The ancient Docheiariou Monastery on Mount Athos differs from others in that simple physical work, which helps to fight passions and in no way conflicts with prayer, is a kind of spiritual rule there. In the 1970s, the situation on the Holy Mountain was dismal and many monasteries were in desolation. Abbot Gregory (Zumis) moved to Docheiariou with his brethren from another monastery. Although they had been advised to choose another place to live, e. g., a small skete, because such a large and deserted monastery required a numerous and robust monastic community, he said, “Either Docheiariou or nothing.” Since then, the monastery has been restored from scratch: the monks do everything with their own hands and are creative in their efforts.
There are many ancient frescoes in Docheiariou, but because of the climate they need to be restored regularly. At some point, the hierarchy had the idea of replacing them with mosaics. The task of making mosaic images of Archangels Michael and Gabriel at the entrance to the monastery became especially urgent. Sea breeze in combination with sunlight turned disastrous for the frescoes. The Athos monks were looking for specialists for a long time. They looked at the works of artisans from Greece, Russia, and Ukraine. Archbishop Jonah of Obukhov, the namestnik of the Holy Trinity Monastery of St. Jonah in Kiev, who is a frequent guest of the Docheiariou, helped them to find the mosaic artists. Given that the mosaics and frescoes by the artists of St. Elisabeth Convent adorn the Archangel Michael’s Zverinetsky Monastery in Kiev, the archbishop advised them to take a closer look at the works of our Convent’s workshop. Father Gabriel (Giouvris), the Father Superior of the Docheiariou, and Demetrius the icon painter came to St. Elisabeth Convent in 2014. The guests liked our mosaics and invited our craftsmen to the Docheiariou.
The brothers visited Athos to estimate the scope of work. The abbot of the monastery blessed them to start. The first task was to create images of the Archangels who are the heavenly intercessors of the monastery. The frescoes, which were replaced by mosaic images, were later painted on the walls of the tower at the entrance to the monastery. Most of the operations were carried out in the workshop in Minsk: the mosaic is quite impressive – the height of the images is 9.5 ft and 6.2 ft. Almost the entire team worked on the images: some people were assembling the garments, some dealt with faces, some took care of backgrounds and inscriptions. Ten people did the installation on Athos, and it took more than a month. All in all, the project took a year to complete. In addition to the mosaics, we decorated the columns and the niche at the entrance to the Docheiariou Monastery.
During the project in the Docheiariou Monastery, the craftsmen did not just stay in the holy place where the veritable treasures of Orthodoxy are kept, for example, the wonder-working icon of the Mother of God Gorgoepikoos (that is, the Quick to Hearken), but also became involved in the lives of the community. Our artists lived in accordance with the general charter of the monastery, albeit with some exemptions.
The brothers recall:
Vadim Kryzhanovsky, a mosaic artist of the mural painting workshop:
There was a good home-like atmosphere in the Docheiariou. We were met as if we were friends, as soon as we arrived at the monastery. The monks in other monasteries of Athos tend to be a bit distrustful of their visitors; here, we did not have the cautious-inspection-and-acceptance stage. We immediately got along with everybody. It is sunny in the Docheiariou; maybe that’s why people are happier there. They work hard but they do it with a joke and a smile.
Alexander Truskovsky, a craftsman of the glass workshop:
The brethren were like bees in a beehive because they were working and praying tirelessly. On the one hand, the monks were tough but on the other hand, they were like angels who looked after you as if you were a little child and treated you with such affection as if you were the most important person in the world. Their attitude towards people is amazing! We tend to shy away from each other, “Stay out of my way, it’s none of your business!” but the monks abide by the rules of fellowship they learned from the Gospel. The neighbor is the most precious person on earth for a monk from the Docheiariou…
Conversations with the abbot of the monastery, Archimandrite Gregory (Zumis), made a fantastic impression on the guests. Geronda Gregory was asking our craftsmen about their work every day, cheered them up, gave them advice and, at times, baffled them with manifestations of what could be called spiritual insight.
When the work in the Docheiariou was coming to an end, the brothers thanked the elder for the opportunity to work in the Docheiariou monastery. They said that it was a wonderful time and added that they would like to work in the monastery again. Geronda thought about it for a while. He remained silent for a long time. It was a bit awkward. Then the elder said, “We have a job for you! There is a convent of the Panagia Teoskepastos in Soho Langada, which we at the Docheiariou take care of. We need to make a mosaic of Panagia above the entrance.”
That same day the mosaicists went to the place of their new obedience, and the blessing to work in the Teoskepastos Convent was the last blessing of the Elder Gregory.