Adventures · Stories

7 February: Christmas on Athos, Part 1: Grigoriou

The following events took place on January 4-7, 2016

Why have one Christmas when you can have two? And why spend any of your holidays relaxing when you can get back from Budapest, have one day back home, and then wake up at 4am the next day to go to Mt. Athos?

So, that’s what I did. Having just enough time to do laundry and repack, I left my warm bed and wife to get on a bus to Ouranoupoli (the port town just before Athos) with Vincent. I fell asleep almost immediately and woke up just as we were approaching the port, the horizon already turning colour and the Byzantine Tower in view.

We boarded the first ferry at 9:30 and slowly made our way along the Athonite peninsula (though it is connected to the mainland, ferry is the only way to enter). The surroundings grew more and more beautiful–such beauty that strikes you as impossible and compels you to glorify God above.

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We landed at the port of daphne around 10 and parted ways. Vincent went off to Simonopetra Monastery and I waited for the next ferry, “Agia Anna”, to Grigoriou Monastery.

For those of you who don’t know, Mt. Athos (or the Holy Mountain) is an autonomous entity within Greece and is home to 20 monasteries, the first of which was started at the end of the first millennium, and have had a continuous presence since. It is the best preserved and living heritage of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire.

Grigoriou is built on a sheer cliff that drops straight down into the sea. From the docks, there’s a stone path that leads through the main gates. The monks there are very friendly, and I was greeted as soon as my boots touched land. A monk gave me a brief history of the monastery as we walked up the path. The main church is dedicated to St. Anthony but the monastery itself is named after the founder, St. Gregory the Athonite.

I shared a guest room with a Greek man named Christos, who has been to every monastery on the peninsula on foot and has even made it to the top of Mount Athos.

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I attend Vespers, Compline, Liturgy the next morning, and breakfast the next morning before setting out for Simonopetra. As I was helping to clean the trapeza (dining room) one of the novices told me to be careful because there was supposed to be a snowstorm. But as I hiked up the first of the two inclines, it felt like a cool summer day and I had to peel off my winter layers to keep from overheating.

 

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