HCHC Senior Trip 2011 – Mt. Athos

We left for Mt. Athos at 5am. I stayed up too late packing, but worse of all, there was music blasting from the theological school where we had taken Greek classes. Police are not allowed to go on college campuses, and if they had campus security they did nothing. After a restless sleep, we were on our way.

After the usual bus and ferry our group arrived on the Holy Mountain. We got off at Xenofondos Monastery. This was my first time at Xenofondos. I had been to Mt. Athos five years before. At that time, I went to ten monasteries and sketes, but never to any this far to the west. Xenofondos was smaller than many of the other monasteries I had visited. They didn’t seem to get many visitors. Other than us, there was one other small group of pilgrims and that was about all. We had an English speaking guide who took us on a couple of small tours. Outside the monastery walls there was a small stream where a miraculous icon of St. George was found.

We went to evening services and had a simple monastic dinner. Then, we went to bed early for a 4am liturgy. It was a feast day, so we had rice mixed with fish for breakfast. Afterwords, we loaded up and went to Keryes, the capital of the Mt. Athos community, to wait for another bus. It hadn’t changed much in five years, which was nice. The only difference I saw was that there were more consumer goods. I think they have more workers on Mt. Athos now, which is a good sign that more work is being done. Two cokes and some shopping later, we were on our way to Vatopedi Monastery.

I think most of the group agreed that we were at Vatopedi for too long. We were there for four days. The problem wasn’t so much the lenghth, but the monastery itself. They had a lot of visitors, and were very strict. We were asked not to move around much outside the guesthouse. We were questioned before we took communion about whether we had confessed. Worse of all, we couldn’t take photographs, although I found ways around that rule.

Those were the problems, but overall the stay was okay. The services were beautiful. There were two vigils, one very late one on Saturday. I tried hard to go stay for as long as I could, but I left early and, as our stay went on, I went later and later to morning services. I didn’t like doing that, because then I had to stand in the narthex. I couldn’t understand the Greek chanting, so seeing what was happening was a big part of the experience for me. Without that, I just had hearing the beauty of the melody, which was still enough. We went on several tours of the monastery and I saw a lot more than I usually did when I was going from one to another the last time.  We went on a tour outside the monastery and I got permission to take pictures. I also took a few from the vantage point of the courtyard, so I was satisfied with my picture taking.

It was hard staying up in our room all afternoon for four days, but I think I got to know all the guys a lot better. OVerall, I think I had a good stay. It was different from the first time I went, but I’d say it was equally good. On the last day we took off on the fast boat for the port.

 

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