Athos, or “Holy Mountain,” is a place in northern Greece where monks live autonomously in various big and smaller monasteries, as well as in cells and caves. Women are not allowed to enter Athos because the only female presence there is the Virgin Mary’s.
Many people from all over the world visit the Virgin Mary’s Garden, as the place is also known, in order to see an unspoilt peninsula where time has stopped. The monks try to live as simply as possible, following the ritual their Byzantine predecessors followed for centuries.
For many Greek men, this is a pilgrimage they do ever so often. Also men who have health or other problems visit the Holy Mountain in order to seek spiritual guidance and support. Many young men who are drug addicts ask the monks for help and solace.
As a woman who is not allowed to step inside Athos, I have often found it interesting to read about the Holy Mountain and watch documentaries on it.
Being Greek, I have always been impressed by the fact that most Europeans know so much about the monasteries of Tibet and Nepal but ignore the existence of Athos. On the other hand, this is a good thing. If the place became touristic, it would lose its importance and its spiritual depth.
This is stressed in Athos – Im Jenseits dieser Welt, a Greco-German production written and directed by Peter Bardehle and Andreas Martin.
To be honest, I had expected something more from this documentary. I know that there is so much from the Greek Orthodox faith that wasn’t depicted here. So much wisdom that wasn’t expressed.
Of course I understand that maybe the director and his crew weren’t welcome by all, so they had to follow only the lives of the ones who gave them permission to do so. The landscapes were gorgeous, and the atmosphere of the film altogether wasn’t bad. The chanting, the slow rhythm of the cinematography managed to transmit the slow rhythm of life at this place.
But the core, the soul of the faith somehow wasn’t there.
This had been my impression also when I read the book My Friend the Nun, by Ilka Piepgras. In it the author, a journalist, describes the life of her best friend, a former sculptress in Germany who became a nun in a Greek convent. Perhaps it is not so easy for the Western layman to be absorbed in this mysticism of the Eastern church.
However, for a first glimpse into it, both the documentary and the book are maybe enough.