Sunday, 22 February 2009

The Holy Mountain

The Holy Mountain (a.k.a. Mt. Athos) is a mark of Greek culture, primarily because of its presence on Greek territory, but, secondly, because of its attraction to worldwide Christianity. It has come to function as a sort of a stargate to another ancient holy divine era. Madingley Hall, Cambridge has just hosted the conference “Mount Athos: Microcosm of the Christian East” [20-22/2/09].
I was able to attend the final lecture given by Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia who spoke on “the Universality and the Uniqueness of the Holy Mountain”. His talk began by stressing the beauty of the mountain and the surrounding nature as a medium of God’s presence. He noted that when one is alone on the mountain, creation becomes a sacrament, uniting the believer to God. However, what is unique about the mountain, more than Mt. Everest or other religious sites like Jerusalem or Mt. Sinai, is the ecumenism of the mountain. Of course, ecumenism in this context is simply the union of people from many nations under the Eastern Orthodox umbrella of Mt. Athos. The presence of Serbian Orthodoxy, Russian, Georgian, Romanian, as well as the presence of some Western converts, give this mountain its universal, ecumenical character.
This holy mountain is not always welcoming to non-Greeks, however, and this issue was brought up and discussed during the conference. Metropolitan Kallistos rightly stressed that this xenophobia, regardless of its roots and perhaps justified causes, should be gradually overcome and the nationality of monks on the Mountain should not be an issue.
Peoples’ opinions on Mt. Athos are dramatically varied, whether one is Greek Orthodox, non-Greek Orthodox, Greek Christian of another denomination, or esp. Greek Orthodox feminist!
Nevertheless, what stood out at the conference, a shared value that rose to the surface and was acknowledged by all is that all nations have, and should have, equal accessibility to a holy mountain. Mt. Athos is not the inventor of this notion. This was spoken of Mt. Zion, the symbolic mountain of God’s throne which would be lifted up above all other mountains and be accessible for all nations to stream to (Isaiah 2; Micah 4). Mt. Athos displays the human need to grasp and solidify this truth. It reveals the human endeavor to fix this mountain and localize it on the map. This truth of God’s mountain finally being indiscriminately accessible to all humankind is deeply embedded in all of us. Some see it in Mt. Athos, others will not stop there. They see the mountain itself spreading out of its locale and taking over the entire earth (Daniel 2:35).

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