Pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain

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  • The Climate of Athos
    • Winter on Athos (mid-September to mid-June), compared to southern Greece, is long, wet, and often cold. Snow is by no means a rare occurrence, even at low levels; and stormy seas often confine boats to harbor. As a result there are few visitors at this time. For those who are not bothered by climatic uncertainty and who want to have the Holy Mountain to themselves, winter can be a good time to go. The monasteries have now installed electricity and space heaters are available in the rooms. However, Mt. Athos can only be safely climbed between May and September.
    • High summer by contrast (mid-June to mid-September) can be very hot and is also the time that attracts the greatest numbers of visitors. This means that long-distance walking can be uncomfortable. Of those who can choose, many will prefer to plan their visit either in spring (mid-April to mid-June), when the temperature is more congenial for walking and the wild flowers are at their best, or in autumn (mid-September to late October), when the selection of fruit and vegetables being offered may be more appealing.
  • Directions for Making a Pilgrimage
    • Mount Athos needs to protect its seclusion, without which it would lose its raison d'être. For this reason it has to impose strict entry regulations. The bureaucracy may at first glance appear formidable; and so it is. But the following procedure is a reasonably sure way to gain entry.
    • Admission to the Holy Mountain is not determined by a daily quota, but rather by the number of pilgrims on the Holy Mountain at any one time. If there are no pilgrims on the mountain, then 100 pilgrims may be admitted. If there are already 50 pilgrims on the mountain, then only 50 will be admitted on that day. Pilgrims may stay on the Holy Mountain a maximum of seven days. In this context, by definition, pilgrim means Christian. Women are never admitted.
    • The quota and the scheduling of pilgrimages are administered by the Office of the Hegumen Constable. The office is open from Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and on Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to noon. It is closed on Sundays and on all public holidays. Those wishing to make a pilgrimage should first contact the office, by mail or telephone, to ask if there is a place in the quota for the day on which they wish to enter. The more notice the pilgrim can give, especially in summer and around the time of major feasts, the greater his chance of success. Reservations can be made any time up to one year before the pilgrim’s planned arrival date. Requests for reservations must include the pilgrim’s itinerary. The Office of the Hegumen Constable will make reservations at the monasteries that the pilgrim wishes to visit. No one is eligible for pilgrimage two years in a row. After the reservation has been made, the pilgrim must send by post a photocopy of that page of his passport which gives his identification. This will be checked against the actual passport upon arrival at the Office. If he has made his reservation well in advance, he will receive a letter of confirmation from the Office of the Hegumen Constable within about two weeks with further instructions, including advice if his itinerary is not possible in the seven-day period.
    • All travelers are requested to confirm their reservations by telephone two weeks before the date of the intended visit. Likewise, if the pilgrim will be unable to travel on the date which he has reserved, he is asked to inform the Office of the Hegumen Constable so that others may take his place. Failure to do so will be noted and his request for a new reservation may not be respected.
    • The pilgrim must then present himself at the Office in person with his passport at least one day before the visit. The Office is located in Government House in Prosforion. It is not necessary for the layman to supply a letter of recommendation. Pilgrims in Holy Orders or ministers of a Protestant faith must enclose a letter of recommendation from their diocesan bishop or a person of equivalent status.
    • Provided that the pilgrim has reserved a place in the quota for the day when he wishes to enter, the pilgrim will then be issued a permit (diamonetirion) addressed to the monasteries the pilgrim wishes to visit which entitles him to hospitality on the Holy Mountain for the nights on his itinerary.
    • A special diamonetirion may be requested by those who wish to stay longer at only one monastery to do study and research. This request must be accompanied by a letter of recommendation from the scholar’s museum, institute, etc.
    • It is best to arrive in Prosforion one or two days before the start of the pilgrimage. The Office of the Hegumen Constable will be glad to make reservations for pilgrims arriving early at any of the tavernas in Prosforion or with a family who has agreed to take in pilgrims for a modest fee set by the Office. All the tavernas have a lock-up where surplus luggage may be left while the pilgrim is on the Holy Mountain. Similar arrangements are made for those pilgrims wishing to visit the monasteries on the east coast of the Holy Mountain.
    • Before embarking, the pilgrim shows his diamonitirion to the steward of the boat upon boarding.
    • Prosforion is the point of departure for the monasteries on the west coast of the Holy Mountain. It is literally the end of the road. From Prosforion a boat departs every day at 9:45 a.m. This boat is the only means of access to the west coast of the Holy Mountain. On the west coast the boat stops at the monasteries of Holy Archangels, St. Pantaleimon, St. Thomas, the Presentation of Jesus, and at the military post at Daphni. Pilgrims may disembark at any of these points in keeping with their itinerary.
    • Aktí is the point of departure for the monasteries on the east coast of the Holy Mountain. From Aktí a boat departs every day at 9:45 a.m. This boat is the only means of access to east coast of the Holy Mountain. On the east coast the boat stops at the monasteries of Ascension, Transfiguration, St. Nicholas, Sts. Peter and Paul, and St. Athanasius. Pilgrims may disembark at any of these points in keeping with their itinerary.
    • In the case of inclement weather when the boats may not sail, arrangements will be made with the monasteries to change the itinerary, if the pilgrim wishes.
  • What to take
    • If the pilgrim intends to walk, it best to take as little as possible. At each monastery the pilgrim is given accomodations in a four-person room in the guest house (archontariki) for the duration of his visit. He will be provided with food and drink, a bed with adequate bedding and a bath towel, so it is not necessary to carry these things. Each bed has a desk and chair.
    • If the pilgrim is walking to another monastery, the host monastery will prepare a packed lunch, if this is noted on the diamonitirion. If walking a long distance during the day the pilgrim is well advised to leave the monastery with a full water bottle. The bottle may be refilled at any of the streams the pilgrim may pass. The water is cold and potable.
    • The most important item for walking pilgrims is a good map. This map is available, in several different languages, at the Office of the Hegumen Constable. The walking paths are clearly indicated on the map.
    • Other items the pilgrim should bring on his pilgrimage:
      • soap and toothpaste (there is no hot water, but the water is warmed with solar heat, so it is not ice cold).
      • a flashlight (the pilgrim is requested to be frugal in his use of electricity); ***stout walking shoes or boots and heavy socks;
      • casual clothing; shorts may not be worn at any time; shirts must have sleeves, short or long;
      • any medication he may need, insect repellent, and a few first aid supplies;
      • a hat.
  • Special Regulations and Notices
    • General
      • Pilgrims under the age of 18 may not stay on the Holy Mountain overnight.
      • Long hair is not permitted on the Holy Mountain. Those pilgrims who arrive at Prosforion with long hair may have it cut at any one of the local barbers.
      • Smoking is prohibited at all times while on the Holy Mountain.
    • At the Monastery
      • Upon arrival at a monastery, before 5:00 p.m., the pilgrim will be given a glass of water and a piece of Turkish delight. He then registers in the guest book.
      • After putting his baggage in his cell, the pilgrim asks the guest-master (archontáris) when he may see and venerate the relics and miraculous icons. Often a guided tour is offered accompanied by information about the history of the monastery.
      • Meals are eaten with the monks in the monastery's refectory (trapeza). The food is extremely basic, usually vegetarian, eaten in total silence and often with great speed. One is not supposed to enjoy it, but it is good food. The diner will be feasting mainly on bread, olives, pasta, lentils, vegetables and salad. One cup of wine is permitted. The cups are generous! Fish (including squid) and cheese are served on Sundays and the Great Feasts.
      • The pilgrim is advised to bring with him some supplemental food, if he thinks the monastic fare will not suffice. Suggestions include canned sardines or salmon, snack crackers, raisins or other dried fruit, unsalted nuts or seeds, and snack bars.
      • No meat is allowed on the Holy Mountain. Pilgrims will be expected to respect this and not bring any meat products to the Holy Mountain.
      • Taking photographs of the monasteries and the scenery is permitted. Photographs of individuals may not be taken without the express permission of the individual. Permission for taking photographs inside the monasteries can be obtained for the pilgrim by the guest master. This permission is not always granted. Any pilgrim caught taking prohibited photographs will have the camera, cell phone, etc., confiscated. Hiis diamonitirion will be revoked and he will not be permitted ever to return for a pilgrimage.
      • All pilgrims are welcomed to worship with the monks, but those who are not Orthodox may not communicate, nor may those who are not Catholic communicate in the three Catholic monasteries.
      • The wooden simandron is sounded at 1:00 a.m. signaling the time to arise. Private prayer and spiritual reading until the simandron announces the 4:00 a.m. morning prayer. The pilgrim quickly washes and goes to the katholikon. This lasts approximately two hours.
      • This is followed by communal breakfast in the refectory in silence. Meager fare: bread, tea, and fruit.
      • After breakfast, the monk is free for personal task until the morning bell (talanton) rings at 8:30 a.m. announcing the Divine Liturgy.
      • After the Divine Liturgy (about 10:30), the monk goes to his assigned task until 1:00 p.m.
      • The monk is permitted to take a nap from 1:00 to 2:00, after which he returns to his assigned task.
      • Those monks not excused gather for small compline at 3:30, then return to work.
      • The evening bell rings at 6:00 p.m. announcing Vespers (Esperinos). After Vespers, the monastery’s gates are closed.
      • This is followed by communal supper in the refectory in silence.
      • The pilgrim retires to his room at sunset for prayer, reading and/or sleep.
    • Schedule (times are approximate):
      • 1:00 a.m. – Private prayer and reading
      • 4:00 a.m. – Matins/orthros
      • 6:00 a.m. – Breakfast/proyévma
      • 8:30 a.m. – Divine Liturgy/thía liturhía; 10:00 a.m. on Sundays and the Great Feasts
      • 10:30 a.m. – Work/dhulía
      • 1:00 p.m. – Nap/ipnáko
      • 2:00 p.m. - Work/dhulía
      • 3:30 p.m. – Small compline/
      • 4:00 p.m. - Work/dhulía
      • 6:00 p.m. – Vespers/esperinós
      • 6:30 p.m. – Supper/apodhipnó
      • 7:00 p.m. – Retire/aposírome ya ípno
    • On the Walk
      • It is not permitted to spend the night on the Holy Mountain outside a monastery.
      • Whatever trash is created on the walk is to be taken to the next monastery.
      • A solitary pilgrim is not permitted to walk between monasteries. There must be two or more.
      • When walking the pilgrim is to talk in a subdued voice; no shouting, laughing or singing.
      • Swimming in the streams of the Holy Mountain is not permitted.
      • The pilgrim is not permitted to carry either matches or any other fire-producing item when walking between monasteries.
  • Costs
  • In season rates are in effect from Pentecost Monday through Independence Day, October 5.
    • For the diamonitirion:
      • Citizens of the Monastic Republic – δ5
      • Non-citizens – δ6
    • For the special diamonitirion:
      • Citizens of the Monastic Republic – δ5
      • Non-citizens – M1
    • Map - δ6
    • Busfare Prosforion to Aktí – δ4
  • Room and breakfast at a private residence
    • In Season – M2 per night
    • Out of Season - M1,δ6 per night
  • Room and breakfast at a filoxenía
    • In Season – M4 per night
    • Out of Season - M3,δ6 per night
    • Boat fare – M6, roundtrip
  • Supper, room and breakfast at the monasteries per night:
    • These are the approved rates, although the monastery may choose not to charge.
      • Citizens of the Monastic Republic – M1,δ6
      • Non-citizens – M2
      • Packed lunch – δ5
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