History of Agiasos

We head 12 centuries back in time, to the days of the Byzantine Empire. It’s the 8th century, and the divisive controversy regarding the role of icons in the church is at its peak. In Constantinople, the reverend priest Agathon of the imperial palace’s chapel falls into the iconoclast Emperor Leontas I’s disfavor, due to the fact that he is an iconophile. As a result, Agathon, originally from Ephesus, goes into self imposed exile in Jerusalem. Around 803, he is informed that the Empress Irene the Athenian has been exiled to the isle of Lesvos, owing to the fact that she too is an iconophile. As he wishes to meet with her, and in order to be closer to Constantinople, he departs for Lesvos, taking with him an old Byzantine icon of the Virgin Mary Vrefokratousa (Bearing the Holy Child), 0.56 X 0.62 in size, as well as a silver cross which included a piece of the Holy Cross, a handwritten Gospel from the 5th century, the holy relics of St. Dionysos, and other articles of faith.


By the time he arrives to the island, Irene has already been laid to rest. Following the path of raging creeks that cascade down the mountains of Lesvos, he heads upstream and decides to hide out in the densely wooded forests. He finally stops when he arrives at a location on the foothills of Mt. Olympus, where the vegetation surrounding the creek offers him the degree of security he seeks. At this very spot in the village of Karya, where today we find the church of Zoodohos Pigi (the Life-giving Spring); he hides his holy relics and begins constructing his shelter.


Upon getting acquainted with the residents of the nearby villages of Karini and Penthili, he gains their trust and respect and ultimately reveals his secret to them, claiming that according to church tradition the icon of the Virgin Mary had been painted by the Evangelist Luke himself. In time, the locals begin visiting his residence, and several of them decide to join him, thus creating the small commune that would eventually become a monastery during the first have of the 9th century. The monastery’s reputation rapidly exceeds the bounds of the isle of Lesvos, and soon faithful from the coasts of Asia Minor begin to organize pilgrimages to view the holy icon.

When Agathonas died on February 2nd, 830, the monks adhered to his final request to maintain the icon of the Virgin Mary, as well as the other holy relics, safely hidden in the crypt of the monastery. The reason for this was that the monks were still afraid of the iconoclasts, as well as marauding pirates that frequently sacked the coasts of Asia Minor and the islands of the Aegean. In 842, Orthodoxy prevailed and the holy icons were reinstated in the churches throughout the Byzantine Empire, with Agathonas’ commune being widely recognized as a pilgrimage site. The icon of the Virgin Mary became renown throughout the Mediterranean basin, and many faithful would claim that “two visits to St. Zion were equal to one visit to the Holy Lands.” It should also be mentioned here that Prokopios Kouzelis from Agiasos served as Patriarch of Jerusalem from 1872-1875, strengthening the religious ties between Agiasos and Jerusalem.


The etymology of the name “Agiasos”

According to the prevalent theory, the name “Agiasos” comes from the inscription on the icon of the Virgin Mary that Agathonas brought from Jerusalem,«ÌITIR THEOU AGIA SION» (Mother of God St. Zion). St. Zion is the name of the icon; St. Zion is the name of the monastery. The faithful that were headed to the monastery would say: “we’re going to Agia Sion”, or the abbreviated “Agiason”, thereby eventually resulting in the name “Agiasos”.