The Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, which also bears the name Pelagia, is situated at a distance of 6.5 kilometres from the 107th kilometre of the National Road Athens-Lamia. It is on Mount Ptoön at a height of 560 metres, and about a kilometre away from the Partridge Spring, the site of the ruins of the Temple of Apollo of Ptoön (4th century BC).
Firm historical evidence, such as inscriptions, wall-paintings or documents, has not been found. All the information that we have comes from tradition, and there are many variations with regard to the date, foundation, founder and name of the Monastery.
The Foundation of the Monastery
According to Anthony Vasileiou, the author of the book Pelagia, St John Kaloktenis, who was elected Metropolitan of Thiva (Thebes) in 1147, founded the Monastery with the 7th century chapel that was already in existence. He made it a dependency of the Monastery of Sagmata, so that it would be nearer to the property of that Monastery in the area of Skroponeria. Unfortunately, there is no information to enable us to trace the complete development of the Monastery through the centuries. According to others, the Monastery was founded in the 16th or 17th century, 200 years after the fall of Constantinople, when there was a significant increase in the number of Monasteries throughout Greece. However, characteristic details of the construction of the walls, such as their thickness, the mortar and the quality of the construction of the lower storeys of all the wings, testify that the Monastery was more likely constructed in the 12th century.
The Name of the Monastery
The central church of the Monastery is dedicated to the Birth of the Theotokos (the Holy Virgin Mother of God) and celebrates its patronal feast on 8 September. Locally, however, the Monastery is known as Pelagia. Many different explanations are given for this name. One refers to the oral tradition that the Holy Virgin appeared to shepherds in the area telling them to draw her icon out of the sea (pelagos). For this reason, the chapel that was built in honour of the Holy Virgin was dedicated to the Birth of the Theotokos with the name Pelagia, meaning ‘from the sea’.
A second tradition is that a Roman lady called Pelagia lived here as a nun, and the Monastery was named after her.
The most convincing interpretation, however, is to be found in hymnographic texts, which frequently stress the ocean (pelagos) of the Holy Virgin’s love for the human race, particularly for Christians, the ocean of her compassion, the ocean of her mercy, the ocean of her miracles, and the ocean of her graces and virtues. Local women with the name Pelagia celebrate their name-day on 8 September. This confirms the name of the Monastery and distinguishes it from other Monasteries in the area which are dedicated to the Birth of the Holy Virgin and are known as Lykouresi and Protection of Christians.
Other Historical Information
It seems that the Monastery played an important role in the struggle for freedom in 1821. The Abbot at that time was Hieromonk Anthimos Georgiou (1799-1843). In 1833, when the Bavarians closed more than 400 Monasteries by decree, the Monastery of Pelagia was judged to be worth preserving, as is shown by documents in the archives of the Greek State. The census carried out in 1837 shows that there had been monks in the Monastery since 1786.
In July 1868 Hieromonk Averkios Karydis came to the Monastery, and in his time the Monastery flourished once more, with the number of monks reaching 60. With the blessing of the then Metropolitan Hieronymus Vlachakis, the central church, which had been destroyed either by an earthquake or by fire, was rebuilt “from the foundations”. The erection of the new central church on the site of the previous one was completed in 1906 – a lofty, imposing, cruciform church with an exterior of hewn stone.
After the death of Hieromonk Averkios in 1913 the Monastery began to decline. It was left abandoned and was used as a shelter by shepherds for about 50 years.
In July 1968 Abbess Macrina Tsiropoula, with the blessing of the ever-memorable Metropolitan Nicodemus (1967-1981), undertook the renovation of the Monastery, which was almost in ruins. She built the chapel of St Alexis as a cemetery, converted an area used as a barn into the chapel of the Holy Martyr Pelagia, organised the installation of a telephone, the improvement of the road, and so on, all while living completely alone for 19 years. In 1987, when her strength was beginning to fail and her fervent prayers intensified, a sisterhood, with the unforgettable and ever-blessed Abbess Photini Demou (1987-2007) and the prayers and blessings of the then Metropolitan Hieronymus of Thiva and Levadia, now Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, settled in the Monastery and undertook to continue its restoration.
The Monastery Today
After the death of Abbess Photini (2007) she was succeeded by Abbess Silouani.
Today, with the paternal care of our Metropolitan and chief Shepherd George of Thiva and Levadia, a considerable number of nuns live in the Birth of the Theotokos Monastery (Pelagia) and, strive to continue the Orthodox Tradition with the hesychastic way of life. The monastic tasks carried out by the nuns include editing and publishing the writings of Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and St Vlassios, who is also the spiritual father of the Monastery, as well as ecclesiastical gold-thread embroidery.
- St Alexis the Man of God (17 March).
- St Pelagia the Martyr (4 May).
- St Gregory Palamas (14 November and 2nd Sunday of Lent).
- St Panteleimon (27 June)
- St Nicholas at Skroponeria (6 December)