the ships of pirates, who were attacking on Iberian monastery: a storm started and all their ships sank, except the vessel of their leader. He repented and donated significant funds for the renovation of monastery. In 1651 Russian Tsar Aleksey Mikhailovich gave the cloister of St. Nicholas to Iberian monastery as a present, which became the main centre of this Athos Mountain monastery. It was done as a sign of gratitude for healing received by the daughter of Tsar from the copy of Iveron icon, which was brought to Moscow by Iberian monks. Here is what a famous Russian pilgrim-traveller of XVIII century Vasily Grigorovich-Barsky was writing about Iveron icon:
In this beautiful chapel, created at the inner gates of the monastery, in the iconostasis instead of a usual Blessed Virgin some holy and miraculous icon is standing, which has received its name from the ancient servants “Portaitissa”, which means the Gate-keeper, with pervading eye-sight, big eyes, she is holding Christ the Saviour on her left hand. Her face has darkened due to so many years and the rest of her body is covered with silver gilded garments. It is decorated with precious stones and golden coins, given by many tsars, rulers and nobles for many miracles She has showed, and I saw it all with my own eyes.
The legend of Iberian monastery tells a story about a miracle performed by God’s Mother. A poor man was begging to spend a night in Iveron, but the monk gate-keeper was asking a fee for it. The poor had no money, and, dejected he left following the road to Karey. Soon he met a mysterious Lady, who gave him a golden coin. The poor returned to monastery and gave this money to doormen. Monks paid attention that the coin was very old and suspected that he has stolen it. When he told his story about the Lady, they went to the icon Gate-keeper and found that this coin was one of those donated to God’s Mother.
Due to a fact monks had been refusing free hospitality, all products in Iberian monastery soured.
Repentance of servants was great. Since that time the rule of free hospitality is strictly obeyed on the Holy Mountain. A small chapel was built also in the place of appearance of God’s Mother.
Russian hermit of the holy Athos Mountain was writing that during the Greek uprising in 1822 Turkish soldiers who were living in the monastery could not disturb Panagia Portaitissa, who was dressed in precious garments and decorated with many great gifts. But a few years later the monk who was serving in the chapel with Blessed Mother was surprised suddenly seeing a Lady dressed all in black. She was diligently sweeping the monastery.
It’s time to sweep the whole monastery very well. It’s not swept for so many years, - said the Lady, and disappeared.
Soon Turkish sultan issued decree to all his soldiers to leave the Holy Mountain; even he has been threatening earlier to destroy all of its monasteries to the ground. The famous singer Nektarios Vlach (1812-1890), who was invited to sing at Athos on the feast day in Iberian monastery, was poisoned during their meal by other singers who were jealous about his skills. Feeling not well, Nektarios went towards the chapel where Iveron icon Panagia Portaitissa and approached the Blessed Virgin with a fervent prayer and drunk a bit an oil from the lamp in front of Her icon. Poison lost its power and Nektarios was singing at the feast better than ever in his life.
Before the First World War the usually gentle countenance of Baby Christ on Iveron icon changed and became formidable.
Many more testimonies are preserved about miraculous healings of sick, blind, lame and frenzied from Iveron icon. After prayers at miraculous Iveron icon brotherhood of Iberian monastery has received a miraculous help many times when they were in need of flour, wine and oil in difficult times.