The monastic community of Mount Athos in northern Greece seems like an interesting place. There are more than 20 monasteries on this mountainous island above the Aegean Sea. The Simonos Petras monastery was founded in 1257 and is sometimes called the Christian Tibet. It is said that that the monks that live there are detached even from each other and reserve most of their time in prayer and solitude. They wear black garb to signify their death to the world. In this monastery, the rigidly enforced custom is that no women are allowed to visit. The monks say that this is a position born out of weakness and that if women were to go there, 2/3 of the monks would go off with them and get married.

The monk cuts ties with their mothers and gain the Holy Virgin Mary (who, legend has it stepped foot on Mount Athos and blessed its inhabitants). He forms a bond with the monastery’s abbot who becomes his spiritual father and helps him find his personal relationship with Christ.

Many of the monks have college degrees and one was even a doctor from Harvard. Another monk exports wine to 4 countries and has published a cookbook of monks’ recipes in 3 languages.

The monastic brotherhood consists of men who, in the end, are who they are. Some of the monks are independent and live in their own country cells, some are small-minded, and one monk says that monastery life can be absolutely consumed with pettiness. However, there are great monks who radiate goodwill. A monk, Father Makarios says that “With real faith, you have freedom. You have love.” I think that he believes that faith will can set a person’s heart free.

The monks are very timid about making contact with the outside world, but a few of them will go on the internet and order spare parts or communicate with lawyers to obtain scholarly research. They seem to be fond of their lawyer friends too!  The monks think that it is very dangerous to be connected to the outside world and that they are ill informed of what’s out there. Despite these occasional instances of contact with the outside world, the monks believe that they should spend most of their time “digesting death” and that they must pray especially late at night because “the heart is most open in the quietest hours of the night”. What a different view they must have of the world. They obviously see death as being symbolic of change. I like the phrase “the heart is most open in the quietest hours of the night.” It probably refers to the belief that the heart whispers and that all we have to do is listen. Plus, people do tend to be more reflective in low light such as at night time and in a darkened room by a fireplace.