We arrived back from Mount Athos at midnight on Friday. We, that is Slava, his two sons Stas and Anton, and myself. Their first visit, my 12th. Five monasteries, Dionysios, Xenofondas, Zoograf, Vatopedi and Hilandar. Three of them with services in Greek, two in Slavonic (old Russian). Friends at 4 of them, met 3. The younger men, more athletic, did all five days on foot, I used the privilege of age to use the boat on 2 of them. Key bits:
- * For me the ‘core’ is in the first morning service, in the near-dark, starting between 1 and 4 in the morning depending on monastery, with perhaps no more than 10 monks and a few guests. Having a cassock and overcassock with me, I sat with the monks in the choir, putting me close enough to be able to catch some words of the service.
- * The incredible decoration of the churches, especially the woodwork, even in the poorest of the monasteries. Elsewhere rich decoration shocks me, here somehow it works.
- * Ditto for many of the refectories, with their wall paintings going back hundreds of years.
- * Permission obtained from one abbot to return and stay longer at his monastery. While I can still manage the rougher tracks with a backpack, there will be time soon when this will no longer be possible, and I want to be able to stay several days at one monastery.
- * Some incredible views, especially over the sea on the north-east side of the peninsula.
- * And as always, the Byzantine Museum in Thessaloniki, very well arranged, with descriptions in perfect English, and a valuable source of information for newcomers, who normally know zero about the Eastern Roman Empire.
True, I would have liked to have spent a bit more time in spiritual conversation with experienced monks, but that can be for a next time.
Slava and Anton were manipulating a pretty sophisticated camera between them, and we look forward to the results.