The Hitler Icon: How Mount Athos Honored the Führer

 

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An image of Adolf Hitler greeted visitors to Mount Athos in 1941 (Source: Mönchsland Athos)

NOTE: Political instability in Greece during the mid-20th century that affected Mount Athos included Nazi occupation from the Easter season of 1941 through late 1944, followed immediately by the Greek Civil War in a struggle where Communist efforts failed. The Battle of Greece was reported in Time Magazine [see the end of this article]. After the Nazi takeover of Greece, the Epistassia, Athos’s four-member executive committee, formally asked Hitler to place the Autonomous Monastic State under his personal protection, and Hitler agreed. Mount Athos survived World War II nearly untouched, and for the remainder of the war, the monks of Mount Athos referred to Adolf Hitler as “High Protector of the Holy Mountain” (German: Hoher Protektor des heiligen Berges).

In an attempt to defend and justify Mount Athos’ allegiance with Hitler during WWII, Greek Orthodox apologists state that it was simply a strategic measure to protect the mountain from Bulgarian occupation and de-hellenization.1 They criticize the jouranlists who write “negatively” about this incident in Athonite history as “slanderers” and “accusers” of the Church; purposely hiding this important information in an attempt to tarnish Mount Athos’ image. However, these Orthodox apologists fall into the same “sin of concealing facts.” The defenders of Athos fail to mention that in the time leading up to the war—especially during the 30s—the Hagiorites were consumed with fervor and anticipation for Constantinople’s liberation as foretold in spurious prophecies that are not officially accepted by the Orthodox Church or the Church Fathers. Yet, the majority of Athonite monks during the 30s not only believed in them, but felt that they were living through their fulfillment.

The Anonymous Prophesy of 1053,2 was a popular prophecy on everyone’s lips before and during the war. This prophecy was virtually unheard of in the Orthodox world until 1914.3 There was a belief that Germany would be the first country to become Orthodox after the “New European War.”4

A common belief of Athonite monks during the 30s, as conveyed in various publications by pilgrims of that era was:

“You know Germany is going to become Orthodox very soon. The Holy Fathers have prophesied it. It is said that there is now a great king ruling in Germany, who slaughters all the Jews and Bolsheviks. We love him for that. It is the beginning of the prophecy.”5

The Triple Occupation of Greece by the Axis Powers (1941-1944)
Germany (red), Italy (blue), Bulgaria (green).

THERE IS A PIOUS notion out there that organized religion, if practiced devoutly enough, can preserve human beings from immoral thoughts and actions, particularly those stemming from the seductions of supposedly secular political ideologies. The Protestants have their “mighty fortress” of Lutheran song and liturgy, the Catholics have their eternal Vatican, and the Greek Orthodox Church preserves its theological purity in the twenty monasteries of Mount Athos, “the Garden of the Virgins,” on a peninsula in northern Greece, where all females – including dogs and cats – are banished from the premises so as to protect the monks from any impure sensations.* However, even the most cursory glance at the historical record reveals that the devout are not only as likely as anyone else to fall for a totalitarian bill of goods, they may even be more susceptible than the average citizen.

Mount Athos can serve as a case in point. In the summer of 1941, just months after the German invasion and occupation of Greece, Professor Franz Dölger led an official Nazi expedition to the holy mountain.6 The journey, which focused on historical and theological issues, was officially sponsored by Alfred Rosenberg, Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories, and was generously supported by the Wehrmacht. Dölger himself was a distinguished professor of Byzantine studies at the University of Munich from 1931 until his retirement in 1958.

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The expedition report Mönchsland Athos (Athos, Land of Monks), published in 1942

Dölger and his companions, both academic and military, encountered a religious community that was more than willing to embrace Nazism. In fairness to the residents of Mount Athos, we should note that they had good reason to despise Hitler’s nemesis, communism: Stalin was busy confiscating the Russian Orthodox Church’s property and deporting its priests to the gulag, and he had also halted the previously reliable flow of Russian contributions to the monasteries’ upkeep. According to Time Magazine report from 1941, the remarkably naïve monks only knew of Hitler as “a great German king who slays the Bolsheviks and the Jews – a fulfillment of prophecy.” In this, they differed little from the bulk of Catholics and Protestants in Germany and many of the occupied countries. After the Nazi takeover of Greece, the Epistassia, Athos’s four-member executive committee, formally asked Hitler to place the Autonomous Monastic State under his personal protection, a request with which the Führer gladly complied. Mount Athos survived the war nearly untouched, which is more than can be said for the rest of Greece, which lost 11 percent of its population, including virtually all of its Jews.

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Wehrmacht soldiers posing with Greek Orthodox monks in Karyes, Athos Peninsula, Easter 1941

In gratitude for his protection, the monks displayed and revered Hitler images, including not only the one described further down but also a portrait hung directly in the center of a wall of paintings in the great reception room of St Panteleimon monastery, directly beneath a portrait of Tsar Nicholas II (see video clip below).

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Hitler in a place of honor at St. Panteleimon Monastery (1942)
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This picture is taken partner after the Second World War. The portrait of Hitler is Replaced by portraits of Queen Frederica (1917 – 1981) and beside her king Paul (1901 – 1964).

The following is my translation of an excerpt from Prof. Dölger’s account of his visit to Mount Athos as printed in the book Mönchsland Athos (Munich: 1942), the official report of his 1941 visit to the holy mountain:

At the monastery of Konstamonitou, at the place of honor in the reception room, we encountered the image of our Führer.  A monk had discovered a picture in an illustrated magazine and created a pencil drawing based on this model. Elsewhere too we could observe how strongly the personality of the Führer and the Greater German Reich impressed itself upon the imagination of the residents of Mount Athos, at least among those who had not entirely turned away from the world. Upon our arrival at several monasteries and, upon our departure from one (Dionisíu), when we sailed out onto the sea in our little ship, we were greeted by the swastika flag. The Führer is regarded by a great many monks as the “High Protector of the Holy Mountain” who will also hold his protecting hand over the Holy Mountain in the reordering of the world.

We had a delightful experience as we photographed a miraculous image of the Virgin Mary. From the point of view of Athos, it represented an immense concession for us to receive permission to photograph the sacred icon, and monks even helped us in our preparations. One old monk who joined us observed these preparations, shaking his head. Turning to us, he said: “If you want to photograph the Panajía [Virgin Mary], then you will have little luck; for the Panajía has never yet allowed herself to be photographed.” – “But it could be,” he added in a trusting and good-natured manner, “that the Panajía may make an exception for you Germans and allow herself to be photographed, because you Germans, after all, are waging a holy war against Bolshevism, the enemy of God.”

*Banishing the opposite sex from the peninsula might sound like a recipe for boredom, but it appears that the monks knew how to keep busy. According to a Time Magazine article in April 1941, “[a]n alarming number of monks have taken to smoking, alcohol, even narcotics. And the immemorial escape from celibacy has threatened to become a fever sickening the whole ‘Great Academy of the Greek Clergy.’ The Greek press has stormed about the kidnapping of male children for the monks of Athos, and motorboats carrying male prostitutes are constantly reported chugging into the monastery harbors.”

Franz Dölger's Diamonitirion
On the recommendation of Georgios Tsolakoglou, 1st Greek Prime Minister of the occupation, Dölger received a special residence permit.

TWO ARTICLES FROM TIME MAGAZINE

MOUNT ATHOS: Failing Light

Monday, April 28, 1941
TIME Magazine

The Stukas swooped across the Aegean skies like dark, dreadful birds, but they dropped no bombs on the monks of Mount Athos. The motorized Nazi hordes rumbled across the Salonikan peninsula, but they did not invade its 40-mile-long eastern cape where the holy and historic Mount towers in misty beauty above monasteries perching like fabulous castles on crags above the sea. Surrounded by flower-scented glens and gorges, veiled with pine and cypress and chestnut, are great Lavra Monastery, Vatopédi, Simöpetra, bastioned Dionysiou (which proudly possesses the brain and right hand of Saint John the Baptist) and many others, each with its fusty library and gilded Byzantine church.

Last week Adolf Hitler gave no hint of what he proposed to do about this great religious prize which was his for the taking—the autonomous ecclesiastical republic of Mount Athos, 1,000-year-old capital of Greek Orthodoxy, governed by a council consisting of one monk from each of its 20 stony retreats.

The 5,000 bearded, black-robed Greek, Russian, Serbian, Bulgarian and Rumanian monks who live on Mount Athos arrived there for many reasons—religion, disappointment in love, political conspiracy, seeking sanctuary against political or criminal punishment. They include several former Greek lunchroom proprietors who fled the clatter of U.S. civilization. They live in two kinds of monasteries: cenobite (communistic) and idiorrhythmic (allowing private property, which reverts to the monastery). Many of them lead a truly monkish life of prayer and Church scholarship, a shabby life without bathing or toothbrushing, with a meatless diet and only brief snatches of sleep, because “sleep inflames the body.” They live on contributions and on the making and selling of wine, farm products, religious paintings and trinkets. Some are so ignorant or unworldly that they have heard only vaguely of Adolf Hitler—”a great German king who slays the Bolsheviks and the Jews—a fulfillment of prophecy.”

But in recent years the world has been altogether too much with Mount Athos to please its pure in heart. For one thing, the world’s sad economy has impoverished the religious life even more than need be. Joseph Stalin has stopped the steady flow of Russian funds into Mount Athos, and war and world depression have sharply cut all other income. The ancient sins of luxury have been increasingly apparent both outside and inside the holy ground. Vigorous young monks are rare. “We need young men today more than ever,” one Athonite has said, “but they prefer to fatten their ephemeral bodies and clothe them in silk shirts and ties.”

On the Mount itself, one of the wealthier monasteries has permitted itself all manner of worldly indulgences—central plumbing, mirrors, electric lights, newspapers, motorboats, wine-pressing machinery (instead of the industrious barefoot method). An alarming number of monks have taken to smoking, alcohol, even narcotics. And the immemorial escape from celibacy has threatened to become a fever sickening the whole “Great Academy of the Greek Clergy.” The Greek press has stormed about the kidnapping of male children for the monks of Athos, and motorboats carrying male prostitutes are constantly reported chugging into the monastery harbors.

Today many Greek laymen regard Mount Athos as a senile, decadent, insufferable vestige of its past. If Adolf Hitler decides to dim this “Lighthouse of the Aegean,” this greatest of world monastic experiments, he may well be doing only what the Greek Government would presently have done itself.

The Tragos ('Magna Carta') of Athos opened for Dölger.
The Tragos (‘Magna Carta’) of Athos opened for Dölger.

GREECE: Flight from Mt. Athos

Monday, July 13, 1942
TIME Magazine

Peter the Athonite came first to Mount Athos in the 9th Century and lived there for 50 years, battling devils and beasts in a cave high above Homer’s wine-dark sea. Then came Euthemius and Joseph, who sought eternal bliss by moving about on their hands and knees eating grass. All this was centuries after Xerxes’ legions invaded Greece, and, of course, centuries before Nazi Panzer divisions.

From the time of Peter the Athonite to Adolf the paper hanger, the great rocky promontory of Athos, jutting into the Aegean like a prong of Poseidon’s three-forked scepter, has been a place of refuge -for men only. No woman has knowingly been allowed to desecrate by her presence the huge cluster of monasteries atop the Holy Mountain, where bearded, black-cowled priests withdraw from worldly pleasures in the spiritual home of the Greek Orthodox Church. Even female cats and dogs and beasts of the field are barred, “so that their mating may not furnish an outlandish spectacle to souls which detest all forms of indecency. . . .”

Last week, from three priests who fled to an even more ancient home of Christian religion, there came the first account of what Europe’s new barbarians had done to the cloistered life of Mount Athos. For some 90 days & nights the priests had navigated nearly 1,000 miles of island-cluttered seas, and at last beached their 15-ft. open boat on the sands near Haifa in Palestine. There they told how ruck-sacked Nazi youths in peacetime had accepted the monasteries’ humble hospitality and returned as soldiers to pillage and defile. Great iron bells that for centuries sounded matins and vespers had been carried away, to be melted down for the Nazi war machine. Priceless icons, illuminated manuscripts handed down from Byzantine emperors, and religious treasures* had been gathered as loot and shipped to Berlin. These things had driven them, sick at heart, from beloved mountain valleys thick with arbutus and carefully laid out for the husbanding of vineyards and olive groves within sight of the slopes of Mt. Olympus and the plains of Troy. At the islands where their boat touched, peasants fed them and gave them shelter.

Greek Orthodox Church officials, believing the perilous voyage of the priests was divinely guided, ordered that their fragile boat be taken overland and placed as a shrine in the waters of the river Jordan, a trumpet’s blow from Jericho.

But German bombs last week struck in Haifa and there was a clash of great armies in the land of Egypt.

Possibly these were omens that the new shrine might soon, in 1942, have no more power to stop warring men than had the words of Him who, some 1,900 years ago, had gone up from the multitude and proclaimed: “Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth.”

Forced landing of the German plane 57 Juncker at the beach in front of the monastery of Aghios Pavlos
Forced landing of the German plane 57 Juncker at the beach in front of the monastery of Aghios Pavlos

During the occupation, a German plane Juncker damaged 57 landed on the beach in front of the St. Paul’s Monastery. Among the crew of the plane there was also a female soldier. To respect the rule of Avaton, the female German had to stay in an old fisherman’s hut on stilts near the beach of the plane, during the repair time. This cabin was then declared as not belonging to the monastic community. The German therefore have not touched the ground of Mount Athos, the rule of Avaton was respected even by the Germans during the war.

*Most famed of Mount Athos’ religious relics: the camel-hair girdle which legend says the Virgin gave to doubting Thomas; pieces of the True Cross; the skull of St. Basil the Great; the brains of St. John the Baptist; the three gifts of the Magi (gold, frankincense and myrrh).

German officers and soldiers on Mount Athos (1943)
German officers and soldiers on Mount Athos (1943)

NOTES

  1. See: Η επιστολή του Αγίου Όρους προς τον Χίτλερ
  2. The Anonymous Prophecy of 1054 is a manuscript found in the Library of Koutloumousiou Monastery, Mt. Athos.
  3. Archimandrite Neilos Sotiropoulos writes in his book, The Coming Two Edge Sword: “The prophecy texts preserved are found in Northern Epirus, Epirus, and western Macedonia. They were found and are located in the Holy Monastery of Naum, Ochrid. It was found in Northern Epirus by the priest-monk, Archimandrite Neophytos Kalofountis, who served there as a soldier in 1914 after the liberation of Ioannina.
  • The ever-memorable lay-preacher, Demetrios Panagopoulos recorded another copy in his book, Saints and Sages Concerning What Will Happen in the Future. The text is continuous and not divided into verses or enumerated. He mentions that “it is found at the Holy Monastery Kozani.” This copy of the prophecy is obviously by an uneducated writer [i.e. not Panagopoulos, but the prophecy text he used]; it inadvertently has spelling errors and variations in a few words, though without changing the meaning. It was found written on a papyrus. At the end of the text, it bears the timeline of being written in 1503 AD, while in the caption it states 1053 AD.
  • The Old Calendarist Bishop of Kalamata, Gregorios, records another copy of the prophecy text in his book, “What We and Our Children Will See.” It reports that it is found in the Holy Serbian Monastery, Kozani. The text has minimal differences from the previous in words and spelling errors without changing the meaning.
  • Another text is found in a village of the prefecture of Kozani and is also written on papyrus. In 1937, a Gendarme appeared at a village house to collect tax. An old woman, the only inhabitant of the house, told him she had paid the tax. The Gendarme asked for the receipt. The old lady, not knowing letters advised him to search the chest to find it. He emptied all the documents onto the floor. He found the receipt and congratulated the old woman. He also noticed an ancient document of prophecy amongst the papers. He took it, copied it and circulated it in many copies. In 1962, a Macedonian journalist published the text of this prophecy in a pamphlet with still more annotations. A Thessalonian gave me this booklet in 1972.
  • Also, the Hagiorite Monk, Nektarios Katsaros’ small booklet, “Prophecies Concerning Constantinople’s Liberation” also contains this prophecy. I bought this book in 1957 at Karyes, Mount Athos where I went and was tonsured a monk.”
  • Some books state that there is a copy of this prophecy in the Library at the Holy Monastery of Koutloumousiou, Mount Athos.
  1. The “New European War” is now considered to be a prophecy of World War II as it occurred after the “Great European War” which is considered to be a prophecy of World War I.
  2. Ralph H. Brewster, The 6,000 Beards of Athos, p.
  3. “In the spring of 1941 the Germans invaded and occupied Greece”, Father Maximos said to Bob Simon.
    They marched up the Acropolis, raised the swastika beside the Parthenon and were about to invade. The monks asked for a meeting with Nazi officers who told them to appeal to Hitler himself.
    The monks wrote Hitler a letter. “And in the letter, the monks identified themselves. They said, ‘This is who we are.’ And they asked Hitler to place the Holy Mountain under his personal protection,” Father Maximos said.
    When asked what kind of response they got, Father Maximos said, “It seems that Hitler liked the idea. He accepted the invitation to become the personal protector of the Holy Mountain.”
    Hitler sent a team of German academics to Mount Athos. They took 1,800 pictures of the mountain’s treasures, and it wasn’t because they enjoyed photography – Hitler wanted the monasteries’ riches in Berlin.
    “The professors were sent as an advance team to catalogue the treasures of the Holy Mountain so that a selection of things could be looted”, Father Maximos explained.
    But it didn’t happen that way and not a single item was taken.
    Father Maximos believes they have the Russians to thank for that: by the time the Nazi scholars completed their work, Hitler was bogged down in Russia and wasn’t thinking about icons.
  4. 1 August 1943, a helpful German soldier showing a copy of Signal in Greek to an orthodox resident of the ancient monastic state of Mount Athos.
    1 August 1943, a helpful German soldier showing a copy of Signal in Greek to an orthodox resident of the ancient monastic state of Mount Athos.
  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0tYWPPl4qE

The Gift of the Monks and the Economic Avaton of Athos (Dr. Michelangelo Paganopoulos)

Abstract

The proposed paper offers a re-evaluation of the relationship between the church and the state in Greece and the EU, focusing on the case of Mt. Athos. The paper argues that in order to reconstitute social and cultural cohesion between both Greece and the EU with the Orthodox Church, on the basis of diversity and heterogeneity according to the unified ideal of European solidarity, it is necessary in this process of transformation to highlight aspects of transparency and regulation. In Mauss’s terms, Athos is both a ‘gift’ to Greece: the carrier of the Modern Greek identity, and a poison (farmakon) to the Greek economy, symbolizing decades of corruption of a state that is still struggling to get over its feudal past. The paper further argues that it is vital to work collectively towards social and political cohesion through transparency and regulation in Greece, in order to confront the challenge of the European Unification and the unregulated market. The recent developments between the Cypriot monks of Vatopaidi and the Greek and Cypriot states regarding the issues of the avaton, metochia, and taxation, as well as, the impact of the UNESCO Heritage funding, the recent visits of Putin to Athos and public discussions over Russian investment to construct a railway that will directly connect Moscow to the monasteries, and further discussions regarding a wider future cooperation between Russia, Greece and Cyprus over energy policies and transport networks, all amount to a serious challenge to the European policy objectives for the environment and the Trans-European Transport Network operations undertaken by Structural Funds. In this context, Athos becomes a meeting place of contestation between various secular (i.e. ‘cosmopolitan’) forces, including those between the Greek state, the Church, and the monasteries, as well as, Europe. A re-evaluation of the relation of Athos to Greece and Europe could be then used as a strategic model for restructuring and regulating the relationship between secular and theocratic offices; the present and the past; change and tradition

The entire paper can be read here:

 

No Girls Allowed – The Greek State That Forbids Both Human and Animal Females (Sumitra, 2015)

NOTE: This article is taken from Oddity Central, January 23rd, 2015. When St. Anthony’s Monastery first opened, one of the “selling points” Geronda Ephraim used in his homilies was that “now women can experience Mount Athos.” Since women will never be allowed on Mount Athos, now they can see and experience what they always wanted to right here in America, without having to go to Greece. For many of the female pilgrims, this concept was a big deal. As many Greek couples, when going back to Greece for vacation would at some point split: the wife would remain wherever, while the husband went on a pilgrimage to Mount Athos. If they had children, the son(s) would accompany the father and the daughter(s) would stay with the mother. See also https://scottnevinssuicide.wordpress.com/2015/01/31/a-short-history-of-women-who-have-entered-mount-athos/

“…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, 1934, p. 204).

athos-monastery

Mount Athos, formally known as Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain, is located on the Greek peninsula of Halkidiki. The monastic traditions of the mountain date back to 800 A.D. and the Byzantine era. Today, it is home to 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries, and 2,000 monks from Greece and other eastern orthodox countries such as Bulgaria, Serbia and Russia. These monks live an ascetic life, isolated from the rest of the world.

Although technically part of the European Union, the Holy Mountain is largely self-governed. This prohibits the free movement of people and goods in its territory, unless formal permission has been granted. As a result, a number of traditions at Mount Athos might seem odd to people outside. The keeping of Byzantine time, for instance, means that their day begins at sunset. But perhaps their most bizarre practice is the centuries-old ban on women entering the sacred peninsula.

For over 1,000 years, women have been forbidden from setting foot on the mountain. In fact, females of other species such as cows, dogs and goats aren’t permitted either. Only birds and insects are exempted from the rule – scanning the skies and grounds for female body parts would surely be too absurd, even by Mount Athos standards.

Mount-Athos6-550x412

Only men, particularly those of a calm and pious demeanour, are permitted to visit Mount Athos, attend church services, dine with the monks and perhaps even stay overnight at one of the monasteries. The only way female visitors can view the hills and ancient monasteries is from a distance, while on a boat tour.

Given that the sole purpose of the monks of Mount Athos is to become closer to God, they practice a life of strict celibacy. Dressed in long, black robes that signify their death from the outside world, they spend every minute of their day praying or reflecting in silence. After the mandatory eight hours of church service are complete, they spend their remaining time outside the church praying individually, their lips moving silently under their long beards.

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According to the monks, the complete absence of women from the mountain makes their chosen lifestyle easier to practice. They seem to strongly believe that women could drastically alter the dynamics of their society, which is delicately designed to take them towards spiritual enlightenment.

Interestingly, the only female influence accepted and even revered by the monks of Athos is the Virgin Mary. Local legend tells us that the Mother of Christ was sailing along one day, when a storm blew her ship towards Mount Athos. Once ashore, she began to impart the teachings of Christianity, and had soon converted every person on the peninsula.

Mount-Athos3-550x413

Years later, the monks started having visions of Mary, so they devoted their lives to her cause. It is speculated that they did not want other women to ‘outshine’ the Lady of Angels, so they simply banned all females from the region. Indeed, the picture of the Virgin Mary is the only female presence in all of Athos, and the only woman the monks choose to lay their eyes upon.

Although the practice has been accepted without question for several centuries, it has attracted a good amount of controversy in recent times. This is inevitable, given that social conditions have changed quite a bit since 1046, when Byzantine emperor Constantine Monomachos issued a ‘Chrysobull’, prohibiting females from entering the peninsula.

Mount-Athos4-550x366

As a part of the growing movement for the equality of sexes in Christianity, a number of orthodox women now insist that it is their theological and political right to share in the mystical fruit of the holy mountain. Many such women have come together on social media and are engaging in political lobbying as well. In 2003, a European Parliament Resolution condemned the ban as a violation of sexual equality and citizens’ freedom of movement.

Anna Karamanou, member of the Facebook group ‘Allow Women to visit Mount Athos’, said: “Catholic and Orthodox churches still refuse to recognize that men and women are of equal value and deserve equal respect and equal rights.”

Mount-Athos-550x411

Nausicaa M. Jackson, another group member, agreed: “Mount Athos is a special place for every believer, and women have a very special and privileged place by God through the virgin Mary, so what Mount Athos is today, is an anti-Christian place.”

“I pay taxes for these monasteries and their restorations, and I am equally human being as you (men) and I do not see reason of not being allowed to get in Mount Athos,” said Professor Eleni Chontodolou, who is also a Greek feminist.

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The monks, however, insist that they do not view the ban as an issue of sexual inequality. Instead, they call it an issue of faith. Dositej Hilandarac, a monk from the Athonian monastery Hilandar explained that they do not have a problem with women in particular. The ban stems more from the fact that the monasteries in Athos follow the Avaton rule, which literally means ‘entry prohibited’. The rule, he says, strictly forbids females from entering the holy mountain.

But, in spite of these strict rules, there have been times when Mount Athos has made exceptions. Women and children have always been welcomed during wars and epidemics. In 1347, Serbian Queen Jelena Kantakuzin sought refuge at the holy mountain from the great plague. And Serbian princess Mara Brankovic did get permission to visit a few monasteries in gratitude for her donations.

More recently, French philosopher Maryse Choisy actually underwent a double mastectomy, disguised herself as a boy, and spent some time wandering around Mount Athos before she was found and kicked out.

But there is still a long way to go before the rule is overturned. For now, the monks say that there is only one condition under which this may happen – when creation is restored to the paradise of the Garden of Eden, before Adam and Eve famously defied God. According to Anthonian Father Christos Mitsios, the prohibition “could be abolished if human beings could be as simple as they were before the original sin.”

“If this was the case, not even God could enforce an Avaton,” he explained.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/116291815579/

Sign at entrance to Mount Athos

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?