On our way to Vatopedi in 2019 we suddenly were caught up by a very fast walking monk that raced past us. Of course we tried to have a chat but he turned his head smiling and told us, in perfect English with an American accent, that Vatopedi was not far. Though not unfriendly he refused to make conversation and did not lose speed.
Not long after this short meeting we reached the monastery. The monk behind the counter of the room at the entrance was acting if he knew that we were coming and said that he already booked two twin rooms for us. The fast monk had already announced our arrival!
We were very happy with our nice rooms for two, so no sharing the space with other pilgrims. We told ourselves that the fast-walking monk had specially arranged these two beautiful rooms. He didn’t want to be distracted by us while walking but provided us with the best rooms in the monastery.
Not only private rooms but also a beautiful view on the Vatopedi courtyard. We were VIP’s in Vatopedi!
The Court rejected the appeal filed by the brotherhood, the so-called real estate squatters or zealots, against the decision of the Court of Appeals of Thessaloniki from June 17, that obliged them to finally hand over all the occupied territories both on and outside of Mt. Athos to the new Esfigmenou brotherhood, currently based in the Athonite capital of Karyes. We wrote before about the conflict in 2012 and in 2017.
Esfigmenou Monastery has been in schism from the rest of the Holy Mountain, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and the rest of the Orthodox World for many years, in protest against the ecumenistic activity of the Patriarch of Constantinople with the Catholic Church and others. While the Athonite monasteries have protested such activity by ceasing to commemorate the Patriarch in the Divine services several times, the Esfigmenou brotherhood has gone further by joining a schismatic, Old Calendarist jurisdiction. The constitution and statutes of the Holy Mountain prohibit monastic cohabitation with the heterodox or schismatics, thus, in 2005, the new Esfigmenou brotherhood was established, which is recognized by the rest of Mount Athos, but has no historical connection to Esfigmenou monastery. The schismatic brotherhood still lives in the monastery with approximately 100 monks.
In April 2019 a Thessaloniki Appeal Court handed down a sentence of 17-years’ imprisonment and a fine of € 600 for Esfigmenou abbot Father Methodios (Papalamprakopoulos) for his involvement in a 2013 Molotov cocktail attack against riot police. Another monk received the same sentence, while another six were sentenced to 9 years and 5 months.
In the meantime, the conflict appears to be escalating. On July 23 2020 police officers arrived at the monastery’s dependencies in Ierissos and in Nea Roda and forced the monks to leave (for more news and photo’s by Maria Ritzaleou in Greek: Ethnos.gr – look here). And police cars are to be seen in the neighbourhood of the monastery.
The brotherhood of new Esfigmenou issued a statement announcing that it now possesses the properties and contending that the monks of Esfigmenou have nothing to do with Mount Athos. They also stated that the monks of the schismatic brotherhood “looted the facilities” a few days beforehand, “leaving behind the image of a scorched earth.” Meanwhile, the inhabitants of Esfigmenou monastery say that on July 23, “three monks of the new pseudo-brotherhood of Esfigmenou … seized property in Ierissos from the historical Esfigmenou.” (thanks to orthochristian.com)
I wonder where this leads to. I hope all parties are wise enough the settle the conflict in a sensible way and that they don’t look at what divides them, but focus on what shared values they have, while respecting differences. That is the only way to live together on this small planet ….
Tim Vyner, a British painter, received a bursary to draw all of the twenty Monasteries on Mount Athos. Some of the work he did on his iPad. There is a film of his iPad drawing of Dochiariou on Vimeo, click on the link. It is both very instructive and meditative to see how the artist works and the painting progresses.
On October 2nd 2019 we walked from Dionysiou to Grigoriou, a relatively short hike of 3 km’s, that took us 1 hour and 20 minutes walking time, but the steep climbs and the vicious descents made it a tough trip.
These stairs lead to the path that goes to Dionysiou. When you turn left you see the entrance to Grigoriou.
The access road to Grigoriou, covered with vines. The first thing you will have do after arriving in a monastery is to register your name and diamoniterion number in the book that lies in guest house – archondariki.
These round stairs in the second courtyard (see map below – B1), lead to the guest house.
In the reception room you can find the book to register your stay in the monastery (the ‘Biblion Episkepton’), here on the table on the left.
The photo above is from the second page of this book, that dates from May 2016, with an introduction text in Greek, in short: “Book of guests or visitors: that the Lord our God will remember the names of the devout pilgrims and visitors written in this book in His Kingdom. Date May 2 New Calendar, April 19 Old Calendar” (thanks Vasílis).
After being assigned our room we went for a walk through the buildings.
The West coast, looking to the South.
This photo is taken in the same direction, but now from the balcony. Where the brooms are you can see an open door, and this is what I saw when I went in:
The door led to the trapeza of the monastery. As you can see from the damage to the murals, the door is much used!
A general view of the trapeza. When I turned my camera to the left I could photograph this part of trapeza:
When I turned the camera to the right I saw the table of the Abbot,
a full set table with the bell that, if the abbot rings it, puts an end to every meal.
At these tables the monks and the guests eat their food.
After my visit to the trapeza I returned to the balcony and looked down at the rocks and the beautiful blue waters of the clear sea:
From here I could take a shot of the North wings of the monastery. Next time more pictures from the courtyards of Grigoriou (photo taken at M1 see plan above).
It is rather unusual to find original Athos icons, that are for sale on the internet. But almost a month ago I saw two offered on Catawiki, painted by monk Antonios. Most icons are made by anonymous painters, also on Athos, but these two were signed with the painters name.
And when I took a closer look, I found out that I already had an icon of monk Antonios, that I had bought from Rolf Bos in 2012. Mr. Bos is a Dutch journalist, who visited Athos in the early 70-ties and he made the discovery of the Panteleimonos photo studio, with its hundreds of glass plate negatives. I published about this in posts 861 and 862. And I published about the first icon of monk Antonios, from Agios Georgios and the Dragon, in post 1285.
Back to the newly bought icons: when I started bidding on Catawiki the prize went up very quickly and at last I had to give up. The prize became too expensive for me. Afterwards I felt sorry, because it is so seldom that you buy Athos icons. And what happened to my surprise? A few weeks later the same icons were offered again on Catawiki! And this time I was lucky, because there were almost no other bidders and I could buy the icons relatively cheap. (NB. The first bidder did not pay, that’s why they were for sale again).
The icons are from a artistic point of view not impressive. Monk Antonios who lived in skiti Agia Anna according to Rolf Bos, who ordered his icon directly from Antonios in 1976, is definitely a B-artist. But still I find them interesting, because they so typical Orthodox icons with its colors, images and its perspective (on the Markos icon).
The seller of the icons told me that they were bought by his mother; she has two sons, named Marc (the seller) and Ralph, and that’s why she wanted to buy icons from the apostle Markos and the angel Raphael. She did not order the icons herself, but her neighbor did, mr. G.J. Korteling, from Bennebroek – Holland, who visited Athos in the 70-ties. I found out on the internet that mr. Korteling was a KLM pilot and that he was a councilor of the municipality of Bennebroek. I did not find any records of him visiting Athos.
On the back of one of the icons I saw this date, which corresponds to the information I got from the seller.
Today I will receive three icon from Athos that I bought on Catawiki, two of them painted by father Antoniou from Skiti Agia Anna, from who I bought my first icon from Agios Georgios in 2012. To find some more information about this icon painter, I stumbled upon this site from Christos Baloukos.
Mr Baloukos painted very different scenes from the Holy Mountain, starting with this Van Gogh like oil panting of a dirt road on Athos, with its blue skies and unmistakable colors and scenery.
The courtyard of Xeropotamou (oil painting).
Monks in Karyes
The kirakion in Kavsokalivia.
The painter himself, mr Christos Baloukos (thanks to this site). I wonder if his paintings are for sale and what the prizes are….
These colour-printed wood-engraved plates are made by Francois – Louis Schmied (1873 – 1941) after paintings by Jean Goulden (1878 – 1946) a major in the Eastern Army Corps of France.
When Goulden stayed on Mount Athos during the 1st World War, he learned about the Byzantine art of enamel. He made several works with the enamel technique , such as this vase.
These two works belong to a first edition of 77, folio (415 x 304 mm) with a total of 45 plates, 19 views on Saloniki, 7 views of the Macedonian Valley, and 19 views of Mount Athos. The complete first edition is now for sale at Sotheby’s.
In the year 1988 Umberto Eco (1932-2016), the famous Italian novelist, and professor in semiotics visited the Holy Mountain.
Here we see the author in front of Simonos Petras.
It is said that his famous novel “The Name of the Rose” was inspired by his trip to Athos. The mysterious atmosphere of that book reflects the atmosphere on the Holy Mountain. The mediaeval architecture, the monks in black robes, candlelit corridors, labyrinths, whispering monks, and secret books and knowledge to be found in age-old libraries. The detective is set in the 14th century.
I remember that I was quite impressed on our first pilgrimage to Athos in 2009 when we got the opportunity to visit the library of Mylopotamos. To get there you have to get into the mediaeval tower. Behind an otherwise closed door we were admitted to the secret room and admired the old books.
Here we are watching a Ptolemy copy at the library. We easily found mount Athos.
Eco’s novel was published in 1980, so eight years before his visit to Simonos Petras.
I started looking for an earlier visit. I found only one blog with the information that Eco had visited Vatopediou before writing “In the name of the Rose”. Eco saw in the library a copy of the famous “Geography” of Ptolemy, as we did many years later in Mylopotamos.
I hoped to find more information about that first visit to Vatopediou. Maybe one of our readers knows more?
In his 1988 travel Eco went first to Simonos Petras, then to Iviron on the other site of the peninsula and then back to Karyes. In the building of Simonos Petras in Karyes he met the abbot of Simonos Petras, Elissaios. They had a long discussion. Source.
Yesterday the news arrived at this site that from now on the Pilgrim’s Office will issue a total of 60 diamoniterion’s a day to pilgrims and up to 20 visitors and pilgrims per day will be allowed to visit each monastery, 15 for each cenobitic skete. Additionally, travel between monasteries on Mount Athos is allowed again.
Each visitor must still confirm his stay with the monastery that will host him. From last Wednesday 1 of July the Greek borders are open again to 15 EU countries, that are considered save epidemiologically. Russian pilgrims are not allowed to enter Greece until now.
For older information about the lockdown Athos have look here.
On the site of orthoxianewsagency.gr I also read that the number of visitors to Athos increased the past years with 30% and numbers 250.000 to 270.000 visitors each year. The increased traffic is mainly caused by Bulgarian and Serbian pilgrims, who filled the gap left by the Russians.