The next monastery was the largest and richest on Holy Mount Athos. I don't know if the word "rich" or "money" is compatible with religion, but this is what we were told about the monastery. Please note that the monastery has a guard post on the road from Karyes, where the guard checks the visitor names against his list and their permits or "diamonitiria". I don't know why, but it seems that in this monastery there are a lot of Cypriot visitors. The monastery was very big with huge buildings and a lot of monks, but it was also very tidy and clean (like every monastery we went, the surrounding paths and rivers are a different story). We were put in a room with three other guys from Cyprus, nice guys, we had a lot of fun for one day with them and we laughed a lot.
The evening was time for us photographers to move around and take some photos of the monastery against the evening stary sky. We grabbed our tripods and headed to the main church where we found a visitor priest on his white robe taking his stroll and checking our cameras from time to time. At one instance he slowly walked behind my friend's back and checked his camera screen without him noticing anything and when I told him that he was being watched, he realized he hadn't even seen the monk walking around him! After several photos we headed to the main building where our room was located, but we were confronted by a monk saying that we shouldn't stroll at night or take photos and a few moments before that, we had heard another monk's voice telling him about us and the "monk in white". I have already said that I cannot understand why photography is forbidden in the monasteries and probably never will and I will not take this any further.
The next morning we returned to Karyes where we had some free time to visit Koutloumousiou Monastery, not far from there. As I was taking pictures of the monastery and the surrounding buildings, I found myself high above the ground, on the last floor where monks had their rooms. Don't ask me how I went from down the entrance to the highest floor of the monks' building, I don't know, I felt like I was invisible and was only confronted as I climbed down the stairs, having taken whatever photos I needed to take. You see, when I take photographs, I have little connection with the "real world" around me and I do things that I would normaly not do (like climbing a steep path or walking extremely long distances).
Next stop was Iviron Monastery next to the sea with a small river near by, where I nearly lost a shoe as I walked over a dried part of a lake, trying to compose a shot. As I walked on this seemingly dried piece of earth, I begun to sink into the mud and I was lucky that the mud was not deep enough for me to cover my knees, thus making it difficult to come out of it without help. There was a plowed field in front of the monastery with red poppies and people seeding the field (or so they seemed to be seeding the field anyway). There was also a new bridge in some distance from the old ruins of the previous one, which had fell some time ago.
|The river near Iviron Monastery...|
Not far from Iviron Monastery there is Stavronikita Monastery, almost a 5 Km path by the sea, distance I walked in one and a half hour. I was prepared to see a big monastery, but I was told that this was the smallest of Mount Athos in operation today. I was also told that you need to contact the monastery over three months before you arrive because of the very few rooms available. The best view is its entrance with the arcs next to the water tanks in the path to the main door. You can't miss this view and I took many shots there with different framing just to be sure I was getting it right.
|Stavronikita Monastery at distance...|
Returning from Mount Athos I sat down and thought about what I had seen and what I had experienced. No, I did not find God there, God should be living inside us. Nor had I gone for a "reset" of my sins. Our sins are part of who we are and how we can find the way not to do anything our heart tells us it's wrong. I was also troubled from the symbols I saw here and there inside the monasteries, symbols of the "All-Seeing-Eye" etc. I was puzzled to see that many of the monasteries' foundators were rich civilians, photographed in their white suits among the priests' black robes in old photographs and that the foundators themselves were not priests or monks at all! I was also annoyed to hear that there is a monastery where they won't even allow you to take a shower (!) and the road to that monastery is damaged not allowing any access from the mainland by car (and that THEY ARE NOT WILLING TO REPAIR IT AT ALL). That the old priests fight with the new, because the old ones don't have the permit to stay etc etc... I simply could not understand all of this mortal fight, so I took my photos and I am now reviewing them from time to time and remember the details of what I think is worth remembering.
|The All-Seeing-Eye (?) at Vatopedi Monastery...|
|Iviron Monastery at night...|