Russia’s Mountains 4 Letters

Russia’s Mountains 4 Letters – An entire section of the visitor’s guide to the Holy Mountain of Athos is devoted to the topic of photography, and to sum it up – no photos are allowed. We learned about it a little late on our trip. Yuri Kozyrev, its contract photographer, had already flown in from Moscow to meet the remaining three of us in northern Greece. Otis, our Greek translator, came from Athens. I’m from Berlin. And a few days later, Russian President Vladimir Putin was scheduled to visit the holy mountain for a pilgrimage.

An important part of our assignment was to photograph his visit to one of the holiest sites in Orthodox Christianity. Yuri groaned as Otis translated the rules – no swimming, no sunbathing, no shorts, no photography and it was gone. It was the end of May, and we were standing near the place where the boundary of Mount Athos is marked by a rock wall. “No entry to all,” said the sign on the other side. “Violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Russia’s Mountains 4 Letters

Russia's Mountains 4 Letters

We began to question our possibilities. Mount Athos – or, as it is officially called, the Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain – is a spit about five seconds the size of Manhattan jutting into the Aegean Sea from northern Greece. For roughly the last thousand years, it has been governed by a council of Orthodox monks and, as their microstate name suggests, they enjoy a great deal of autonomy from the rest of Greece. Under Article 105 of the Greek constitution, the monks are guaranteed the “ancient privileged status” of self-governance, and they alone can decide who enters Mount Athos.

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Their rules are particularly strict in this regard. No women are allowed to visit. Female animals are also prohibited, with the occasional exception of cats and songbirds, which are very difficult to keep away. The formal reason for such rules is similar to the reason for monks’ vows of celibacy: they must be faithful only to the Virgin Mary, who they believe received Mount Athos as a gift from Christ to use as a private garden. Article 105 of the Greek constitution also states that “heterodox or separatists” – in other words, non-believers – are forbidden to live there. Men baptized into the Orthodox faith are even discouraged from visiting, as we learned when presenting our documents to the Athos Pilgrimage Office.

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This bureaucratic oddity, unique within the European Union and perhaps the world, consists of a basement room in Ouranopolis, a Greek village bordering Mount Athos to the north. Apart from the Orthodox icons hanging on the walls, it resembles the waiting area of ​​a provincial police station, complete with a glass partition between the monastic bureaucrats and the applicants. Upon seeing my US passport, the men behind the glass started some debate in loud Greek before handing the document to their superior, who looked me up and down.

“What is your religion,” said the man. On my mother’s side, there is some Russian Orthodox blood and my passport lists my place of birth as Russia, the most populous Orthodox country in the world. This was apparently enough for me to earn a diamoniterion, the visitor’s permit that is stamped with an image of the Virgin Mary. (Yury and Otis, who are true Orthodox Christians, accepted more readily.)

But we still weren’t allowed to photograph many things, and the Kremlin wasn’t willing to help. By phone, its press office explained that the visit would be a personal one for Putin — more spiritual than political — so they would not be hosting the type of press pool that usually accompanies him on presidential trips. “If you manage to get there,” the spokesman said, as if issuing a challenge, “we’ll see what we can do for you.”

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We reached there two days ago. From the port of Daphne, where our ferry came ashore, we boarded a bus full of pilgrims, priests and monks, mostly Greeks, Russians, Bulgarians and Serbs, from around southern and eastern Europe. By the time they reached the ancient city of Karis, the capital of the Holy Mountain, many of them seemed confused.

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It’s a small village, with a bus station, a medieval church and a few administrative buildings, along with a few cafes and souvenir shops, where T-shirts with Putin’s face on them were sold next to rosary beads and icons of Orthodox saints. . The shopkeeper said the shirts were selling fast and gave us advice on how to get to where we were staying.

Over the next four days we met dozens of monks on Mount Athos, and it’s hard to generalize about them beyond their beards and black robes. Like any large community of people, they come in all varieties, including a fair share. Some were narrow-minded or even hateful in their views of sinners in the outside world. But as a proportion of the population, there seemed to be an unusual number of men on Mount Athos who gave an impression of deep calmness and understanding, as if they were able to guess your thoughts before you spoke. Our host, Father Makarios, is one of these.

Russia's Mountains 4 Letters

Thin almost to the point of emaciation, she greeted us at the entrance to her cell wearing a sunlit black robe that was coming loose at the seams. If it’s not clear by now, my view of organized religion leans heavily toward skepticism, and Mount Athos did not bring about my conversion. But when Makarios came to shake my hand, something strange happened. For a long moment my mind went blank, and instead of my name I could only remember something that sounded like “Salmon.” He took it with a smile and showed us inside.

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Around a shady courtyard, his cell, or kelia, was a complex of stone and wooden houses with a small church near the entrance and, at the back, a large dining hall, its walls covered with frescoes of Orthodox saints. On a table he set a simple meal: boiled potatoes and green beans, bread, water and an unfamiliar type of green leaf that tasted a bit like pine. He then left us alone to eat and plan the rest of the trip.

Andrei Borisov, a Ukrainian businessman, smiles at a Greek Orthodox monk at a monastery on Mount Athos. Borisov made a living organizing trips to Mount Athos for wealthy pilgrims, mainly from Russia and Ukraine.

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Getting around will be the hard part. There are 20 monasteries on Mount Athos – 17 of them Greek, one Bulgarian, one Serbian and one Russian, each representing traditional centers of the Orthodox faith. They all take an hour to reach on foot, along trails that wind through the mountains. So Putin’s entourage will need a car to keep up. But taxis are in short supply on Mount Athos, and buses to most monasteries usually run once a day. After sunset, the monks close their doors and no one is allowed to come or go.

Our savior came in the form of a badass monk named Father Ioniki, who owned an old pick-up truck and was willing to pick us up for about $100 an hour. We had no choice but to accept. It took us about an hour to reach the Russian monastery of St. Panteleimon the next day, along cobblestone roads and sheer cliffs, as preparations for Putin’s visit were coming to an end. Dozens of Russian security agents were staying at the guesthouse and some of them even donned wetsuits to dive in search of threats to the presidential boat.

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Outside the main gate, we approached a group of journalists from a Russian TV channel and joined them on a tour of the grounds. The first stop was called Costnisa, or “House of Bones,” whose walls were lined floor to ceiling with human skulls. On their foreheads, many of them had the names of the monks and the years of their deaths engraved, some centuries ago.

One of the monks pointed to a skull marked with the date 1913, a tragic year for St. Panteleimon. That summer, several ships of the Russian Imperial Navy arrived to quell a theological revolt among monks, whose teachings the Russian Orthodox Church considered heretical. After failing to convince them to change their view of the nature of God, a Russian bishop allowed tsarist soldiers to storm the monastery. Hundreds of Russian monks were captured and brought back to the Russian Empire to be punished for their heresy.

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Russia's Mountains 4 Letters

Devano Mahardika

Halo, Saya adalah penulis artikel dengan judul Russia’s Mountains 4 Letters yang dipublish pada October 6, 2022 di website Caipm

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