Art and Faith

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Vasili Nesterenko. An Elder from Mount Athos. 1998

Filed under: Christian,contemporary,fine art,Orthodox,religious,Russian — 01varvara @ 00.00

An Elder from Mount Athos

Vasili Nesterenko



If any place can be called the beating heart of Orthodoxy, it’s the Holy Mountain of Mount Athos. Not only do we Orthodox consider it such, so do our opponents. Many have criticised the staunch adherence of the Mount to tradition, especially the rule that only males may come on pilgrimage there. “How nasty! How mean-spirited! How bigoted!” Well, I say that such carping is misguided at best, and is itself guilty of what it accuses the good fathers of Athos of. In short, it is the usual rot without any foundation in fact. Mount Athos is known as “the garden of the Mother of God”. The last time I looked, the Most Holy Mother of God was quite female. Therefore, the argument that the fathers of the Holy Mount are anti-female falls of its own weight. There are stories that the fathers even forbid female animals on the Mount. Such tales are pure moonshine. If the fathers on the Mount milk goats and make cheese, then, the animals must be female (unless, of course, the fathers have discovered a discrete species where the males give milk (not likely))! The reason we women are forbidden on the Mount is quite simple, truly. The good fathers there wish no distractions from their monastic life. They wish to devote all their time to their obediences and prayer. The good fathers are wise and prudent in this. They don’t consider themselves “holy”, they know they’re great sinners, and they wish to have no occasion for sexual temptation (a good and wholesome precaution).

During the 1960s, many liberals were confidently predicting the imminent end of monasticism on the Mount. “Oh, look at how young men aren’t coming to the monasteries, and the ones who do are uneducated and ignorant”. Yes, for some time, it appeared as though the above was true. Then, in the 1990s, a new flowering of the monastic life burst forth on the Mount. Young men started coming in such numbers that the average age of the monks dropped sharply in just a decade. Not only that, many of the newcomers were university graduates, some with advanced degrees. This “new blood” strengthened, not weakened, the adherence to tradition on the Mount. Instead of dying, the Mount’s flourishing. There’s a reason why Renovationist elements in Orthodoxy vehemently hate the Mount and its fathers (although they shall never do so publicly, for fear of antagonising the faithful). The fathers on the Mount are not silent in the face of Renovationsim or syncretism. When Benedict XVI, the Pope of Rome, visited Bartholomew in Istanbul, the fathers issued a sharply worded protest. The fathers on the Mount refuse to use the bowdlerised Typikon issued by Istanbul in the 1920s. They continue to use the traditional Typikon of St Sabbas (as do the Russian churches, by the way). Even though they are under the Patriarchate of Constantinople (for now, at least), they continue to use the traditional Orthodox calendar in place of the Romanised calendar in use by the Phanar (and some other modernists). Dear Lord, it appears as though the fathers on the Mount oppose everything that the Renovationist element in the church propose as nostrums. Good for them! Sanity does prevail, after all. Simply observe, if you will. The Mount’s flourishing, and their critics are… well, not in a good way, to put it mildly.

Look at this picture, and you’ll see why I have optimism for the future of the Church. The fathers of the Mount are in the vanguard of those who treasure and keep the traditional lived faith of our fathers. We’re well served, indeed. As for their Renovationist detractors… just look at their aged faces and reflect on how they attacked the Athonite fathers for being “old and set in their ways”. God has a sense of humour…



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