The Monastery of Agios Georgios Epanosifis is located 31km south of Heraklion city, near the village of Metaxochori. It’s situated at an altitude of 480m and is one of the oldest and largest monasteries (in terms of the number of monks) in Crete.
The monastery is said to have been built around 1590-1600, at the end of the Venetian Era. According to written testimony, it was founded by monk Paisios of the Apezana monastery.
Due to disputes with other monks there, he departed for the monastery Agarathou and, on the way, spent the night in the small church of Agios Georgios, the property of a feudal lord named Lagouvardos. In his sleep, he saw the vision of Agios Georgios saying that he wanted him to stay and expand the church. In the end, Paisios did finish the building of the monastery.
During the early Turkish occupation, it was a spiritual centre where clerics were educated and served the preservation of the Greek speech, according to manuscripts of the bibliographic laboratory of that period.
Precious heirlooms, gospels, crosses carved with representations, a silver chalice of 1842, sacerdotal vestments and relics of 21 saints are kept in the monastery. It also houses a Higher Ecclesiastical School in a building that was formerly an orphanage.
The Monastery of Agios Georgios Epanosifis is one of the more populous and famous monasteries on the island of Crete.
The name Epanosifis was given by Lagouvardos, who used to be the ruler of the area and employed two shepherds both named Sifis. To tell them apart, he called them Epanosifis (upper Sifis) and Katosifis (lower Sifis). That was how the name Agios Georgios of Epanosifis came to be.
During the Ottoman occupation (1645-1669), the Epanosifis Monastery started to develop and gained its first significant possessions. By the 18th century, the Monastery was flourishing. Most travellers who visited Crete also stopped at Epanosifis Monastery and many of them recorded information on the monastic society, the Monks’ customs, the monastery’s spiritual achievements as well as the structure of the building complex.
The Monastery’s spiritual achievements and its economic development continued until the years preceding the Greek Liberation War of 1821, which was a decisive point in the Monastery’s life. A lot of monks were slaughtered by the enemy, while heirlooms were sold to buy arms.
The katholikon (church) stands in the centre of the monastery courtyard. It is a two-aisled basilica. The right aisle is dedicated to Agios Georgios and the left to the Transfiguration of the Saviour. The foundations were laid on 5 March 1861 and construction was completed on 22 April 1863. The wooden iconostasis is intricately carved with depictions of rare scenes.
The miraculous icon of Saint George, largely covered in valuable votive offerings and oblations, can be found on the left side of the katholikon.
A specially constructed two-storey wing houses the religious museum and library. The museum, equipped with state-of-the-art technology, features old icons, Gospels, heirlooms and vessels as well as other artefacts. The Monastery also houses a number of holy relics of saints. In the Monastery yard is the Fountain of Holy Water, discovered when Miliaras, a devout Christian, was visited by Saint George in a dream.
Epanosifis Monastery holds celebrations twice a year, and scores of churchgoers participate. One is on the 23rd of April, the feast honouring Agios Georgios’ martyrdom, and another on the 3rd of November, the date of the translation of Agios Georgios holy relics.
Through the centuries, the monastery has nurtured individuals of great spiritual stature who, through their life and actions, succeeded in rising to high-ranking ecclesiastical positions, including His Eminence Archbishop Makarios Griniezakis Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia, who became a monk and Deacon in 1993, a Presbyter in 1997 and an Archimandrite in 1998 at the Holy Monastery of Agios Georgios Epanosifi.
The enthronement of Archbishop Makarios of Austalia will take place on Saturday, June 29 at the Holy Cathedral of the Annunciation of Virgin Mary on Cleveland Street in Redfern, Sydney.
*All images by Nick Bourdaniotis Photography (Copyright)