This is the 5th 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.
Day 5 was another unpredictable one as we wanted to spend the night in the monastery of Esfigmenou, where the monks, amongst other things, broke the relationship with the Patriarch of Constantinople and since then lived self-sufficiently. When we tried to phone them, using a number found on internet, it was a monk from Karyes, nor from the monastery itself that answered, and he told us we couldn’t join them and even get there because they were fanatics. Later, Father Jacques ensured us that they were dirty. Other monks in Pantokratoros suggested us not to go there.
Those allegations didn’t stop us, they even made us more curious, but we didn’t know if the monks of Esfigmenou would welcome pilgrims, especially non-orthodox. That’s why we wanted to go there early, in order to pursue our hike to Hilandariou in case of a refusal. Once more, we left a monastery before the morning meal, and since we didn’t have anymore snacks , we didn’t eat anything till the evening.
The track joining Pantokratoros to Vatopedi is disappointing: almost only dirt roads. On the photo, one of the sections with a path.
Despite this, we appreciated the landscape around Vatopedi, when we encountered a monk working as a peasant.
The huge size of the monastery of Vatopedi surprised us. We had to queue to enter it, and we met in the courtyard more pilgrims than in all the other monasteries together.
Here is the katholikon of Vatopedi; the outside walls are covered with paintings.
The path between Vatopedi and Esfigmenou is one of our favourite monopatia. After an average first part along the sea, you have to climb the hills separating the two monasteries areas on an uninterrupted cobbled road during more than an hour.
At the end of the climb, a little bit before the pass, this cobbled road overhangs the landscape, with a panoramic view over the forest.
The final part on dirt roads is not that beautiful. But the view on Esfigmenou is great.
The first monk we discovered in the area was working hard in his farm. In the monastery courtyard, we met other monks repairing the katholikon roof, cooking, embroidering. When the vesperal service ended, we saw forty to fifty monks entering the refectory: most of their clothes were dirty, like if they worked hard all day long. All those elements seemed to confirm the fact that those monks were quite self-sufficient, even though two of the people working on the katholikon roof were workers not monks.
Another thing going towards this conclusion was the meal we ate there, far better than in other monasteries. The tzatziki, the spinach pie, the vegetables stew, the wine, everything was exquisite and fresh, like if it came only from their own local fields.
As soon as we entered the monastery of Esfigmenou, we were asked to show our diamonitirions. Three different monks controlled them one after another. When the third one learnt we were not orthodox, he warned us courteously that we were not allowed to watch the vesperal service, nor to eat with other pilgrims. It’s a pity because from what we heard outside, their sung prayers were quite impressive. These monks seemed as devout as they were studious.There was no shower in this monastery, so we had to wash ourselves in a sink with cold water. The room is the best we slept in: a peaceful place, with a panoramic view on the sea through large windows, lightened at night with an oil lamp.
Text and photo’s Goulven Le Goff, Ivonig Le Goff, some editing by Herman Voogd