Mount Athos is the Christian Tibet, a place that time forgot. This finger of land in north eastern Greece is the other side of the wardrobe Lucy used to enter Narnia. Except here, no one named Lucy is allowed. For 1,000 years the Holy Mountain’s old growth forests and fairy tale castles have been for men only.
Visitors can spend a lifetime in the forests, castles and monasteries but back in the other world it only counts as moments or days. It is a timeless land that draws the wounded and lost and offers us peace and a glimpse of a different reality.
Mount Athos is where…
- balding, no-neck, triple chin, beer gut Balkan-types come to weep
- a frightened Boston boy arrives with busted luggage and plans to rent a donkey or become a monk
- a German teacher dying of cancer comes to seize what’s eternal before the disease seizes him
- a tiny, timid Greek who tends his ailing mother and dreams of being a monk looks for courage
- a lawyer who breaks apart families prays for the enlargement of his own
- a Serbian icon painter looks for a faith as austere as his brush strokes
- a lost writer comes seeking resurrection
This is where prayers and stone carve each other – unyielding, enduring, ancient. It’s where men come to see if there is more. Most are in their 40s or 50s – old enough to know some truth yet still young enough to do something about it. Assuming they have the courage. Assuming they don’t get swept away in the current of time that swirls beyond the Holy Mountain.
Agios Oros is one of the world’s few societal control samples. Just as in any experiment it’s important to keep original material separate for reference, so it is with Athos. With no phones, computers, TV, radio, no Twitter or Facebook, Athos is unstained by any number of the revolutions that have swept our world.
I plan to go back and capture a better sense of this place and the ancient way of life that is utterly different from anything on this side of the wardrobe. For many the Holy Mountain the mysterious heart of Orthodoxy and for others a place to stand, albeit briefly, under the light at Lantern Waste.
One of the reasons for going to Mount Athos is to get story material for various media outlets. In the past that meant getting enough detail and colour to write a good print piece. Then it meant taking good photos to go with the copy. Now, in addition to writing the story and supplying pix, new delivery channels also means shooting compelling video, gathering top-quality sound and editing it all into a media pack.
This is the first time I’ve shot assignment video with my D-SLR (I left the big videocam at home) and to my eyes it looks a little choppy (although there’s an immediacy with that hand-held look). If I rely on this kind of video capture in future, I’ll bring along a tripod.
In the sidebar is the first draft of an Athos pack, a spotlight on Nea Skiti, where I spent two nights… and especially Father Nikon who lives there.
Music in the video from The Gates of Eden, recorded at the Koutloumousiou monastery (where I stayed my first night on Mount Athos).