A Short History of Women Who Have Entered Mount Athos [Updated]

In the history of the Holy Mountain, there are a few instances recorded where women violated the sacrosanct and entered the “forbidden” world of the monks.

The legendary first violation of the sacrosanct was in 1346. The “guilty” party was Helen, wife of the Serbian ruler Stephen Dushan. However, she did not reach the Serbian monastery Hilander.

The Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe
The Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe

In 1850, the wife of the British ambassador in Constantinople, Stratford Canning, visited Mount Athos exceptionally and with prior authorization. Although the Patriarch Anthimos indicated in his letter that he “understood” the reasons for the visit, he strictly recommended not repeating it.

Maryse Choisy
Maryse Choisy

In 1929, a French journalist, Maryse Choisy, is said to have went to Mount Athos dressed as a man and stayed there for a month. Upon her return, she wrote a book about her experiences, and the “kinky” monk who continually spoke of his desire for making love, temptations and a guilty conscience. Her book entitled, “A Month with the Men of Mount Athos”

Un mois chez les hommes
Un mois chez les hommes

The members of the Monastic State responded to her book, “It is fanciful. She probably only saw Mount Athos from a boat. Further, how is it possible for a young and pretty girl, prone to adventures, to remain even a day in whatever type of outfit, amid 5,000 lively stout monks, and not bring any of them…to temptation? Would she have remained unscathed for a month?” [Obviously these monks were unfamiliar with the Gerontikon and Lives of Saints where many women have dressed up as men and lived their entire lives in male monasteries].

In 1932, Aliki Diplarakou, “Miss Europe of 1930”, disguised herself as a man and snuck into a monastery. She was publicly cursed and anathematized by Patriarch Photios II.

Aliki Diplarakou, Miss Europe of 1930.
Aliki Diplarakou, Miss Europe of 1930.

However, the case of the Pontic woman from Thessaloniki, Maria Poimenidou, was the most interesting since it was the cause—two months after her venture—for Legislative Decree 2623/1953 to be voted. This decree imposes an imprisonment for up to one year for offenders.

On April 17th, 1953, the then 22-year-old Maria “slipped” into the depths of Mount Athos dressed as a man and remained there until the 19th of the same month.

It should be noted that the State of Mount Athos, the Self-governing and Autonomous Part of the Greek State , belongs politically to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Μαρίας Ποιμενίδου
Μαρίας Ποιμενίδου

These are the incidents that have been officially recorded.

Western Side of Mount Athos

The following information is taken from Ralph H. Brewster’s The 6,000 Beards of Athos, 1935, pp. 16-18:

…From the very earliest constitution to the present day, admittance to the Holy Mountain has been expressly forbidden to all women, female women, female animals and beardless youths. The latter provision is by no means observed nowadays. That relating to female animals is still preserved with the sole exception that nowadays hens and female cats are kept by idiorhythmic monasteries. Other animals are still excluded, “so that their mating nay not furnish an outlandish spectacle to souls which detest all forms of indecency, and are daily being purified” (Monk Pavlos of Xiropotamou, quoted by Choukas, Black Angels of Athos, p. 204).

The part of the law relating to women has, however, never been slackened. Women have never been permitted on the Holy Mountain. If some have succeeded in living there, they have not published the fact. In modern times, various women have tried to enter Mount Athos, mainly, however, from motives of curiosity; but they have had very little success. A year or two ago a Swedish girl came dressed as a man and equipped with her brother’s passport. But already on the steamer doubts were raised about her sex; she didn’t seem to be quite one thing or the other. And, finally, as she was about to land, she had a fit of giggling, completely giving the show away.

Mademoiselle Maryse Choisy, in her seductively entitled book: Un Mois chez les Hommes, has made far greater claims. She describes the endless trouble she went through in order to enter, the opening words of the book being: “To start with I had my breasts cut off.” She describes herself being smuggled in, rolled up in a mattress. Once there she proceeds to have a series of completely improbable adventures. However, to anyone that knows anything at all about Athos, the book is a complete and obvious fake. Mademoiselle Choisy was never there.

A Greek girl, “Miss Europe” of 1930, at least landed on Athos. She came with another girl on her fiance’s yacht, and they both went ashore dressed as sailors at the monastery of Vatopaidi, where I heard the details of this story. The two girls walked about an hour or two, and one young monk in particular flirted with them a bit, without knowing that they were girls. “Miss Europe” had herself photographed beside the monk, and when she returned to Athens published the photograph in a newspaper along with the story of her adventure. After some time the newspaper found its way to Vatopaidi. The young monk without saying a word took off his cassock and gave up his whole religious life. He went to Athens in civilian clothes intending to marry the girl. But he found her already married and his despair at his hopes being shattered was so deep that he went mad. He is still being kept at a sanitarium near Athens.

But who knows if other women have not defeated the thousand-year-old laws of Athos and, unknown to fame, succeeded in living in the one country in the world from which they are excluded?

Ecumenical Patriarch Photius II Declared Public Anathema on Woman for Entering Mount Athos (1932)

Aliki Diplarakou, Lady Russell (28 August 1912 – 30 October 2002), was the first Greek contestant to win the Miss Europe title.


She previously won the “Miss Hellas” (Μις Ελλάς) title at the Miss Star Hellas Pageant. Her name has been spelled in various ways, from Alice Diplarakou to Aliki Diplearakos and Aliki Diplarakos.


In 1929 Diplarakou entered the “Miss Hellas” pageant as Miss Athens. Her biggest competitor was Miss Thessalonik Roxani Stergiou who came in second. Diplarakou won the title and represented Greece at the Miss Europe Even in Paris, where she was crowned Miss Europe on 6 February 1930.

Aliki Diplarakou must have been an interesting and educated character. She spoke fluent English, French, Italian (an incredible asset for a woman of her time), and toured the US giving lectures on the Ancient Greek civilization.

Αλίκη Διπλαράκου Miss Europe Aliki Diplarakou 1931

The “particular of her character” appears from the fact that she managed to disguise herself as a man and violate the asylum of Mount Athos. She is one of the few women who have tried and succeeded in the thousand year old history of Mount Athos. The conservative society of Athens disliked her anyways. After the “invasion” on Mount Athos, the Diplarakou name became synonymous with Satan.

Milwaukee Journal June 21, 1932.
Milwaukee Journal June 21, 1932.

NOTE: The following article is taken from the Milwaukee Journal June 21, 1932:

Greek Beauty Enters Forbidden Monastery

Athens, Greece (AP)–Alice Diplarakou, “Miss Europe of 1930,” dressed as a ship’s boy, scaled holy Mount Athos and entered a monastery where nothing female is allowed–not even a cow or chicken. The Greek Patriarch of Istanbul is understood to have pronounced “public anathema” on her head for the stunt.

Milwaukee Sentinel, June 22, 1932
Milwaukee Sentinel, June 22, 1932

NOTE: The following article is taken from the Milwaukee Sentinel June 22, 1932:

Grecian Beauty Denounced For Invasion of Monastery

Miss Europe Slipped Into Sanctuary in Disguise

Athens, Greece–

The daring of a Levantine beauty in entering a monastery on Mount Athos, where nothing female is allowed, even a cow, goat, dog or chicken, was understood Tuesday to have brought a pronouncement of “public anathema” upon her head.

The beauty is Alice Diplarakou, a Grecian miss who toured the United States last year as Miss Europe of 1930. The Greek Patriarch of Constantinople was reported to have pronounced the disapproval of the act.

The girl disguised herself as a ship’s boy, and accompanied by a French girl in a sailor’s costume, scaled the holy mountain and entered the monastery.

At present she was understood to be aboard ship crossing the Aegean Sea.

The Adelaide Mail (Midnight Edition) Saturday, June 25, 1932
The Adelaide Mail (Midnight Edition) Saturday, June 25, 1932

For those unfamiliar with the term “Anathema”, here is the proper Orthodox definition given by St. Nikodemos the hagiorite in his classic work, The Rudder:

The Dormition of the Theotokos Cemetery Chapel (Dunlap, CA)

The small chapel Dormition of the Theotokos at the St. Nicholas Ranch & Retreat Center cemetery was consecrated September 20-21,, 2013. Supper was served at 6pm on the Friday, followed by Vespers and a Vigil, ending at 11:30pm. The Saturday Liturgy took place at 10am with His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos serving.

Custom Service Books created for the Dormition Cemetery Chapel (Bill Tomaras)
Custom Service Books created for the Dormition Cemetery Chapel (Bill Tomaras)
 Cemetery Chapel Storage (Project area: 1976 sq. ft.)
Cemetery Chapel Storage (Project area: 1976 sq. ft.)







Architectural Fiberglass Tiled Monastic Domes (St. John Chrysostom Monastery, WI)

Situated on a serene 80-acre estate the St. John Chrysostomos Monastery is a sight to behold. This Greek Orthodox monastery, located in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, echoes its Grecian roots with elegant, red-tile domes and roofing. However, while the tiled domes appear to be terra-cotta, they are actually architectural fiberglass, or GFRP.


GFRP Can Imitate Any Building Material

Architectural fiberglass is an extremely versatile building material. At the St. John Chrysostomos Monastery, architectural fiberglass is used to imitate terra-cotta tile, but that application barely scratches the surface of the many building materials that GFRP can emulate. Architectural fiberglass can be used to imitate granite, marble, brick, copper, gold or even wood. Many of these traditional building materials are expensive, heavy and difficult to work with. Architectural fiberglass looks just like the real thing, and comes pre-fabricated and ready to install.



Stromberg Architectural Project: Greek Orthodox Holy Monastery of St. John Chrysostom


The St John Chrysostomos Monastery, founded in 1994, is a monastery for nuns of the Greek Orthodox Church. It is under the Bishopric of the Diocese of Chicago, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America. It is well known for the production of exquisite religious works of art, especially in the areas of ornaments, icons and plates.

The grounds of the monastery are a destination for religious pilgrims. Serenity, beauty and peace abound in this 80-acre estate. The site features a 9,000 square foot Byzantine Church and 18,000 square feet of support facilities. Of particular pride to its residents are the elegant tiled domes topped with crosses that create the monastery’s signature look. These pieces were built by Stromberg Architectural Products.

Stromberg built the domes using tiles composed of our Glass Fiber Reinforced Polymer (GFRP). GFRP has proven ideal for the replacement of terra cotta tiles in numerous past projects. As the monastery is blanketed in snow during winter months, GFRP is a much more prudent choice than true terra cotta for its ability to withstand widely changing temperature and weather conditions. In addition to enduring the change in temperature and conditions ranging from hot summers to cold winters, Stromberg GFRP was also passed the hurricane test, as elements created by Stromberg in the Bahamas have withstood the brunt of a Category 5 storm.



HRSOC Youth Group at St. John Chrysostom Greek Orthodox Monastery, Kenosha, WI (2013)

On Saturday, October 26th, the HRSOC Youth Group visited St. John Chrysostom, Greek Women’s Monastery, in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin.


We have been warmly welcomed by gerontissa (abbess) Melanie who has also taken the time out of her active monastic life in order to have a conversation with the group. Among other topics, mother Melanie spoke about marriage and relationships between young people today. She has also mentioned that the young people need to start thinking about planning their family in future and, most importantly, choosing the right person for the marriage since the focus should not be based on outward appearance solely. She has also made a beautiful connection between the young people and the St. Demetrious who was very young when he confessed Christ and because of this confession was tortured and executed (since the Orthodox Christians were persecuted at that time in history). In addition, our orthodox church celebrates him as a Great-martyr. Also, the monastery was celebrating St. Demetrious on this day and we have all been blessed to venerate his relics.


The group also visited their main church built in the graceful but mysterious Byzantine style. The delicious and hearty lunch was served at the monastery’s lunch hall located next to their smaller church. Some of the teens had to go back early to Chicago but the once who stayed took a 10 minute drive to Scoops Ice Cream in downtown Kenosha for a taste of an array of delicious sweet treats. Soon after, the group was back for a vesper service at the Monastery. The perfect ending to a perfect day, contemplating the beauty of life in a small, only candle lit church, alongside the beautiful and uplifting chanting of the monastery nuns.


We returned home “transformed, renewed and restored!” (St. John Chrysostom Monastery Pilgrimage, 2009)

NOTE: The following article is taken from The Orthodox Messenger, June 28th, 2009, a publication of the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese:
WI Pilgrimage
KENOSHA, WISCONSIN–On Saturday, May 9th, the Chicago Deanery Churches embarked on a pilgrimage to the Greek Orthodox Holy Monastery of St. John Chrysostomos located near Kenosha, Wisconsin. This pilgrimage was organized by the Diocesan Apostolate for Youth Ministry, continuing their desire to get our youth accustomed to the idea of taking pilgrimages. The event was attended by young people as well as adults. All told, more than 50 people participated. Those from Crawfordsville and Lafayette started their five-hour journey to the monastery before dawn! Parishioners also traveled from the Schererville and Hobart parishes. Faithful from Niles, Illinois traveled to the Pilgrimage on a school bus. They held morning prayers and then talked a little about monastic life on their way there.
Geronda Ephraim & Papa Pavlos (IL) at St. John Chrysostom Monastery.
Geronda Ephraim & Papa Pavlos (IL) at St. John Chrysostom Monastery.
The monastery is one of 17 founded by the Elder Father Ephraim. It is a women’s monastery. The community was founded in 1994 and serves to provide spiritual guidance and to help preserve the Holy Traditions of the Church through an exemplary Christian life and devotion to God.
Gerondissa Melani Makrygiannis, Abbess of St. John Chrysostom Monastery.
Gerondissa Melani Makrygiannis, Abbess of St. John Chrysostom Monastery.
Upon arriving at the monastery, before being called to prayer, faithful were warmly greeted and welcomed by the Sisters of the monastery. In the monastery chapel (which is devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary), a Paraklesis was chanted in Greek by several of the Sisters. During this service, in the beautiful and poetic hymnography of Byzantine Chant, the Theotokos (Mother of God) is honored and esteemed for her unique role in the salvation of the human race. We beseech her to save us—just as those drowning reach out to those on dry land. Following the service, a presentation about the monastery and monastic life was then given by one of the Sisters. She explained that the monastery complex was recently completed and that 20 nuns from Greece and America now reside there.
A typical day in the life of a nun begins by rising very early in the morning for prayers. On several days during the week the Divine Liturgy is served. Following their breakfast, the nuns go about their jobs or chores. Many of them work outside in the gardens tending vegetables, herbs and flowers. Some make candles or do iconography. Some help prepare soaps and lotions. Some work in the monastery bookstore or visitor center. All of their meals are meatless, and several days each week are strict fasting days. At the conclusion of their day, with prayers, the nuns retire to their cells. The Sister told us how they believe St. John Chrysostomos watches over and protects the monastery.
Faithful were then invited to visit the bookstore, where various icons, books, jewelry, baked goods, etc. were available for sale. A delicious lunch of traditional Greek foods and fruit was served in the visitor’s refectory at the monastery.
After lunch, a walk up the hill took faithful to the main Church of St. John Chysostomos. It features a beautiful iconostasion, main chandelier (lighted by
candles), marble floor, and other furnishings made by traditional artisans in
Greece. Faithful were able to explore the magnificent Church and the two
adjoining chapels as the Sisters offered explanations and answered any questions.
At the conclusion of the day, the younger children and the clergy were presented with gift bags from the Sisters as a remembrance of the pilgrimage. The day provided an opportunity for faithful to travel to a holy and sacred place to glance at the simple yet peaceful life of monasticism. Even if it was for just a short time, Chicago Deanery faithful were able to separate them- selves from the world, leave their problems behind, and focus on learning more about our Heavenly Father and opening their hearts to His special grace.
Those who attended the Pilgrimage returned home transformed, renewed,
and restored!

SCOBA Pastoral Letter on Suicide (2007)

The following “Pastoral Letter on Suicide” was adopted by the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) at their May 23, 2007 Session held at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in Crestwood, NY. The document was prepared by the SCOBA Social and Moral Issues Commission (SMIC). The Letter offers pastoral perspectives, consistent with both Holy Tradition and current medical and psychological thought, to clergy and laity alike on this human tragedy and how best to minister to those whose lives are so deeply affected by it.


The SCOBA Spring 2007 Session at Crestwood, NY.
The SCOBA Spring 2007 Session at Crestwood, NY.

A Pastoral Letter on Suicide

The tragedy of suicide has been a part of the human story from very early on, and it continues to affect the lives of our faithful today. As Hierarchs of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas, we are asked frequently to clarify the Church’s teachings on this critical issue. Our desire is to offer a pastoral perspective that is consistent with both the Tradition of our Orthodox Church and our improved understanding of the medical and psychological factors that might lead one to take his or her life.

The Sacredness of Life

As Orthodox Christians, we believe that life is a gift from God. The All-Holy and Life-Giving Trinity created all things and granted life to all living creatures. Out of His love, God made us, human beings, in His own divine image and likeness, entrusting us as stewards – not owners – of our lives, blessing us with the capacity of freedom, and calling us to a life of loving communion.

The exile of Adam & Eve.
The exile of Adam & Eve.

Our ancestors’ original rebellion against God was a misuse of freedom, which ushered in the reality of both spiritual and physical death. Throughout history, God has acted to redeem the fallen race and to restore the communion and life that had been forfeited. Indeed, our Lord Jesus Christ identifies the very purpose of His incarnation and earthly mission with the gift of life, proclaiming, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Remaining faithful to the Lord’s Gospel, the Orthodox Church invites all human beings to enter into the living body of Christ, to be sustained through the life-giving sacraments, and to preserve and perpetuate both spiritual and physical life.

Suicide and the Orthodox Tradition

While a precise and unproblematic definition of “suicide” is difficult to articulate, we can say that the type of suicide here being addressed pertains to the intentional causing of one’s own physical death through a decisive act. Understood in this way, suicide is regarded generally within the Orthodox Tradition as a rejection of God’s gift of physical life, a failure of stewardship, an act of despair, and a transgression of the sixth commandment, “You shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13).

Historically, the Church was called upon to address the issue of suicide from the outset. When the Gospel was first being preached, philosophical and religious teachings prevalent in the Greco-Roman world tended both to disparage the body and to endorse suicide in circumstances of severe hardship. The Cynics, Epicureans, Stoics, and Gnostics, for example, all endorsed voluntary death for reasons consistent with each group’s broader ethical vision. The early Church’s condemnation of suicide, as reflected in the teachings of Clement of Alexandria, Lactantius, St. Augustine, and others, thus served to affirm teachings that were sharply different from those of the broader culture: the sacredness of each human being, the holiness of our bodies as Temples of the Holy Spirit, and, especially, the call for each one of us to maintain faith and hope even in the midst of extreme adversity. While these core teachings provided a Christian witness to Greco-Roman society, they also were reflected internally, to the members of the early Church, through the condemnation of all attempts to hasten one’s entry into the Kingdom by self-sought martyrdom. Clement of Alexandria, for instance, condemns both suicide and such martyrdom when he writes, “He who presents himself before the judgment-seat becomes guilty of his own death. And such is also the case with him who does not avoid persecution, but out of daring presents himself for capture. Such a person…becomes an accomplice in the crime of the persecutor” (Stromateis 4.77.1).

Notwithstanding its strong general stance against the moral permissibility of suicide, the Church, historically, has offered a balanced teaching on this issue. On the one hand, the Church has maintained the normative position described above by condemning acts of suicide and by declining to offer a funeral service and burial to suicide victims. This dimension of the Church’s teaching has underscored the sacredness of physical life and the responsibility of human beings to express proper self-love, gratitude, and hope. This dimension has also served as an intended deterrent for those suffering suicidal thoughts.

On the other hand, in her wisdom, the Church has acknowledged the complex etiology and emotionally charged character of a suicide. The corruption of human nature, brought about by the ancestral sin, carried profound implications for both the spiritual and physical dimensions of the human person. While human freedom was not annihilated in the fall, both spiritual factors, like acedia (spiritual torpor), and physical factors, like depression, can severely compromise a person’s ability to reason clearly and act freely. In regard to suicide, the Church has taken very seriously such spiritual and physical factors, and has responded pastorally by offering a funeral service and burial to suicide victims whose capacities for judgment and action were found to be significantly diminished. Thus, Canon 14 of Timothy of Alexandria states that liturgical services should be offered, “if a man having no control of himself lays violent hands on himself or hurls himself to destruction.” And the patristic interpretation of this teaching states that services should be offered when a suicide victim “is not of sound mind, whether it be as a result of a demon or of an ailment of some sort.” Question XIV of the 18 Canons of Timothy, Archbishop of Alexandria. Pedalion, p. 898

Suicide and Science

Through advances in science we now have a better understanding of the relationship between suicide and depression, as well as a more accurate account of the causes of depression. Depression is an illness caused by both medical and psychological factors. It is characterized by feelings of marked worthlessness and hopelessness and is often accompanied by physical changes such as loss of appetite, weight loss, or in some cases, weight gain. Both insomnia and hypersomnia are common symptoms.

Current medical knowledge helps us to understand that all depressions are multi-factorial. Genetic, hormonal, neurochemical, environmental, and psychological contributions can combine to create a depressive picture. Furthermore, depression can present as the only expression of an underlying physical illness such as occult cancers, thyroid dysfunction, and drug reactions.

Sometimes depressions are very severe and psychotic in nature. These can be accompanied by delusions, hallucinations, and an altered sense of reality. In most instances, the depressed person is less impaired. Nonetheless, in all cases, depression is determined by non-rational psychological and physical internal events. Even an apparently rational and clear-thinking person may have his or her outlook and choices strongly affected by those non-rational internal events.

Pastoral Recommendation

In light of the above theological and scientific reflections, it is clear that the articulation of a proper Orthodox response to the tragedy of suicide is both acutely needed and particularly challenging. We are sensitive to the difficulty of maintaining a balance between the call of every human person to responsible stewardship of his or her physical life and the call of the Church to consider how advances in medical knowledge impact Orthodox pastoral ministry. Conscious of this need for discernment, we offer the following guidelines for ministering in the wake of a suicide.

First, we must remain mindful that the primary focus of the Church and its pastoral ministry in cases where a suicide has taken place is on the living, the family and friends of the deceased. We should maintain a certain humility while remembering that the state of the suicide victim is and must remain in the hands of God. Those left behind carry a great burden – of hurt, guilt, and often shame – with the realization that their loved one has taken his or her own life. They look to the Church and, especially, to the parish family, for strength and hope regarding the deceased, and for the support and love they themselves so urgently need. In addition to their personal pastoral response, clergy should direct grief-stricken family and friends to crisis counseling resources in the area, which can complement the healing ministry of the Church.

Second, as we have studied this issue, it has become clear to us that far more cases of suicide than have previously been recognized involve spiritual and/or physiological factors that significantly compromise a person’s rationality and freedom. While not removing moral culpability from all suicide cases or changing our general stance against suicide’s moral permissibility, we affirm the deep relationship between physical and spiritual factors in human agency and we acknowledge that, in most instances, the complex web of causes contributing to a suicide lies beyond our full understanding.

Finally, because of the complexity of suicide, both in terms of determining causes and in terms of ministering to those most affected, the parish priest should always consult with his diocesan hierarch in order to discern the proper course of action, the general pastoral recommendation being that a church burial and memorial services could be granted unless there were an absence of significantly diminished capacities.


In his beautiful description of the Church as the “body of Christ,” St. Paul writes, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Cor 12:26) The suicide of an Orthodox Christian is a tragedy that is suffered by the entire Church. As hierarchs of the Orthodox Church, we are acutely mindful of the need to maintain a perspective on suicide that is consistent with our identity and mission as the unified body of Christ. We believe that the perspective outlined in this statement, which reflects our common mind, accomplishes this purpose by drawing from our Holy Tradition as well as our deepened understanding of suicide’s causes.

We extend our fervent prayers for the victims of suicide and for all whose lives and faith have been shaken by the suicide of a loved one. Furthermore, as Orthodox bishops and members of SCOBA, we affirm that we will work together rigorously in order both to prevent suicides from occurring and to provide a unified pastoral response when they do, one characterized by the faith, hope, and love made possible by God, in Whom “we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)

The suicide of Judas (detail).
The suicide of Judas (detail).