Το 1821 ως Γεγονός Μετοχής

Συμπληρώνονται 200 χρόνια από την έναρξη της Ελληνικής Επανάστασης του 1821, της πρώτης επιτυχημένης, ύστερα από πολυάριθμες αποτυχημένες προσπάθειες στο διάβα πέντε αιώνων κατά του Οθωμανού κατακτητή και δυνάστη. Ένα γεγονός κοσμοϊστορικής σημασίας, κατά γενική ομολογία, που όχι μόνον συνιστά την νεκρανάσταση του Ελληνισμού από τα θανατηφόρα δεσμά που του επιβλήθηκαν με την Άλωση της Κωνσταντινούπολης το 1453, αλλά και που διατρανώνει την αδιάκοπη συνέχειά του από τα βάθη της αρχαιότητας μέχρι σήμερα. Κι αν υπάρχουν ποικίλοι τρόποι εορτασμού ενός τέτοιου σταθμού στην ιστορία της ανθρωπότητας, ένας είναι αυτός που κατ᾽ εξοχήν αρμόζει στην σημερινή ημέρα: ο τρόπος της μεθέξεως. Της μετοχής, δηλαδή, στα συμβάντα προ μόλις δύο εκατονταετιών κατά τρόπο που καταργεί τους χωροχρονικούς περιορισμούς και αποδίδει στο εξυμνούμενο γεγονός όχι μόνον τα προσήκοντα αλλά και το ζωντανό αποτύπωμά του στο διηνεκές.

Στην αρχή του Πλατωνικού διαλόγου Τίμαιος υπάρχει ένα χωρίο, στο οποίο ο Πλάτωνας διηγείται, όπως του τα μετέφεραν Αιγύπτιοι σοφοί κατά το ταξίδι του στην Αίγυπτο, τα κατορθώματα της πόλεως των Αθηνών, έναντι ενός μεγάλου και ισχυρού εχθρού εκ δυσμών που επιχείρησε να καταδυναστεύσει όλες τις ευρωπαϊκές πόλεις. Και περιγράφει πώς η Αθήνα ῾῾ἔπαυσέν ποτε δύναμιν ὕβρει πορευομένην ἅμα ἐπὶ πᾶσαν Εὐρώπην καὶ Ἀσίαν᾽᾽. Μολονότι μυθική, η περιγραφή αυτή του Πλάτωνα -εκ στόματος Κριτία- για την Ατλαντίδα περιέχει στοιχεία διήκοντα της ελληνικής ταυτότητας και της διαχρονικής παγκόσμιας λειτουργίας του Ελληνισμού ως αμύντορος της ελευθερίας και της δημοκρατίας. Υπ᾽ αυτήν την έννοια, ήδη από την εποχή του Πλάτωνα, διαπιστώνουμε μιαν αυτοσυνειδησία του έθνους των Ελλήνων έναντι της ιστορίας, του ανθρώπου και του πολιτισμού του.

Αυτή η αυτοσυνειδησία εκφράζεται και επαληθεύεται πολλαχώς στο διάβα των αιώνων, από την αντίσταση του Ελληνισμού κατά τους Περσικούς Πολέμους -που μαρτυρείται στο μνημείο του Λεωνίδα στις Θερμοπύλες με το συγκλονιστικό ῾῾ὦ ξεῖν᾽, ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις ὅτι τῇδε κείμεθα τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι᾽᾽-, την Αυτοκρατορία του Μεγάλου Αλεξάνδρου, και την μετεξέλιξή της στην υπερχιλιόχρονη ζωή της Ανατολικής Ρωμαϊκής Αυτοκρατορίας -που σχεδόν παραπλανητικά καλείται Βυζάντιο- και μέχρι την πλέον πρόσφατη Αντίσταση του Ελληνισμού στην Ναζιστική θηριωδία, αντίσταση που συνιστά τρανή επαλήθευση στον 20ο αιώνα του προφητικού χαρακτήρα της μυθικής διήγησης του Πλάτωνα. Κορυφαίο, ωστόσο, δείγμα αυτής της πλήρους σεμνότητας αυτοσυνειδησίας συνιστούν οι ίδιοι οι λόγοι αναδρομής στην Επανάσταση του 1821, που εκφώνησε ο Θεόδωρος Κολοκοτρώνης στην Πνύκα, τον Νοέμβριο του 1838: ῾῾…Εἰς τὸν τόπο τοῦτο, ὁποῦ ἐγὼ πατῶ σήμερα, ἐπατοῦσαν καὶ ἐδημηγορούσαν τὸν παλαιὸ καιρὸ ἄνδρες σοφοί, καὶ ἄνδρες μὲ τοὺς ὁποίους δὲν εἶμαι ἄξιος νὰ συγκριθῶ καὶ οὔτε νὰ φθάσω τὰ ἴχνη των…Ἐγὼ δὲν εἶμαι ἀρκετός. Σᾶς λέγω μόνον πὼς ἦταν σοφοί, καὶ ἀπὸ ἐδῶ ἐπῆραν καὶ ἐδανείσθησαν τὰ ἄλλα ἔθνη τὴν σοφίαν των᾽᾽.

Στην ελληνική παράδοση, η έννοια της ελευθερίας και της εξ αυτής πηγάζουσας δημοκρατίας δεν είναι αφηρημένη, ούτε προέρχεται από μια ανάγκη ενδοκοσμικής διευθέτησης του ατόμου, προκειμένου να διασφαλίσει μέσω της χρήσης ατομικών και κοινωνικών δικαιωμάτων συνθήκες διαβίωσης τέτοιες που η μετανεωτερικότητα αναγνωρίζει ως ῾ποιότητα ζωής᾽.

Με τον Ελληνισμό συμβαίνει κάτι άλλο. Τόσο στην προ Χριστού, όσο και στην Χριστοποιημένη εκδοχή του, ο Έλληνας Λόγος και Τρόπος εμμένει στιβαρός στην διαγωγή του είναι όπως κανείς άλλος λαός ή άνθρωπος επί γης δεν έχει κατορθώσει: κινείται στα όρια της αναμέτρησης του όντος με το ίδιο το είναι, στο μεταίχμιο της πάλης της φθοράς με την αφθαρσία· του πεπερασμένου με το άπειρο· της χρονικότητας με το άχρονο· της ενθαδικότητας με το επέκεινα· του ψεύδους, της πλάνης και της αίρεσης με την αλήθεια· της δουλείας με την ελευθερία· του αυταρχισμού με την δημοκρατία· της ιδιοτέλειας με την ανιδιοτέλεια· της κακίας με το Αγαθό· του κτιστού με το άκτιστο· του Θανάτου με την Ζωή.

Είναι αυτό το τελευταίο ζεύγος που ο Έλληνας θεωρεί και βιώνει μοναδικά και ξεχωριστά από κάθε άλλον λαό, μολονότι είναι ίδιον σύνολης της ανθρωπότητας η με κάθε μέσο προσπάθεια να ξορκίσει τον πρώτο και να προσδεθεί όσο γίνεται στην δεύτερη. Διότι γνωρίζει ο Έλληνας ότι ο πραγματικός και πλέον επικίνδυνος θάνατος δεν είναι αυτός που επέρχεται με το βιολογικό τέλος του σώματος και τον χωρισμό του από την ψυχή, αλλά αυτός που νεκρώνει εκείνα τα αισθητήρια του ανθρώπου που του θυμίζουν ότι έχει δημιουργηθεί για πράγματα πολύ μεγάλα, που υπερέχουν κάθε έννοιας φυλής, γένους, ράτσας. Πράγματα που ανήκουν σε ένα Πολίτευμα που δεν υπηρετείται από κόμματα, φατριασμούς, διχασμούς, ιδεολογίες, ιδεοληψίες και ιδιοτέλειες. Γνωρίζει ο Έλληνας, ότι η μοίρα του είναι να μεταμορφώσει τον κόσμο και να τον ανακαινίσει, όχι με την δική του δύναμη αλλά με την δύναμη που εκείνη η θεϊκή νομή του όρισε, να γίνει κληρονόμος και δοχείο του Θεανθρώπου Χριστού. Αυτή η τολμηρή αλήθεια διαμορφώνει τόσο τις εκρηκτικές προϋποθέσεις εορτασμού των 200 ετών από το 1821 όσο και το ίδιο το γεγονός. Ένα γεγονός του οποίου το όνομα φέρει εντός του την πλέον ακατάβλητη τεκμηρίωση της άρρηκτης εξάρτησης του Αγώνα της Ανεξαρτησίας των Ελλήνων από του Χριστού την Πίστη την Αγία: Επ-Ανάσταση.

Ως Επ-Ανάσταση, ο Αγώνας της Ανεξαρτησίας δεν είναι μόνον ελληνικά εθνική υπόθεση. Αλλά είναι οικουμενικό έργο κατάφασης στη Ζωή που νικά τον Θάνατο. Ως τέτοιο αφορά ολόκληρη την ανθρωπότητα. Όχι τόσο διότι δείχνει τον δρόμο της λευτεριάς σε κάθε σκλαβωμένο άνθρωπο επί γης. Αλλά, πρωτίστως και κυρίως, διότι θέτει εκ νέου ενώπιον της ανθρωπότητας το μείζον διακύβευμα της Ελευθερίας, ερμηνεύοντας επί αληθούς βάσεως σε τί συνίσταται η σκλαβιά. Στο πρόσωπο του Τούρκου δυνάστη κατακτητή ο Έλληνας αγωνιστής αναγνωρίζει την φυλακή της ανθρωπότητας στα δεσμά της τυραννικής κλειστότητας και της αφηρημένης αυτοθέωσης που ο θάνατος ενός απρόσωπου θεού συνεπάγεται. Και άρα η εξέγερση δεν είναι ζητούμενο αποκατάστασης μιας ενθαδικής ελευθερίας και επίτευξης αυτοδιάθεσης, μολονότι και τα δύο είναι αγαθά και ιερά. Αλλά είναι η ύψιστη πράξη αντίστασης στον θάνατο που προκαλείται από την κατάφαση του ανθρώπου στην ιδιοτελή χρήση του κόσμου η οποία στοχεύει στην επιβολή επ᾽ αυτού και επιδιώκει την νέκρωση της μη αντικειμενοποιήσιμης θεϊκότητάς του.

Ως τέτοια η Ελληνική Επανάσταση είναι ύψιστο μάθημα έγερσης του ανθρώπου και άρσης της ύβρεως κατά του Ζώντος Θεού και του κόσμου. Ως τέτοιος, ο Αγώνας για την Λευτεριά είναι εκρηκτική κραυγή άρνησης του θανάτου του κόσμου. Μπροστά σε τοιαύτη θεϊκή αποστολή η θυσία και ο εκούσιος θάνατος προβάλλουν όχι μόνον δίχως δεύτερη σκέψη, αλλά ως η κατεξοχήν Έξοδος από τα δεσμά του Θανάτου που υβρίζει την Ζωή της Αθανασίας. Μόνον ένα τέτοιου συντριπτικού μεγέθους διακύβευμα είναι ικανό να γεννήσει το πρόταγμα ῾Ελευθερία ή Θάνατος᾽.

Μόνον η βιωμένη εμπειρία της αιωνιότητας μέσα στο κτιστό είναι ικανή να εξηγήσει την ῾῾τρέλα᾽᾽ των κατοίκων του Μεσολογγίου που δείχνουν πώς ο Πολιορκημένος μπορεί, και πρέπει, να μένει Ελεύθερος. Μόνον μια βαθιά πίστη στο ότι ο άνθρωπος έχει δημιουργηθεί για να γίνει κατά Χάριν Θεός και να ελκύσει όλη την κτίση και τον κόσμο στον Δημιουργό του, είναι ικανή να ερμηνεύσει σωστά και να δικαιώσει την πεποίθηση ότι ῾῾καλλιῶναι μιᾶς ὥρας ἐλεύθερη ζωὴ, παρὰ σαράντα χρόνοι σκλαβιά, και φυλακή᾽᾽. Διότι αυτός που ζει μέσα στην αιωνιότητα είναι σε θέση να υπηρετεί το άπειρο ακόμη και σε μια στιγμή. Γι᾽ αυτόν, η μια ώρα ελεύθερης ζωής είναι ασύγκριτη μπρος σε μια αιωνιότητα σκλαβιάς, μια αιωνιότητα, δηλαδή, η οποία δεν έχει συνείδηση του εαυτού της.

Αν δεν επρόκειτο περί αυτού, κανείς Λόρδος Βύρων δεν θα είχε μεθύσει από το αθάνατο κρασί του ᾽21, ώστε να γίνει Έλληνας και αυτός, να μαρτυρήσει δηλαδή με το αίμα του τούτη την Αλήθεια. Εάν η Ελληνική Επανάσταση δεν πρόκειται περί κατάφασης στο ύψιστο Γεγονός, της νίκης της Ζωής, του Χριστού, κατά του Θανάτου, τότε αυτό που μοιραία απομένει είναι η αποψίλωσή της και η θεώρησή της με όρους κλειστούς, ενθαδικούς, διευθέτησης μερικών δεκαετιών επίγειου βίου προσήλωσης σε ιδεοληψίες που γεννιώνται από την ιδιοτελή συσχέτιση του ανθρώπου με τον κόσμο.

Τα ανωτέρω δείχνουν, νομίζω, γιατί ο Εορτασμός του 1821 είναι πρωτίστως γεγονός μεθέξεως που ορίζεται από την υπέρβαση της ιστορικότητας, ακριβώς διότι ο Αγώνας της Ανεξαρτησίας δεν είναι απλώς ιστορικό γεγονός. Τιμά κανείς το 1821 όταν ζει στην οντολογική βαθμίδα των δημιουργών του. Όταν μετέχει δηλαδή της Αλήθειας στην οποίαν μετείχαν και οι Αγωνιστές του 1821 καθώς διατράνωναν: ῾῾για του Χριστού την Πίστη την Αγία και της Πατρίδος την Ελευθερία᾽᾽. Αυτή η μετοχή προϋποθέτει έναν εσωτερικό ανακαινισμό του ανθρώπου, μια οσιακή βιωτή όμοια με αυτή του Ιωάννη Καποδίστρια, του πρώτου Κυβερνήτη του νεοσύστατου ελληνικού κράτους. Τότε μόνον μπορεί ο σύγχρονος Έλληνας να αναχθεί οντολογικά στο επίπεδο εκείνο που του επιτρέπει να διακρίνει το σημαινόμενο πίσω από τον τύπο του ιστορικού γεγονότος και να ουσιώσει εντός του το ήθος και τον τρόπο των προπατόρων του που έξι γενιές νωρίτερα έπεσε επάνω τους ῾῾ὡς μία βροχή ἡ ἐπιθυμία τῆς ἐλευθερίας᾽᾽.

Όσο παράδοξη κι αν ακούγεται αυτή η πραγματικότητα, δεν είναι ξένη στον σύγχρονο Ελληνισμό, αλλά πολύ παλαιά και ταυτόχρονα απολύτως νέα, καθώς μιμείται το Μυστήριο των Μυστηρίων, την Θεία Ευχαριστία, που τελείται απαραλλάκτως από την Εκκλησία σήμερα και πάντοτε, για το οποίο ο Άγιος Νικόλαος ο Καβάσιλας γράφει: ῾οὐ γὰρ τύπος θυσίας οὐδὲ αἴματος εἰκών, ἀλλὰ ἀληθῶς σφαγὴ καὶ θυσία᾽. Έτσι, η μετοχή μας στο γεγονός του 1821 μπορεί να μεταμορφώσει μια εκδήλωση σεβασμού και τιμής σε ῾μίμηση πράξεως σπουδαίας καὶ τελείας᾽, με προεκτάσεις ευεργετικές στο δια ταύτα του σύγχρονου Ελληνισμού που αφορά στην ανάληψη της σκυτάλης στο σήμερα και την διεκπεραίωση της ῾ανολοκλήρωτης επανάστασης᾽. Διότι, όπως ο κόσμος εξακολουθεί να βρίσκεται αντιμέτωπος με την φθορά του θανάτου, έτσι και ο Ελληνισμός βρίσκεται αντιμέτωπος με τα ίδια ζητήματα ζωής και θανάτου που γέννησαν το 1821, κατά τρόπο που δικαιώνει την Θουκυδίδεια σπειροειδή αντίληψη της ιστορίας.

Υπ᾽ αυτήν την έννοια, οι Έλληνες καλούνται πλέον να αναβαπτιστούν στα νάματα της παράδοσης που δεν είναι άλλο από την πλέον προοδευτική στάση ζωής· η οποία, καθώς αρθρώνεται στην ουσιώδη, οντολογική και όχι εν είδει φολκλόρ, μίμηση της σπουδαίας και τελείας πράξεως που άρχισε να συντελείται το 1821, εκτείνεται στο μέλλον επιδαψιλεύοντας στο παρόν τις προϋποθέσεις της ελπίδας ανόρθωσης όχι μόνον του Έλληνα αλλά και του ανθρώπου κάθε φυλής και όπου γης, του κόσμου ολόκληρου. Μιας ελπίδας που δεν συνιστά φενάκη, αλλά προϋπόθεση Εξόδου και Αναστάσεως από την σκλαβιά και την φθορά, όπως προσμαρτυρεί το συναμφότερον του Εορτασμού του Ευαγγελισμού της Θεοτόκου και της 25ης Μαρτίου 1821.

Δημοσιεύθηκε στην Romfea.gr στις 24/3/2021

The Miraculous Last Outpost of the Roman Empire

A pilgrim tour from Norway to Mount Athos

Text by Øystein Silouan Lid, Pictures by Torbjørn Fink
The majestic rocky Mount Athos, a natural outpost

In this post I reproduce a beautiful article originally published in Norwegian, in the newspaper Dagen, from Bergen. It is about a tribute to Mount Athos, titled: ‘Mirakla i Romarrikets siste utpost‘ (‘The Miraculous Last Outpost of the Roman Empire’), written by the journalist Øystein Silouan Lid, who happened to travel to the Holy Mountain, in May 2016. The English translation was prepared by the author on the occasion of its publication on the portal pemptousia.com, in August 2016. I am grateful to Øystein Silouan Lid for his permission to reproduce it here. The pictures in this post are property of Torbjørn Fink, one of the members of the pilgrims group, to whom I am grateful as well.

The Church of Protaton, in Karyes, the capital of Mount Athos

This summer [2016 -ed.] ten Norwegians were granted an audience at The Holy Mountain, the last remaining part of the Roman Empire. The monks who live here tell stories of miracles and wonders as a normal part of everyday life. Mount Athos has been called the one place on planet earth that has changed least over the centuries. The Orthodox monks who dwell here, live as they did during medieval times, praying and working. They come to dedicate their lives completely to God, and the last thing they want is for the hard-to-reach peninsula to become a tourist attraction. Nevertheless, the monastic republic in northern Greece has a remarkable pull on people from all over the world.

When the famous CBS news magazine 60 minutes in 2009 asked permission to come do a story on The Holy Mountain, the request was categorically denied. It took two years of negotiating before one of the monasteries finally said yes. It was therefore not without trepidation that the Norwegian journalist set foot in Karyes, the administrative centre of Mount Athos, before setting off on foot towards the ancient monastery of Iviron.

East-north view of the Iviron Monastery

The forest on each side of the footpath has a jungle-like appearance. Wild edible peas, dill and oregano grow in several places. Suddenly we notice the wonderful fragrance of incense – the smell is easily recognized from the Orthodox liturgy. Yet here we are, in the middle of the forest, and no one is swinging the censer. 

On the path from Karyes to Iviron Monastery

Small signs and wonders such as these happen all the time here on Athos, says Panagiotis Pavlos. He is a scholar of philosophy at the University of Oslo, and presently our local guide. We are not far from the house of saint Paisios (1924-1994), regarded as one of the holiest men of the monastic peninsula. While he was alive people came by the thousands to visit him – on this very path. They were healed from all kinds of diseases, delivered from demons, and received spiritual counsel. It was said that his mere presence could change the hearts of the pilgrims who came to see him, and draw them towards Christ. Panagiotis was himself one of the many people who came to visit the saint’s kellion (monastic cell) in the forest, and is a friend of the monk who lives here today – father Arsenios.

– Christos anesti (Christ is risen)! Panagiotis cries out, and before long a man with a flowing beard is seen in the doorway.

Father Arsenios greets his old friend warmly and the Norwegians politely, before telling a few of the numerous stories of signs and wonders which took place right here in his cabin. A phenomenon father Arsenios tells us about, is the ability of saint Paisios to know what the guests would ask him, before even opening their mouths. 

Outside the cabin of Saint Paisios, in Panagouda

– Once, a lawyer came to Mount Athos. He didn’t believe the stories about Paisios, and decided to put him to the test. He planned to present himself as a doctor, instead of a lawyer. When he arrived at the gate he found himself in a group of 50 people who all had come to see the saint. Elder Paisios opened his door, looked the lawyer straight in the eye, and said: “Go away, and take your lies with you to the court room”. The man never doubted again, says father Arsenios.

The kind of Christianity preserved on Athos has a rather unique history. After the capitol of the Roman Empire fell to the occupying Muslim army in 1453, Mount Athos became the last remaining outpost of Imperium Romanum. Already in the year 972 it had been established as a self-governing monastic state within the empire by the emperor John the First, Tzimiskes. 

Aproaching Holy Mountain

Today the «Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain» is the only republic where the banner of the Eastern Roman Empire – the characteristic double eagle – still can be seen waiving in the wind on top of official flag poles.

Mount Athos is today considered to be the spiritual centre of the Orthodox Church. Over 2.000 monks reside in the 20 operative monasteries, having dedicated their lives to prayer for the entire world.

–The monks find the reason behind their monastic calling in the words by Jesus Christ (Matthew 19) regarding a life of celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of God, about selling all belongings, giving to the poor, and following Christ, says father Johannes, the priest in St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Norway, as well as the spiritual guide of the group.

Fr. Johannes, fr. Seraphim and Øystein Lid, at the south gate of Iviron Monastery

During the stay we live in three-bed, four-bed and eight-bed rooms in different monasteries, and take part in the daily lives of the monks. The services often start at 3 o’clock in the morning, and there are only two daily meals. They are all vegetarian and last for a grand total of ten minutes. 

Peaceful evening in the Holy Monastery of Iviron, with its famous Phialê before the Katholikon Church.

The pilgrims thus have more time for conversation and getting to know one another. All of them have a Lutheran background. Two of them, Lars Karlsøen and Bjørn Skauen, have even been priests in The Lutheran state church of Norway. Several of them have sought refuge in the Orthodox Church from what they see as heresy, modernism and worldly influence in Protestantism.

– I experienced that the Norwegian state church no longer had room for me. When I am here on Athos and see the spiritual riches of the Orthodox tradition, I can’t help thinking that Martin Luther made a great mistake in doing away with monasticism. The monasteries are guarantors of right doctrine, and the monks are models for the laymen when it comes to worship and obedience, says Karlsøen.

View to the Aegean, from outside the walls of the Megisti (Greatest) Lavra Monastery

– The first time I visited an Orthodox church the liturgy was in a language I did not understand. Even so, I experienced it and tears started flowing, says Thorleif Grønnestad. He converted over 10 years ago, and is today in charge of typica services in his home town Sandnes. 

Still, they do not paint a rosy red picture of the situation in The Orthodox Church. In some places the organization is poor, in others there are issues of nationalism. One of the pilgrims, Dag Markeng, has a striking comment.

Father Johannes (right), the leader of the pilgrims with father Christoforos (left), the Secretary of Iviron Monastery, demonstrating an edition about the Saint Trifon hermitage and scêtê in Hurdal, Norway. In the middle, hierodeacon fr. Serafim with some of the pilgrims.

– When I became Orthodox in 1983, my sponsor said something that I have found to be true. It won’t be easy being Orthodox – but it will be worth it.

One of the richest and most beautiful monasteries we visit, is called Vatopedi, established in the 5th century. Golden coins, gilded chalices and spectacular church art is everywhere. But it is also the home of a great treasure not made from gold, but from camel hair – preserved from the earliest times of Christianity.

– This is the belt of the Virgin Mary, says the monk Evstathios.

The Holy Monastery of Vatopedion.

According to written sources the belt was preserved in Jerusalem until the year 400. After being in Constantinople for some years, it was given to the monastery of Vatopedi as a gift. 

– This belt didn’t only perform miracles at one point in history, but to this very day. Every 14th day or so we receive messages from all over the world from people who have been healed or helped after having been in contact with the belt, says father Evstathios.

The Orthodox claim that in the same way as God performed miracles through even the clothes of the apostle Peter (Acts 19, 12), the same thing happens through the belt of the Theotokos. Father Evstathios point to a series of strange stories related to the belt. Especially childless couples are helped, but many different diseases have also been cured. 

Monks discussing before the gates of Vatopedion Monastery

– An oncologist from Switzerland came to see us and was given a few bottles of oil. He himself did not believe the stories, but he wanted to conduct some experiments after having heard about the phenomenon. He gave it to all the patients who were close to the terminal phase. Some did not survive, but two of his patients were fully healed. He came back to us in the monastery and told us about it. We don’t know why some are healed and others are not, but we use the oil in faith, and see what God wants to do, says father Evstathios. 

Each of the Norwegian pilgrims are given a bottle, and father Johannes are given several – for use in the Orthodox Church in Norway.

Saint Panteleimon Holy Monastery, known as Rôssikon (the Russian).

Towards the end of the stay the Norwegians hear a rumour about a Scandinavian monk at one of the monasteries they were visiting – Karakallou. After having met mostly Greek monks on Athos it makes an impression to meet a monk with glittering blue eyes and a long read beard. Father Prothromos is from Finland, and speaks some Swedish. As it turns out that also he has a Lutheran background. 

– How did you become orthodox, father?

– I went into an Orthodox Church one, and was so struck by the liturgy that tears started flowing. I realized immediately that I had to belong here, the monk says, echoing the story many of the Norwegian converts carry with them. 

Soon after his conversion 20 years ago, father Prodromos travelled to the Holy Mountain. Now he is head of the guest house in the monastery, and has had to learn several languages. 

– How is life here in the monastery?

– It is very good. Since the monastery of Karakallou is not as large as the others (number 11 on the internal ranking among the 20 monasteries), it is not as busy as some of the rest. So I have plenty of time to focus on prayer, says father Prodromos, reminding us about what really matters in life.

The Miraculous Last Outpost of the Roman Empire

A pilgrim tour from Norway to Mount Athos

Text by Øystein Silouan Lid, Pictures by Torbjørn Fink & Panagiotis Pavlos
The majestic rocky Mount Athos, a natural outpost.

In this post I reproduce a beautiful article originally published in Norwegian, in the newspaper Dagen, from Bergen. It is about a tribute to Mount Athos, titled: ‘Mirakla i Romarrikets siste utpost‘ (‘The Miraculous Last Outpost of the Roman Empire’), written by the journalist Øystein Silouan Lid, who happened to travel to the Holy Mountain, in May 2016. The English translation was prepared by the author on the occasion of its publication on the portal pemptousia.com, in August 2016. I am grateful to Øystein Silouan Lid for his permission to reproduce it here. Some of the pictures in this post are property of Torbjørn Fink, one of the members of the pilgrims group, to whom I am grateful as well.

The Church of Protaton, in Karyes, the capital of Mount Athos (photo by Torbjørn Fink).

This summer [2016 -ed.] ten Norwegians were granted an audience at The Holy Mountain, the last remaining part of the Roman Empire. The monks who live here tell stories of miracles and wonders as a normal part of everyday life. Mount Athos has been called the one place on planet earth that has changed least over the centuries. The Orthodox monks who dwell here, live as they did during medieval times, praying and working. They come to dedicate their lives completely to God, and the last thing they want is for the hard-to-reach peninsula to become a tourist attraction. Nevertheless, the monastic republic in northern Greece has a remarkable pull on people from all over the world.

When the famous CBS news magazine 60 minutes in 2009 asked permission to come do a story on The Holy Mountain, the request was categorically denied. It took two years of negotiating before one of the monasteries finally said yes. It was therefore not without trepidation that the Norwegian journalist set foot in Karyes, the administrative centre of Mount Athos, before setting off on foot towards the ancient monastery of Iviron.

East-north view of the Iviron Monastery.

The forest on each side of the footpath has a jungle-like appearance. Wild edible peas, dill and oregano grow in several places. Suddenly we notice the wonderful fragrance of incense – the smell is easily recognized from the Orthodox liturgy. Yet here we are, in the middle of the forest, and no one is swinging the censer. 

On the path from Karyes to Iviron Monastery. (T.F.)

Small signs and wonders such as these happen all the time here on Athos, says Panagiotis Pavlos. He is a scholar of philosophy at the University of Oslo, and presently our local guide. We are not far from the house of saint Paisios (1924-1994), regarded as one of the holiest men of the monastic peninsula. While he was alive people came by the thousands to visit him – on this very path. They were healed from all kinds of diseases, delivered from demons, and received spiritual counsel. It was said that his mere presence could change the hearts of the pilgrims who came to see him, and draw them towards Christ. Panagiotis was himself one of the many people who came to visit the saint’s kellion (monastic cell) in the forest, and is a friend of the monk who lives here today – father Arsenios.

– Christos anesti (Christ is risen)! Panagiotis cries out, and before long a man with a flowing beard is seen in the doorway.

Father Arsenios greets his old friend warmly and the Norwegians politely, before telling a few of the numerous stories of signs and wonders which took place right here in his cabin. A phenomenon father Arsenios tells us about, is the ability of saint Paisios to know what the guests would ask him, before even opening their mouths. 

– Once, a lawyer came to Mount Athos. He didn’t believe the stories about Paisios, and decided to put him to the test. He planned to present himself as a doctor, instead of a lawyer. When he arrived at the gate he found himself in a group of 50 people who all had come to see the saint. Elder Paisios opened his door, looked the lawyer straight in the eye, and said: “Go away, and take your lies with you to the court room”. The man never doubted again, says father Arsenios.

Outside the cabin of Saint Paisios, in Panagouda (T.F.)

The kind of Christianity preserved on Athos has a rather unique history. After the capitol of the Roman Empire fell to the occupying Muslim army in 1453, Mount Athos became the last remaining outpost of Imperium Romanum. Already in the year 972 it had been established as a self-governing monastic state within the empire by the emperor John the First, Tzimiskes. 

Today the «Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain» is the only republic where the banner of the Eastern Roman Empire – the characteristic double eagle – still can be seen waiving in the wind on top of official flag poles.

Mount Athos is today considered to be the spiritual centre of the Orthodox Church. Over 2.000 monks reside in the 20 operative monasteries, having dedicated their lives to prayer for the entire world.

Aproaching the Holy Mountain. (T.F.)

–The monks find the reason behind their monastic calling in the words by Jesus Christ (Matthew 19) regarding a life of celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of God, about selling all belongings, giving to the poor, and following Christ, says father Johannes, the priest in St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Norway, as well as the spiritual guide of the group.

Fr. Johannes, fr. Seraphim and Øystein Lid, at the south gate of Iviron Monastery.

During the stay we live in three-bed, four-bed and eight-bed rooms in different monasteries, and take part in the daily lives of the monks. The services often start at 3 o’clock in the morning, and there are only two daily meals. They are all vegetarian and last for a grand total of ten minutes. 

The pilgrims thus have more time for conversation and getting to know one another. All of them have a Lutheran background. Two of them, Lars Karlsøen and Bjørn Skauen, have even been priests in The Lutheran state church of Norway. Several of them have sought refuge in the Orthodox Church from what they see as heresy, modernism and worldly influence in Protestantism.

– I experienced that the Norwegian state church no longer had room for me. When I am here on Athos and see the spiritual riches of the Orthodox tradition, I can’t help thinking that Martin Luther made a great mistake in doing away with monasticism. The monasteries are guarantors of right doctrine, and the monks are models for the laymen when it comes to worship and obedience, says Karlsøen.

– The first time I visited an Orthodox church the liturgy was in a language I did not understand. Even so, I experienced it and tears started flowing, says Thorleif Grønnestad. He converted over 10 years ago, and is today in charge of typica services in his home town Sandnes. 

Still, they do not paint a rosy red picture of the situation in The Orthodox Church. In some places the organization is poor, in others there are issues of nationalism. One of the pilgrims, Dag Markeng, has a striking comment.

– When I became Orthodox in 1983, my sponsor said something that I have found to be true. It won’t be easy being Orthodox – but it will be worth it.

One of the richest and most beautiful monasteries we visit, is called Vatopedi, established in the 5th century. Golden coins, gilded chalices and spectacular church art is everywhere. But it is also the home of a great treasure not made from gold, but from camel hair – preserved from the earliest times of Christianity.

The Holy Monastery of Vatopedion.

– This is the belt of the Virgin Mary, says the monk Evstathios.

According to written sources the belt was preserved in Jerusalem until the year 400. After being in Constantinople for some years, it was given to the monastery of Vatopedi as a gift. 

– This belt didn’t only perform miracles at one point in history, but to this very day. Every 14th day or so we receive messages from all over the world from people who have been healed or helped after having been in contact with the belt, says father Evstathios.

The Orthodox claim that in the same way as God performed miracles through even the clothes of the apostle Peter (Acts 19, 12), the same thing happens through the belt of the Theotokos. Father Evstathios point to a series of strange stories related to the belt. Especially childless couples are helped, but many different diseases have also been cured. 

– An oncologist from Switzerland came to see us and was given a few bottles of oil. He himself did not believe the stories, but he wanted to conduct some experiments after having heard about the phenomenon. He gave it to all the patients who were close to the terminal phase. Some did not survive, but two of his patients were fully healed. He came back to us in the monastery and told us about it. We don’t know why some are healed and others are not, but we use the oil in faith, and see what God wants to do, says father Evstathios. 

Each of the Norwegian pilgrims are given a bottle, and father Johannes are given several – for use in the Orthodox Church in Norway.

Towards the end of the stay the Norwegians hear a rumour about a Scandinavian monk at one of the monasteries they were visiting – Karakallou. After having met mostly Greek monks on Athos it makes an impression to meet a monk with glittering blue eyes and a long read beard. Father Prothromos is from Finland, and speaks some Swedish. As it turns out that also he has a Lutheran background. 

– How did you become orthodox, father?

– I went into an Orthodox Church one, and was so struck by the liturgy that tears started flowing. I realized immediately that I had to belong here, the monk says, echoing the story many of the Norwegian converts carry with them. 

Soon after his conversion 20 years ago, father Prodromos travelled to the Holy Mountain. Now he is head of the guest house in the monastery, and has had to learn several languages. 

– How is life here in the monastery?

– It is very good. Since the monastery of Karakallou is not as large as the others (number 11 on the internal ranking among the 20 monasteries), it is not as busy as some of the rest. So I have plenty of time to focus on prayer, says father Prodromos, reminding us about what really matters in life.