I recently had the unexpected chance to go to Mt Athos with my chanter and good friend Nikos, as well as another mutual friend, Apostolis. As is wont to happen, the plan changed drastically, and we ended up spending the whole time with my friend Iakovos, an American convert who studied in Thessaloniki with me and who now is a novice at the cell of St. John the Theologian in Kerasia, one of the most remote and ascetic parts of Mt. Athos.
The cell's elder, Fr. Theologos, kindly sent Iakovos down to get us from the port, along with three mules. It's about a 1.5-2 hour hike straight up from the port (see above) to Kerasia, which is at about 500 meters.
Here I am on my donkey.
And here is the donkey behind me, carrying our bags.
About halfway up, we made a stop in the shade so that Iakovos could disappear into the woods and say "Christ is risen!" to an old Russian ascetic who lives in a shack somewhere hidden in the forest. The purpose was also to check up on him and make sure he was okay.
A bit further up, Iakovos pointed out a small green shack hidden in the forest. This was another ascetic's home.
Finally, we reached the cell. We sat on the balcony and enjoyed the traditional Athonite greeting of water, tsipouro (distilled alcohol), and loukoumi ("Turkish delight").
Here are some more photos from the scenic balcony.
Fr. Theologos studied architecture in Paris before becoming a monk, and still works designing churches. His spiritual father, St. Paisios, recommended that he help Archbishop Anastasios of Albania with missionary work, so he spent 10 years as a missionary in Congo-Brazzaville and another 10 years in Albania.
On our final evening with him, we finally managed to get him to sit down with us and tell us stories about his experiences with the newly canonized St. Paisios.