Graham Speake, Kallistos Ware
KALLISTOS WARE. The Holy Mountain: Universality and Uniqueness
The One and the Many
It is our practice, when speaking of Mount Athos, to call it not merely a holy mountain but the Holy Mountain. Why should this be so? Throughout the world, whether Eastern or Western, whether Christian or non-Christian, there are in fact numerous mountains that are regarded as holy. Moreover, besides those that exist in actual space, there are in literature many imaginary mountains that are invested with numinous power, such as the invisible Mount Analogue in René Daumal’s parable. ‘O the mind, mind has mountains’, exclaimed Gerard Manley Hopkins, ‘cliffs of fall frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed.’382 Why, then, among all these mountains, real and imaginary, should one in particular have been singled out as the Holy Mountain par excellence? Why, in the title of his recent book on Mount Athos, should Metropolitan Nikolaos of Mesogaia describe it as, not simply ‘a high place’, but ‘the highest place on earth’?383 What makes Athos, if not unique, then certainly exceptional and distinctive?
Let me offer four different kinds of answer to these questions; but my list of four makes no claim to be exhaustive.
The World as Sacrament
First of all, Athos is not just a mountain of holy men, but in itself a mountain that is holy. Before we speak of the monastic vocation pursued by the human persons who dwell on Athos, we do well to reflect upon the intrinsic sacredness of the material environment within which these persons live. Our starting-point, then, should be the physical reality of the Holy Mountain itself.
All visitors to Athos have surely been amazed by the astonishing natural beauty of the Mountain: by the rocks on the sea shore, by the flowers and the trees, by the abundance of the wild life, and above all by the vast triangular outline of the peak that dominates the southern extremity of the Athonite peninsula. As the monks said in the 1840s to the German visitor Jakob Fallmerayer (the passage is quoted by Philip Sherrard):
Forsake the world and join us; with us you will find your happiness. Do but look at the retreat there with its fair walls, at the hermitage on the mountain, how the westering sun flashes on its window panes! How charmingly the chapel peeps out from the bright green of the leafy chestnut forest, in the midst of vine branches, laurel hedges, valerian, and myrtle! How the water bubbles forth, bright as silver, from beneath the stones, how it murmurs among the oleander bushes! Here you will find soft breezes, and the greatest of all blessings – freedom and inward peace. For he alone is free, who has overcome the world, and has his dwelling in the laboratory of all virtues on Mount Athos.384
In common with other pilgrims, I have my own special memories of the landscape and of the flora and fauna of the Holy Mountain. I recall, for example, meeting a family of wild boar, father, mother, and two children, on the deserted uplands north-west of Hilandar. I found them courteous and friendly. On another occasion, near the skete of the Prophet Elijah – at that time, still Russian – I encountered a lynx or wild cat, who was less amiable; but it was after dusk, and no doubt he felt that I was transgressing Athonite etiquette, which prescribes that no humans should wander outside the monasteries after sunset. In the words of the introductory psalm at Vespers, ‘Man goes forth to his work and to his labour until the evening’, and then comes the darkness ‘wherein all the beasts of the forest do move’ (Ps. 103 : 20–3).
I achieved a better working relationship with a snake, some 3 metres in length, close to Hilandar. While I was engaged there on the translation of the Philokalia, going out for my habitual mid-day walk I found him on the path enjoying the sunshine. When I banged with my stick three times on the ground, he surveyed me with a fixed stare but did not move. Then, knowing that snakes are fluent linguists, I addressed him in English, ‘Could you kindly move aside?’, which he did at once, disappearing into a cranny in the stone wall beside the path. No sooner had I passed than I heard a swish immediately behind me, as he re-emerged into the sunshine. Next day at the same hour I found the snake in the same place. This time I did not bang with my stick but simply asked him to move aside, and he complied. On the third day I did not even have to ask, for he slipped into the wall of his own accord.
I have never actually seen wolves on Mount Athos, although in the past I have noted what I took to be their footprints in the sandy paths not far from the northern frontier of the monastic territory. No doubt they were observing me from the undergrowth nearby. The presence of wolves on the Mountain, at least as recently as the 1970s, always struck me as a reassuring sign. For wolves in their own way are hesychasts, who dislike disturbance and noisy intrusion from human beings. So long as they continued to make their home on Athos, this was an indication that the Mountain remained still a place of silence and seclusion. Their disappearance troubles me.
Among the non-human denizens of the Mountain, I value in particular the presence of frogs. Their singing at certain seasons of the year surpasses that of any protopsaltis in the monasteries. I recollect sitting on a balcony at one of the hermitages in the skete of Great St Anne, around sunset shortly before Pentecost. Each kellion of St Anne has its own garden with a cistern, and each cistern has its synodia of frogs. On that evening, first a group began to sing hundreds of feet below me, and then another group commenced hundreds of feet above. Soon dozens of other companies of frogs had taken up the chant to the right and to the left, and the entire hillside re-echoed with their voices.
It was a magical moment. There came to my mind an Athonite anecdote, typical of the monastic sense of humour, about an elder who was celebrating the pre-dawn service with his disciples. Disturbed by the noise of the nearby frogs, he went out of the chapel to remonstrate. ‘Frogs,’ he said, ‘we’ve just completed the Midnight Office and are starting Matins: would you mind keeping quiet until we’ve finished.’ Whereupon the frogs replied, ‘We’ve just completed Matins and are starting the First Hour: would you mind keeping quiet until we’ve finished.’ It has always distressed me that St Gregory of Nyssa – among all the Greek Fathers, the one with whom I feel the closest sympathy – should speak about frogs in disapproving terms.385
Complementing the Athonite frogs, there are also the many birds on the Holy Mountain. A friend of mine, who has the gift of imitating bird-song, was once walking through the woods of Athos in the company of a monk. Eager to display his talent, my friend twittered, and the birds promptly responded. The monk was not impressed. ‘Would you please stop doing that’, he said. ‘All right,’ my friend answered, ‘but what’s wrong?’ The monk replied, ‘You are disturbing the natural order.’ This illustrates the way in which monasticism at its best – alas! not always in practice – displays a respect for the integrity of creation, for the proper dignity of the birds and beasts.
As for my memories of the mountain itself, these are associated above all with my second ascent to the 2,000-metre peak of Athos, in the year 1971. I climbed up alone during the night – there was a full moon – so as to arrive at the summit by sunrise. I reached the top at the exact moment when the great red disk of the sun emerged from the low clouds over the sea. After gazing for some time at the sun in the east, rapidly moving up the sky, I turned and looked northward. In the clarity of the morning light, I saw the whole Athonite peninsula spread out before me more than 1,000 metres below, stretching away to the distant mainland of Thrace. It was like a relief map, in which every feature stood out with startling sharpness. I could distinguish the various footpaths that I had been taking during the previous days, and could even make out the exact points where I had missed the right turning. Then, with my back to the rising sun, I looked westward over the sea. I was met by a sight that I had not expected, and that I shall never forget. I saw the shadow of the mountain as a vast pyramid of darkness, extending many kilometres across the waters, and shrinking visibly minute by minute as the sun behind my back rose higher.386 At length, defeated by the piercing cold, I commenced the long descent. During the eleven hours on the way up and then down, I did not meet a single person.
Now it could be objected that the words of the monks, as reported by Fallmerayer, and equally my own delight in the panoramic view from the peak of Athos, are no more than the expression of aesthetic sentiments that are subjective and ‘romantic’ in character. It is possible, someone might argue, to be emotionally moved by the beauty of nature – by the sunset or the sunrise – without such an experience possessing any specifically Christian content and, more precisely, without it shedding any light on the spiritual meaning of Athonite monasticism.
This objection misses a vital point. It is indeed true that an agnostic or atheist can be deeply inspired by the beauty of nature, without being thereby drawn to any kind of faith in God. Yet to one who does in fact believe in God, such engagement with natural beauty possesses not merely a sentimental but a genuinely theological significance. Beauty transforms the world into a sacrament of the divine presence. Responding to the glory of creation, suddenly we apprehend the immediacy of the Creator. Renewing our sense of wonder, cleansing the doors of perception, we see all things in God, and God in all things. This is not pantheism but panentheism; the distinction between the two is vital.387 The material world around us, without losing any of its characteristic ‘isness’, becomes at the same time transparent. In it and through it we discern the Infinite and the Eternal. We acquire what William Blake termed ‘double vision’.388
Viewed in this perspective, the natural beauty of Athos possesses more than a purely aesthetic importance. It enables us to experience the Holy Mountain as a frontier land between earth and heaven. We need to think in terms not only of sacred history but equally of sacred geography. There are on this globe certain points within space that act as a burning glass, concentrating the rays of the noetic sun and mediating God’s presence to us: ‘thin’ places such as Jerusalem or Sinai, Patmos or Assisi, Walsingham or Iona. One such place is precisely the Holy Mountain of Athos. Often, though not always, the spiritual potency of the place in question is enhanced by its natural beauty; and this is exactly the case with Athos. Such natural beauty has deep value in itself, but much more significant is the manner in which the beauty points beyond itself to the Divine.
Visiting Athos, then, and opening our hearts to its visible beauty, we understand in a new way the words attributed to Jesus Christ by the early Christians, although not to be found in the canonical Gospels: ‘Cut the wood in two, and I am there; lift up the stone, and there you will find Me.’389 As the Russian hermit of Karoulia Fr Nikon (+1963) used to say of the Mountain, ‘Here every stone breathes prayers.’390 A young Anglo-Russian, returning from his first pilgrimage, told me that, when walking alone on the Athonite paths, for the first time in his life he was conscious of God all the time. Such is exactly the way in which the material environment of Athos can act as a sacrament, transforming physical space into sacred space.
Note that my young friend, when he experienced the divine presence on Athos, was walking alone on the traditional footpaths. Doubtless when we circumnavigate the Mountain in a motor-boat full of cigarette smoke and engine fumes, or when we hurry from monastery to monastery in a crowded Jeep, we can still feel the presence of the Eternal. But it is far more difficult. To every prospective visitor to Athos, this is my advice. Take with you no more than a light knapsack, stout walking boots, and a staff. Travel on foot. Walk alone. You will have to endure the steepness of the way, the sharpness of the stones, the heat, sweat, and exhaustion. But you will also begin to understand the Psalmist’s words, ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ (Ps. 45 : 10).
Philip Sherrard, in a prophetic article on ‘The Paths of Athos’, has rightly drawn attention to the singular benefit that comes from walking along the ancient mule-tracks that link each monastic settlement to its neighbour.391 In his eyes, the progressive neglect and obliteration of these paths from the 1960s onwards was a fateful sign of an inner and spiritual deterioration. Fortunately the decline has been in part reversed by the successful programme for the restoration of the Athonite paths, pursued in recent years under the auspices of the Friends of Mount Athos. This venture possesses more than simply a practical purpose, in assisting people to move more easily from one place to another. To every visitor it also affords the opportunity to discover the intrinsic holiness of the Mountain. Long may this work continue!
In 1973 I walked, without undue difficulty, up the ridgeway from Hilandar to Karyes. It is a journey of some 22 kilometres, and it took me nearly five hours, but every moment of those five hours was a time of gifts. In 1982 I attempted the same walk, but after some 3 kilometres I turned back, defeated by the barrier of thorns and brambles. Now I learn that, through the efforts of the Friends of Mount Athos working party in 2010, the ridgeway path has been reopened. The journey now lies, I fear, beyond my own physical capacity, but I commend it warmly to younger and more agile pilgrims.
Yet the answer to our initial question – what makes the Holy Mountain exceptional? – remains as yet incomplete. For there are other places of outstanding natural beauty – such as the Cairngorms or the Pyrenees, the rivers Tweed or Wye, Derwentwater or Lake Ochrid – that can also act as a sacrament of the divine presence. What sets the Holy Mountain on a level higher than these others, and confers on it an especial sanctity? To answer that question, it is necessary to turn our attention from the Mountain itself to the monks who inhabit it.
A second distinctive feature of the Holy Mountain, alongside its sacramental beauty, is its universality. From the later tenth century – when the first fully organized cenobitic houses were established on the peninsula – without interruption until the present time Athonite monasticism has always possessed an international character. St Athanasios of Athos, founder (c. 963) of the earliest cenobitic house on the Holy Mountain, the Great Lavra, is said to have assembled in his monastery numerous monks ‘from different nationalities, tongues, races and cities, not only from those living near at hand, but also from very distant regions, from Rome itself, from Italy, Calabria, Amalfi, Iberia [Georgia], Armenia, and from yet further afield’.392 It is a striking fact that, among the four most senior of the ‘ruling’ monasteries – Lavra, Vatopedi, Iviron, and Hilandar – two are, or were originally, non-Greek. Thus Iviron was founded by the Georgians St John and St Euthymios around 979–80,393 only seventeen years after the inauguration of the Great Lavra by St Athanasios, although sadly there are no longer any Georgians resident within the walls of Iviron, while Hilandar was refounded by the Serbs St Simeon (Stefan) Nemanja and his son St Sava in 1198.394 Indeed, in the fifteenth century, besides Hilandar, as many as five other monasteries were predominantly Serbian.395 There is evidence for a monastery ‘of the Rus’ as early as 1016, and the Bulgarian presence at Zographou dates back at least to the twelfth century.
In this way Athos was from the start, and remains today, a spiritual centre for all Orthodox (provided, of course, that they are male).396 It is truly ecumenical in character, in the sense that it embraces in principle the entire oikoumeni or inhabited earth. Although, according to the Constitutional Charter approved by the Athonite Holy Community in 1924 and ratified by the Greek government in 1926, Athos is ‘a self-governing part of the Greek state’, this does not in any way imply it is limited to persons of Greek ethnic origin. While, as the Charter states, ‘All persons leading a monastic life there acquire Greek citizenship without further formalities upon admission as novices or monks’,397 at the same time Athos is genuinely pan-Orthodox, a home not only for Greeks but equally for Georgians, Serbs, Bulgarians, Russians, and Romanians. Truly, so far at least as Chalcedonian Orthodoxy is concerned – for there are no Copts, Ethiopians, or Armenians on the Mountain – Athos is indeed a microcosm of the Christian East. And not of the Christian East only, for during the tenth to thirteenth centuries there was also a Latin house on the Mountain, ‘St Mary of the Amalfitans’, where the monks followed the rule of St Benedict.398
Athonite monasticism, however, in thus possessing an international character, is not in itself unique. So far from innovating, it reflects in this regard a tradition that marked the Christian monastic movement from its inception. Fourth-century monasticism in Egypt included not only Copts and Greeks but Syrians and a sprinkling of westerners. In the lavra of St Sabas in the sixth-century Judaean wilderness, besides those who spoke Greek there were Armenians who had a special oratory where they celebrated the Divine Office in their own language; there were also then, or somewhat later, Georgians and Syrians who likewise recited the Divine Office in their own chapels and their own languages, although the whole community came together in the main church for the celebration of the Eucharist.399 At Sinai in the sixth and following centuries there were Greeks, Armenians, and Georgians, along with Syriac and Arabic speakers, all living alongside each other.400
Yet, if Eastern Christian monasticism has long been international in character, this pan-Orthodox dimension has been developed and maintained to an exceptional degree on Athos. This ethnic universality is certainly one of the reasons why it is regarded throughout the Orthodox world as the Holy Mountain. For many centuries the various nationalities on Athos appear to have lived side by side in a reasonably peaceful manner. Care should be taken not to read back into an earlier period the more acute sense of ethnic identity that only emerged in the Balkans, among both Greeks and Slavs, from the late eighteenth century onwards. As Dimitri Obolensky observes with reference to Athos, ‘National antagonisms were not unknown; yet the sense of solidarity rooted in a common tradition of ascetic endeavour and spirituality seems to have been more important.’ In this connection he notes that the Byzantines, ‘aware of this supranational bond’, referred to the different peoples on Athos not as ‘nations’ (ethni) but as ‘tongues’ (glossai).401 This cosmopolitan spirit on the Holy Mountain is readily intelligible when it is borne in mind that the Byzantine empire itself was multi-ethnic. Greek was the language of government, education, and church worship,402 but within the bounds of the empire there were also Syrians and Armenians, as well as many Slavs.
This supranational mentality continued during the Tourkokratia, at least until the end of the eighteenth century. Greek-speaking Christians thought of themselves not as ‘Hellenes’ but as Romaioi, ‘Romans’, heirs not so much to classical Hellas as to the universal Roman empire of Augustus, Constantine, and Justinian. Those Christians in the Ottoman empire who used some dialect of Slavonic, Vlach, or Albanian also shared this ‘Romaic’ spirit, albeit in a less articulate fashion. Paschalis Kitromilides remarks that the period up to 1800 was ‘an epoch marked by the absence of national divisions from the Balkans’. ‘There of course existed elements of ethnic differentiation,’ he continues, ‘expressed primarily in the multiplicity of Balkan vernacular languages. What is surprising, however, for a premodern era was the facility with which people crossed linguistic frontiers.’ Balkan society was ‘culturally homogenised’; there were ‘social and class divisions’, but these cut across ‘ethnolinguistic demarcation lines’.403 This general cultural situation in the Ottoman domains naturally made it easier for the different ‘tongues’ on the Holy Mountain to coexist in harmony.
Professor Kitromilides illustrates the existence of this cosmopolitan spirit in the Ottoman world, and more particularly on Athos, by describing the career of Constantine (Kaisarios) Dapontes (1713/14–84), monk of the Athonite house of Xeropotamou. Dapontes is the author of a lengthy narrative poem, describing the nine-year peregrination that he undertook throughout the Ottoman empire in order to raise money for his monastery. Dapontes was passionately devoted to his native island of Skopelos, his ‘golden homeland’, as he called it; but beyond this particular locality he had no sense of a national motherland. He regarded ‘the entire space of Southeast Europe as an integral whole, unfragmented by political or national divisions’.404 What mattered to him, as he journeyed through the Ottoman territories, was not primarily whether the inhabitants spoke Greek, Albanian, Vlach, or a Slavonic dialect, but whether they were Christians or Muslims. He had no sense of ‘Greece’ as a political entity or of the ‘Greek nation’ in the modern sense.
This consciousness of a supranational ‘Orthodox commonwealth’, inherited from Byzantium and persisting during the Tourkokratia, helped the monastic communities on Athos to preserve a pan-Orthodox spirit. Regrettably, however, during the nineteenth century this was replaced throughout the Balkans by a growing sense of distinctive national particularity; and this had a sadly negative impact upon the peace and unity of the Holy Mountain. Already in the eighteenth century two monks of Hilandar, Jovan Rajić and Paisy Hilandarsky, awakened among the Serbs and Bulgars an awareness of their medieval past: Jovan emphasized the glories of the Serbian empire in the fourteenth century, while under his influence Paisy wrote about the First and Second Bulgarian empires.405 In the early years of the nineteenth century a similar tendency emerged among the Greeks, on Athos and elsewhere, as they developed a heightened consciousness of their roots in classical Hellas; and this sense of Hellenic identity was greatly increased by the Greek uprising of 1821.
While all of this had its effect upon the monks of Athos, what chiefly led to a sharp deterioration in interethnic relations on the Holy Mountain was the dramatic increase in the number of Russians.406 By the start of the twentieth century they had come to outnumber the Greeks: thus in 1902 there were on Athos no fewer than 3,496 Russians, but only 3,276 Greeks (there were also 307 Bulgarians, 286 Romanians, 51 Georgians, and 16 Serbs: a total of 7,432).407 Although the Greeks remained in control of seventeen out of the twenty ‘ruling’ monasteries, they felt threatened by a Russian ‘takeover’, and this led them to react with hostility. A vivid account of the bitterness between Greeks and Russians in this period is provided by Athelstan Riley, who sees an ‘amusing side’ to the story. But the humour leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.408
Nationalism still continues today to exercise a baneful influence on the Orthodox Church throughout the world. But, at least so far as Athos is concerned, interethnic suspicions now exist only on a greatly diminished scale. The Russians no longer present a realistic threat to the Greek dominance on the Holy Mountain. Indeed, the pan-Orthodox universality of Athos has been reaffirmed in a new way during my own lifetime. On my early visits to Athos as an Orthodox layman in 1961 and 1962, I did not meet Western converts in any of the monasteries. Although at that time I was already seriously thinking of becoming a monk, never once did it occur to me that I might do so on the Holy Mountain, nor did any of the monks there suggest such a possibility to me. But from the 1970s onwards, on my visits to Athos I began to meet Western converts wherever I went French, Germans, Swiss, English, Americans, and even a Peruvian – and today there is scarcely a single Greek house that does not contain Westerners who have adopted the Orthodox faith as adults.
In my case, however, there would certainly have been an obstacle. It is required of any convert who seeks to take monastic vows on Athos that he should have been received into Orthodoxy by baptism. As I had been admitted into the Church by ‘economy’ through the sacrament of chrismation, I would have needed to be rebaptized. Yet this has not prevented me from receiving invitations, whenever I visit Athos, to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. Recently, after I had officiated in one of the Greek monasteries, the abbot – a man of great personal kindness – suggested that I might wish to settle there in my declining years. I wondered whether I would have to be rebaptized in my episcopal vestments. But I kept this thought to myself.
Embracing as it does not only the traditional Orthodox nations but also the West, Athos is indeed a microcosm of the Orthodox world, a pan-Orthodox diversity-in-unity.
The Threefold Way
It is time to turn from the outward aspect of monastic Athos to its inner life, and this brings me to a third noteworthy feature of the Holy Mountain. Athonite monasticism can justly claim to be a microcosm, not only because of its national and ethnic diversity, but also because it includes within its boundaries examples of all three forms of the monastic life, as found in the Christian East: of the eremitic life, of the cenobitic, and of the middle way that can be described either as semi-eremitic or as semi-cenobitic. St John Climacus in his Ladder of Divine Ascent, written at Sinai around the middle of the seventh century, clearly distinguishes these three forms, and himself expresses a preference for the semi-eremitic form, which he terms ‘the King’s highway’:
All monastic life may be said to take one of three forms. There is the path of withdrawal and solitude for the spiritual athlete; there is the life of stillness shared with one or two others; and there is the practice of patient endurance in a community. ‘Turn neither to the right hand nor to the left’, says Ecclesiastes (Prov. 4: 27), but rather follow the King’s highway; for the second of these ways is suitable for many people … ‘For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them’ (Matt. 18: 20).409
All three of these forms are to be found side-by-side in fourth-century Egypt; all three forms had emerged on Athos by the end of the tenth century; and all three forms likewise coexist on the Holy Mountain today. This is a remarkable example of the continuity of Eastern monasticism, and more particularly of continuity on Mount Athos itself.410
The hermit life – what Climacus calls ‘the path of withdrawal and solitude for the spiritual athlete’ – flourishes on Athos above all in the wooded valleys and steep rock faces of the southern part of the peninsula. Here a monk can dwell in entire isolation, or perhaps with a few other hermits in the near vicinity. There even survives on Athos the most radical expression of the eremitic life, that of the ‘pasturing monks’ or boskoi, who have no roof over their heads, no fixed habitation, and who wear no monastic habit but go about naked like the wild animals, living on wild plants and berries. My friend Gerald Palmer (1904–84) was talking one day, back in the 1950s, with Fr Nikon of Karoulia, when the latter’s disciple Fr Zosima arrived in a state of some confusion. Fr Zosima’s handiwork was to make baskets, and he had gone out into the woods to gather withies. Wandering beyond his habitual haunts, he had espied three naked figures on a nearby crag. ‘Were they demons?’ asked Fr Zosima. ‘No’, Fr Nikon replied; and he said that he knew of ‘pasturing monks’ who dwelt in that particular region.411
At the other extreme from the hermit life there is the cenobitic life in a fully organized monastery, ‘the practice of patient endurance in a community’, as Climacus terms it. This is represented on Athos primarily by the twenty ‘ruling’ monasteries. Also in this category are the cenobitic sketes, such as the Romanian house of Prodromou. Examples of such cenobitic sketes from the past include the Russian sketes of St Andrew and of the Prophet Elijah.
Thirdly, there is what Climacus describes as ‘the life of stillness shared with one or two others’, the semi-eremitic or semicenobitic form. This is to be found in the idiorrhythmic sketes of, for instance, Great St Anne or Kafsokalyvia. These are monastic villages, with scattered cottages surrounding a central church; and within each cottage there are between two and six monks – occasionally even more – sharing a common life. In practice the first and the third ways, the eremitic and the semicenobitic, are not always sharply distinct.
The spiritual ideal of each of these three monastic types is plainly expressed in the lives of their respective founders in fourth-century Egypt; and the same understanding of each form still prevails on Athos today. The pioneer of the first way, the eremitic, is St Antony the Great (c. 251–356). His conversion to the monastic life is recounted in somewhat iconic terms by his biographer and contemporary St Athanasios of Alexandria. Antony was the child of Christian parents. Aged about eighteen or twenty, he was listening in church one Sunday to the Gospel reading: ‘If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have, and give the money to the poor … then come and follow Me’ (Matt. 19: 21). These words changed his life. He heard them as if they had been spoken for the first time personally to him alone. He took Christ’s commandment literally, giving everything away, devoting himself to a life of asceticism and prayer, and withdrawing gradually further and further into the uninhabited desert, so as to be alone with God.412 If you want to be perfect …: Antony’s thirst for perfection, his all-consuming love for God, was so compelling, so total and uncompromising, that for God’s sake he renounced everything else.
St Pachomios (286–346), the founder of the earliest cenobitic monastery – or, more exactly, of the earliest cenobitic order, for he founded a series of monasteries integrated into a single federation – was also about twenty when he first heard God’s call. At the time he was still a pagan. Drafted into the army, he and the other recruits were taken down the Nile to Alexandria. As they journeyed, they were shut up at night in the local prison, presumably to prevent them from running away. After dark the Christians of the place came to them with food and drink. Pachomios asked who these unexpected visitors might be; it was the first time that he had ever heard the name ‘Christian’. Deeply moved by their practical compassion, at once he resolved to become himself a Christian on his release from military service.
‘O God’, Pachomios prayed that same night in the prison, ‘… if You deliver me from my present troubles, I shall obey Your will all the days of my life; and, loving all men, I shall serve them according to Your commandment.’413 He kept his promise. Dismissed from the army a few months later, he received baptism and at the same time embraced the ascetic life: his conversion to Christianity was simultaneously a conversion to the monastic vocation. Loving all men, I shall serve them …: faithful to the ideal of loving compassion which his initial contact with the Christians had revealed to him, he did not choose to be a hermit like Antony but he founded a community, in which he and his brother monks might express their love through a shared life and through acts of daily service to one another. So, in its spirit of mutual sharing, the monastery was to be an image of the first apostolic community at Jerusalem, in which the Christians ‘shared all things in common’ (Acts 2: 42).
As for the third or middle way, in fourth-century Egypt this is exemplified in particular by the semi-eremitic settlements of Nitria and Scetis, where the pioneering figures were Pambo, Makarios the Egyptian, and Makarios the Alexandrian. It is from this milieu that there chiefly emerge the collections of stories and aphorisms known variously as the Gerontikon, the Apophthegmata, or the Sayings of the Desert Fathers.414 This seminal work is essential reading for anyone who seeks to understand the meaning of Athonite monasticism.
The monastic ideal of the third way is summed up in a story told by Palladios of Helenopolis about his spiritual father Makarios the Alexandrian. One day, in a state of discouragement, Palladios went to Makarios and said, ‘Father, what shall I do? For my thoughts oppress me, saying, “You are making no progress; go away from here”.’ And the old man answered, ‘Tell your thoughts, “For Christ’s sake I am guarding the walls”.’415 I am guarding the walls: with what weapons? The early monks had a precise answer: with the weapon of prayer. And against whom were they guarding the walls? Once more, the early monks replied in specific terms: against the demons. And since the demons are the common enemies of all humankind, it follows that the monks, by withdrawing into the desert that is the home of the demons, are not acting selfishly, for the invisible warfare in which they are engaged benefits the human race as a whole. Incidentally, if the desert is understood in this sense, as the abode of the forces of evil, it may well be asked: where is the desert today – in the countryside or in the inner city? Palladios’ image of guarding the walls – which applies, indeed, not only to the semi-eremitic life but to all forms of monasticism – is taken up by the anonymous author of The History of the Monks in Egypt (late fourth century). ‘There is no town or village in Egypt and the Thebaid’, he writes, ‘that is not surrounded by hermitages as if by walls, and the people depend on the prayers of these monks as if on God Himself … Through them the world is kept in being, and through them too human life is preserved and honoured by God.’416
Now it has been objected that this notion of ‘guarding the walls’ reflects an external opinion, expressing what outsiders thought about the monks rather than what the monks thought about themselves.417 There may be some truth in this. Doubtless most of the early monks, if challenged to epitomize the meaning of their vocation, would have hesitated to describe themselves as guardians of the walls or to claim that they were keeping the world in being. They might have preferred to answer, in less ambitious terms, ‘I am here to repent of my sins.’ As St Antony said, ‘This is a man’s chief task: always to blame himself before God for his sins.’418 ‘Why are you weeping?’ Abba Dioskoros was asked by his disciple; and he replied, ‘I am weeping for my sins.’419 Present-day Athonite monks would give the same answer.
Yet this second way of interpreting the monastic vocation does not necessarily contradict the first. Even if, in repenting, a monk thinks only of his own indigence and helplessness in God’s sight, even if he does not think that he is guarding the walls and supporting others, none the less through his repentance or ‘change of mind’ (metanoia) he is in fact doing precisely that. In the words of Fr Irénée Hausherr, SJ, ‘All progress in sanctity realized by one member profits every member; each ascent to God establishes a new point of contact between Him and humankind as such; every oasis of spirituality renders the desert of this world less savage and uninhabitable.’420 St Seraphim of Sarov (1754–1833) made the same point more succinctly: ‘Acquire inner peace, and thousands around you will find salvation.’421
It is here, in the words of Fr Irénée and St Seraphim, that we find the answer to an objection often made against monasticism, whether on Athos or elsewhere. What service, it is asked, does the monk render to society at large? Is not the monastic life selfish? Various answers can of course be offered. First, through their writings on theology and spirituality, many monks have given support to the Church as a whole. So far as Athos is concerned, one of the most encouraging fruits of the renewal that has taken place since the late 1960s has been the marked increase in the number of valuable books that the monks have produced. Second, hospitality has always been regarded as an essential part of the monastic vocation. By opening its doors to pilgrims and visitors of all kinds, the monastery reaches out to the stranger, the unchurched, the outcast. Even if the vast increase in visitors in recent decades has meant that Athonite hospitality is now sometimes distant and perfunctory, yet in principle every guest is to be received ‘as if he were Christ Himself ’, as the rule of St Benedict states,422 and as the Athonite tradition also affirms.
A third and more fundamental service rendered by monks to the outside world is the ministry of spiritual counsel. The hermit who, like St Antony, withdraws into solitude solely because of his thirst for perfection, often becomes in later life, exactly as St Antony did, a guide to others, an ‘elder’ (geron, starets), bringing hope and healing not only to his fellow monks but equally to a multitude of lay people.423 Significantly, the present Athonite renewal has been blessed by a group of outstanding spiritual fathers, such as Fr Vasileios of Iviron (formerly of Stavronikita), Fr Aimilianos of Simonopetra, Fr George of Grigoriou, Fr Ephraim, formerly of Philotheou (now in America), the late Fr Joseph of Vatopedi, and the late Fr Paisios, to mention but a few. Without the presence of such ‘elders’, the Athonite renaissance could never have taken place. Their sphere of influence has extended throughout the whole of Greece, and indeed far beyond.
None of these answers, however, goes to the heart of the matter. The basic and primary service rendered by the monk to humankind as a whole is quite simply to pray. He helps others not just through explicit prayers of intercession but through all his prayer, through his communion with God at every level of his daily life. As Fr Irénée and St Seraphim appreciated, such communion with God operates dynamically as a positive force, transfiguring the world. It is prayer that makes both monk and layman a ‘man for others’; and if the monasteries are par excellence houses of prayer, they are most certainly serving society at large. Olivier Clément was right to claim that if a few people, whether monastics or lay persons, turn their lives into prayer – prayer that is ‘pure’ and to all appearances quite useless – they transform the world by the sole fact of their presence, by their very existence.424
This threefold ideal, as set forth by the monastic pioneers in fourth-century Egypt, still remains the ideal of Athonite monasticism in the twenty-first century. The monks of contemporary Athos, in common with their predecessors seventeen centuries ago, are engaged on the pursuit of perfection; they are seeking to love and serve their brethren; and they are guarding the walls of the human city through their repentance and their continual prayer. Underlying all three forms of the monastic life – the eremitic, the cenobitic and the middle way – there is a single leitmotif, the quest for freedom. As the Athonite monks said to Jakob Fallmerayer, ‘Here you will find … the greatest of all blessings – freedom and inward peace.’ The monastic discipline of poverty, chastity, and obedience can easily be formulated in negative terms – no money, no wife, no independence – yet in reality its purpose is supremely positive: it is the doorway to personal liberation.
This point is rightly emphasized in the ‘Announcement’ issued by the Athonite monastery of Koutloumousiou early in 2009. The monk, it is said here, ‘possesses nothing’, and so ‘he is possessed by nothing’.425 ‘The Holy Mountain’, continue the Fathers of Koutloumousiou, ‘… professes freedom of spirit – an axial point in Orthodoxy.’ Every monastic community is ‘a miniature of the Church’. ‘The Holy Mountain does not belong to anyone …. It belongs to the Mother of God …. It is the centuries-old fruit of the collaboration between God and His saints.’ As an expression of the synergeia or ‘co-working’ between divine grace and human freedom (see 1Cor. 3: 9), Athos initiates its members into what St Paul terms ‘the glorious liberty of the children of God’ (Rom. 8: 21).
Such, then, is a third distinctive feature, manifesting the universality of the Holy Mountain: its comprehensive character, embracing as it does the three paradigmatic forms of the monastic vocation. There remains a fourth feature that makes Athos exceptional, if not unique: the special protection that the Holy Mountain enjoys from the Mother of God, its privileged status as the Garden and Sanctuary of the Panagia.
The Theotokos signifies many different things for the Athonite monk, but she may be seen above all as the defender and patron of one thing in particular: creative silence. This aspect of Athonite spirituality is developed especially by St Gregory Palamas in a homily written around 1334, while he was still living on the Mountain, in honour of the feast of the Entry of the Mother of God into the Temple (21 November).426 How, asks Palamas, are we to understand the childhood years that Mary spent, according to ancient tradition, in the Temple at Jerusalem, secluded in the profound silence of the Holy of Holies? We are to see her, he answers, as a model of the contemplative life, as the supreme hesychast, the one who more than any other person has attained genuine hesychia, stillness, or silence of heart.
Entering the Temple, states Palamas, Mary severed all links with secular and earthly things, renouncing the world, ‘living for God alone’, choosing a hidden existence invisible to outside eyes, a ‘life of stillness’. Enclosed within the Holy of Holies, her situation was like that of the hermits and ascetics who dwell in ‘mountains and deserts and caves of the earth’ (cf. Heb. 11: 38). Her residence in the Temple, interpreted in this way as a ‘desert’ experience, was an anticipation of monasticism. There she learnt to subject her ‘ruling intellect’ (nous) to God, leading an angelic life, initiated into theoria or contemplation, and practising continual prayer. Transfigured by the divine light, she saw the uncreated God reflected in the purity of her heart as in a mirror.427 And her means of access to all these mysteries of inner prayer was precisely hesychia, stillness:
It was holy stillness that guided her on her path; the stillness that signifies cessation of the intellect and of the world, forgetfulness of things below, initiation into things above, the shedding and transcending of thoughts. Such stillness is true action, the ascent to genuine contemplation or, to speak more truly, to the vision of God … She alone among all humankind from such an early age practised stillness to a surpassing degree … She made a new and secret road to heaven, the road – if I may so express it – of noetic silence.428
Reading these words of Palamas about the inner stillness of the Mother of God, we are led to ask: what then is the true meaning of silence, whether for the Athonite monk or for the Christian in the midst of society? Evidently, for Palamas it is not merely negative, a pause between words, an absence of sound. He views it on the contrary in highly positive terms: it is not emptiness but fullness, not an absence but a presence. There are of course many different kinds of silence, and some of them are indeed highly negative, signifying not openness but closure and exclusion. But the hesychia of the Holy Virgin, about which Palamas speaks, denotes not rejection of the Other but relationship, not distance but communion. Stillness of heart is basically nothing else than an attitude of listening. In the words of Max Picard, ‘Listening is only possible when there is silence in man: listening and silence belong together.’429 The Psalmist does not simply say, ‘Be still’, but ‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Ps. 45 : 10): stillness is not vacancy but precisely God-awareness, listening to God. In the Gospels the Virgin Mary is in fact presented to us precisely as the one who listens, who waits on God in attentive silence, pondering things in her heart (Luke 2: 19; 2: 51; cf. 11: 28), who tells others to hearken to her Son ( John 2: 5).
This creative stillness, this silent God-awareness, that characterizes the Mother of God is at the same time one of the most precious qualities of the Holy Mountain. If Mary is protector of Athos, then she is above all protector of the stillness, both outer and inner, that marks Athonite spirituality. Few if any have described this Athonite stillness better than the English Orthodox Gerald Palmer, who was over several decades an annual pilgrim to the Holy Mountain:
It was midday on 6 August 1968. The motorboat from Daphni stopped at the harbour of Simonopetra. No one else landed, so after a friendly greeting from the monk on the jetty, I started climbing alone up the steep path as the motorboat went down the coast. After some twenty minutes or so, I reached the point where the path from the monastery of Grigoriou joins the track from the right. Here, at the junction, there is a small shrine with a Cross and stone seats under the shade of a roof; the open sides of the little building give wide views over the sea to the next peninsula. Having reverenced the Cross, I sat down in the shade and looked out across the sea, listening to the silence.
All was still.
Immediately, I felt that now at last I was back on the Holy Mountain, and thanked God for once again giving me this immense privilege.
All was still.
This stillness, this silence, is everywhere, pervades all, is the very essence of the Holy Mountain. The distant sound of a motorboat serves only to punctuate the intensity of the quiet; the lizard’s sudden rustling among the dry leaves, a frog plopping into a fountain, are loud and startling sounds, but merely emphasize the immense stillness. Often as one walks over the great stretches of wild country which form much of this sacred ground, following paths where every stone breathes prayers, it is impossible to hear a sound of any kind. Even in the monastery churches, where the silence is, as it were, made more profound by the darkness, by the beauty and by the sacred quality of the place, it seems that the reading and chanting of priests and monks in the endless rhythm of their daily and nightly ritual is no more than a thin fringe of a limitless ocean of silence.
But this stillness, this silence, is far more than a mere absence of sound. It has a positive quality, a quality of fullness, of plenitude, of the eternal Peace which is there reflected in the Veil of the Mother of God, enshrouding and protecting her Holy Mountain, offering inner silence, peace of heart, to those who dwell there and to those who come with openness of heart to seek this blessing.
May many be blessed to guard here this peace or to bear it away as a lasting gift of grace.430
Threats and Hopes
It would be comforting, yet at the same time seriously misleading, to end our discussion of the distinctive features of the Holy Mountain with this moving testimony. But if Gerald Palmer could return to Athos today, some forty-three years later, would he find the same stillness? How far are this particular characteristic of Athonite monasticism, and indeed the other three distinctive features that have been mentioned, to be seen as safe and secure under present-day conditions? Or are they under threat?
There is little or no need to express anxiety about the third of the distinctive features, namely the diversity of monastic vocations that coexist on the Holy Mountain. All three forms of life – the eremitic, the cenobitic, and the middle way – continue to thrive on Athos today as in the past, and there is every reason to expect that they will do so in the future. Back in the 1960s it was the Greek sketes such as Great St Anne or New Skete that displayed the greatest vitality, whereas a number of the twenty ‘ruling’ monasteries were in a state of perilous decline. Today there has been a renewal in almost all the ‘ruling’ monasteries, and none of them is in danger of extinction; at the same time the Greek sketes remain fully active. The Mountain, so it may be hoped with reasonable confidence, will not cease to be in this way a genuine microcosm of the varied monastic vocations to be found in the Christian East.
Sadly, as regards the other three features of Athonite monasticism, the situation is more problematic. Let us take first the second feature, the pan-Orthodox character of the Holy Mountain. There is a substantial body of evidence, dating from the period 1970–2000, which indicates that persons of non-Greek origin, particularly Romanians and Russians, confront obstacles when seeking to become monks on Athos, such as are not encountered by Greeks.431 Why should this be so? Certainly the opposition does not come from the Greek houses on the Holy Mountain; on the contrary, on several occasions the Holy Community has protested against the difficulties created for non-Greeks. It may be that the Greek Foreign Office has reasons to discourage the admission of Slavs and Romanians, but precise information on this matter is hard to obtain. Unfortunately there is direct evidence to suggest that the present Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has obstructed the entry of non-Greeks. During the past decade the situation seems to have grown somewhat easier, and there has been a modest yet significant increase in numbers at all the non-Greek houses.
Any attempt to turn Athos into a Greek enclave, if such an attempt is indeed being made, would be directly contrary to the international treaties governing the Holy Mountain. It would also be directly contrary to the 1924/26 Constitutional Charter of Athos, ratified by the Greek state. It would likewise contravene the principles of the European Union, of which Greece is a member. Above all it contradicts, in a blatant and shameful manner, the pan-Orthodox spirit that has prevailed from the beginning in the monastic republic of Athos. The Mountain has never been the exclusive preserve of any national group. For ten centuries it has been a centre of ecumenical Orthodoxy, and may it always remain so. Yet, to ensure this, there is need of continuing vigilance.
If there are grounds for disquiet concerning the second of our four distinctive features, our misgivings are greatly increased when we turn to the first and the fourth features. The natural beauty of the Holy Mountain is being eroded, and so also is the quality of its silence. I am glad that I first visited Athos as long ago as 1961 and 1962, and so I was able to see the Mountain in its ‘pre-industrial’ state. There were at that time virtually no motorized vehicles on the Mountain. The Russian monastery had a lorry, to transport logs from its upland woods, and I was told that Hilandar had a tractor, donated by Tito, but I never saw it. That, I think, was all. There were no dirt tracks leading from one monastery to another, and there was no bus between the port of Daphni and the monastic capital of Karyes. Pilgrims in the early 1960s used the cobbled mule-paths, or travelled in small motor boats, far more modest than the bulky ships that now ply along the Athonite coasts.
Now undoubtedly Athos could not remain indefinitely in this ‘preindustrial’ condition. Some sort of modernization was inevitable and, indeed, desirable. There is, after all, nothing intrinsically sacred about oil lamps or transport by mules. It is possible to lead a genuinely ascetic life, while at the same time making use of electricity, hot water, and central heating. Roads can be constructed and maintained with ecological sensitivity. Buildings can be restored with a proper use of traditional materials. If this did not always happen in the 1950s and 1960s, with the imposition of a concrete roof on the Protaton in Karyes and the destruction of the wooden balconies at Dionysiou, it may be hoped that such mistakes will not be repeated in the future. Fortunately there are no motor roads on the southern tip of the peninsula, between Lavra and Prodromou, on the one side, and Great St Anne on the other. In view of the precipitous character of the terrain, it is likely that this region, which forms the very heart of Athos, its Holy of Holies, will remain for ever a non-motorized ‘temenos’. Yet here again there is great need for vigilance.
Vigilance is needed still more to safeguard the stillness of the Mountain. ‘If I were a doctor,’ said Søren Kierkegaard, ‘and were asked for my advice, I should reply: Create silence!’432 Is there not need for such a doctor on the Holy Mountain today? The proliferation of mobile phones, the coming and going of motor vehicles, the whining of chain saws in the depths of the forest – all these are making it more difficult to listen to the silence, in the way that Gerald Palmer could do back in 1968. Journeying on Athonite soil, it is still possible to feel with Fr Nikon, ‘Here every stone breathes prayers.’ But the ‘eloquent silence’ – to borrow a phrase from Marius Victorinus (fourth century)433 – which has always been such an outstanding characteristic of the Holy Mountain, is now growing more and more elusive.
Robert Byron, in a famous phrase, referred to the Holy Mountain as ‘station of a faith where all the years have stopped’.434 Is that still true? Yes and no. The Mountain has indeed continued to be a bastion of Holy Tradition, a treasure house of the past. Yet the tradition that Athos embodies has never ceased to be a living tradition, in which conservatism is mixed with change, and ritual goes hand-in-hand with renewal. In the past half-century during which it has been my privilege to make regular visits to Athos, there have in fact been many new developments on the Mountain, and most of them have been for the good. In particular, the positive influence of Athos on the outside world, non-Orthodox as well as Orthodox, has markedly increased.
Yet at least three of the four distinctive features that I have singled out as serving to set Athos apart as the Holy Mountain, unequalled and unique, are today under threat to a greater or lesser degree. The heritage of Athos is not only a gift but a challenge and a summons. Today, as never before, there is a need for all who value Athos to become consciously aware of what this heritage signifies and how it must be constantly defended. And yet in the last resort it is not we who protect the Holy Mountain but the Holy Mountain that protects us.
Amand de Mendieta, E., Mount Athos the Garden of the Panagia (Berlin/Amsterdam, 1972).
Athanasios the Athonite, First Life, ed. J. Noret, Corpus Christianorum Series Graeca 9 (Turnhout/Leuven, 1982).
Bonsall, L., ‘The Benedictine Monastery of St Mary on Mount Athos’, Eastern Churches Review, 2:3 (1969), 262–7.
Bryer, A., and Cunningham, M. (eds), Mount Athos and Byzantine Monasticism, Papers from the Twenty-eighth Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, Birmingham, March, 1994 (Aldershot, 1996).
Byron, R., The Station. Athos: Treasures and Men (London, 1949).
Dawkins, R. M., The Monks of Athos (London, 1936).
della Dora, V., Imagining Mount Athos: Visions of a Holy Place from Homer to World War II (Charlottesville/London, 2011).
Ebanoizde, M., and Wilkinson, J., Pilgrimage to Mount Athos, Constantinople and Jerusalem 1755–1759: Timothy Gabashvili, Georgian Studies on the Holy Land, vol. 1 (Richmond, 2001).
Fennell, N., The Russians on Athos (Oxford/Bern, 2001).
Gothóni, R., Paradise within Reach: Monasticism and Pilgrimage on Mt Athos (Helsinki, 1993).
Grdzelidze, T., Georgian Monks on Mount Athos. Two Eleventh-Century Lives of the Hegoumenoi of Iviron (London, 2009).
Kitromilides, P. M., Enlightenment, Nationalism, Orthodoxy: Studies in the Culture and Political Thought of South-eastern Europe, Variorum Collected Studies Series CS 453 (Aldershot, 1994).
––, An Orthodox Commonwealth: Symbolic Legacies and Cultural Encounters in Southeastern Europe, Variorum Collected Studies Series CS 891 (Aldershot, 2007).
Loch, S., Athos: the Holy Mountain (London, 1957).
Nikolaos (Hatzinikolaou), Metropolitan of Mesogaia, Mount Athos: The Highest Place on Earth (Athens, 2007).
Plested, M., ‘Athos and the West: Benedictines, Crusaders, and Philosophers’, in Graham Speake (ed.), Friends of Mount Athos: Annual Report 2007 (2008), pp. 43–54.
Riley, A., Athos or the Mountain of the Monks (London, 1887).
Robinson, N. F., Monasticism in the Orthodox Churches (London/Milwaukee, 1916).
Sherrard, P., Athos the Mountain of Silence (London, 1960); 2nd ed., Athos the Holy Mountain (London, 1982).
––, ‘The Paths of Athos’, Eastern Churches Review, 9:1–2 (1977), 100–7.
Smyrnakis, G., To Agion Oros (Athens, 1903).
Speake, Graham, Mount Athos: Renewal in Paradise (New Haven/London, 2002).
Valentin, J., The Monks of Mount Athos (London, 1960).
Ware, Kallistos, ‘Athos after Ten Years: The Good News and the Bad’, in Graham Speake (ed.), Friends of Mount Athos: Annual Report 1992 (1993), pp. 8–17; reprinted in Sobornost Incorporating Eastern Churches Review, 15:1 (1993), 27–37.
––, ‘Mount Athos Today’, Christian, 3:4 (1976), 322–33.
––, ‘St Nikodimos and the Philokalia’, in D. Conomos and G. Speake (eds), Mount Athos the Sacred Bridge: The Spirituality of the Holy Mountain (Oxford/Bern, 2005), pp. 69–121.
––, ‘Three Different Views of the Holy Mountain: Athos through the Eyes of F. W. Hasluck, R. M. Dawkins and P. Sherrard’, in M. Llewellyn Smith, P. M. Kitromilides and E. Calligas (eds), Scholars, Travels, Archives: Greek History and Culture through the British School at Athens, British School at Athens Studies 17 (London, 2009), pp. 111–23.
––, ‘Two British Pilgrims to the Holy Mountain: Gerald Palmer and Philip Sherrard’, in R. Gothóni and G. Speake (eds), The Monastic Magnet: Roads to and from Mount Athos (Oxford/Bern, 2008), pp. 143–57.
––, ‘Wolves and Monks: Life on the Holy Mountain Today’, Sobornost Incorporating Eastern Churches Review, 5:2 (1983), 56–68.
* * *
From the poem ‘No worst, there is none’: Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, 3rd edition by W. H. Gardner (London, 1948), p. 107. Robert Macfarlane used Hopkins’s words for the title of his book Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination (London, 2003).
Metropolitan Nikolaos (Hatzinikolaou) of Mesogaia, Mount Athos: The Highest Place on Earth, translated by Caroline Makropoulos (Athens, 2007). The original Greek appeared in 2000 (Athens).
Philip Sherrard, Athos the Mountain of Silence (London, 1960), p. 2. On Fallmerayer and the Holy Mountain, see Veronica della Dora, Imagining Mount Athos: Visions of a Holy Place from Homer to World War II (Charlottesville/London, 2011), pp. 192–3.
The Life of Moses 2. 68 : ‘ugly and noisy amphibians, leaping about, not only unpleasant to the sight, but also having a foul-smelling skin’. But Gregory had in mind here the plagues of Egypt (Exod. 8: 2).
On the shadow of Athos (in the evening, not the morning), see Apollonius Rhodius 1. 601–6, quoted in della Dora, Imagining Mount Athos, p. 20.
See Philip Clayton and Arthur Peacocke (eds), In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being: Panentheistic Reflections on God’s Presence in a Scientific World (Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge, UK, 2004), especially the essays by Niels Henrik Gregersen and David Ray Griffin; and compare my own comments on pp. 157–9.
Letter to Thomas Butts (22 November 1802), in Geoffrey Keynes (ed.), Poetry and Prose of William Blake (London, 1948), p. 860.
The Gospel according to Thomas, Logion 77.
For a photograph of Fr Nikon, see Graham Speake, Mount Athos: Renewal in Paradise (New Haven/London, 2002), p. 228.
‘The Paths of Athos’, Eastern Churches Review, 9: 1–2 (1977), 100–7. The main substance of this article is included in the second edition of Sherrard’s book Athos the Mountain of Silence (see note 3), which appeared under the slightly different title Athos the Holy Mountain (London, 1982); see pp. 48–53.
First Life of Athanasios the Athonite 158 (ed. J. Noret, pp. 74–5).
See Tamara Grdzelidze, Georgian Monks on Mount Athos: Two Eleventh-Century Lives of the Hegoumenoi of Iviron (London, 2009), pp. 53–94. For an eighteenth-century description of Athos by a Georgian archbishop, see Mzia Ebanoizde and John Wilkinson, Pilgrimage to Mount Athos, Constantinople and Jerusalem 1755–1759: Timothy Gabashvili, Georgian Studies on the Holy Land, vol. 1, Caucasus World Series (Richmond, 2001).
For an interesting portrayal of Hilandar, with some reference to its early history, see Sydney Loch, Athos: the Holy Mountain (London, 1957), pp. 27–45.
Speake, Mount Athos, p. 81.
On the exclusion of women from the Holy Mountain, see Alice-Mary Talbot, ‘Women and Mt Athos’, in Anthony Bryer and Mary Cunningham (eds), Mount Athos and Byzantine Monasticism, Papers from the Twenty-eighth Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, Birmingham, March 1994 (Aldershot, 1996), pp. 67–79.
See Article 5 of the 1975 Constitution, cited in Speake, Mount Athos, p. 162.
See Dom Leo Bonsall, OSB, ‘The Benedictine Monastery of St Mary on Mount Athos’, Eastern Churches Review, 2: 3 (1969), 262–7; Marcus Plested, above pp. 97–106; and idem, ‘Athos and the West: Benedictines, Crusaders, and Philosophers’, in Graham Speake (ed.), Friends of Mount Athos: Annual Report 2007 (published in 2008), pp. 43–54.
Cyril of Scythopolis, Life of Sabas 20; cf. John Binns, Ascetics and Ambassadors of Christ: The Monasteries of Palestine, 314–631 (Oxford, 1994), p. 171.
Derwas Chitty, The Desert a City (Oxford, 1966), p. 170.
Dimitri Obolensky, Six Byzantine Portraits (Oxford, 1988), p. 120.
The Slavonic translations of the liturgical texts made by Cyril and Methodios, and by their disciples, were used only outside the frontiers of the Byzantine empire, not within it.
Paschalis M. Kitromilides, ‘“Balkan Mentality”: History, Legend, Imagination’, Nations and Nationalism, 2 (1996), 170–1, 181; reprinted in Paschalis M. Kitromilides, An Orthodox Commonwealth: Symbolic Legacies and Cultural Encounters in Southeastern Europe, Variorum Collected Studies Series CS 891 (Aldershot, 2007), article 1.
Kitromilides, ‘“Balkan Mentality”’, p. 176. On Dapontes, see also R. M. Dawkins, The Monks of Athos (London, 1936), pp. 65–73.
On Rajić, see Paschalis M. Kitromilides, ‘The Enlightenment East and West: A Comparative Perspective on the Ideological Origins of the Balkan Political Traditions’, Canadian Review of Studies in Nationalism, 10: 1 (Charlottetown, PEI, 1983), 58; reprinted in Paschalis M. Kitromilides, Enlightenment, Nationalism, Orthodoxy: Studies in the Culture and Political Thought of South-eastern Europe, Variorum Collected Studies Series CS 453 (Aldershot, 1994), article 1. On Paisy, see Paschalis M. Kitromilides, ‘Athos and the Enlightenment’, in Bryer and Cunningham (eds), Mount Athos and Byzantine Monasticism, p. 271; reprinted in Kitromilides, An Orthodox Commonwealth, article VII.
The story is well recounted by Nicholas Fennell, The Russians on Athos (Oxford/ Bern, 2001), chapters 2–5.
I take these figures from Gerasimos Smyrnakis, To Agion Oros (Athens, 1903), p. 707. For Athonite statistics in the twentieth century, see Speake, Mount Athos, pp. 169, 174; René Gothóni, Paradise within Reach: Monasticism and Pilgrimage on Mt Athos (Helsinki, 1993), pp. 30–2.
Athelstan Riley, Athos or the Mountain of the Monks (London, 1887), pp. 241–50.
The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 1 (PG 88: 641D).
For a careful analysis of the various types of monastic life on Athos, see N. F. Robinson, SSJE, Monasticism in the Orthodox Churches (London/Milwaukee, 1916), pp. 3–24; compare Emmanuel Amand de Mendieta, Mount Athos the Garden of the Panagia (Berlin/Amsterdam, 1972), pp. 177–213. The idiorrhythmic form of life has now disappeared from the twenty ‘ruling’ monasteries (Speake, Mount Athos, pp. 181–2), but there still exist what are known as ‘idiorrhythmic sketes’, such as Great St Anne.
Jacques Valentin, in his book The Monks of Mount Athos (London, 1960), p. 37, claims to have seen one such naked boskos on a balcony in the monastery of St Panteleimon. In general, however, Athonite monks display a deep reserve towards the naked human body, as visitors who bathe in the sea within sight of a monastery will quickly discover to their cost.
Athanasios, Life of Antony 2.
First Greek Life of Pachomios 4–5; compare Bohairic Life 7–8. See Armand Veilleux, Pachomian Koinonia, vol. 1, Cistercian Studies Series 45 (Kalamazoo, MI, 1980), pp. 27–8, 300.
These exist in two main redactions, the ‘alphabetical’ (under the names of specific persons) and the ‘systematic’ (under particular themes). Both have been translated by Sister Benedicta Ward, SLG: The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, revised edition (London/Oxford, 1981); The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks (London, 2003). Compare Kallistos Ware, ‘The Desert Fathers and the Love of Others’, in Graham Speake (ed.), Friends of Mount Athos: Annual Report 2009 (published in 2010), pp. 21–37.
Palladios, Lausiac History 18.
Historia Monachorum in Aegypto, Prologue §§ 10 and 9: in The Lives of the Desert Fathers, tr. Norman Russell, Cistercian Studies Series 34 (London/Oxford/Kalamazoo, MI, 1981), p. 50.
See Sister Benedicta Ward, introduction to The Lives of the Desert Fathers, pp. 12–13.
Apophthegmata, alphabetical collection, Antony 4.
Apophthegmata, alphabetical collection, Dioskoros 2.
‘L’hésychasme. Etude de spiritualité’, Orientalia Christiana Periodica, 22 (1956), 23; reprinted in Irénée Hausherr, Hésychasme et prière, Orientalia Christiana Analecta 176 (1966), p. 181.
See Archimandrite Lazarus Moore, An Extraordinary Peace: St Seraphim, Flame of Sarov (Port Townsend, WA, 2009), pp. 30, 83.
The rule of St Benedict, §53.
See Kallistos Ware, ‘What do we mean by Spiritual Guidance?’ in Graham Speake (ed.), Friends of Mount Athos: Annual Report 2010 (published 2011), pp. 22–8.
Byzance et le christianisme (Paris, 1964), p. 18.
It is true that many of the cenobitic houses on the Holy Mountain own landed property or urban apartment buildings; but these are not personal but collective possessions, and the income from them helps the monasteries to keep their buildings in repair and to meet the heavy expense of entertaining visitors. Yet, as the recent difficulties at Vatopedi indicate, there is always a danger that such collective possessions may interfere with the inner freedom of the monks.
Homily 53, ed. P. K. Christou, Ellines Pateres tis Ekklesias, vol. 79 (Thessaloniki, 1986), pp. 260–346; English translation by Christopher Veniamin, Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies (Waymart, PA, 2009), pp. 414–44. Homily 52 (Christou, pp. 238–56; Veniamin, pp. 407–13) is also devoted to the Mother of God. Briefer and later in date, composed in the 1350s when Palamas was Archbishop of Thessaloniki, it does not however develop the theme of Mary’s hesychia, as is done in Homily 53. See Kallistos Ware, ‘The Feast of Mary’s Silence: The Entry into the Temple (21 Nov)’, in Dom Alberic Stacpoole, OSB, Mary in Doctrine and Devotion, Papers of the Liverpool Congress, 1989, of the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Dublin, 1990), pp. 34–41.
Homily 53, §§ 18, 21, 22, 45, 47, 49, 50, 53, 59 (Christou, pp. 282, 286, 288, 318, 322, 324, 326, 328, 338; Veniamin, pp. 422, 423, 424, 434, 435, 436, 438, 441).
Homily 53, §§ 52, 53, 59 (Christou, pp. 328, 330, 338; Veniamin, pp. 437–8 [translation altered]).
The World of Silence (London, no date), p. 177.
Quoted in Kallistos Ware, ‘Mount Athos Today’, Christian, 3: 4 (1976), 324–5. This text was originally published anonymously in Orthodox Life ( Jordanville, NY), Nov.–Dec. 1968, p. 33.
See Speake, Mount Athos, pp. 184–92; also Kallistos Ware, ‘Athos after Ten Years: The Good News and the Bad’, in Graham Speake (ed.), Friends of Mount Athos: Annual Report 1992 (published in 1993), pp. 8–17, especially pp. 15–16; reprinted in Sobornost Incorporating Eastern Churches Review, 15: 1 (1993), 27–37, especially pp. 34–5.
Quoted in Picard, The World of Silence, p. 231.
Marius Victorinus, Against the Heresies 3. 16.
The Station. Athos: Treasures and Men, with an introduction by Christopher Sykes (London, 1949), p. 256 (first published in 1928).