Something one notices almost immediately about Athos is the way the monks revere holiness. On Athos, the holy monk is an object of great respect. During my trip, I hear countless stories about Elder Joseph the Hesychast, the grandfather of Vatopaidi, and about Fathers Paisios and Porphyrios. For the monks, holiness is less a debate about sanctification than something one is meant to achieve. The story of the road to Emmaus—where Jesus appeared to two disciples after the Resurrection—is important for many Athonites, because it reminds them that contact with God through holiness is a warmed heart, a fire which can be lit and transmitted in living contact. Technically, the monks don’t seek this holiness, but they see it as the result of what they do seek—the obedience and humility of Christ. Holiness, in this sense, is the fragrance of a Christ-oriented heart; the outflow of a life in tune with God. Therefore, when the Athonites honor saints, they see it as honoring the reality of Christ, as his work has been made manifest in particular lives. The saints, in this respect, are like shards of glass before the sun: little fragments which—in the obedience and humility of Christ—became reflective of his greater light.
Yet the monks don’t see this as something that happens on its own. Where Protestants tend to emphasize the point of conversion, the Orthodox tend to see a more gradual, lifelong process (which only begins upon conversion). A friend once explained to me that, rather than a courtroom or a judicial metaphor (think penal substitution), the primary metaphor for the Orthodox is one of a hospital. Every patient is welcomed in, without condition. ...
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- Editors’ Note
Issue 24: A long-form special issue.
- To the Holy Mountain
A Protestant’s journey among the monks of Mount Athos. /
- ‘We Don’t Really Do the Retreat Thing Here’
To the Holy Mountain, chapter two. /
- Overflowing with Love
To the Holy Mountain, chapter four. /
- Wonder on the Web
Issue 24: Links to amazing stuff /
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