60 Minutes features Orthodox Christians’ holiest place on earth
A leading news program has gained unique access to a cluster of isolated Christian monasteries that Orthodox Christians consider to be the holiest place on earth.
The CBS program 60 minutes, aired on Easter Sunday (Pascha Sunday), included a feature on the Holy Mountain Athos, where Orthodox Christian monks have lived for over 1,000 years, Archon News said.
The monks are headed by His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. They live in an isolated peninsula in North Greece protected by a feral mountain surrounded by wild and unpredictable seas, CNN reported.
Some 20 monasteries are clustered together on Mount Athos, which millions of Orthodox Christians believe is the holiest place on earth, Archon News said. The program segment, The Monks of Mount Athos, is hosted by correspondent Bob Simon.
Collectively, the monasteries are also referred to as The Garden of the Mother of God, or Holy Mountain. The monks choose to live in this bucolic area so they can focus most of their days and nights on praying without interruption, CNN said.
Simon was granted rare access due to a recommendation from Patriarch Bartholomew, whom 60 Minutes had featured two years before. Gaining passage nonetheless required two trips to the Holy Mountain and talks and negotiations with the Anthonites for two years, Archon News said.
Founded by St. Andrew
Bartholomew is archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome. He is the 270th head of this 2,000-year-old church which was founded by the apostle St. Andrew, according to the church website.
As occupant of the First Throne of the Orthodox Christian Church, Bartholomew is charged with 300 million believers from churches in Jerusalem, Russia, Serbia, Alexandria, Antioch, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Poland, Georgia, Cyprus, Albania, Finland, Estonia, The Czech Republic and many other archdioceses, the church website said.
No woman’s land
Of the Holy Mountain, Simon told CNN, “A woman hasn’t been allowed on the mountain for over a thousand years,” adding that this includes female animals except for cats, who control the rodent population. The monks grow all of their own food except for cheese, which they are allowed to import because it comes from cows.
Simon told CNN that monks have not left the island even for one day, for decades. They don’t read newspapers and have no access to radio, television, or women. “[T]he whole idea is to just devote themselves entirely to prayer, so they’re really not interested with what goes on in the outside world and they don’t want to get involved in it,” he said.
To reach the monasteries, Simon had to go to Thessaloniki in Greece, take a three-hour drive on rough roads, and land in a “scruffy” place to await a ferry. The waters are rough, and Simon’s producers waited in the town for three days before the waters were sufficiently subdued for safe travel, CNN reported.
Simon told CNN, “[I]n the last 1,500 years, in terms of an inhabited place, I don’t think there’s any place that has changed so little as Mount Athos.”
During World War II, Hitler granted them special protection, although he planned to plunder their art works and sent soldiers to photograph some 1,000 pieces. He never actually reached the mountains, however, as he was preoccupied with Russia, CNN reported.
Simon told CNN, “Their only consideration is to survive to keep the mountain going, because it is the most sacred spot on the world as far as they are concerned. It is a place [where] a life of prayer is more effective than anywhere else. So sure the Nazis threatened them, but over the centuries they been threatened by everybody.”