On Wednesday, I headed off for my eleventh trip to Mt. Athos, this time with two visitors from the U.S. One was Fr. Alexander Rentel, Assistant Professor of Canon Law at St. Vladimir's and a friend from when we met at a conference in Volos two years ago. The other was his friend and koumbaros, McKeel Hagerty, who also graduated from St. Vladimir's. Our first stop was the Great Holy Monastery of Vatopaidi, where we spent two nights. The photo above is from inside the monastery. To the right is the refectory and along the long is the main church, which dates to the monastery's foundation in the 10th century.
One of the goals of the trip for Fr. Alexander was to see an important 14th century manuscript housed at Vatopaidi. Fr. Philip, a Brazilian monk and former professor of Ancient Greek in Buenos Aires, is the monastery's librarian. He let us into the old library, which houses more than 2000 manuscripts. He very kindly showed us their oldest books and manuscripts. I actually held a 9th century codex that was in remarkably good shape, and 15th century printed prayer books. Eventually, we left Fr. Alexander to his work, and McKeel and I took a hike outside the monastery over toward the nearby ruins of the famous original Athonite Academy.
On the way there, we wandered through some of Vatopaidi's vineyards (see above) and a cell in the vineyards that is currently in the middle of reconstruction (below).
Eventually we made our way through some woods to ruins of the Athonite Academy, which was originally a three-storey building that produced such famous students and saints as St. Nikodemos the Athonite, St. Kosmas Aitolos, and St. Athanasios Parios.
Above, McKeel is just outside the door of the small chapel in the middle of the ruins. Below, the chapel.
We then made our way back to Vatopaidi in time for a short rest before Vespers at 4:30 PM.
Vespers was followed by the meal, which was then followed by veneration of the monastery's amazing collection of relics, including the belt of the Panagia and the skull of St. John Chrysostom, where one can see that his left ear is still incorrupt after 1600 years. This is attributed to the fact that the saint's disciple, Proclus, had been deemed worthy to see the Holy Apostle Paul whispering the interpretations of his letters into that ear. The veneration of the relics was then followed by a tour from Vatopaidi's American monk, Fr. Matthew. (He was featured in the recent piece about Mt. Athos on 60 Minutes. Click here to watch it.) Some interesting numbers: The monastery now has 118 monks from 18 different countries. They host over 35,000 pilgrims per year, or approximately 100 per day on average, far and away the largest number of any of the other monasteries on the Holy Mountain.
I also had the chance to venerate the grave of the blessed Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi, who reposed almost two years ago. The grave is located just outside the monastery's main church.
After Fr. Matthew's tour, the day ended with Small Compline. The next day, services began at 4:00 AM and concluded with Divine Liturgy in some of the monastery's 37 chapels a little after 8:00 AM. This was then followed by the main meal of the day.
For more photos from Vatopaidi, click here.