During my last visit to the Holy Mountain monk Michael, the Lebanse archondaris of Simonaspetras, told us that the number of pilgrims was booming: the expectation for this year 120.000 pilgrims, for 2016 they expect 150.000 visitors! And 10 years ago, the number of pilgrims came to ‘only’ 50.000. Building activities in Panteleimonos.
This large number of pilgrims has a big impact on the infrastructure: many monasteries, like Vatopedi, Panteleimonos and Simonaspetras, are building new (guest)houses. While Vatopedi has to deal with 200 visitors in one night (according to Herman), Simonospetras fortunately decided to allow only 30 to 40 people every day (when the new archondariki opens next summer).The building of a new archondariki in Simonospetras in progress
The old route from Dafni – Karyes
And, like every year when I visit Athos, new roads appear, like the one the pictures below, the road from Dafni to Karyes. To my surprize the bus from Dafni took a new route, a recently created dirt road, that starts soon after passing the Xiropotamou monastery (where a new busstop is made: the bus does not pass the monastery anymore-see the second yellow flag/marker) .Xiropotamou in the distance, seen from the bus
The new road leads all the way to the other side of the valley, ending at the green marker on the picture above.
Here the two roads, the old and new, meet. Big machines are plowing their way through nature. Near Dafni and Karyes parts of the road surface is already paved with concrete, but I have been told that there are plans, to provide ALL roads on Athos within five years with such a concrete (or stone) layer!
I do not hope this is true, because what might happen is the following (which I saw with my own eyes). A group 0f five (Russian) pilgrims arrived in a 4wheel drive car at Karakalou monastery late afternoon with a private chauffeur (no taxi). They jumped out, received a quick tour in the monastery, ate a meal, buyed some things in the shop, gave a monk a few dollars and then, as suddenly as they arrived, disappeared again in their fancy car.
If this will be the future of an Athonian pilgrimage, Athos will turn in a sort of religious amusement park for fast living – rich? – people. I do not hope this will happen and don’t say I didn’t give a warning…..
Wim Voogd, 13/10
The colonels wanted to turn Agion Oros into a Disneyland without monks. Now the monks appear to turn it into a Disneyland with monks. Sigh.
In the USA there’s already a term for it: “spiritual tourism.”
Too much Renewal in Paradise in my opinion.
In an article by Scott Cairns http://www.huffingtonpost.com/scott-cairns/the-pilgrims-journey_b_8263934.html it is said that in fact there is no limit to the amount of pilgrims they let in. I quote:
Given a well publicized daily limit of 134 pilgrims–120 Orthodox Christians and 14 “others” who are allowed to enter the Holy Mountain–I had no idea there would be so many pressing to catch the morning ferry, easily 400 men, probably more.
The official limit of 134 men, it turns out, applies only to the uninvited. There is apparently no limit for visiting monks, Orthodox clergy, or for those pilgrims who have made arrangements to visit their spiritual fathers by invitation.
In a way Scott Cairns realises the impact of big numbers on the monks. In his septemberblog (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/scott-cairns/mount-athos-memoir_b_8182530.html) he writes about the new edition of his book Short Trip to the Edge and he says: ‘This edition also does what I should have done from the first; with two exceptions–those of Father Iákovos and Father Matthew–I have changed the names of my beloved fathers in hopes of mitigating any undue attention to them, attention which might make more difficult the lives of prayer to which they are, by God’s grace, committed.’
Athos is becoming part of the world – what it shouldn’t be. It was and should remain a refuge from this world.
I can only agree with the comments made in the blog and above. Last July I saw the first traces of the new road, sitting in the bus on my way back to Dafni. We were driving then still on the ‘old’ road and I hadn’t the opportunity to take photographs, I was surpised. But it then looked to me as if they were creating a new road maybe to Panteleimonos (festivities next year 2016?). I also recognise your story, Wim, about the Russian pelgrims…..It’s a pity
These arguments in the above posts were a main reason for me to stop my visits to Mt. Athos 2 years ago. I’ve started to make trips regulary since 1990 . Once I had the great pleasure to travel some days with Mr. Zwerger. But the fast increasing number of other travellers and so called pilgrims and the impact of money and what a lot of people could do with it, made me thoughtful.
Most of the time I travelled alone and making no reservations was never a problem until the last years when it got more difficult to stay overnight in the monasteries.
Maybe I start again next year and only stay in the Karoulia area or Mylopotamos. Here a link to some photos from the 1990s.
Some pictures made in 1992, before the big restauration game started.
There should be only allowed pilgrimage by foot. Cars should be banned for common-healthy visitors. It should only be used for elder people, for sanitary reasons, firefigthers, etc… The old donkeys system should be restored. Where are the limits to greed ? Who wins with these situation ? Athos should remain an untouched praying vessel. Last time I was in Athos, in 2001, I felt sad with the attitude of some greek pilgrims loudly talking trivialities and running businesses on their cellphones in midst of the monks and millenium old buildings… I travelled to Athos 3 times and every time, it took me three days to get to Hilandar by foot, passing thru two monasteries per day. What an unbelievable and unforgettable experience. What remain to those “new” pilgrims ? If you want a glimpse of what the future should not be : the catholic barnum of Medjugorje… I’m affraid…