Introduction AGION OROS - THE HOLY MOUNTAIN IN GREECE
According to mythology the name Athos belongs to a Thracian giant. During the conflict between the Gods and the Giants, Athos threw a huge rock against Poseidon (the God), but the rock slipped through his fingers and fell to the sea creating a huge block of land which is now Mount Athos.
In a different version it was Poseidon who threw the rock against Athos. The rock crushed Athos and burried him underneath. This rock was called Mount Athos.
Up to the 3rd century BC, there where quite a few small Greek towns in the peninsula. Later, for unknown reasons, these towns fell into decay or were destroyed, resulting in a deserted area for many centuries.
According to tradition, the Virgin Mary with John the Evangelist, or their way to visit Lazarus in Cyprus, encountered a stormy sea that forced them to temporarily seek refuge in the port which is now the Holy Monastery of Ivira. The Virgin Mary, admiring the wild beauty of the place, asked God to give her the mountain as a present. Then the voice of our Lord was heard saying: "Let this place be your lot, your garden and your paradise, as well as a salvation, a haven for those who seek salvation". Since then, Mount Athos is considered as "The Garden of the Virgin Mary".
In the 5th century AD, the first monks came to Mount Athos, who disappointed from the boredom of everyday communal life, found this beautiful and uninhabited place ideal for worship their God. The city of mount Athos is situated in the entire third, eastern and most beautiful peninsula of Chalkidiki, called the peninsula of Athos. It is the only place in Greece, that is completely dedicated to prayer and worship of God. For this reason, it is called the Holy Mount.
The Holy Mountain is about 50 Km in length, 8 to 12 Km in width and it covers an area of about 350 square kilometres.
The borders of the monasterial city are defined on the ground by an imaginary line that starts from the location "FRAGOKASTRO" in the West coast and reaches the cape "ARAPIS" in the opposite end.
The natural beauty of the peninsula is extraordinary. The Mount Athos that dominates is a huge cone of 2.033 metres in height. It’s a naked, treeless crest that seems to lance the sky and its slopes are fully covered by ancient evergreens. All these help to create an area of incomparable natural beauty.
To the society in general
Our society needs many alternative ways of life. The pursuit of wealth, social status and earthly pleasures which are the current social values, need to be counter balanced. Monasticism is an established alternative society. Monks live a particular way of life which aims at the soul’s salvation and the salvation of humanity at large.
The life of a monk is a model for natural living with properly classified values. The monk can be an inspiration for the common man not so much as to follow him in his "calling" but to follow his example with regard to respecting to God’s will, strengthening his belief in God "reviewing" his habits and "rearranging" his values and priorities in life.
The Greek Orthodox monk is the quardian and the living proof of a long standing and holy Tradition. In the Greek Orthodox monasteries Byzantium lives for ever as an environment of devotion and a special way of worship. Hagiography (icon - painting), Byzantine music, woodcarving, incense preparation, all arts that originated in Byzantium are still performed and flourish in the Monasteries. Art and especially Byzantine icongraphy is one of the basic ways for someone to approach God. Furthermore, Byzantium and the particular tradition we inherit from it us (mainly through the Monasteries), constitutes one of the main components of our national identity as Greeks and Christians. In other words it is one of our deepest roots.
In Mount Athos, in particular, beyond the performance and flourishing of Byzantine religious arts, there are guarded authentic works and precious artefacts of that era: Mount Athos is today the largest museum of Byzantine art in the world. The buildings and art treasures that are kept there constitute an everlasting proof and reassurance for the spiritual and artistic wealth of the Greek Orthodoxy Church. In other words Mount Athos, is one of the main bearers and guardians of orthodoxy today, it constitutes a tower of strength, spirituality and morality for the Orthodox people everywhere.
The New Testament says that "God is Love" and Christ assures us that God Takes care of the smallest of the creatures in Nature, and of Man. However, we see humanity today being tortured by evil and nature being carelessly destroyed by man. Where then is the love of God? Has God stopped loving us? It seems very difficult to understand the world, man and God.
The key lies in the fact that man was created to be free, with the ability and right to say "yes" or "no" to things and the right to choose. Man can therefore agree with God’s will or disagree and resist it. God’s will is for humanity to always go for the better, so there will be no wars, famines, disasters e.t.c. God knows what to do, where to intervene and how. But if He is not asked to do so by man there is nothing He can do by Himself, because that would violate the law of freedom which He created. That is then the role of prayer. The monk asks God for His Will to be done for the good of humanity and this prayer has become his purpose in life.
It is said that when a man (monk or hermit) reaches the stage to repent and be cleansed spiritually so that he can look forward to the salvation of his soul and the view of paradise is near, then the mere thought that someone will be left outside, fills him with sorrow. When a man "lives in God" and "God lives in him" his will is identical to God’s will. God wants "all to be saved and to come and know the truth". This is the prayer of the monk, this is his specific offer and service to humanity.