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The Holy Mountain
Posted By Eric Sammons On November 19, 2009 @ 7:22 am In Eastern Christianity,Technology | Comments Disabled
National Geographic has an interesting profile of Mount Athos , the “Holy Mountain” of Eastern Orthodoxy. Some excerpts:
The holy peninsula of Mount Athos reaches 31 miles out into the Aegean Sea like an appendage struggling to dislocate itself from the secular corpus of northeastern Greece. For the past thousand years or so, a community of Eastern Orthodox monks has dwelled here, purposefully removed from everything except God. They live only to become one with Jesus Christ. Their enclave—crashing waves, dense chestnut forests, the specter of snowy-veined Mount Athos, 6,670 feet high—is the very essence of isolation.
Living in one of the peninsula’s 20 monasteries, dozen cloisters, or hundreds of cells, the monks are detached even from each other, reserving most of their time for prayer and solitude. In their heavy beards and black garb—worn to signify their death to the world—the monks seem to recede into a Byzantine fresco, an ageless brotherhood of ritual, acute simplicity, and constant worship, but also imperfection. There is an awareness, as one elder puts it, that “even on Mount Athos we are humans walking every day on the razor’s edge.”
…after two world wars and communism reduced the monastic population to 1,145 in 1971, the past decades have seen a rebirth. A steady influx of young men—often with college degrees, a number from the former Soviet bloc—has dramatically increased Mount Athos’s ranks to nearly 2,000 monks and novices, while Greece’s entrance into the European Union in 1981 made the peninsula eligible for EU preservation funds.
“There are 2,000 stories here—everyone has their own spiritual walk,” says Father Maximos, whose own walk began in Long Island as a teenage devotee of edgy musical artists like Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen, and who later became a theology professor at Harvard before resigning to “live my life closer to God.”
The following passage worries me, however:
Mount Athos has survived by bending where it must, though never without fretfulness. St. Athanasios, who founded the Megistis Lavras monastery in 963, infuriated the hermits by introducing audacious architecture into an otherwise rustic landscape. Roads and buses, then electricity, then cell phones have all been sources of angst. The latest encroachment is the Internet. A few monasteries have conducted ever so timid forays into cyberspace—ordering spare parts, communicating with lawyers, obtaining scholarly research. “It’s a great danger to be connected to the outside world,” cautions one monk. “Most of the monks weren’t even informed about 9/11.”
Not long ago I was talking to a friend who is a member of a (Catholic) religious order. He told me that they were considering the possibility of having the Internet available on one of their computers in their house. Some of the younger novices need it for their studies. I told him frankly: do everything you can to keep the Internet out of your houses! As I mention in my previous post , it is possible to be contemplative while in the world, but to me the Internet seems completely contrary to the religious life they are trying to lead. Hopefully the introduction of many of these modern conveniences to Mt. Athos will not harm their spiritual life.
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URL to article: http://ericsammons.com/blog/2009/11/19/the-holy-mountain/
URLs in this post:
 profile of Mount Athos: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/12/athos/draper-text
 post: http://ericsammons.com/blog/2009/11/19/contemplatives-in-the-midst-of-the-world/
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