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Women on Mount Athos


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#21 Effie Ganatsios

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Posted 26 August 2008 - 09:20 AM


One monastery which is most hospitable here is the monastery of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in Thebes. I have been extremely blessed to have met a couple of the sisters and their Elder in the U.S., and enjoyed visiting the monastery for the first time last year. The sisters have been seperated now into a few monasteries by the Bishop, so I didn't see my dear sister friend, but spoke to her on the Gerontissa's mobile phone, with her blessing, ofcourse. The sisters are young, educated, and come from many different backgrounds and countries. Some are converts to Orthodoxy. Since a few of them are American, they are most friendly in the open manner which we Americans are. This comes as a bit of a pleasant shock when you have spent some time in Athens, where people have become increasingly reserved and very unfriendly towards strangers. The nuns are hospitable too, and invited us to eat with them.
The location is most relaxing...up on a mountain--with fresh, light and cool mountain breezes and shady trees...something which is a most pleasant respite from the heat of southern Greece in the summer and early Autumn months.
I have visited many other monasteries in various parts of Greece including Chios, which is practically a second home to us, because it is where my husband's family was from, but, sadly, so many have only a few older monks and/or nuns around anymore, though they are worth the visit since the locations are always breathtaking, and a few of them are a thousand years old and quite historic, such as 'Nea Moni' (new monastery, built in the mid eleventh century by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos and his wife.)

Alice


Alice, this is one monastery that is on my list of places to visit. I contacted them by e-mail a couple of years ago because I was interested in their organic garden. I have also watched a documentary on TV about the nuns and their monastery.

Effie

#22 Father David Moser

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Posted 26 August 2008 - 01:55 PM

The monks of the Holy Mountain provide something that no new technology can give us. They are a "powerhouse" of prayer, as are all contemplative monasteries in the world, no matter what religion they are.


I think it is necessary to point out that a non-Christian contemplative monastery cannot be a "powerhouse of prayer" in the sense that we understand the practice of prayer in the Orthodox Church. Prayer is communion with God and requires that the pray-er knows the One to Whom he is praying and is first joined to God through the sacraments of baptism and chrismation. Without this one cannot commune with God (otoh one could possibly "communicate" with God expressing a desire for communion which would then lead them to the Orthodox Faith as an answer to that communication).

Fr David Moser

#23 Anthony Stokes

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Posted 26 August 2008 - 07:44 PM

Introducing wireless to the Holy Mountain helps show this, I think, and that the monks there are not people who eschew technology, merely that they eschew "the world". I haven't visited Mt. Athos, but I've seen the pictures and the way the monasteries cling to the mountain edges must be down in part to technology (in synergy with God of course).



I can say that, here in America, I am very glad that some of the monasteries have the internet, at least that they have websites. St. Anthony's Monastery in Arizona has the most complete collection of Byzantine Chant in English available anywhere, and if Fr. Ephraim (not the elder) didn't have a computer to work on, we would be at such a loss musically. My hope is that maybe the monks at Simonopetra on Athos will do this with their music someday as well.

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#24 Deacon Jonathan

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Posted 26 August 2008 - 08:45 PM

Absolutely - the amount of Orthodox material I've found on monastery websites is immense.

Incidentally, I do have an mp3 recording of "Agni Parthene" by the SimonPetra Monastery on my computer which I must have got online somewhere, but I can't for the life of me remember...

#25 Carol Lockett

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Posted 26 August 2008 - 11:00 PM

Hello,

I am a newbie to this list. Could someone explain what are the "good spiritual" reasons why women cannot visit Mt. Athos? Thank you. Carol


It does help to show that the traditions of Mt Athos are not related to "preserving" the past, though. There are good, spiritual, reasons why women cannot visit Mt. Athos that are not related to keeping things "how they've always been".

#26 Mary

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Posted 27 August 2008 - 02:03 PM

Hello,

I am a newbie to this list. Could someone explain what are the "good spiritual" reasons why women cannot visit Mt. Athos? Thank you. Carol


Personally, I can't think of any. ;) But then, I'm prejudiced. I'm a woman. =)

In Christ,
Mary.

#27 Alice

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Posted 27 August 2008 - 02:35 PM

Hello,

I am a newbie to this list. Could someone explain what are the "good spiritual" reasons why women cannot visit Mt. Athos? Thank you. Carol


It does help to show that the traditions of Mt Athos are not related to "preserving" the past, though. There are good, spiritual, reasons why women cannot visit Mt. Athos that are not related to keeping things "how they've always been".


Well, what I can think of, is that these men have chosen to live a life fully and totally devoted to God, in prayer, in praise, in work, in contemplation, and even in the very core of their everyday chores. The holiness and spirituality they try to achieve on the Holy Mountain is one of great heights and union with God.

In the monastery I visit in NY, which is run in the Athonite tradition and is led by an Elder from Mt. Athos, the monks pray the Jesus Prayer to themselves most times, and even while doing garden and construction work. Such is the intensity of their focus.

Women, whether we like it or not, are a destraction to men...and an opportunity for the temptation of sinful thoughts. Therefore, I have no problem in respecting the Athonite monks' right to living without the distraction of my gender!

If we women need spiritual counsel or retreat, there are many other Orthodox monasteries and convents which we can visit for this purpose.

(Even in the Athonite monasteries outside of Mt. Athos, where we are allowed to visit, we must be completely covered with a long skirt, long sleeves, and a headscarf...)

In Christ,
Alice :)

#28 Michael C.

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Posted 27 August 2008 - 02:57 PM

There are also many monasteries for women (in Greece and other Orthodox countries) that are forbidden to men. Panagia Voithia (All Holy Theotokos the Helper) in Chios is one of them. Although I remember when I was very young the nuns let me in to venerate the tomb of St. Anthimos of Chios. At least I think that's the grave I venerated, I was too young to remember, and at the time I didn't know about St. Anthimos.

#29 Paul Cowan

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Posted 27 August 2008 - 03:56 PM

There are also many monasteries for women (in Greece and other Orthodox countries) that are forbidden to men.


I was going to post something similar, but had no readily accessable examples to back it up. For men and women both, we seem to get bent out of shape when we are told we can't do something. Just because we may not agree with a particular rule, and in this case Athos with a history of over 1000 years, does not mean we have the right to enforce our change onto the rule.

How many convents would go up in arms if men started trying to force their way in? Some things are meant to be segregated.

Just as the Boy Scouts in this country are being sued right and left to admit homosexuals. Why can't the homosexuals start their own scouting organization? Why do they feel the need to invade this one?

Paul

#30 Mary

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Posted 27 August 2008 - 05:47 PM

Why can't the homosexuals start their own scouting organization? Why do they feel the need to invade this one?

Paul


Hey, that's a brilliant idea!!! =)

#31 Mary

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Posted 27 August 2008 - 05:53 PM

How many convents would go up in arms if men started trying to force their way in? Some things are meant to be segregated.



Paul


I can understand about men not wanting me around. I don't like being around myself either. But I seem to have a need for being in the presence of Godly men. Women are not Godly men.

But not to worry, I have no desires to go to Mt Athos. =)

#32 Anthony Stokes

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Posted 27 August 2008 - 06:30 PM

(Even in the Athonite monasteries outside of Mt. Athos, where we are allowed to visit, we must be completely covered with a long skirt, long sleeves, and a headscarf...)
In Christ,
Alice :)



And along those lines, young monks and novices at Athonite monasteries in the U.S., at least, are not even aloud to talk to women under a certain age, especially unmarried women their age.

Subdeacon Anthony

#33 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 27 August 2008 - 07:36 PM

Could someone explain what are the "good spiritual" reasons why women cannot visit Mt. Athos?


Because the All-Holy Mother of God says so.

#34 Eric Peterson

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Posted 27 August 2008 - 07:58 PM

The Holy Mountain is a monastic republic. While a certain number of pilgrims do visit there and many receive spiritual help and inspiration, its purpose is not for pilgrims, but as a refuge for monks. In Greece especially where monasteries are forced by law to accept the burden of heavy tourist traffic, there must be refuges available for quietness and spiritual peace.

I have very good friends who have daughters who are nuns in Greece. One goes there every summer and his job is to "guard the gate" and prevent scandalously-attired persons from entering unless they cover up. Since the majority of monastery visitors, it seems, have trouble respecting the monastery, rather strict rules are imposed.

The addition of women to Athos is just one more thing in a list of many others. I don't see it as a historical argument, but as a necessity for maintaining the spiritual peace of the place. The main purpose of a monastery is for prayer and spiritual struggle. If they can provide hospitality, it's a blessing for them and the pilgrims. But many are the saints, especially hermits, who turned away all visitors, not out of hatred, but out of respect for the soul's peace. What benefit does a pilgrim receive if he or she is a burden?

Now, on the other hand, I will say that hospitality is a monastic obligation. And some monasteries I've been to have fallen short. But I think our expectations have increased to the point where we want to be waited on and entertained, and fed materially and spiritually. What do we bring in return for what we ask? Are we content if all a monastery provides us is just a change of scene? Or do we want or expect more?

#35 Olga

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Posted 27 August 2008 - 10:20 PM

Because the All-Holy Mother of God says so.


... and you should listen to your mother, especially when she is God's mother! :))

#36 Effie Ganatsios

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Posted 28 August 2008 - 06:41 AM

The Holy Mountain is a monastic republic. While a certain number of pilgrims do visit there and many receive spiritual help and inspiration, its purpose is not for pilgrims, but as a refuge for monks. In Greece especially where monasteries are forced by law to accept the burden of heavy tourist traffic, there must be refuges available for quietness and spiritual peace.

I have very good friends who have daughters who are nuns in Greece. One goes there every summer and his job is to "guard the gate" and prevent scandalously-attired persons from entering unless they cover up. Since the majority of monastery visitors, it seems, have trouble respecting the monastery, rather strict rules are imposed.

The addition of women to Athos is just one more thing in a list of many others. I don't see it as a historical argument, but as a necessity for maintaining the spiritual peace of the place. The main purpose of a monastery is for prayer and spiritual struggle. If they can provide hospitality, it's a blessing for them and the pilgrims. But many are the saints, especially hermits, who turned away all visitors, not out of hatred, but out of respect for the soul's peace. What benefit does a pilgrim receive if he or she is a burden?

Now, on the other hand, I will say that hospitality is a monastic obligation. And some monasteries I've been to have fallen short. But I think our expectations have increased to the point where we want to be waited on and entertained, and fed materially and spiritually. What do we bring in return for what we ask? Are we content if all a monastery provides us is just a change of scene? Or do we want or expect more?


The monasteries I have stayed at expect their visitors to help with the work. Keep their rooms tidy and clean, and not create any additional work for the nuns. Visitors are also expected to behave in a way that is compatible with their surroundings. No smoking, no radios, no loud noise. We benefit just by absorbing the atmosphere of these monasteries. (Why have convents been renamed monasteries, by the way?)

The monasteries are not there to entertain you in any way. In fact visitors are expected to fit into the normal daily life of the nuns.

Clothing :

The Souroti monastery - where Elder Paisios is buried - has wraparound skirts that the nuns have sewn, in a large basket next to the main gate. One size fits all....... Women who have forgotten that they are visiting a monastery can use them. They are also for tourists who just happened to visit the monastery and are dressed in shorts or whatever. Women are not required to cover their heads here.

Women are not allowed on Mt. Athos because of the danger of temptation. Jesus told us it is better to cut off your hand if it makes you sin. This is the same thing. It does not always work because women are not the only temptation that a monk is subject to. Elder Paisios tells us in one of his books about some monks who are unwilling to give up their comforts and that the only thing that separates them from worldly people is the fact that they live on Mt. Athos and not in some big city.

Effie

#37 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 28 August 2008 - 11:37 AM

Why have convents been renamed monasteries, by the way?


Differentiation between male and female monasticism is actually a recent innovation to Orthodoxy, imported from western Christianity. Traditionally we don't have monks and nuns, we have male and female monastics. Calling them convents was the change, calling them monasteries is simply a return to Orthodox tradition.

#38 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 28 August 2008 - 11:55 AM

Differentiation between male and female monasticism is actually a recent innovation to Orthodoxy, imported from western Christianity. Traditionally we don't have monks and nuns, we have male and female monastics. Calling them convents was the change, calling them monasteries is simply a return to Orthodox tradition.


This is confirmed by the fact that in Russian a convent is called zhenskii monastir (женский монастырь) which means women's monastery.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#39 Olga

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Posted 28 August 2008 - 03:14 PM

It is the same in Greek. Moni and monastiri applies to all monasteries, there is no linguistic distinction between male and female establishments, other than a male/female adjective qualifier of the type mentioned by Fr Raphael. The only differentiation is in referring to monastics according to gender, (monachos/monachi, and kalogeros/kalogria), which is grammatically necessary. English does not have grammatical genders.

#40 Deacon Jonathan

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Posted 28 August 2008 - 05:27 PM

English does not have grammatical genders.


... and "monkettes" would sound ridiculous ;-) I suppose "Nuns" is a more convenient word now, rather than "female monastics", but I certainly think that calling convents "monasteries" is a necessary return to Orthodoxy.

---

Hello Carol, you wrote:

I am a newbie to this list. Could someone explain what are the "good spiritual" reasons why women cannot visit Mt. Athos? Thank you. Carol


Many other posters have already given very good answers, but I feel I must respond because it is me you quoted and I don't want you to think I am ignoring you.

Andreas gave the best answer - it is a simple matter of obedience. However, given that you're an Episcopalian, telling you that the reason for not allowing women on Mt. Athos was because of obedience to an apparition of Mary the Mother of God might raise more questions than they answered! I hope I haven't prejudged you in that, Carol - but I do understand how non-Orthodox Christians feel about that. [edit - I have just read the Welcome Thread and see you were a catechumen for a number of years which will teach me to jump to conclusions. I apologize, and may I also add my prayers for your recovery)

And in any case, when I said there were good spiritual reasons for the rule, I truly wasn't thinking of that at all; I am weak in faith and so often feel the impulse to ask "But why?" when really I should accept what visibly good people tell me. The "why" of not allowing women onto Mt. Athos is, as others have said, so that the monks are not distracted from their prayer and contemplation. I think it was St. John of the Ladder who said that the prayers of the monastics (i.e. both monks and nuns) support the world. So we need their prayers, just as we all need each others' prayers. It's not that women, per se, are distracting, just that the opposite sex is nearly always distracting for people who have been called to celibacy. If any person has been called to a pure and chaste life, then there is one excellent way for the Devil to make this person fall - the opposite gender.

Monastic communities are ikons of the Hevenly Realm, of the community of believers who before God in Heaven give eternal praise and "are not given in marriage". This ideal vision is, on earth, tempered with pragmatism - and so although men and women living together but living purely and chastely out of wedlock is the ideal, it's never going to work on earth; so male and female monastics are seperated, and in some cases, the opposite sex is not allowed even to visit. Michael C gave an example of where this is the case for female monasteries.

The holy monks of Mt Athos have accepted in humility that to fulfil their calling and be both a powerhouse of prayer and a divine ikon of the Kingdom to come they must seperate from the opposite gender completely. This is very much in the "if you right hand causes you to sin then cut it off" vain (a quote that Effie has already given). It's extreme, but the Kingdom of Heaven must be taken by violence.

I think perhaps one reason people get the wrong idea is because, for whatever reason, there has never been a "Holy Mount" or "Holy Island" of Nuns (or has there??) If history had produced such a community of holy female monastics than no doubt a similar rule would have been applied barring post-pubescent lay-males from setting forth on the ground. I would not have any problem with this. We must sail the line between idealism and pragmatism, hoping for what is promised us, but keeping watchful over the realities of this fallen world.

I'm very sorry for the length of this post; it could've done with some editing down.

Edited by Jonathan Michael, 28 August 2008 - 06:12 PM.





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