On Friday morning, we left Vatopaidi in a van that took us to the port of Dafni. We waited there until 12:30, at which time we caught the boat from Dafni that runs southeast toward the tip of the peninsula. Along the way, we passed Grigoriou (above) and Dionysiou (below).
After Dionysiou, we got off at the port for Agiou Pavlou (above), which sits just below the peak of the actual Mt. Athos (i.e. the highest point on the peninsula, from which the whole gets its name). In the photo above, the peak is obscured in clouds, but you can see Agiou Pavlou nestled in the valley.
At the monastery, we were met by Fr. Evdokimos, an Englishman and the brother of Fr. John Behr, the dean of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary. Fr. Evdokimos has been at Agiou Pavlou for the last 22 years. He gave us a wonderful tour of the monastery, including the osteophylakion (ossuary), where the earthly remains of all the monks in the 1000-year uninterrupted history of the monastery are kept.
The ossuary also has a chapel, in which they celebrate Liturgy every Saturday morning. Above is a photo of the outside of the ossuary. In the background, you can see the boat heading back to Dafni after completing its route to the tip of the peninsula. He also took us into the altar of the main church, where a cabinet along the south side is full of the monastery's relics and treasures. There we venerated the Gifts of the Magi, the relics of the Three Hierarchs, the right hand of St. Maximos the Confessor, and many others.
After a brief rest, we had Vespers at 5:30, followed by a meal, and then our tour continued. We went up to the highest point of the monastery, along the upper walls, to venerate inside a tiny chapel that had been frescoed by Theophan the Cretan. We then climbed up the tower (above) for a view down on the monastery.
The monastery from the tower.
Here, McKeel and the others admire the view from just outside the door to the chapel.
The bottom floor of the tower features this tunnel and ladder, which Fr. Evdokimos told us leads underneath the massive walls to the cave of the monastery's founder, St. Paul of Xiropotamou. I wanted to go down, but he said the tunnel may have collapsed.
After climbing up all the narrow passageways of the tower, the final story was ascended by this ladder through a rusted metal trap door.
A view from the top down to the water. Small Compline ended the day at 8:30 PM (i.e. sunset, which is 12 midnight on Byzantine time).
The next morning, the services started at 3:30 and ended with Divine Liturgy, which concluded around 7:30. This was then followed by breakfast and a coffee with Fr. Evdokimos on a balcony overlooking the water. We then gathered our things and headed down to the port to catch the boat back to Dafni. We got to the port just as the boat was stopping on its way down to the tip of the peninsula, so we decided to get on and ride it down and back so that we could view the sketes at the ascetic end of the mountain.
We soon passed the famous New Skete (above).
A view from near the tip of the peninsula. I believe that this cross marks the southernmost point.
On the way back, we passed Agiou Pavlou just as an interesting and somewhat rare event was happening. A boat full of 200 or so women pilgrims had arranged for the monastery to bring out some of its relics for veneration. The women's boat stopped about 500 meters off-shore, which is the closest women may come to the Holy Mountain, and a speed boat came from Ouranoupolis to monks waiting at the monastery's port with the relics. The speed boat then took the monks and relics to the waiting women's boat, where the monks boarded. Typically, they do an Agiasmo (blessing of the waters) on the boat and allow the women to venerate the relics before returning by speed boat to the monastery. In the photo above, you can see the women's boat waiting off shore, while the speed boat loads the monks and relics to go see them.
As we got closer to Dafni, the clouds finally parted so we could see the peak of Mt. Athos.
For a few more photos from this trip to the Holy Mountain, click here.