This is the fourth episode of seven of the Athos trip done by Goulven Le Goff and his brother Ivonig from Rennes, France made in May 2015. They visited all 20 monasteries in one week.
This day was the most unpredictable since we didn’t manage to phone Pantokratoros to book a room. But above all because it was the fourth day, the day that we needed to renew our diamonitirion.
We read on internet that the office in Karyes closed at noon, which made it complicated to visit Karakalou and Philotheou before, even if the taxibus to those monasteries left Great Lavra at 6:45 PM. Morever, Austrian tourists we had met in Prodromos had warned us that the office was fully closed on monday. Discussing that, one of the Bulgarian hikers told us it didn’t matter as nobody cared about this paper in the peninsula. He seemed right since we were not asked to show it in Dionysiou or Great Lavra, but we were not too confident. It were justified doubts, because subsequently, we discovered that the diamonitirion is strictly required to get a room in Pantokratoros or Esfigmenou. Finally we decided not to listen to the Bulgarian’s advices, and anxiously hoping to reach Karyes before 12PM to find an open office, we entered the bus to Karakalou.
Unfortunately, this trip with the taxibus was the slowest we ever experienced ; it was at least 8PM when it dropped us off near Karakalou.
We arrived late, but still we took some time to visit the monastery. Karakalou is my favourite monastery, whereas my brother Ivonig prefers Iviron or Xenophontos.
Walking an unspoilt path, we entered Philotheou after 9PM. An old and friendly monk led us to the katholikon, the only one we visited beside the vesperal service, while explaining us the doctrinal difference between orthodoxy and catholicism in a mix of English, French and Greek. Before leaving, as we were telling him we had to reach Karyes before noon, which became quite impossible to walk, he called a passing monk who was going to Karyes in an old truck with three pilgrims. After a discussion about the fact that there was no place left at the frontseats of the vehicle, this latter monk agreed to put us at the back, next to six gas bottles which were not properly closed.
We tried to stay seated, but the track was in extremely poor condition, making it quite difficult. The scary part was that the gas bottles were constantly shaking, to such an extent that we soon smelled gas. Part funny, part frightening, the travel ended well in Karyes, where we took a photo of the truck in the mainstreet before going to the Pilgrim office, the Holy Administration building.
We found the Holy Administration closed, even it wasn’t 12 AM yet ; the Austrians were right, opening hours are only on tuesday, thursday and saturday morning. When we watched inside the building, we spotted a civil guard. We knocked on the window untill he opened it, enabling us to ask about our diamonitirion renewal. At first he was suspicous, but when we told him we came from the summit of Mount Athos, he seemed quite impressed, took our papers and came back two minutes later with a two weeks extension.
That left the problem of the accomodation in Pantokratoros, but a monk named Father Jacques whom we asked about the direction to Koutloumousiou solved everything. Recognizing our French accent, he told us he was also from France. While asking about our trip, he learnt we didn’t manage to phone Pantokratoros. « No problem », he said, « Currently there is a traditional weekly council gathering five emissaries from the five main monasteries in the Holy Administration building. The one from Pantokratoros is Father Theophilos, a great friend of mine, speaking fluently French. Let’s go there and we will meet him as soon as the council ended !»
Following Father Jacques, we get back to the Holy administration building, entered inside and encountered several monks who just ended their meeting. One of them was Father Theophilos, a great scholar with an angelic face who called the cell phone of a Pantokratoros monk and booked us two beds there.
We thanked Father Theophilos, listened carefully a Father Jacques’ moving preach and walked to Koutloumousiou. We were very relieved that it worked out so well.
At Koutloumousiou begins a nice wide footpath to Iviron.We had to stand in line to see the famous Panagia Portaitissa icon in this very chapel.
From the arsanas of Iviron there is a great view of the coast with Stavronikita in the background.
Walking an easy path, we soon reached Stavronikita.
A short visit to the courtyard of Stavronikita, we took a photo next to the pictoresque aquaduct and we went on our way to Pantokratoros. On the path, we met one of the Bulgarians we slept with on the summit of Mount Athos, with two older bulgarian hikers, also members of the FOMA organization ; one of them was a great scholar.The arrival at Pantokratoros ended a day full of adventures.
Like most of the monasteries, Pantokratoros goes through some huge renovations. We can see that on the photo of its courtyard. The bench on the left is the one where Father Theophilos had a long talk with us after sunset. He was ready to welcome us in his monastery, as long as we wanted to. Just after the bench, on the very left is the access to the accomodation, with a good shower system, the last we used as there was no shower, no hot water and even no electricity in the two last monasteries we slept in.
Text and photo’s Goulven Le Goff, Ivonig Le Goff, some editing by Herman Voogd