Athos – the mountain which emanates otherness

Nik Erik Neubauer, Jan Dominik Bogataj

On our planet, there are only a few places that are so special and mysteriously attractive to humankind as – after 1000 years of history even more – Athos.

The reason for this otherness is maybe the fact that on this 40 km long peninsula on the Greek coast of the Aegean Sea, inhabited by around 2000 monks, has not yet stepped a woman’s leg. This exotic perhaps stems also from the fact that you have to go through a very difficult and long process to get a limited “tourist” permission to stay on peninsula for just a few days. And maybe Athos holds its mysterious reputation because of its serene and strikingly inspiring natural beauty from the top of the mountain at 2033 m and all the way to the lowlands by the sea.

All this is certainly true; but mysterious attractiveness of this highly diverse place, which is Autonomous Monastic State and home to 20 monasteries and countless hermit cells, is undoubtedly due also to countless generations of monks who have been continuously praying, night and day for more than 1000 years. Athos literally breathes prayer which permeates each piece of nature, numerous dwellings and settlements, and beautiful works of art in churches that represent the culmination of Byzantine and early Christian artistry.

Our brief experience on this mountain has been inspiring. Sincere smiles that shine on monks’ faces raise in us primeval questions about this mysterious otherness. Otherness that comes from otherworldliness. Peace, tranquility and silence intermingled with harmonious worshiping chanting are giving rhythm to everyday life.

For someone from Western civilization, inured to city streets, noisy parties and everyday bustle, for someone from digital culture, who every evening drops into bed with his eyes, overtired of all kinds of screens, the world of Athos presents unimaginable, remote otherness. For him it is only an anachronism, a civilizational delay of a few centuries. On the other hand, the same Athos addresses exactly this man of the 21st century – because it stands as a witness of an unfathomable secret, of a different relationship between man and God.

Nobody comes back from the mountain the same man he has come to it. Athos inevitably changes you and makes you other man.

Jan Dominik Bogataj


Slike: Nik Erik Neubauer