Archbishop Jonah: Secret paths of mount Athos

“On Athos, everyone finds what he is looking for. Who wants to see the sanctity of the place and its inhabitants, gets it in abundance. Who is important to samoupravlanja, to find someone worse, will find this…” What to look for on the Holy Mountain and why people go there, says Archbishop Jonah of Obukhov.

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Here things are going well

Archbishop Jonah (Cherepanov)

On mount Athos I have been many times, and literally after the first visit realized: mother of God here explicitly Itself of all cares.

When I share this thought with people who regularly go to the Holy Mountain, all agree. On Athos, it is indeed possible to dwell in peace, without worrying that somewhere in time, somewhere travelwares, will something bad happen, you will miss the ferry or plane will not fall into some sort of Holy place. The mother of God are satisfied. And whatever happens, I always already know that the situation will change, and even the temptation of the Lord by the prayers of the blessed virgin will pay for the benefit.

The most striking example – the way to Athos and back. Traditionally the pilgrims get there by sea from Ouranoupoli. This is the last of the secular city to the Holy Mountain, then regularly go to the big ferries, which transport trucks and cars, and also numerous visitors of the Athonite monasteries. Although the Gulf is between the two branches of Halkidiki Peninsula — Athos and Sithonia, but there is a regular excitement, not allowing the ferries to go to sea.

I know of cases where people are painted by the minute: on such a day in Ouranoupoli awaits them in the van, and time just enough to get to the mainland and drive to the airport. And suddenly a storm warning, and the ferry does not go. The pilgrims despair; but not those who on mount Athos happens often. Who ride regularly, not worried and not worried, knowing that the virgin Mary will arrange everything.

Indeed, something inevitably happens: either open the NAV at the last moment, or is the car which will take you to the village along a mountain dirt road. (Due to its weak permeability, it is used only in extreme cases. It often happens scree, it blurs the rains and it is generally unsuitable for transport.)

Athos need help to see

Of course, the first time it is better to go with those who already were and will be able to see MT. We know the expression: in a strange monastery with its Charter, not walk. In any place there are certain standards of behavior, and the Holy Mountain is no exception. Should be appropriate clothes in the service need to adhere to specific rules, many things you should pay special attention.

You should also tell which route to choose, because a lot of monasteries, and although externally they are similar, but differ in internal structure and relationship to the pilgrims. For starters it would be good to get into the most welcoming, where you will be able to communicate with the brethren and the Abbot.

Our ioninsky monastery for more than ten years a friend of Dochiar monastery on mount Athos. It’s a Greek monastery, a well-known fact that it became famous for the miraculous icon of the Mother of God “quick to hearken”, and the rector of the elder Gregory. I will definitely go there twice a year: in the spring of lent on the feast of the Entry into Jerusalem and the fall on the feast day of Dohihara, Cathedral of the Archangel Michael.

In travel I try to take those priests or monks who have never been on mount Athos, and is unlikely to fall. This is possible thanks to the help of the Foundation “the Orthodox heritage of Ukraine on Mount Athos”, which each year helps to go to the Holy Mountain several priests.

Since all my companions go for the first time, I talk to them, tell Athens, engaged in the resettlement agree on the service, help to Orient, accompany Hiking. Usually travel involves also a particularly long Church services: have been told once that the service on feast day Dohere lasts a total of 22 hours. Starts at four p.m., and removed the clothing from me at the end of the communal meal, about two o’clock the next day.

Here are get rich in prayer and fellowship days.

The joys of simple pilgrim

But apart from that every few years (unfortunately, often does not work) I try to come to Athos to alone to walk around the monasteries and pray. Like in the retreat of many hermits to retire, after all, our ioninsky monastery is located in the city centre, and a place of peace it is difficult to call.

When was not yet a Bishop, was much simpler: no one knew me, I could come to any abode on the Holy Mountain, praying quietly in the corner without attracting attention. In perfect complacency moved from the monastery to the monastery every day to receive Holy communion because when present at all divine services, nothing prevents you to partake of Holy communion. And it really was a great joy.

It is difficult, because where you know that you are a Bishop, have to bear the difficulties associated with the Episcopal dignity. It is impossible to get out: “Please, we are supposed to obey the Charter…” During a Church service you put in the Abbot stasidia, you have to read in the Church, certain prayers, such as the publican Psalm, “Lord, Now lettest thou”, “Vouchsafe, o Lord”, “gladsome Light”… Several times during the service to bless all the brethren and pilgrims at the meal sitting in first place after a meal again bless the pilgrims.

The difficulty is that you are constantly in the spotlight. If earlier, when very tired, I could come to half of the service, or leave early, or go on the Liturgy, now you want-not required to be present from beginning to end. As Bishop, you mean and should be “at execution”.

But in those monasteries where no one knows me, everything is much simpler.

Time passes as a child

What’s individual the joy of walking on the Holy Mountain, is in contact with amazing nature. Real riot Athos subtropical vegetation, panoramas and views of the sea and the neighbouring Islands is a truly beautiful place, and not only in a spiritual sense.

Even in ancient times between the monasteries were laid tracks. Walk the trails, and within one mile, two, five – pebble to pebble on the highlands of neatly stacked stones. It’s amazing how many generations of monks lived here, and what legacy they left: a mile by mile stretches of pavement, paved on mountains, slopes, and sometimes in absolutely impassable places. What a Titanic work!

Around the wonderful peace, tranquility and… completely stopped.

Almost everyone who had been on the Holy Mountain, note that this time there is different. We are living in the dense rhythm of the city, it is hard to imagine. We woke up, prayed, went to work, do current Affairs — it’s already noon. Still a few things started, talked on the phone with someone talked it was evening. The day it passes.

On mount Athos not. Early in the morning you went on long service parametrical, talked with the elder, Abbot of the monastery, a little rest and only ten o’clock in the morning. Went to a nearby monastery, bowed to the Shrine, sat on the beach, enjoyed the beauty, walked on mountain trails, read the rule to Communion — just the hour of the day. And so rich, very tightly every day passes.

It reminds me of the feeling, as it was in childhood. Then an hour seemed an enormous amount of time. Because children are in angelic state, to what, exactly, is the goal of every Christian — the gentleness, simplicity, sincerity, purity. Maybe that’s why the Lord on mount Athos gives a special “children’s” time that flows slowly, slowly — as in childhood.

Private monastic property

…Walk the trails, admire the beauty, and the prayer itself comes to mind and heart. Praise the Lord, ask for His mercy — no emotions in such a situation simply does not arise.

It is interesting to get into the abandoned cells. As you know, on mount Athos are twenty monasteries, among which are distributed the whole territory of the Peninsula. (By the way, so the monks could keep the “avaton” (forbidden) for women to visit the Holy Mountain. In the West, are known to be very serious about the private ownership. Since on mount Athos there is not one square meter in common use — all land belongs to the monasteries, here legally, the rules established by the owners, that is, monks.)

Almost all the monasteries, there are monasteries, kellia and Kalyvia. The monastery — a small monastery, which is subordinate to the monastery, which houses. The cell is a house with a small Church, kaliva — house without the Church, where a few monks live.

Athos experienced periods of both prosperity and decline. As you know, at the turn of XIX-XX centuries monasticism flourished here. Russian monks, which could no longer accommodate Panteleimonov monastery, built a huge and St. Andrew Ilyinsky monasteries, dozens of individual cells.

After the revolutionary events of 1917, the influx of our countrymen on the Holy Mountain had collapsed, and many cells became desolate. When the monks who lived here died, the building began to collapse. Rare on Athos where cells were built for capital — as a rule, building material was stone, bonded with clay. So I damaged the roof, as the water immediately dilutes the masonry, and the construction just a few years in disrepair.

From time to time along the way such cells.

Only clothes left hanging on the hooks…

I like to visit abandoned places: it is interesting to imagine how there was seething life, people built, prayed and worked. Come and see: there was the refectory, the table, on the wall, a bright spot is probably from the icon. Next the mounting for the lamps, fading on the floor — place for the reader. Look out the window and think that the same sea views and admired your countrymen a hundred years ago…

Remember when in Panteleimon monastery at the Holy protection Cathedral stood at the service window, beyond which could be seen the domes of other churches, the sea, and thought: here, now the Cathedral filled with pilgrims, young monks. Life is in full swing, the monastery is restored, and at a rapid pace. But felt within these walls the monks thirties, forties, fifties of the twentieth century? Even though they were torn from their homeland, but knew what was happening. Understand what they are, though in distress, but dwell in peace, in the world, and believers in the Soviet Union have to suffer for the faith such persecution… What kind of feelings experienced Svyatogorsk monks, what were you thinking? Could it be assumed that the collapse of communism, again from the now former Soviet Union will come the monks, and the monastery will revive? Or visited their desperate thoughts: behold, we die, and nothing after us will be…

Themselves come to mind thoughts about eternity. Everything flows, everything changes, immutable only God for Whose sake he had carried his feat, generations of monks.

All the works of your hands sooner or later will go into oblivion, but the soul who loves the Lord alive and continue to praise its Creator.

It is noteworthy that Ukraine destroyed or neglected temples and monasteries, and thank God almost meet. In Russia, in particular in the Arkhangelsk region, where my relatives live, such a huge amount. Russian village in Soviet times, was virtually destroyed, and now the churches without crosses, with leaky roofs left standing literally in the middle of the forest. When we go there, can’t help but think about how hundreds of farmers bit by bit raised money to build the Shrine. As prayed, confessed, took communion, and baptized their children.

What’s interesting — I often dream of a dream in which I restore an abandoned temple. Go see the ruins and think where to start, what to do, where what to build.

Such thoughts arise in the abandoned mount Athos keliah. Interestingly, some of them were empty not so long ago, have preserved many details of the situation, and sometimes even clothes left hanging on the hooks. All this invisible connection with former residents.

Speed has its drawbacks

I think traveling to the Holy Mountain by car or by bus, to understand the silence and concentration of Athos is quite impossible.

Of course, speed has its advantages: one day to worship in the Vatopedi Belt of the Theotokos, Her icon “joy and Consolation”; then go to the capital of mount Athos Caries to venerate the icon “axion estin” from there to the monastery to the miraculous icon of the blessed virgin Mary “Fraternize”.

However, when on a dusty road in a shaking bus arrives all beat up, especially if recently on Athos, it is difficult to immediately understand what monasteries are different from each other. The same walls, architecture, temples and altars.

Yes, shrines are different, but the feeling why so many monasteries, and in them is life, is completely lost.

In my opinion, the intensive movement on Athos more disadvantages. Lost in tranquility, concentration. There is no possibility to spend the night in the monastery hotel, to be with the brethren in the refectory, to see how the monks behave during worship. Indeed, although the Charter is almost the same, each of the Svyatogorsk monastery has its own characteristics, traditions, characteristic features.

Arriving there only an hour, none of this, of course, will not see.

Monasteries within walking distance

This year the route of his Hiking on the Holy Mountain I built this way to visit the monasteries located at the distance of pedestrian crossings. Athos is great, and his time will not pass. So I decided to start from the Serbian monastery of chilandar, and finished the transition in the monastery Iviron.

In the Monastery stayed for two days. The monastery is very cozy, hospitable, the Serbs are close to us in mentality. Here, as in the Bulgarian monastery of Zograf, serve in Church Slavonic language, so worship is fully understandable.

Had the opportunity to walk around and visit the beautiful places in the vicinity: the monasteries of the Holy Trinity and St. Basil. One is located in the mountains near the gorge, the other by the sea. Walk to these Holy places is absolutely unforgettable.

From Hilandar monastery, went to Vatopedi. The path goes along the coast, and pilgrims walk here not so often, so for all — over three hours — I have not met a single person. You can imagine what a welcome relief from the city bustle and the comfort!

Vatopedi today — the most numerous Athos monastery. A huge number of monks, pilgrims; the singing, the service, the hotel — everything perfect, everything on “five with plus”.

The next monastery, where we stayed, was Pantokrator — in honor of the Transfiguration of the Lord Almighty. It’s more quiet, it is much less visitors, and the service was able to focus and privacy.

This last time was Iviron amazing monastery, where the wonder-working Iveron icon of the Mother of God.

When you pray with those who pray

Interestingly, service in the Greek language does not prevent the attentive prayer.

Because if you know the Orthodox Church and does not relate to what is happening in the Church as to what “now sing, and now I read”, even in another language, almost everything will be clear. Do you know what Vespers is served, just sang, “Lord, I have cried”, will now be “gladsome Light”, and “Lord, Now lettest thou”, Histoplasma and so on. And Liturgy is the same everywhere: it is clear where the cherubic hymn, “we praise Thee” and “it is”.

And when we pray with those who know how to pray, how would you get into the General flow of prayer. You literally picks up and carries a state of communion with God, love for God, gratitude to God, joy in the Lord.

Even without understanding word for word, we pray for those who are near, you feel like you miraculously passed their prayer.

“Stimulants” feats don’t work here

And on the Holy Mountain there are things that may embarrass, cause rejection. However, you need to understand that Athos is first and foremost human beings. Yes, they have come to serve the Lord. But what said St. John of the ladder about coming to the monastery? — “Their results or the love of God, or crying about sins.”

It is clear that people are imperfect. But they strive for perfection. Only one fact of his stay in the monastery people instantly is not changed, but it’s more serious struggles with his passions, infirmities and weaknesses.

On mount Athos, all spiritual problems are aggravated monk, because he goes to combat with an enemy of the human race. In the world some of the weakness was masked by vanity, others are not noticed, because everything is so live. Conversely, achievements in other cases fueled by vanity, narcissism (“I’m better — not like other chelovetsy”).

And only on mount Athos, the vast majority of people really Holy life, in any way cannot be vain, and vanity, as an “engine exploits”, there is no longer works.

If I am not mistaken, the monk Arsenius the Great, when he came to the monastery, after some time noticed that praying is much worse, less labor, became lazy, than when, being a ruler, was in the world and aspired to monasticism. He asked the elder why this is so, and received the answer that in the monastery he is surrounded by people who also came to contend, whereas previously it was in the midst of living in sin. “Your exploits are largely a result of vanity, because you were comparing yourself with these people”.

On the Holy Mountain of a man completely deprived of the “stimulator feats” — vanity — and learns to rely on God’s grace and not on our own strength.

Why go there

On mount Athos, everyone finds what he is looking for. Who wants to see the sanctity of the place and its inhabitants, gets it in abundance. Who is important to samoupravlanja, to find someone “worse”, will find it.

But absolutely everyone who gets to go, feel a special protection of the virgin. In the world there is no place, where you love God’s mother, trust in Her intercession and the intercession. Is a state of love to the mother of God immediately you sent. If he had been in the hands of the Mother of God — I would describe the overall impression from visiting the Holy Mountain.

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