On Easter Sunday, April 24, 60 Minutes aired an enlightening documentary giving viewers a rare glimpse into life in the monasteries of Mt. Athos, the holiest and most exclusive monastic community in all of Eastern Orthodoxy. The CBS anchor explained how difficult it was to obtain the interview, as there has not been a news team permitted on the peninsula since 1981. It took over two years of persistent communication and negotiation before the monks of Mt. Athos permitted the 60 Minutes crew to visit the community.
Considered one of the most sacred locations in Orthodox Christianity, Mt. Athos is a peninsula in the north of Greece, part of the larger Halkidiki peninsula. Twenty monasteries inhabit Mt. Athos, each one like its own enclosed town, self-sufficient and productive. The Orthodox monks who live in the monasteries have dedicated their lives to Christ, choosing to live simply, austerely, and piously.
The peninsula has been a sacred place for centuries, with the first monks living on Mt. Athos as early as the 3rd or 4th century. Monastic communities were well-established on the peninsula by the Byzantine era, and they continued to flourish even under Ottoman occupation. Today, several of the monasteries contain icons dating as far back as the 14th century. One of the monasteries even contains a holy relic dating back from the 1st century: a piece of cloth worn by the Virgin Mary.
It is said that over 1,000 divine liturgies take place each day on Mt. Athos, as there are many churches on the peninsula in addition to the twenty monasteries. The monks of Mt. Athos pray for hours on end, some continuing to move their lips in prayer even as they do daily activities such as cooking or cleaning. When they are not called to prayer, the monks occupy themselves with other tasks, such as iconography, harvesting fruit, and welcoming the many pilgrims to the monasteries.
Mt. Athos welcomes many pilgrims each year, though each one is required to obtain a special permit from the monks before making the journey. Only Orthodox Christian men over the age of 18 are permitted to visit; women are not allowed on the territory at all. One of the holy fathers explained to the CBS crew why this was, and his reasoning was twofold. First, by Christian legend, the land was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and so to honor her, no other woman was allowed to step foot on Mt. Athos. Second, the monks decided that the presence of women would distract the monks from their vows of chastity.
Mt. Athos' exceptional beauty and serenity make it the ideal location for direct communication with God. The monks who live there have maintained the same simple lifestyle for centuries, seeking enlightenment through prayer and meditation. The 60 Minutes special allows all people, men and women alike, to see what life is like for the monks of Mt. Athos.
For more information on Mt. Athos, please visit: http://www.inathos.gr/
To view the entire videoclip, please visit: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7363734n&tag=mncol;lst;1