The history of the Holy Belt chapter
The Holy Belt of the Mother of God, divided these days in three parts, is the only relic or remains, which endures from her life on earth and is being safeguarded at the Holy and Great Monastery of Vatopedi. According to the tradition, the belt was woven from camel hair from the Mother of God herself, and after her Repose, while she was ascending to heaven, she handed it over to Thomas the Apostle. The apolytikio of the feast for the deposition of the Holy Belt of the Mother of God says: “While you were ascending to the forthcoming glory, you have given your most venerable belt to Thomas the Apostle”. read more…
In Jerusalem, two poor but devout women assumed the responsibility to keep the Holy Belt safe. The Most Holy Lady had asked John the Apostle to also share among these women her two dresses. One devout virgin belonging to this family assumed the same responsibility from generation to generation.
During the reign of Emperor Arcadius, son of Theodosios the Great, the Holy Belt was transferred to the glorious capital of the Byzantine Empire, Konstantinoupole. He placed it in a precious reliquary, which he named “Holy casket”. The deposition took place on the 31st of August. The holy relic would, from then on, protect the capital of the empire and its citizens from enemy attacks, calamities and demonic assaults.
A few years later, Arcadius’ daughter, empress Poulheria, erected the dazzling church of Halkoprateion and deposited the Holy Belt inside. The empress herself embroidered it with golden threat and it is found in this condition today at the Holy and Great Monastery of Vatopedi.
The following century, we do not know precisely when or how, the Holy Belt was taken to Zela of Kappadokia, south of Amassia. It was returned to Konstantinoupolis again during the reign of Emperor Justinian the A (527-565), the owner of Ayia Sofia. His successor Justinian the B with his wife Sofia, have renovated the Church of Halkoprateion and built the chapel named after the Holy Casket. The Holy Belt was then placed on the Altar.
The Holy Belt performed innumerable miracles in Konstantinoupolis. It healed the empress Zoe Zaoutsi, wife of Leon the Wise (886-912), who had been possessed by a demonic spirit. As soon as the Patriarch placed the Holy Belt on her, she was instantly released.
The Patriarch of Konstantinoupolis, Germanos the A (715-730) offers the beautiful observation that the Holy Belt preserves the divine fragrance of its healings to all eternity, bestowing joy to all those who approach it in faith and devoutness. Joseph the hymn-writer (apprx. 816-866) wrote hymns for the holy relic, since by the Grace of the Most Holy Lady it bestows blessings on the faithful who approach to offer veneration, raises them beyond corruption and frees them from illnesses and afflictions.
Around the year 1150, the Holy Belt was found in the Great Palace of Konstantinoupolis in the church of Michael the Archangel. It must have most probably been cut into pieces which have been housed in various churches.
During the 12 Century, when Emmanuel the A Komninos was emperor, (1143-1180), a feast for the veneration of the Holy Belt was established on the 31st of August, while before it was being celebrated together with the feast for the Garments of the Mother of God on the 2nd of July.
After the capture of Konstantinoupolis by the crusaders during the 4rth Crusade in 1204, some pieces have been plundered by the barbarian hords and were transferred to the west. Fortunately not all of the pieces were lost. It is certain that a single piece remained in Konstantinoupolis even after its recapture by the emperor Michael the H, the Palaiologian, in 1261 and was being kept in the church of Vlahernas. An anonymous Russian pilgirm gave the last available testimony as to the presence of the Holy Belt in the Byzantine capital. It is not known what has happened to the Belt after the capture of Konstantinoupolis by the Turks in 1453. The biggest piece is being safeguarded today at our monastery. However, it arrived here in an adventurous way.
Constantine the Great had constructed a cross, which he was carrying with him during all his battle campaigns for his own and his army’s protection. In the middle of the cross a piece of the Holy Cross was placed. There were also some spaces where remainders from the most known martyrs and a piece of the holy belt were being placed. All the emperors were carrying this cross in their campaigns. During a campaign against the Bulgarians, the emperor Isaakios B, the Angel( 1185-1195), was defeated by their ruler, Assan. A priest had thrown the cross in the river to protect it from being consecrated by the enemy. However, the boulgarians found it and handed it over to their ruler Assan.
The boulgarians did not have good relations with the Serbs and these had been constantly worsening. Around 1330, the Bulgarian army was defeated in a battle by the Serb ruler, the great martyr Laxarus (+1389). The King’s cross passed on to the hands of the Serbs. Forty years later, Lazarus gave the cross of Constantine the Great to the Vatopedi monastery as a gift, together with the piece of the Holy Cross, the piece of the Holy Belt and other holy remains. At the back of the Cross the following is written in the Serbian: “I, Lazarus, Knezis of Serbia and King of Greece in Christ, grant this mighty weapon with the immaculate Belt of my Most Pure Lady, to the monastery of my kingdom, Vatopedi”. Since then, it is being kept in the altar of Katholikon, which is the main church of the monastery.
Let us also refer to another tradition which is being preserved at our monastery. According to this, the Holy Belt was gifted to Vatopedi by the emperor John Z Kantakouzinos, (1341-1353), after he had stepped down from the thrown and became a monk, named Iosaphat, at our monastery.
During the years of the Turkish occupation of Greece, monks from the monastery would perform holy litanies with the Belt in places like Crete, Macedonia, Thrace, Konstantinoupolis and Asia Minor so that the enslaved Greeks would receive its blessing and be freed from epidemics.