Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Holy Mountain: Traveling and St Panteleimon's

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After breakfast on Monday, the monks took us back down to their dock to catch the boat a little further south to our second destination, the Monastery of Xiropotamou.

As the truck pulled into the dock, we spotted two dolphins leaping along just off the shore. We waited there by the sea for about an hour and half for the boat, and then rode about 30-45 minutes down. (The top photo was taken from the dock, looking south along the Holy Mountain.)

Instead of going all the way to port of Dafni and catching the bus to Xiropotamou, we decided to have an adventure and get off at the nearby monastery of St. Panteleimon’s, the breathtaking Russian monastery. From the maps and what people told us, it seemed to be only about a 45 minute walk from there to Xiropotamou, and this way we’d be able to see the famous Russian monastery also. (Again, get your bearings with a map here.)

The second photo is as we approached to dock at St Panteleimon’s. Unfortunately, photos were strictly forbidden (which, unlike in Greece, seems to actually mean they are forbidden), so I don’t have any photos from inside. Suffice it to say that the place is enormous (it once housed 3000 monks!), although now it’s home to about 65 very busy monks. The grounds are beautiful and there’s a lot more restoration work going on.

Inside, a monk gave us a tour of main church and another enormous chapel, which housed the monastery’s enormous relic collection. They have so many relics, in fact, that they have them organized by month. So, for this month, we had St Andrew of Crete, St Marina, St Makrina, St Panteleimon and many more. They also had relics of St Joseph the Betrothed (Fr Joseph’s patron saint), St John the Baptist, St Gregory Palamas and too many others to remember (there are SO many at all these monasteries that they all start to blend together). They also were proud to have the skull of St Silouan the Athonite, who lived at the monastery.

In good Russian style, both churches were entirely covered in a thin layer of gold leaf. They also have the largest bell on the Holy Mountain, weighing in at 14 tons! They reported that it can be heard all over the Holy Mountain and even back in Ouranapoli.

After being completely overwhelmed, we headed off in the 1 pm heat for Xiropotamou. (I should mentioned that it was about 100 degrees, and the path was so uphill, so it was particularly good for our ascetical efforts!)

The path was pretty rustic, but it was an honor to walk the paths trod by so many saints. We took it pretty slowly, resting once or twice, and made it to Xiropotamou in about 50-60 minutes.

The third photo is of Fr Joseph as we took a break along the path.

The bottom photo is as we emerged from the forest path, saw Xiropotamou, and started up their driveway.

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