Athos is the only monastic state in the world, which is over a thousand years old, and where the Abbess is the Most Holy Mother of God herself. Millions of pilgrims from all over the world seek here, and no one is leaving the same as they came ... All this makes the pilgrimage to Holy Mountain one of the main events in the life of man. We asked to tell us about our impressions of the pilgrimage to Athos of the Metropolitan of Saratov and Volsky Longin.
- Vladyka, recently you and the priests of our diocese visited Afon, performed several services there ...
- Yes, I have been visiting Athos for a long time. For the first time I was there in 1989, when the Soviet Union still existed, and only a very small number of pilgrims from our country could get there. Since then, I often visit Holy Mountain alone or with some of the clergy. For me, this is indeed the garden of the Mother of God, almost a heavenly place on earth, which helps every believing person to establish himself in the lifestyle that he chose. And to me personally, he helps to feel himself not only a bishop, but also a monk who once came to the monastery to save his soul.
"It's probably hard to find someone who does not know anything about the history of the Holy Mountain." And yet, let's remind our readers how this unique monastic republic appeared. How is it managed today?
- The history of the Holy Mountain begins with a deep antiquity. In the 7th century, more than 1300 years ago, monks lived there. Athos is a peninsula, in the extreme point of which stands Mount Athos. In length it is slightly more than sixty kilometers, in width - from eleven to nineteen kilometers. Today this territory is divided between twenty main monasteries. It is part of the Hellenic Republic, but self-governing, autonomous. It is governed by special laws, based on the Lausanne Treaty of 1923, which determined the special status of the Holy Mountain. The central control organ of the Athos is the Sacred Cinema, or Protat. It includes representatives of these twenty monasteries. In the church-canonical relation, the Holy Mountain obeys the Ecumenical Patriarch.
In addition to the monasteries, there are still a lot of very different monasteries, kelly, kaliv. Starting from a small cell, where there can only be a house and a tiny church and where two or three people can live, - and ending with such as the Andreevsky monastery, which is larger than any Athonite monastery.
The largest sketes and cells are those that once were Russian. From the second half of the XIX century and right up to the 1917 revolution, the Russian presence on Athos increased every year and reached several (from five to seven) thousand people in the early twentieth century. However, later, well-known events led to the fact that people from Russia stopped coming to Athos, entering monasteries. Many Russian cells and sketes were abandoned or passed to the Greek inhabitants.
Once on Mount Athos all Orthodox nations were represented. Today, only one monastery has not been returned to the people who belonged historically - Iversky, that is, Georgian, where the famous revered icon of the Mother of God is located. Now on the Holy Mountain there is a Russian Panteleimon monastery, Bulgarian - Zograf, the Serbian - Hilandar. There is a large Romanian skete of St. John the Baptist, where there are as many inhabitants as there are in large monasteries. But you can not think that the monastery on Mount Athos is something mono-national. In each of them monks of many nationalities, and from those people who traditionally do not belong to Orthodoxy, are struggling. Here you can meet Frenchmen, Englishmen, Spaniards, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Americans, people from African countries ...
But, of course, the most amazing thing is that there is on the Holy Mountain - it is not a tradition that has been interrupted for more than a thousand years, which is preserved despite all historical cataclysms. Athos, in fact, also experienced and invasions, and looting, and fires, and wars, and many other tribulations. But nevertheless the true, real monastic work has never been interrupted. This is the great value of the Holy Mountain. Therefore, a lot of people sought and seeks to go there. Now the number of pilgrims reaches one million people a year. It is very much for the Holy Mountain, but the brethren give them hospitality and spiritual help.
Athos is a place where a lot of wonderful confessors. For example, the well-known elder Paisiy, who was recently ranked as a saint, was also a resident of the Holy Mountain. And today there are many spiritually experienced brethren who feed people not only on Athos, but also in Greece and beyond.
- Vladyka, this is not the first time you visit Athos. Does it change with time?
- Yes, Athos is changing. When I first got there 30 years ago, it was much easier. As a person who has been engaged in construction and restoration all his life, I can say that although the monastic revival was already clear then, economically everything was quite neglected. Since then, a lot of work has been done. The European Union, we must give it its due, allocated large funds for the restoration of a number of monasteries. Russian Panteleimon monastery in general was a huge ruined city. Today it is in an excellent condition, in which, I think, was not even under tsarist Russia. It has been restored with the means of wealthy people from Russia and Ukraine.
There were many more monks in Russian, Serbian and Bulgarian monasteries. In Greek, their number also grows with time. Many previously abandoned cells, sketes, including the Russians, began to return to life. On Mount Athos there were unpaved roads - where they had not existed in principle, and transport, which can be reached almost everywhere. I remember, in my time I walked around on foot if not the whole of Athos, then most of it. This, of course, is more characteristic of this pilgrimage. So much has changed for the better, but something, probably, also has left.
- Does your perception of the Holy Mountain change?
- I am grateful to God that it remains the same as before. Although I myself, of course, have already changed, I have aged, I know much that I did not know before, but, according to the Wise, who multiplies knowledge, multiplies grief (Ekk 1, 18). But nevertheless the feelings that overwhelm the Holy Mountain are the same as before.
- What is the daily routine in Athos monasteries? Athos worship differs from what is happening here? To what difficulties should a pilgrim be prepared?
- The service on the Holy Mountain begins at 3 one o'clock in the morning. It lasts until 8 hours in the morning, then a meal. Then a little rest and work, almost all day. In 5 hours of the evening - Vespers, a meal, then a Compline. And there you already look at the clock and you realize that it's time to get up at the service ... It's on a normal everyday day. On holidays, worship increases and becomes more complicated. Therefore, it is not easy to live there, and even to visit Athos is not easy. Pilgrimage there is not a rest. This is a real work, which is not easy for a person who is not accustomed to such a routine.
- What do you recommend usually to do on Athos, what places, what sacred places to visit those pilgrims who ask your advice?
- Pilgrimage to Athos is usually short-lived: permission to visit Athos (diamonitirion) is given for four days. You can stay longer, but not all. If you set out to run from the monastery to the monastery, there will be a lot of fuss, but no good. Therefore, I advise you to do so: by bowing to the main shrines in Kara, in the Iver Monastery, just to stay in some monastery. I usually divide time between Russian and Bulgarian monasteries, where many people close to me. It would be good to hold a daily liturgical circle in the monastery, that is, to be at evening worship, in the morning, at the Liturgy. I think this is most useful, most correct. And if you have more time, you can travel or walk around in other places, according to your strength, at will.
With me were young brothers, they say: "Vladyka, can we walk?". I say: "Of course, it is possible, even necessary." And they walked on foot and received both spiritual benefit and immense pleasure from it. After all, there is still just very beautiful! Athos is a classical Mediterranean, it's very beautiful forests, mountains, the sea. The species there are absolutely stunning, not to mention the monasteries themselves.
- What can teach a visit to Athos in the spiritual plan?
- You know, it's very difficult to formulate. Probably everyone takes out something of his own, acquires his own fruit. Someone just needs to get a certain identity and strengthening in the faith, in the loyalty of the chosen path. A variety of feelings are visited by different people. Impressions are very deep, spiritual, every person has, but they have their own. Therefore, I would not put this question: what can you learn on Athos? Everything. And faithfulness to God above all.
- Lord, permit me, I will ask you a question that worries many of our readers, or rather, readers. And we have in the mail similar: "The ancient rule - avatone - forbids women to visit Athos. Why is it so strict? My friend says that it is difficult for her to accept the impossibility of visiting the Holy Mountain. Ancient temples, world-famous miraculous images ... Why is this wealth inaccessible to women? For example, a man, whatever he is, even an unbeliever, can go there only on the fact that he was born a man. A woman, even if she is deeply ecclesiastical, can not? This is unfair, she believes. What can I say to her? "Svetlana asks.
- This is an ancient monastic tradition: once in men's monasteries women were not allowed to enter, and for women - men. There is such a patristic expression: fire and straw can not be without a number nearby. In addition, Athos is dedicated to the Mother of God. Her miracle-working icons are in every monastery, and marvelous, ancient, famous, such as Skoroposlushnitsa, Mammal, Iverskaya, "Worthy to eat." These are not just shrines, they are spiritual jewels. The veneration of the Mother of God is developed on the Holy Mountain as much as possible, and other women are left out ...
- But someone seems to think that this is unfair ...
- I will give an example. In Greece there is a very interesting place - Meteora. This is a group of monasteries on the rocks. Once it was also the center of the monastic life in Greece, similar to Mount Athos. There also did not allow women. But in the 1970-ies, when the so-called "black colonels" were in power in Greece, they abolished this rule. And literally within five or seven years the monasteries were emptied: the monks left there, mainly to the same Athos. In each monastery there were one or two monks, in female monasteries a little more. And now Meteora is a massively visited tourist center, like, for example, cathedrals somewhere in Vienna, in Prague, in Paris. Where there are noisy crowds of people and where there is no way to lead at least some kind of monastic life. There, too, there are ancient temples with wonderful paintings, icons - but they are all just beautiful museum-objects. True, the monks managed to defend the opportunity not every day to open monasteries for visitors. They are available for visits in turns, two or three days a week for several hours. Just to be able to live there. After all, the monastery is not only a place where people walk in black robes, and they are shown to tourists. The monastery is a special life with God, at the maximum distance from the world. Anyone who goes to the monks, chooses another way of life. Therefore, if a person believes correctly, if he appreciates the spiritual life and the people who lead it, similar feelings ("it is unfair that they do not let in") in his heart should not arise in principle. Moreover, today there is an opportunity to see everything on the Internet - all Athos monasteries, all icons, shrines in the vicinity, and from different angles. Even if you are on Athos, you will not consider them as well as you can consider using modern technical means. In addition, the monastic shrines are constantly brought from Athos to the mainland, the confessors from Athos leave the world. Even to us in Russia brought shrines from the Holy Mountain. People have the opportunity to worship these shrines. I think that this is quite normal, and that's enough.
It will be very bad if ever the ideology of feminism and tolerance for unacceptable things prevailing in Europe still finally triumphs. If, God forbid, the avatar will be removed, Athos will collapse. Monuments of architecture and culture will remain, - but are not there enough monuments in museums? Visit, for example, the Armory Chamber: there are too many treasures, but they look in showcases, like butterflies in the collection - prepared, punctured, pinned ... Yes, there are real works of art on Mount Athos, but this is not the value of the Holy Mountain. Athos is a place where Orthodoxy lives, where monasticism has been living for almost a century and a half. And God grant him to live on, until the end of time.
- Vladyka, now you can find on the Internet as very good, useful books, films about Athos, and those that cause doubt or embarrassment: all sorts of appeals of some Athonite elders, predictions, reproof ... How can this be explained? How to distinguish reliable information from unreliable, useful - from harmful to the soul? Is there a criterion?
- There is a group of people who call themselves zealots, that is zealots. But only their jealousy is not according to reason. Some of them sometimes call themselves the Athos' elders, even if they did not live long on Mount Athos. This is mainly true of the Russian brothers. They spread all sorts of predictions and reproofs of everything and everything, from the Patriarch and the bishops to all the rest, accusing others of ecumenism, Freemasonry, the betrayal of Orthodoxy and the like. There are people in the world who are determined to fight. They would be dissidents everywhere, wherever they were. In this case, being in the Church, they become fighters, as they think, for a just cause. And they exploit the image of the Holy Mountain as a symbol, holy and authoritative for every Orthodox person.
I think that the criterion of discrimination is given in the apostle. People who have really worked with their own benefit, for their own soul, worked on the Holy Mountain or in general in monasticism, received some gifts of the Holy Spirit, about which the apostle Paul spoke: The fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, mercy, faith , meekness, self-control (Gal. 5, 22). No apology here mentions any anger, struggle, accusation. Those programs and articles that are full of all kinds of curses, denunciations, "revolutionary struggle", you just have to miss without paying attention to it.
Metropolitan of Saratov and Volsky Longin. Prepared by Natalia Gorenok