Mount Athos, famed as a stronghold of the Greek Orthodox faith, is seeing a growing number of foreign monks in its monasteries, reports the Swiss newspaper Neue Zurcher Zeitung (Oct. 31).
Since 1923, Mount Athos has enjoyed the status of an autonomous internal administration with its own governor. During the Cold War, Greek authorities sought to stop the settlement of monks from communist countries, and even after the fall of the Berlin Wall, factions of militant nationalist Greek monks wanted to keep the territory “Hellenic.”
In 1996, things began to change with the new governor Stavos Psycharis, writes Heinz Gstrein. His hands-off style of ruling gave renewed autonomy to the monastic communities (which gather together in their own monastic parliament). Now it is no longer necessary to go through the Greek administration in order to get a visitor’s visa for entering Mount Athos: the monastic republic now has its own visa office.
Over the past five years, the presence of the Greek State on Mount Athos has been minimal. Since 1996, an increasing number of non-Greek monks have been able to settle on the Holy Mountain, including Orthodox converts from Western and African countries.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, a lecturer in Religion at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) and a new Contributing Editor for RW