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Athos - Mountain of Silence P Sherrard Pt1

Athos - Mountain of Silence P Sherrard Pt1

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Published by: phorm on Apr 02, 2011
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Athos, the Holy Mountain. . . . .



The History of Athonite Monasticism


The Organization of Monastic Life on Athos

The Life of the Monk. .

The Contemplative Life .



I .1



From the northern seaboard of Greece, from the low, treeless shore-of Chalkidike, three long arms reach out into the Aegean. Should you travel by boat from Salonika and sail eastwards, you must cross the long bay with that treeless shore to your left and with Olympos, snow-capped and towering, on your right, until the first of those three arms compels you out into the open. It is then that there rises upon your view the high ridge of the third and fmal arm running some thirty wooded miles out into the sea, and culminating at length in a single perfect peak, six thousand feet sheer from the water, white against the blue summer sky: Mount Athos, the Holy Mountain.

'The high pique or Peere thereof', wrote Sir Paul Rycaut of that Mountain in r679, 'is ... as uneven, I craggy and horrid as Caucasus; but somewhat beneath it is covered with trees, shrubs, and boscage.' From it, standing by the small beehive church of the Metamorphosis that like a glittering minuscule tips its naked marble shoulders, you can, on a clear day, see to the east the tiny contours ofLemnos and

the coast of Asia Minor: the plains of Troy, whence another traveller looked westward and saw this same peak' towering up from the horizon, like a vast spirit of the waters, when the rest of the peninsula 2 is concealed below'. In the north, all the coastline of Thrace, Kavalla, and Alexandroupolis winds away

to the junction of the Dardanelles, with Turkey's European remnant uncertain through the haze. In the west, molten at evening in the copper furnace of the setting sun, the other two arms of Chalkidike, Longos and Cassandra, rise one above the other in the sea; while, further south, another uncertain shape proclaims Euboea and the satellite Skiathos, the' Shadow of Athos'. At dawn, on the most lucid

of days, you can see, as all the Orthodox world knows, Constantinople and the flat dome of St. Sophia,

as Christ saw the old Byzantium when the devil brought him to this peak to tempt him.

Below this peak, the wooded ridge of the Mountain, at no place wider than five, and in some places only two, miles across, runs its thirty-odd miles northwards until it joins, by a narrow isthmus, the mainland. 'Our road', wrote Robert Curzon, journeying along this ridge ~ the early nineteenth 3 century- 'Our road lay through some of th~ most beautiful scenery imaginable. The dark blue sea was on my right at about two miles distance; the rocky path over which I passed was of white alabaster with brown and yellow veins; odoriferous evergreen shrubs were all around me; and on my left were the lofty hills covered with a dense forest of gigantic trees which extended to the base of the great white marble peak of the mountain.' Small green valleys finger into the hills, their slopes all covered with olives and vines, ilex and arbutus, the latter often swathed in tangles of the wild smilax. In autumn this creeper is hung with red berries in little bunches like scarlet grapes and it is then also that the male plant produces its tiny sweet-scented flowers. Clumps of the osmunda fern smother the ground. In early April Athos is a flower garden, a [ardin campestre, as one writer calls it. Great golden tufts of a fme St. John's wort, with grey leaves and big yellow flowers-Hypericum olympicum-line the paths, and above them hang the bright purple flowers of the Judas tree and the white plumes of the Manna ash, Fraxinus ornus. Streams and springs murmur through the thick green shades, in summer spilling themselves quietly into the untroubled waters of an inlet of the sea, in winter pouring down in white angry cascades.

But the compulsion of the Mountain is not only its natural beauty. For here, in its valleys, or perched perilously on some steep crag above the brooding sea, rise the weathered walls of monastery and tower, cottage and chapel. For a thousand years and more Athos has been the earthly home of saint and hermit, the site of a sprawling and vivid monastic community. Its rich human history fills the atmosphere about

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The Monastery ofDionysiou on the western seaboard of the Athos peninsula.




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