The first buildings
With a lot of personal work, the works proceeded at a slow rate with no interruption. The first building complex consisted of a two-storey building with a reception area, a kitchen, a table and guest quarters, a small polygonal three-storey cells building and a two-storey Temple.
The first chapel in honour of the Myrrhbearers and of the Undertakers of the Lord (Saints Mary Magdalene, Martha and Mary, sisters of Lazarus, Mary of Klopas, Joan of Chouzas, Salome and Susanna, Joseph of Arimathea, subtler Member, and Nicodemus, the nocturnal disciple) can be found downstairs.
Upstairs, there is the chapel of Saint Basil the Great with a permanent marble baptismal font for baptisms of young children. It is worth noting that in most christenings, if not in all of them, a certain promise of parents is fulfilled of either giving the name of one of the three Saints, mostly Saint Raphael, or to baptize their child at the Monastery of the Saints.
At this point, it is worth mentioning some incidents that have to do with the landscaping of these two chapels. The marble floor of the Chapel of the Myrrhbearers was placed by the late Philippos Orianos, the father of a young boy benefited from the Saints, who worked totally free of profit and with great care. His wholehearted contribution was not left without retaliation from the Saints, as revealed in a soul that is a friend of God: after a few months he left for the real life, but this deed of his accompanied him on his final journey to eternity.
The wooden temple of the Myrrhbearers was crafted by fathers of the historical Serbian Holy Monastery of Decani of Kosovo. When they completed its construction, they begged the Saints to help them carry it to Greece with no trouble during their passage through the state of Skopje and through the Albanians of Kosovo, since Serbian clerics used to face hostile treatment on a regular basis. They have confirmed to us that the Saints did actually protect them, since they arrived in our Monastery without a single hitch, as if someone paved the road for them. Nobody stopped them, not even at the border checking.
When the concreting the Saint Basil’s Chapel was over, there was no money left to proceed. We were considering using a part of the money we had put aside for the erection of Saint Raphael’s great Temple. One night, Maria Tsolaki saw in a dream Saint Raphael saying: "Basil the Great is a very great Saint; trust His providence; He will take care of His church by Himself. Do not underrate him." Within a week, Mr. Nicholas Tasiounis, a marbles dealer from Thessaloniki, paid a visit to us. Seeing the shortcomings, he volunteered to offer the floor marbles. Then, he undertook the building of the temple sculptors of the Temple and the shrine of Saint by himself. Thus, in the prediction of Saint Raphael, the organ of Saint Basil the Great’s providence was found in order to complete His Temple.
The memory of Saint Basil the Great was honoured in His Temple for the first time on the New Year’s Day of 1996.
The Ledger (Main Temple)
Due to a peculiarity of the soil, the original choice for the erection of the main Temple at the centre of the estate was abandoned. Since there was no appropriate place within the estate of the Monastery, we asked for and we were granted a limited common area after a decision of the Community Council of Griva during the presidency of the late Christos Bakalis in 1993 and its ratification under the presidency of Theodoros Siomos in 1995.
Prior to the carrying out of all these processes, Ms. Maria Tsolakis had repeatedly seen the Holy Fire manifesting itself suddenly during midday above this hill, turning around and thus defining the dimensions of the church and finally forming a very bright cross. As she told us, it was the same light she had been seeing during the three years of 1959-1961 at the saint-walked and bloodshed Hill of Karyes in Lesvos. This was a sign of God’s fine sight and for the selection of site for the erection of the Temple.
You can imagine the extent of the surprise we tasted, when next to what was seen by Ms. Maria, the testimony of Mr. George Polymenidis from Thessaloniki who was healed by the Saints after 15 years of tortuous, incurable and very painful ulcers came to be added. Mr. George had seen a light column rising from the earth to the sky, when the land was levelled at the exact point in which the Ledger of the Holy Temple has been presently erected!
The designs are courtesy of the church architect Mr. Alkis Raptis, based on initial proposals of his Eminence our Metropolitan Mr. Demetrius. We have wished that the architecture lining of the Temple include features from the Constantinople church architecture, since our orthodox Nation has the martyr Church of Constantinople as its point of reference. Moreover, it reminds us of Saint Raphael’s passage from the Byzantine Capital.
The excavation of the foundations was once again conducted with the invaluable assistance of the 33rd Engineer Brigade and was completed by a piece of machinery of the Prefecture of Kilkis with Mr. Christos Sanidas as its operator. A fact that is worth pointing out is that as soon as the soldiers started the project, they confessed that they were sensing a smell resembling incense in that area. The excavation and the levelling were a quite difficult case. Quite often, very large rocks had to be eradicated, whereas the military machinery was relatively small. Perseverance, patience and the faith of soldiers who were carrying out the work, i.e. that the Temple of the Saints was going to be erected, produced the expected result. The foundation of the Ledger (i.e. the main temple) took place on 14.08.1994 by his Eminence our Metropolitan Demetrius.
After following a careful selection process, Mr. Diamantis Alexiadis, a civil engineer from Thessaloniki was qualified in the place of the project manufacturer. His crew consisted of Mr. & Mr. Konstantinos and Haralambos Lazos, Michael Dafnopatidis, Efthimios Stoupas, Spyros Antinous and Ioannis Manchos. They were experienced, specialized in the erection of Churches and, as it turned out later, they were the best choice. The Saints certainly sent us right and faithful craftsmen. They were committed to their work; there was never any frenzy or quarrel, whereas they did not even shout. Without murmurings, they carried out the complex design of our Church, which mainly consisted of curves and surfaces, although they had not previously encountered a project of comparable difficulty, as they themselves confessed. The construction of the 9 domes of the church called for increased alertness and skill. They even begged us to open the loudspeakers from the Chapel of the Myrrhbearers during the liturgical services in order to be able to listen to the Holy Mass on a daily basis until the Temple.
As soon as they finished the concreting the Church, they thanked the Saints who rendered them worthy of completing the project in the best way possible and indeed without having the slightest accident, despite the hazards of working in higher places.
We will also mention an event concerning two devoted craftsmen, the Lazos brothers, whom Saint Raphael rewarded in the following way: their terminally-ill brother was hospitalized in 1996 at Theagenio hospital in Thessaloniki, suffering from an advanced stage of cancer. Father Nicodemus, went to the hospital and read the Sacrament of Holy Unction by the ill man’s bedside. On the same evening, the patient (who was not an avid churchgoer) told his brothers that a priest had come and read to him something from a book. When his brothers said that it was Father Nicodemus from the Monastery, he replied “no, it wasn’t that short man, him I remember. The priest who read to me was a tall one; he read to me and then he disappeared.” So it seems that as Father Nicodemus was reading the Sacrament, Saint Raphael (the tall priest) had appeared before the dying man and read a Prayer. A few days later, the patient departed this life having been given the sacrament of Saint Raphael, the best Godspeed for true and eternal life. The miraculous appearance of the Saint Raphael by their dying brother’s bedside was ever-lasting balsam for the Lazos brothers.
In 1996, the stage of the concrete-mixing of the Temple was finished with the erection of the elaborate central fluted dome. In 1997, the construction of the outer atrium (yard) was completed. In 1998, the investment with carved stone and handmade brick was initiated. An elaborate and time-consuming project that lasted until 2003 and provided the final shape and style of the church. During this phase, the secret care of the Saint in the selection of craftsmen was evident. Their ability and their wholehearted commitment brought about the best possible result. They have also confessed to us similar experience with the soldiers in the beginning; while working in the stone lining of the Sanctuary, one day they sensed incense coming from the foundation, with no one there to burn incense.
The miraculous providence of the Saint
At the same time with the investment of the stone, the covering of the Temple with lead plates began as well. At this point we will mention three characteristic events that demonstrate Saint Raphael’s concern for the erection of the Temple and have to do with his protective supervision during the work and the fundraising.
In 1999, during the week that precedes the Holy Week, we were trying to lift to the main cupola the large marble windows with a height of 2.70 m. In this effort we were assisted by people who were friends of the monks and had repeatedly offered their assistance without profit in various phases of the project. The task was a difficult and dangerous one due to the size of the windows and the height to which they should be raised. Coordinated moves with the help of both an electric winch in the dome and ropes to be pulled from below were necessary.
Father Nicodemus was jacked into planks in the dome drum and ran the winch. At some moment, he felt he got cold due to the flows from the openings of the dome to which he was exposed. He thought of coming down, in fear of getting ill and not being able to serve a certain village of the Metropolis during the Holy Week and the coming Easter. But he told the others that he would first drive up the windows that were already set and then he would come down. Lay ministers insisted that he should come down immediately in order not to get ill; otherwise they would leave themselves. He listened, and at the time he reached the temple floor, the iron strut that the horizontal winch he was clutching broke and hung downwards. The window was kept hanging from the ropes. Had he not come down and left below the winch handle instead, he would certainly have been struck on the head and fallen into the void with the inevitable conclusion of a very serious injury, possibly a fatal one.
In the previous night, Ms. Maria Tsolakis dreamt of Saint Raphael, who told her: "I superintend the work done in my Church every day." He confirmed his saving intervention during that same afternoon on father Nicodemus. This same brother had been rescued on another occasion as well from the dropping out of great height of a large lead track that got away from the hands of the craftsman Simeon Dampratzidis from Nea Roda of Chalkidiki. The lead fell just behind the priest, who had just taken a step further without having perceived the falling piece. Everything happened within fractions of seconds. The craftsman’s legs were bent by terror, as he confessed.
Another miraculous and lifesaving intervention occurred to his Eminence our Metropolitan Demetrius by Saint Anthony the Great. We report it because it relates to the building of the Temple, i.e. it is a part of its history. When the concrete of the domes was placed, His Eminence went up the scaffolding in order to drench them. Stepping on a rafter that was not nailed, it stood up and hit him in the head and he lost consciousness and fell in the void. He was retained by an iron that had snagged on the belt of his trousers. The fathers of the Monastery ran, lifted him up and brought him back to consciousness. Full of surprise and horror, they noticed that just down at the point where he would fell, there were steel sockets (cut irons which would bind the remaining property).
Six months before the event, on Saint Anthony’s Memorial Day (17.01.1997), there had been excessive snowfall and a blowing snow storm. The weather was so bad that not even the priest of the village dared to climb up the chapel. Our Elder, since it was the first year that the church had been built, defied the bad weather and along with a team from the Brotherhood he climbed up in the cold and worked without heating. Upon returning, he was informed from Maria Tsolakis that Saint Anthony the Great, whom she had seen in her sleep, had told her: “I will save Your Elder some time from certain death because despite all the cold and the bad weather, he came and honoured me with the service he held.”
You can imagine the surprise of all of us, when we received a visit in the Monastery by Ms. Maria, who asked us what happened with the Elder and revealed to us that Saint Anthony the Great reported to her in her sleep that he rescued the Elder, as promised, from certain death.
In late July 2001, we were in need of finding directly 1,000,000 drachmas in order to buy a specific quantity of lead for housing. Otherwise, our craftsman Mr. Simeon would leave us to work on Mount Athos. We mentioned this to his Eminence, and he told us that he had all but few money to be fed for two days. That moment, he was opening the mail and he coincidentally opened a letter that came from Switzerland. He was surprised because inside the letter was a 1,000,000 drachmas cheque (!) To the bank account of the Monastery by Dimitris Ch., a Greek living in Switzerland.
In the accompanying letter he wrote that he had long wanted to do something for Saint Raphael, because he was holding him in high reverence, especially after reading his history in the book "Life from graves." In fact, during his holiday period in Greece in August 2000, one night he had dreamt of the Saint with white priestly vestments, holding in his two fingers a golden ring and offering it to him saying: "Take it; it is yours and it is worth 1,000,000 drachmas”. In the same day, heading for the sea with some relatives, while had to stop at a crossroad, he was distracted and did not cut speed. Shortly before entering the large road, as if someone illuminated his mind and drove his foot on the brake, he unconsciously stopped abruptly. Being awestruck, he looks to a large truck passing from the front at high speed, almost at scratch distance. Had he not stopped, everyone would have been killed. He immediately connected his salvation with the dream he had seen. The ring symbolized for him, as he said to us, the spiritual protection and the life offered to him by the Saint.
After returning to Switzerland, he was looking for a project in order to be able to fulfil his due to the Saint out of gratitude. Then, another miraculous event happened; although he lives in a densely populated region with unemployment problems, he was ultimately invited him to a company and he was able to choose one of the two seats to his liking. On 27.07.01 he sent to our Monastery the sum that he had seen in his dream, about a year ago. When he came to Greece in the following year, he learned that this amount was exactly what we needed immediately that day and he praised Saint Raphael for a second time.
Aside from the greatest and major miracle of rescue of Dimitris and the other passengers, the miraculous Saint acting under the inscrutable Providence of our God a year ago had also taken good care of the continuation of the works in the Temple!
In that same year, there was a time that we had to secure 1,300,000 Drs for paying out taxes to the Greek Social Insurance Foundation. A few days before the deadline expired, the devout Mr. Margaret M., known to us for several years, called us saying: "I have promised 1,000,000 drachmas to the Saint for a long time. Come to Thessaloniki and get it, even today if you wish, because we are leaving for the Peloponnese. " We marvelled at the Saint’s Providence once again. But you can imagine our surprise when we visited her. In our conversation she said: "I have reserved an additional sum of 300,000 drachmas. I thought of giving them to the Temple as well." Therefore, the exact amount that we just needed was found.
It is the end of 2005, and it has been already two years that the Church continuously operated every Sunday, on every feast of the Lord and of the most Holy Virgin Mary celebration, the Holy Week and the Easter Week. This is because all the artistic marble windows have been placed, the interior plastering is integrated, as well as the investment of the external masonry with stone, the housing with lead and the installation and operation of underfloor heating (and consequently the Temple has certain integrity).
Work has continued on a steady basis with the help of God, although not without problems, especially financially. Even though our poor minds are not able to predict the financial resources that will be required for future large projects, we believe that the Saint will not abandon this blessed land of his own choice, this refuge for those in pain or full of praise of so many people and for our own poor lonely labours. We put forward the hope and then we "plan", meaning that we are left in the "plan" of God.
Quite unexpectedly, a way to begin the layering of the flooring with the marble artistic projects was found, starting from the Holy Step. A special design program was drafted for the entire floor of the church.
The construction of the wooden iconostasis followed by priority and was covered with performances mainly from the life and the martyrdom of our Saints, which is also another expensive project. Having had the material support of many cured faithful and the embassy of the Saints to the Lord, little by little the amount needed in order to repay the woodcarving iconostasis of the extraordinary art is being concentrated.
The mosaic of Virgin Mary Platytera in the niche of the sanctuary is still quite impressive. On the outside of the temple on both sides of the entrance: The Lord blessing the entering pilgrims and the Virgin praying for the faithful. Have a look at the story on the top of the mosaic image of the Lord as "The land of eternal living", with the three newly revealed martyrs awarded their religious veneration. This has been an offer of Stelios Nakos from Epanomi, who has been literally saved from death many times thanks to the intervention of Saint Raphael.
Hopefully, with the help of the Lord Jesus Christ and the understanding and assistance of pilgrims, we will proceed to the supply of furniture (pews), the revetment of the columns and the perimeter of the inner bottom wall and the execution of the remaining icon painting program of the Church.
We believe that one other favour of God’s Providence through the mediation of our Saints has also been also the two hostels of the Monastery. Having had our limited economic possibilities and so many projects yet unsettled, it was impossible for us to give priority to the construction of hostels, but they have proved to be extremely useful and necessary, not only for us but also for the pilgrims who visit us from all over Greece.
They are two buildings with traditional architecture. They have stone lining and tree planted areas. They are yet another jewel of the Monastery. The architectural designs are made by Ms. Anna Papadamou. Their construction was made possible thanks to the Ministry of Finance grants with the support of the Deputy Minister by Kilkis Mr. George Floridis. He has showed great understanding in our well-documented requests; he realized the value of such an investment for the support of Paiko through the Monastery’s presence and financed the project.
We should also add to the care of the above must be added the great love for the Saints and the sacrificial brotherhood of a great number of persons. Occasionally they have ministered and they still minister in every need of the Monastery, in projects on maintenance and equipment, in the ministry of fairs and pilgrimages. We would risk of either forgetting some of them or going against their modest requirement to act and offer imperceptibly anonymous, being known only to God. Since the Lord knows to reward us on a hundredfold and everlasting basis, our own poor 'thank you' would be injustice to benefactors. We wish them to win exactly that in the earth and the sky: "may all giving be good and may all gifts be perfect" by our Lord Jesus Christ with the embassies of His Saints.
The building program of the Monastery
The extension of the building infrastructure is also a part of our prospects, as is also the case with the formation of the interior space of our Monastery with plantings, paths etc. These are long-term and expensive projects that have not started yet (even though they are drafted in projects). This happens because up until today we have been financially committed to the progressive completion of the Ledger.
Aside from the large wing of the cells, which will embrace the main temple, the Chapels of the Holy Protection and Saint Martyr Theodore of Byzantium will be also built in the wings of the Monastery. The unfinished chapel in the name of the Holy Trinity to the east, as well as Saint Charalambos’ Chapel to the southwest on the highest part of the estate delineate the area of the Monastery. The church of the Holy Trinity, as well as that of the Virgin Portaitissa [she who protects the gate] have been a cordial offer of a faithful of our province. The Church of Christ the Almighty is an offer of a pious couple of friends of our Monastery from Athens.
4 years ago, we almost completed as well the icon decoration of Saint Basil’s Chapel out of touching subscriptions, mainly originating from people who bear the name "Basil".
A great Guest House is a part of our design so as to suffice for the numerous pilgrims, as is also the case with a large dining room. Until then, we are served in the existing properly arranged spaces.
We believe that the slightest contribution to this sacred work of the completion our Saints’ Monastery is based on a secret sacred and spiritual liturgical relationship between the Monastery and the renderers. Since in each Mass (in the offertory, in the Extensive Divine Liturgy), as well as in the Extensive Prayer of Vespers and the daily Prayers, we pray to our Lord humbly, but also wholeheartedly: "for the pious pilgrims, donors, subscribers, specials and ministries the Monastery "and" for the sake of all those sent to us the unworthy we wish. "
Let the Grace of our omniscient God and the blessing of His gratified newly revealed martyrs Raphael, Nicholas and Irene reach every soul that thinks and reflects on our own efforts in this Monastery.