ST. NEILOS, THE BELOVED OF GOD
The Diocesan Academy of Theological and Historical Studies of the Holy Meteora announces its decision to adopt the figure of St. Neilos, called the Beloved of God (Theophiles), in its logotype, thus honouring the role the saint played in the foundation, formation and flowering of monasticism – in both its lavriotic and cenobitic forms – at the Meteora in the mid-14th century.
St. Neilos, Prior of the Diocese of Stagoi and Protos of the homonymous Skete in the 14th century, is mentioned in a considerable number of Meteoran documents. For example, in a signed letter dating from the period between 1348 and 1362/63, among the signatures of other officials of the Diocese of Stagoi, we find those of the hieromonk Neilos and the archimandrite Makarios. The former signs as the least among hieromonks, Neilos, Prior of the most holy diocese of Stagoi. St. Neilos is also mentioned in a document of the Great Meteoron Monastery which is now in the collection of the National Library of Greece (Cod. ΕΒΕ 1460-1461 no. ια΄, 1360-1372).
In addition, in the year 1359 Symeon Palaiologos (1359-1370/1), half-brother of Stefan Uroš Dušan, became the undisputed ruler of Thessaly. Symeon was to show a remarkable respect for the privileges of the local Church, and particularly those of the monasteries. However, the Skete of Doupiane’s achievement of independence from the homonymous diocese and, by extension, the establishment of monasticism on the Meteora are due to the efforts of St. Neilos. By virtue of the decree issued in 1362 by Symeon Palaiologos, the Monastery of Doupiane, which for the previous twenty years had been a dependency of the Diocese of Stagoi, now came under the jurisdiction of the Protos of the Skete, i.e. St. Neilos. It is worth noting that in Symeon’s decree the saint is referred to as the Prior of the Diocese of Stagoi, the Protos of the Skete and also father of the kingdom.
As a result of this change, in May 1363 St. Neilos, using his new authority, issued a sigil declaring the independence and autonomy of the Kellion of St. Demetrios. Later the saint built a monastery on the rocks of the Meteora, namely the cave monastery of the Ascension of Christ [later the Presentation of Christ in the Temple] (1366/7). In the founder’s inscription in the katholikon Neilos is mentioned as being the Protos and kathegoumenos (abbot) of Doupiane Monastery. It should be noted that in this katholikon there is a depiction of St. Neilos kneeling at the feet of the Virgin Eleousa in a gesture of supplication. It is worth emphasising the fact that the construction of other small monastic houses by St. Neilos – an act that is mentioned elsewhere and was carried out in order ‘to provide help and support’ – would pave the way for the gradual detachment of the monastic cells from the lavriotic system of the Skete. A few years later (1372), Symeon Palaiologos’s son John (St. Joasaph), as ruler of Thessaly, issued two decrees in favour of St. Neilos. In the second of these, in granting his benefaction, he addresses St. Neilos as the most honourable among hieromonks, and Protos of the Skete of Stagoi and father of the kingdom.
From the foregoing, it can be clearly seen that St. Neilos played a decisive role in the formation of Meteoran monasticism and, by extension, the spiritual life of western Thessaly. Despite the fact that we have no information about the saint’s ascetic life, there is no doubt that he led a saintly existence blessed by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, the role he played in the establishment of monasticism on the Meteora cannot be explained only by the historical circumstances.
The first, celebratory issue of Analecta Stagorum et Meteororum aspires to inaugurate new directions in the study of the heritage of the monastic community of Meteora, primarily through interdisciplinary studies on new and lesser-known stubjects.