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Non-orthodox pilgrim's first visit to Mount Athos


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#41 Guillermo M.L.

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Posted 02 September 2010 - 08:50 PM

Some tips I think may be useful for future visitors:

* The permit for entering (the diamonitiron) is only examined strictly when taking the ferry on the first day. Usually this permit is valid for 4 days and 3 nights, and theorethically any extension to this permit must be done at a special office in Karyes. Truth is, this office in Karyes closes at 1 PM, so it not always possible to do this procedure, and pilgrims rarely perform this procedure in practice. Most pilgrims tend to overstay without extending the diamonitiron, and in the monasteries they normally don't care about it, that is, they do not look at the dates in the permit, only look that you have one. With this I am not encouraging anyone to bypass the formal procedures, just saying that overstaying should not take away one's sleep.

* Although it is required to make reservations to the monasteries one should stay, in fact this is not easy at all, especially for non-Greek pilgrims coming from abroad. The phone lines are noisy and the monks at the other end of the line speak broken English, making attempts at communication difficult. What is disconcerting as well is that each monastery has its own schedule for answering the phone, which is not easy to guess, so many times one gets no answer at all, or maybe a recorded answer in Greek, which is not useful to a person not fluent in the language. An alternative which may work better -but I didn't try it- is to make reservations by sending fax messages. This requires writing a message in Greek and be able to receive an answering fax confirming if the reservation was accepted or not. Still, it is possible to go there even without reservations (as I finally did). The clue resides in arriving to a monastery some little time before the monastery's closure (which in summer is between 8 and 9 PM)... if one is alone, and has arrived walking, the monks will not let you out. This will not work in the strictest monasteries regarding hosting (like Simonopetra, Agiou Panteleimonos and maybe Vatopedi) but will usually work in the others.

* If walking between monasteries, DO use a walking stick! Paths for pilgrims (monopati) are slippery, and a walking stick saves you from more than one nasty fall. Do not forget that if you are walking alone in the woods, and the monastery you are going to doesn't know yet that you are going there, a fall that disables you from walking further will leave you lying there, probably with no one finding you for days.

* If coming to the Mountain from abroad, do not be strict about your departure schedule. That is, do not book a flight or a train (which you cannot afford to miss) that will depart immediately after your supposed departure date from Athos. Just as it is not easy to get into Athos, it is not so easy to get out of it either. Ferries often cancel their service due to rough seas, and even if they are functional, the last ferry departs from Dafni not very late (a little after 2 PM), so it is not difficult to miss the last ferry, especially if you are in a monastery far away from Dafni and have to rely on making bus or charter connections. Always leave some "spare" days after your departure from Athos, because you may need to stay some more nights... it happened to me =)

#42 Nathaniel Woon

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Posted 03 September 2010 - 12:25 PM

Thanks for the posts Gulliermo - you are sharing very useful information that future pilgrims on the list can use. Did you have any special experiences on the Holy Mountain though?

#43 Guillermo M.L.

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Posted 04 September 2010 - 05:20 AM

I'm glad somebody finally asked! =D

I had some special experiences... if you are expecting anything like a mystical epiphany, I'm sorry to dissapoint you, I didn't have any of that, and somehow didn't expect to either. I am of the belief that the "light of Tabor" is reserved to a selected few, from which I don't feel included in...

Sincerely speaking, I witnessed and participated in many things, but all these left me lingering with the thought that all these experiences would have meant so much more to me if I had been born Eastern Orthodox. That is, all that I experienced would have reached my inner self -my soul- in a much deeper way. To counter what some of you may already been thinking, I doubt it would have reached me deeper even if I had been, hypothetically speaking, a convert to Orthodoxy. I think that -even if your are a late convert to Eastern Orthodoxy- there is a lot in the cultural and religious mindset that cannot be absorbed fully if you weren't born into that culture and midset. Still, I put my best possible attitude: to everyone who asked me "are your Orthodox?", I answered "no, but I'm doing my best."

One easy example I can put, to give an example, is the OC issue with icons... in Western Christianity, we do have some few icons present in some churches, but we mostly have statues, and we treat them as remembrance images, and that's all... we don't venerate them. And when I saw Orthodox faithful venerating icons with full devotion, even with full prostrations, I knew I was missing something important... when I was in the Protaton at Karyes contemplating the Axion Estin icon, I knew I was before an important icon, but I didn't feel like venerating it like the faithful were venerating it... I can raise prayers in great devotion to the Theotokos as any OC can surely do, but it's hard to me to express that same devotion to a Panagia icon, even more when there are so many multiplied Panagia icons extant... we Westerns are just not used to it...

Even still, as I said before, I tried to do my best: I did the sign of the cross, kissed every icon that I encountered, and even prostrated before the ones I considered were the most important... but still, I didn't feel as spiritually nourished as an Easterner would, and not even sure I really did my best.

I did have some good moments though, which made my stay there worthwhile. During the services, as I understood little Greek and could not follow it well, I just took the prayer rope in my hands and started praying the Jesus Prayer over and over again -it is not a Western prayer, but it is one Eastern prayer I am acquainted of, and really fond of-. Once during a vespers service, an elder monk from the monastery was walking beside me, saw me praying with the komboskini, smiled broadly and gave me encouraging pats in the arm. It is curious how a smile and a pat can influence your whole opinion about the service you have just witnessed.

Another good experience I remember, which was not mystical at all but which I think it will be meaningful as well, was waking up at 4 AM to go to church, during the night, in an electricity-less mountain: I left my comfortable room to reach the monastery courtyard, which was in complete darkness: only a starry night could be seen (and there were truly many stars, as no light pollution is present in the whole Athos peninsula), and the pitiful human sight was in charge of searching for something else... which normally turned to be some weak candle lights, visible through the glass of the church window... with these weak signs, this sinner could find the way inside the monastery katholikon... and truly it was a worthy and joyful way to find it.

My little acquaintance -to say "ignorance" in a more refined way- with Byzantine services was maybe a plus for getting special experiences: I have never seen a Byzantine service before, and my first one was in Grigoriou monastery at Mount Athos: I entered the church in the middle of the Orthros service, just at the moment when most of the monks were entering as well. To see the nave of the church fully lighted with candlelights, and dark shadows -the monks- moving everywhere, kissing the icons in a disordinate procession and then moving to their stalls, seems to the outcomer as an out-wordly experience. I would not hint to say as much as the Vladimir ambassadors ("we did not know if we were in Earth or in Heaven") but it was the most outworldly experience to me.

I had other special moments when I was presented with the relics of each monastery. This experience is more known to RC faithful, so it reached me more fully... although I don't like very much the veneration of RC relics, as -to me- they are surrounded by a mist which seems somehow more leading to superstition than to holiness. Still, the atmosphere in the Mountain printed me with an atmosphere of holiness which made me face the monastery relics in a more pious way. It was impressive to me to see relics like the ones of the True Cross -the first of the kind I have ever seen- or the hand of Mary Magdalene. Still, I regret not knowing -or remembering- exactly which of the other relics I venerated, as they were usually presented in Greek, which I still don't understand fully. Even though, I'm thankful for being given the chance of venerating these relics normally only available to OC faithful.

During one of my last nights, in the Feast of St. Athanasius at Megisti Lavra, I met a Romanian theology student, which was somehow a would-be monk in Athos, who was very kind and didn't mind my non-OC upbringing. He brought me inside the katholikon ceremony, to the choir section where the monks were singing. This was one of my most cherished moments: I never imagined I would be singing along with the monks in a Great Feast.

Along with the special experiences, I did have some akward experiences too... but I'll leave them from another post...

What I'm happy about this visit is that I did really got to know the Orthodox far more well that I previously knew them... but I still feel I still have a lot more to know. As a Western Christian, I'm fond of many things about Western Christianity, but I am also drawn to many things of Eastern Christianity, particularly Eastern spirituality... that is one of the main reasons I visited the Holy Mountain, and one of the main reasons I will in the future visit it again.

#44 Guillermo M.L.

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Posted 04 September 2010 - 06:02 AM

yes, please do tell. My own "memoires" are almost 3 years now past my publishing date.


Paul, did you publish your impressions here on the forum? If you did, I would be grateful to read them.

#45 Peter Ferre

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Posted 04 September 2010 - 01:16 PM

I don't Know what practices they have at Mt. Athos,but I can tell you this about my early experience with the Orthodox faith. Before I converted from the Latin church to the Orthodox church, I was permitted to attend the entire liturgy,but could not recieve the Body of Christ. After I became more comfortable and asked some questions,mainly about the expression "The Doors, The doors, in wisdom let us be attentive", What does this mean? The priest explained that in earlier times this was in the service just before it was time to make your expression of faith or The Nicean Creed and the church may have been underground and the faithful did not want outsiders to hear them express their faith for fear of percutation, in modern times it was never removed. I have never had any run ins with anybody about not being a member. Any time I have entered a "new" Orthodox church I have found that most wecome you with open arms. I have been Orthodox for 12 years now. I have found that the Latin churches and many Protestant churches didn't seem as out going as the Othodox church.

#46 Guillermo M.L.

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Posted 05 September 2010 - 07:07 AM

I don't Know what practices they have at Mt. Athos,but I can tell you this about my early experience with the Orthodox faith.


My personal experiences in the monasteries I visited in the Mountain have been the following:

* Simonos Petras: they are open to non-OC visitors during the services, and to the veneration of relics as well.
* Osiou Grigoriou: they are open to non-OC visitors during the services, and to the veneration of relics as well.
* Xiropotamou: they ask non-OC visitors not to even show up during services, just show up for trapeza (and at a different time than the one for OC pilgrims).
* Xenophontos: I couldn't make up any rule. They invited me to services and I just went there, no objections encountered.
* Pantokratoros: I couldn't make up any rule. They invited me to services and I just went there, no objections encountered.
* Megisti Lavra: OC-visitors are invited to the services, but they should watch them outside the church.

Personally, one of my "personal complaints" with the Orthodox faithful, in my opinion, is that they don't agree between themselves on how to treat What Is Holy. Some monasteries don't have the slightest problem with non-OC people "messing" with their holy things, and other monasteries are just too puritan about it. Personally (and I invite anyone in this forum to kindly rebuke me and explain me that I am wrong) I don't see myself as a menace to holy things. I personally believe that what is Holy to God cannot be desecrated or made unholy by man. Man doesn't have that power. With this thought in mind, I think that there should be no barriers to non-OC "messing" with OC holy things. Again, this is a personal opinion of mine, and I am open (as I always try to be) to read your thoughts in an intellectually honest way.

I have found that the Latin churches and many Protestant churches didn't seem as out going as the Othodox church.


What do you mean by "out going" when describing those churches?

#47 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 05 September 2010 - 11:56 AM

Well, nobody should be "messing" with Holy Things. Some of these monasteries may have had bad experiences in the past with spiritual "tourists" "messing" with things that may be centuries old. Antiquity may also affect attitude, and inattentiveness means things get damaged or even on occasion "pieces" disappear. They are custodians of the past as well as guardians of the holy and some may take that more seriously than others, it shouldn't come as a surprise.

Herman the ancient Pooh

#48 Nathaniel Woon

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Posted 05 September 2010 - 02:24 PM

Gulliermo,

Thank you for sharing what you have encountered on the Holy Mountain. It truly is a great privilege to go there and God willing I hope to be ther some day soon. For me as for many folks of Asian descent, Orthodoxy resonates with our cultural past. Reverence shown for holy objects are part of my own family tradition - that said, I have received a largely Western education and that plus my years in Western Christianity does make it a little difficult at times to be able to apprecate all of the things mentoned a the cradle Orthodox do , But I do not lose hope to grow and imbibe a thoroughly Orthodox attitide to and reverence for holy objects, relics and icons in the years to come

#49 Peter Ferre

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Posted 05 September 2010 - 04:14 PM

My personal experiences in the monasteries I visited in the Mountain have been the following:

* Simonos Petras: they are open to non-OC visitors during the services, and to the veneration of relics as well.
* Osiou Grigoriou: they are open to non-OC visitors during the services, and to the veneration of relics as well.
* Xiropotamou: they ask non-OC visitors not to even show up during services, just show up for trapeza (and at a different time than the one for OC pilgrims).
* Xenophontos: I couldn't make up any rule. They invited me to services and I just went there, no objections encountered.
* Pantokratoros: I couldn't make up any rule. They invited me to services and I just went there, no objections encountered.
* Megisti Lavra: OC-visitors are invited to the services, but they should watch them outside the church.

Personally, one of my "personal complaints" with the Orthodox faithful, in my opinion, is that they don't agree between themselves on how to treat What Is Holy. Some monasteries don't have the slightest problem with non-OC people "messing" with their holy things, and other monasteries are just too puritan about it. Personally (and I invite anyone in this forum to kindly rebuke me and explain me that I am wrong) I don't see myself as a menace to holy things. I personally believe that what is Holy to God cannot be desecrated or made unholy by man. Man doesn't have that power. With this thought in mind, I think that there should be no barriers to non-OC "messing" with OC holy things. Again, this is a personal opinion of mine, and I am open (as I always try to be) to read your thoughts in an intellectually honest way.



What do you mean by "out going" when describing those churches?

I mean that they looked upon me as an outsider and didn't welcome me to their church or even extend a hand in welcoming me to their church. I am an out going person and like others to feel welcome. I thought that it was proper to always welcome the stranger just as you are to set an extra place at the table on Christmas Eve for the stranger. God comes as a stranger.

#50 Guillermo M.L.

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Posted 05 September 2010 - 11:56 PM

I want to ask for your forgiveness if I sounded too harsh when judging the OC handling of Holy things. In no way I'm trying to demean the way these things are treated, but I admit I am puzzled that I find no uniform criteria for handling the Holy, but that it varies from monastery to monastery, from parish to parish. I still don't understand the underlying reasons: I don't know if it is a defensive measure against possible damage or theft, or a belief that a Holy item touched by an unbaptized person may render the item unholy, or may result in spiritual harm for the person itself.

With the "messing with" verb I was using, I did not intend to portray an unrespectful action, just an interaction. To give an example, the criteria for interacting with Holy relics seems puzzling to me: some monasteries don't have a problem at all with non-OC visitors venerating them, but others do and forbid it. I don't understand if this has to do with "sending a message" to non-OC that they are not on equal standing with OC, or maybe a fear that the non-OC visitor may harm or ridicule the relic. I think that if the relic is holy for the non-OC visitor (as it normally happens with pre-schism relics) he should be allowed veneration, but not all Orthodox think that way, and that wide range of differing opinions is what puzzles me.

May IC XC bless you all.

#51 Guillermo M.L.

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Posted 06 September 2010 - 12:00 AM

Nathaniel,

Thank you for your kind words and I hope you soon visit the Holy Mountain, God wishing more than once. If you go there, visit the monastery of Simonos Petras, where some monks of Asian descent live, work and pray.

#52 Nathaniel Woon

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Posted 06 September 2010 - 12:46 AM

Thanks for the heads up Gulliermo - Simonos Petra is one of the monasteries I definitely want to visit - as well as Koutloumousiou, Vatopedi, Hilandar, Xeropotamou and the Great Lavra.

#53 Guillermo M.L.

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Posted 06 September 2010 - 01:29 AM

Thanks for the heads up Gulliermo - Simonos Petra is one of the monasteries I definitely want to visit - as well as Koutloumousiou, Vatopedi, Hilandar, Xeropotamou and the Great Lavra.


Would you share with me the reasons for visiting those monasteries in particular? Just being curious...

#54 Nathaniel Woon

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Posted 06 September 2010 - 08:19 AM

Sure Guillermo,

I'll send u a personal message!

#55 Paul Cowan

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Posted 07 September 2010 - 01:35 AM

I took the bus to Karyes missing my first stop at Xeropotamou, staying the night at Koutlamousio, then to Iveron, Karakalou, Megistis Lavra, Xeropotamou, St. Panteleimon, Simon Petra, Gregoriou, Dionysios, St. Paul. Then 9 days later a rainy trip back to Ournapolis. I missed getting snowed in by 1 day. Dang it, I could have been happily stuck there for the winter.

Due to my leg going out and the providence of Panaghia, I took this route. And it was for my benefit that "Plan C" was my route to follow.

Paul

PS: Sorry for the mispellings above.

#56 Guillermo M.L.

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Posted 08 September 2010 - 02:53 AM

I took the bus to Karyes missing my first stop at Xeropotamou, staying the night at Koutlamousio, then to Iveron, Karakalou, Megistis Lavra, Xeropotamou, St. Panteleimon, Simon Petra, Gregoriou, Dionysios, St. Paul. Then 9 days later a rainy trip back to Ournapolis. I missed getting snowed in by 1 day. Dang it, I could have been happily stuck there for the winter.


It was somehow lucky for you to go in winter, because you stayed without previous reservations in monasteries which usually are very strict about reservations: from my own knowledge, in Simonopetra and St. Panteleimon it's almost impossible to stay there without reservations, at least in summer.

Do you plan to return to the mountain someday?

#57 Paul Cowan

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Posted 08 September 2010 - 05:30 AM

I was rejected from St. Panteliemon at first but the Steward, Brother George, God bless him, convinced the guest master to allow me to stay due to my circumstances.

God willing, and I learn Greek I will be allowed to bury my bones there. So, yes. I do hope to go back; permenantly one day.

Paul

PS: late fall and winter trips are much easier to get permission for extended stays. Simon Petra told me to call ahead next time and they would allow me to stay exclusively with them for my visit. My trip was over the American Thanksgiving holiday.

#58 Noel Bordador

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Posted 12 June 2015 - 01:35 PM

I am a non Orthodox but am a Christian (Anglican) and have been pining to make a pilgrimage to Mt. Athos. I have a deep reverence for the Orthodox faith which has influenced me a great deal. I live in the US, and without a great deal of means, but I am willing to save up to journey there. I need some detailed instructions as how to proceed, beginning with who/ what to contact to initiate this process, and the step by step process. I probably cannot go on a long journey, maybe a few days or a week, and so if I ever get to the holy Mountain, I would like to visit a monastery or two where I would be welcome, and my non-Orthodox faith would be less of an issue. Thank you.

#59 Kosta

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Posted 13 June 2015 - 03:25 AM

You first need to get a permit and remember that Mt Athos uses byzantine time and calendar, so keep that in mind when planning your trip and paperwork.
Others here may know which monasteries and sketes allow non-Orthodox visitors to attend services. There is a website Athosfriends.Org that has good info.




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