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At the exit of the village of Vodoča, only four kilometres northwest of Strumica, loom up stately the renovated cupolas of the church of Saint Leontius, in silent testimony to the magnificence of the ancient seat of Strumica metropolitans. At night the sight is yet more majestic. The whole complex is lightened from various angles. Amid the surrounding darkness the chance traveller gets the feeling as if the monastery were pending, in descent from the heavens.
There are two ways in. One of them leads to the large church of St. Leontius and the guest quarters. The second, through the main gate, leads to the monastic part, where the small newly built church is situated – dedicated to St. Gregory Palamas and to the venerable Elder Joseph the Spilaioti – with the belfry, opposite the monastic residential quarters (konak). In the vicinity, by the young plane trees, along the path behind the monastery walls, hidden from the eyes of the visitors, on a hillock above the monastery, with an open view to the whole valley, the small church dedicated to St. Triphon is located, within the new skete at the monastery vineyard.
To tear off a piece of Heaven and to bring it down here, for consolation and salvation of people, to turn an arid wild area into a garden of the Spirit, to be a witness to the Heavenly Kingdom in the world... is a cross-and-resurrection struggle, worth man's life. Few of them are there called to bear witness in the place of Christ. Such a witness is the episcope. About this holy, martyric struggle of the hierarchs, about the visible and the invisible war against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places, which the ascetics wage, about love towards enemies, Vodoča has much to tell... without words. For the ones who know how to listen in humility, to see... with the eye of the soul.
Grace of martyrdom and illumination. Of this on many occasions and in various epochs historical facts and the lives of the saints have spoken until present-day. With the struggle of the Fifteen Holy Hieromartyrs of Tiberiopolis, the martyric ethos took roots on this sacred site. In this area the mission of the Holy brothers Methodius and Cyril started. Later, their disciple St. Clement of Ohrid carried out his activity in this area as episcope of Velika and Dremvica. Here the fourteen thousand soldiers of Samuel were blinded after the battle at Belasica. Here St. Constantine Cabasilas was episcope.
The Vodoča monastery is mentioned for the first time in the charters of the Byzantine emperor Basil II, in 1018, at the time when Samuel's state was destroyed. It appears again in the documentation of a Hilandar act of 1376, when the Vodoča episcope Daniel and the Bansko episcope Gregory settled their disputes with the local secular authorities over the borders of the Hilandar estates in the Strumica area.
The present outward appearance of the church of St. Leontius depicts the former splendour. Still, the interior setting with the multitude of frescoes, the marble iconostasis, the large-scale throne icons, the opulent sacred vessels, the procession banners with precious adornments, the church furniture and the liturgical utensils... have been lost for ever. There are no exact historical data on the church construction. In fact, it is a complex of Vodoča churches with three construction phases. The oldest church is in the eastern side. Only a small fragment of it remained in the present altar space. The second phase is when the original basilica was ruined and in the first half of the 11th century to the west side a church was built in the form of an inscribed cross, dedicated to the Entry into the Temple of the Most Holy Theotokos. From then date the only frescoes preserved until today – those of St. Euplus and St. Isaurius, which indicate analogies with the fresco painting in the Ohrid Holy Sophia and with the one in the Holy Healers' church in Kostur. In the 12th century an extension was carried out, during which the large eastern cruciform church was built, which has monumental fresco painting. To the west part of the church, in the second half of the 14th century, the narthex was built, painted in that period. When the uncovered porch in the southern part was built, it is not known.
The two oldest records of the Vodoča church – the first one, of 1848 by the Russian pilgrim Grigorovich; and the second, of 1896 by the archimandrite Gerasimus, subsequently Strumica metropolitan – give data on the condition of the church, which until then had been relatively little damaged („it sufficed the fallen dome and the gates to be repaired“), with exceptionally preserved fresco painting. In about sixty years to follow, though, a great damage occurred. In 1958 the remains of the fresco painting were removed in order to be conserved and protected. In the seventies of the 20th century the church was completely architecturally reconstructed on the foundations of the remains.
From Life in the Monastery
In times past here ran the Bela Reka, Vodočica. The region was quiet, far from Tiberiopolis.
Today, after less then ten years from the renewal of the monastery as the seat of Strumica metropolitan Nahum, the thousand years old beauty comes back little by little, with hints of the new age. The residence includes a large reception room, a rich library with space for assemblies (synaxes) and ecclesial-diplomatic meetings, a smaller reception room for hierarchs in a warm ambiance, guest rooms, a large refectory and a monastic part. Simplicity and authenticity in the freedom of style. The park around the small church of St. Gregory Palamas, in the monastic part, is laid out with care. It is in great contrast with the dryness of the area outside. Cultivated trees. Grasslands trimmed with walls erected in 'opus cloisonné'. The terrace and the portico in front of the residential quarters are particularly pleasant after sunset, when even in the greatest summer heat here cools the inevitable wind.
The monastery typikon facilitates prayerful stillness. Visitors and guests – the ones who are God-seekers and the ones who, gripped by their life afflictions, as a gift of God have recognised here the need for their personal spiritual transformation and healing – are welcomed in the large guest quarters, detached from the monastic part. Just as in the other monasteries under the spiritual guidance of metropolitan Nahum of Strumica, monastic life here is devoted to the Jesus prayer. All worship services are performed in the church of Sts. Gregory Palamas and Elder Joseph the Hesychast, and on the greater feasts they are held in the large church of St . Leontius.