Sunday, July 26, 2009

Trip to the Holy Mountain

Early Wednesday morning (5:00 AM), Thomas, my friend Paris, and I left Panorama and headed toward Ouranoupolis to go to the Holy Mountain. This was my eighth trip, and the first for Thomas. We arrived there around 7:00 or shortly before, quickly arranged our paperwork, and then sat down for a coffee and a spanakopita as we waited for our boat.

At 8:00, we got on the little speed boat and headed to our first destination for the evening, St. Anne's Skete. The boat stopped briefly at the Holy Mountain's main port of Daphni, and then headed down to the southern tip of the Holy Mountain, where we arrived around 9:30.

This was my trip to this part of the Holy Mountain, which is generally regarded as the most ascetic part of the Holy Mountain. There are very few roads down here, so donkeys--as you can see from the photos above--are still widely used to transport goods from the small dock up to the cells and sketes.

In the first photo, we had to stop and wait for the dust to settle as one of the donkeys rolled around for awhile.

St. Anne's Skete is a hike of about an hour or so up the hill. After about 20 minutes or so, we came to a cell in which an old friend of Paris' lived, Fr. Michael. Paris knew Fr. Michael from their time in the army together, before he became a monk.

He was very happy to see Paris, and welcomed us warmly, despite the fact that they had just completed a vigil at Little St. Anne's Skete in celebration of the skete's founders, Sts Dionysios and Mitrophan.

We visited with him, another priest, and a German convert monk for over an hour, and then resumed our hot journey up the mountain. The days we were there were sunny with average highs around 100. In the photo above, you can see Thomas standing the shaded courtyard of the cell, and the cell's donkey waiting outside. In the photo below, you can see Thomas and Paris with Fr. Michael at the door to his cell.

Before we left, we were fortunate to take the blessing of Fr. Prodromos, the abbot of Megisti (Great) Lavra, hierarchically the first monastery on the Holy Mountain and by extension in the Orthodox world. He was visiting the monks at that cell after the vigil at Little St. Anne's.

The next stop on the journey, another 10 minutes or so up the mountain, was to the cell of Papa Ioannis. You can see us approaching the gate in the photo at the bottom. This elderly priest-monk is one of the most famous elders on the Holy Mountain today. As Paris tells it, half the people think he's a saint, and the other half think he's crazy. He told us himself that he was crazy, but the fact is that over 7000 people have visited him just since Pascha.

Paris tells a story of his friend who went to see Papa Ioannis, and the old monk wouldn't let him in. He stuck his head out his window and told him to go away, he didn't want to see him. But Paris' friend argued and pleaded with him and wouldn't leave. Eventually the monk started throwing things at the guy, telling him to leave, but still his friend wouldn't go. He was resolute to take the old man's blessing and hear some word of wisdom. Finally, after about an hour, according to the story, Papa Ioannis cracked a smile and let the guy in.

We didn't have to go through all that. When we pulled on the rope to ring the bell inside the house, a young guy came to the window to see what we wanted. He told us to wait and ducked back inside. We waited about 15 minutes or so and eventually Papa Ioannis came out, escorting a couple other visitors out.

By this time it was almost noon, and he had been seeing people since 9:00, so I think we were the last visitors he would receive for the morning. He brought us inside the gate and we spoke to him for about 5 or 10 minutes or so and took his blessing.

Then we were off for the final push up the hill to St. Anne's.

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