The monasteries in Mount Athos are indeed something special. We often say that Greece is a unique country with a distinct beauty and areas that you can’t see anywhere else. All of this is true and the fact that Mount Athos is one of the most unique areas of our country confirms it. In reality, Mount Athos is an autonomous region of Greece and is located in the northern part of the country, on the easternmost peninsula of Halkidiki. It is home to 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries and has been a center of Orthodox Christian monasticism for over 1,000 years. The Guardian has also written about Mount Athos and its monasteries in a related article.
Mount Athos: The sacred mountain, the monasteries, and the cloisters
What we know, what we all learn about the Sacred Mountain from a young age, is that it is located on the peninsula of Halkidiki and that it has many monks. In all likelihood, most of us, too, think of Mount Athos as a… paradise of rest. We believe that there they do nothing but pray and since visits are allowed not but to stay there for as long as everyone wishes, we believe that it is truly an earthly paradise, in the logic that you will go there to rest and do nothing.
But that’s not the case… This is not the case at all, because visitors from the moment they decide to stay there, accept that they will follow the schedule of the monks. And their schedule is not that easy.
You will find on your trip that Mount Athos is a special place and a unique location one of its kind in the world.
They know this very well, as we mentioned above, in the Guardian, the famous British media that dealt extensively with Mount Athos, and how time seems to have stopped there in the 9th century when the first monks appeared in the area. Today, so many centuries later, on Mount Athos there are 20 monasteries and about 2000 monks, with most of them living inside the monasteries while there are those, clearly fewer, who choose to live as ascetics.
What does not exist on Mount Athos is the female presence since this is forbidden at least a distance of 500 meters from the coast. The reason, as the Guardian points out, is the fact that it is believed that the Virgin Mary visited the area and prayed to have it as her own. Also, the presence of women is believed to tempt monks and lead them to sin.
What dominates the life of the monks on Mount Athos, of course, is prayer. No surprise. As such can be considered only the fact that prayer can take place at any point of the day or even night. In fact, most of them take place during the night or too early, really too early in the morning, since the monks believe that during those hours of absolute silence, their prayers can be answered more easily.
They believe that in those hours they are closer to God, so they act accordingly. And this, we repeat, also applies to visitors when they want to pray. We said, life on Mount Athos may be unique in terms of peace and tranquility, but it is not easy.
Most may think that monks only pray all day, but the truth is different. Very different. The monks pray constantly, even when they eat, many do, but at the same time, they do many other things.
Such as cleaning visitors’ hostels, making wine, preparing dinner, or working on the construction or renovation of a monastery. Those who live in the cloisters live even more ascetic lives – but we will see this a little later. The monks on Mount Athos, in short, take care of everything they need to live. Food, wine, fruits, and vegetables, all produce on their own and of course, they take care of them on their own, they take care of all this.
And as they do all this, it is very common to listen, in a low voice, to their prayers, since they believe that whatever work has been assigned to them, they have been assigned by God. They do not cease, therefore, to thank Him for this and for what He gives them so that they can live exactly as they need. Without missing anything, despite the fact that time, we repeat, seems to have stopped in previous centuries.
There is, of course, the possibility that a monk does not want to live in one of the monasteries on Mount Athos. There is a possibility that he wants to live… Literally on the rock, in the cloisters, a small community that gives the possibility of isolation. And when we talk about isolation, the most secluded place on Mount Athos is known as Karoulia and is where the monks’ cells hang precariously on the edge of the cliff, with the wave breaking a few hundred feet below.
Why would a monk want to live there on Mount Athos? The answer is that in the cloisters he considers himself even closer to God. Also, some consider that life there, although in greater isolation, has more freedom than in the monastery, where there is a specific program that everyone must follow.
And it is impressive that one believes this, considering that until recently hermits could climb up to or down from their cell only with ropes or chains that passed over makeshift pulleys. It also has the element of adventure, among everything else.
Cloisters. A truly unique setting, since Mount Athos is truly a unique place. A place where you can come closer to God but also closer to yourself, choosing to stay there for a while. It is enough to know in advance, as the Guardian says, that this will not be an excursion but a difficult -and in the end pleasant test…