Monday, April 25, 2011

Bob Simon on Mt. Athos

60 Minutes
Easter Sunday, 60 Minutes featured Bob Simon's report on Mt. Athos* - the holy mountain in Greece, home to Orthodox monks - for centuries.  Monastic observance unchanged for centuries - the closest observance to the earliest monks, the desert fathers, the world has today.  Even the Carthusians have made some reforms since Vatican II, but not these monks.  They do not have television or Internet, they do not go home for funerals or weddings, and they pray without ceasing - literally.
The Carthusians and a few monasteries of Discalced Carmelite nuns would be the only monastics I know of in the West to hold a candle to this type of monasticism, all of the others have made extensive compromises with the world.  Interestingly the monasteries on Athos do not advertise for vocations, yet they keep coming.  I know of a Carmelite monastery of nuns who have no access to the Internet, nor do they advertise for vocations.  They never have and continue to resist all outside interference to do so, and the community thrives.
I'm guessing it is the monastics of the Orthodox Church who would be most resistant to union with Rome, since they fear they would have to modernize according to the legal dictates of Roman canonical laws and discipline.  Perhaps even admitting women to the Holy Mountain... thus opening themselves to the world and Western decadence.   
I found the report to be edifying.  It left me wondering how one can become holy while living in distraction with media - especially the Internet and all the controversies, rash judgement and gossip it engenders.
"Pay no attention to the affairs of men, whether they be good or bad, for besides the danger of sin, this is the cause of distractions and the lack of spirit." - John of the Cross
*Simon's report was excellent and beautifully done and quite appropriate for Easter.


  1. Sometimes I wonder when I read the great mystics and ascetics how ANY of us living in the world even have a snowball's chance in gehenna.

    Those guys on Mount Athos are trying their hardest to reach Heaven and conform to Christ - if they have to try so hard, what does that say of the rest of us?

  2. Hi Mercury - that is why we have the devotion to the Divine Mercy.

  3. Okay, now, I've just started to spend a bit more time on the blogs, and your giving me that great quote from St. John of the Cross!!! "Pay no attention to the affairs of men."

    When I was a kid, and working on a "dude ranch" way out in no-where, there was no television, no radio, and not too much socialization either. After the entire Summer of quiet--it was almost painful to re-enter the "noise." Sometimes, I long for the quiet.

  4. It's ironic isn't it Tara. I had the same experience as you when I left the monastery.

  5. Anonymous2:12 PM

    "Hi Mercury - that is why we have the devotion to the Divine Mercy."

    I sure hope so. When I think about monks like this, I feel absolutely worthless to God, and that I will be lost. I trust in His Mercy, though I wonder how to reconcile it with His justice -- how is it just that there are such good Christians in the world, and then there are people like me who really do little good? How is that fair to them?

  6. Anonymous - thats what I meant. Some saints make it sound like unless you enter religious life you're as good as lost. And when you read the works of spiritual masters, it's like "wow all I DO is sin in every aspect of my life". But I guess such a thought can lead to humility, if not despair.

    I remember listening to Fr Groeschel once when he was talking about the death of St. Francis of Assisi, who basically expressed the idea of "gee I hope I make it" (except more piously), and it freaked out his religious brothers.

    Anyway, I guess the deal is that God will mold us into holiness as long as we are humble and trusting. In the end, it's not what we do or can do, but that we recognize that there is nothing we can do without him. Someone may do marvelous works of charity, and that's certainly pleasing to God, but for some people, it's a great act of faith and courage simply to get out of bed in the morning, or to not commit a mortal sin. I guess we can be impressed by saints and monks, but I would also guess that it's foolish and dangerous to compare our own progress with theirs.

    Of course, we're to measure up against Christ, which in some ways is even scarier.

  7. terry, i watched this segment on 60 minutes, too, and thought they did an amazing job portraying the monks. I was pleasantly surprised to see how many Americans they have in those communities. And the chant (what little we could hear) was just gorgeous. There was a hum to it. And I came away thinking the same thing about how distracted I am. All. The. Time. *sigh*

  8. Of course the real struggle comes in following Jesus "in the world," but let me add a caveat: Jesus came to and lived in the world, and not a monastery, so at least we have his example and we're working in his context, somewhat.

    I have the 60 Minutes segment saved to watch tonight. I'm excited.

  9. "...the death of St. Francis of Assisi, who basically expressed the idea of "gee I hope I make it" (except more piously), and it freaked out his religious brothers..."

    Priests and religious are held to a standard that mere mortals find hard to attain.

    What does God want from us?

    We already know what He was willing to give to us.

    What does God require for entry into Heaven?

    He wants our hearts.

    Christ told Saint Matilde it took all that God had, Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, in an effort to get man to change his heart.

    The beginning of Charity is to love God.

    Without it, no one gets into Heaven.

    Work on loving God, then as a second nature, you will love your neighbor; stay busy doing this, and before you know it, you will wake up in Heaven.

    You won't even notice you've died.

    Because they are held to a higher standard, pray for the Holy Father and his Priests, Nuns, and Religious.


  10. Pablo, that was beautiful. Thank you. I often forget to pray for them, but I should remember - their prayers and their guidance are essential for the rest of us. What a remarkable, fearful role they have.

  11. What comforts me is the paraphrased "We are many parts--we are all one body." For those of us in the world God has work and jobs for us to do. Mother Theresa could not have done what she did by being in a cloistered convent. Saint Gianna was a physician, scholar, wife, and a mom, activities that too could not be accomplished in a cloister. There is hope for all of us. Blessed Pier, another often mentioned on this blog. We are all laborers in the vineyard, to do the job that is assigned to us...even if it is shovelling fertilizer :)


    PS it is now snowing....

  12. Yeah sara - it's coming here too - I can't wait for a real spring.

  13. PS Thanks to everyone for praying for my dear kitty..he is on antibiotics and an antacid..he is doing much much better. He has a stomach condition much like ulcers. The medicine is working as he is back to being a happy kitty :)Now to put some weight back on him :)

    St Francis pray for our pets :)


  14. Oh dear, Sarah. You will have to tellus all about the floweres when they finally arrive! Hang on. Great observations about the vineyard.

    Re matters in discussion, I will never forget how overwhelmed I was when I read that Our Lady told Sr. Lucia that Jacinto would go to heaven but would have to pray many,many rosaries. He was only nine years old. Kyrie Eleison. Let's just say I take fasting and prayer and the rosary very, very seriously, lol.

    Terry--thanks so much. I did not watch 60 min, so was glad for the notice. I studied the history of monasticism while in college and was mesmerized by 'the holy hill'. Little did I know many decades later from whence that attraction came.

  15. michael r.7:51 AM

    I watched it as well. I've always been interested in Mt. Athos, but I'd have to recommend the Carthusians to any Catholic man interested in the eremetic life.....:) I thought the segment was thought-provoking, but there were a fair number of things that caused me to question some of their isolation. Frankly, I don't think they're as isolated as they used to be. Maybe they don't have tv or radio, or newspapers, etc. but somehow quite a few of them seem to know what's going on in the world. They obviously ARE allowed correspondence with their families, as the one American monk refused his father's request to see him before he died. Until recently, the Trappists didn't even grant that request; and the Carthusians certainly don't, so that's not such a surprising issue. And someone or other was corresponding with 60 minutes! It was also obvious that they do a very good business of welcoming male visitors to their island, and at least one of the refectories. All of those guys eating in the cafeteria weren't aspirants to the monastic life!

  16. Oh the monks of St. Athos aren't isolated. They get constant visitors. Sometimes so many men come that the monks actually stay in their cells to get some rest.

  17. Anonymous12:25 PM

    Mercury said...
    Sometimes I wonder when I read the great mystics and ascetics how ANY of us living in the world even have a snowball's chance in gehenna...

    Hello Mercury,

    Your comment reminded me of the story about St. Anthony in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers:

    When blessed Antony was praying in his cell, a voice spoke to him, saying, "Antony, you have not yet come to the measure of the tanner who is in Alexandria." When he heard this, the old man arose and took his stick and hurried into the city. When he had found the tanner...he said to him, "Tell me about your work, for today I have left the desert and come here to see you."

    He replied, "I am not aware that I have done anything good. When I get up in the morning, before I sit down to work, I say that the whole of this city, small and great, will go into the Kingdom of God because of their good deeds, while I alone will go into eternal punishment because of my evil deeds. Every evening I repeat the same words and believe them in my heart."

    When blessed Antony heard this he said, "My son, you sit in your own house and work well, and you have the peace of the Kingdom of God; but I spend all my time in solitude with no distractions, and I have not come near the measure of such words."


  18. Contrary to your view I believe that The Monks at Mount Athos are praying that Rome and the Eastern Church will one day be reunited.

    What I do not think that you realize is that it was the Orthodox church that Excommunicated Rome in 1055 A.D., and it would be the Church at Rome (Roman Catholics) that would most likely be resistant to change, as they would have to unlearn the heresies that they have been taught for the last 957 years.

    Yes that means that the Orthodox church views Roman Catholics as heretics. No that does not mean that you cannot find salvation in the Roman Catholic Church. Many converts to Orthodox Christianity today actually come from a Roman Catholic background.

    My own personal journey to Orthodoxy started about 4 years ago when the protestant church that I was going to folded. I looked for another church to go to and I found doctrinal issues with each one and I began to pray daily that God would show me where to find what remained of the Church started by the Apostles. I am today a Catechumen in the Antiochian Archdioceses who will be baptized into the Orthodox church before Pascha (Easter). I should mention that I was born Roman Catholic, and was raised in a Southern Baptist Church.


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