Mount Athos, the Holy Mountain, the Garden of the Panaghia, is a vital organ — perhaps more vital than we know — of the Body of Christ. These three books have helped me to know and love it better.
Miracle on the Monastery Mountain by Douglas Demetrios Lyttle. Lyttle, an American photographer, made frequent trips to Athos over a period of more than 25 years, taking beautiful photographs all the while. This book is a stunningly illustrated personal account of the transformation of the Holy Mountain from a seemingly moribund collection of scattered monastics to the vibrantly restored community that we see today. If you only read one book on the Holy Mountain, I suggest that this should be the one. Unfortunately it’s quite expensive. If you have the money, it’s worth it; if not, pester your library to acquire a copy.
Mount Athos: Renewal in Paradise by Graham Speake. Speake is an academic and the founder of the Friends of Mount Athos. His book is a highly readable, attractively illustrated history of the Mountain from its beginning as a monastic community to the present time. It gives the most detailed and (I think) objective account of the community’s recent history and its present situation and challenges.
Athos: The Holy Mountain by Philip Sherrard. Sherrard’s brilliant, sometimes eccentric personality distinguishes this account, which gives a good history of the Holy Mountain from its founding up to 1982, the date of publication. Sherrard has strong opinions on many aspects of this history, and his viewpoint is well worth considering, though probably not in isolation. He writes lyrically of the unique quiet of Mt Athos, and the meditative atmosphere of its many footpaths, on which monks and pilgrims would travel from one monastery to another. Already in the 1980s, motor transportation had broken the stillness, and many of the paths were starting to be neglected — trends that Sherrard felt would do great harm. What would he say now, when these trends have advanced much further? Would he see them as a necessary price to be paid for the modern renewal of the monastic communities, or would he take them as proof that the ‘renewal’ is only superficial? A book to ponder. Out of print, unfortunately, but used copies are available.
P.S. Stepping outside the world of books, This recent DVD of a 60 Minutes segment on the Holy Mountain has attracted a great deal of praise.
The graphic above is from the web site for Douglas Lyttle’s book.