From May 31 to June 4, 2022, the Conventual Franciscans made a second visit to Mount Athos in Greece. The area is considered the “heart of orthodoxy”, where for over a thousand years, the monasteries, sketae [hermitages], and kalyvae [huts] in the Mount Athos peninsula have been spiritual centers fostering the vibrant and genuine mystical search for God.
The first visit took place in 2013, and was organized by the International Franciscan Center for Dialogue (CEFID) in Assisi. It was a time of great fraternity and friendship between the friars and the monks of Mount Athos.
This second visit took place at the invitation of the monks of the “Cell of Mylopotamos,” along with the local civil authorities, to commemorate the monk, Father Epifanios, who died in 2020, at age sixty-four, after a five-year battle with cancer. The commemoration took place on June 1, 2022, at the Ouranoupoli (Gate of Mount Athos). Father Epifanios was a charismatic figure and a talented cook. He brought monastic cuisine out of what for most people are the insurmountable confines of Mount Athos, and made it famous all over the world. He wrote several books, including “The Cuisine of the Holy Mountain Athos.” Following that first meeting with Father Epifanio in 2013, the friars at the Franciscan Publishing House in Assisi, translated, edited and published his cookbook.
The second visit was conducted by Friar Silvestro BEJAN, the General Delegate for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue (EDI) and a member of the Friary of the Twelve Holy Apostles in Rome. He was joined by Lucian ABALINTOAIEI, the Delegate for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue for the Provincial Custody of the Orient and the Holy Land, and his friend, Ioannis CHRYSAFIS, a Greek journalist.
Around Karyes, the capital of the monastic state of Mount Athos, the friars visited the Holy Monasteries of Iviron, Philotheou, Karakalou, Simonos Petras, the Cell of Mylopotamos, and others. The monks at each location welcomed the friars in an atmosphere of true Christian brotherhood, demonstrating splendid generosity and hospitality. During their stay, the friars had many interesting discussions with various hegumens [heads of monasteries] and monks. The friars will always remember Nectary, a monk at the Karakalou Monastery, and Ioachim and Leonzio, the monks who hosted them at the Cell of Mylopotamos, the monk Macario, and especially the friars’ friend Justin, a monk from the Simonos Petras Monastery, who is considered the wise man of the monastery and its historical memory.
During their pilgrimage, the two friars prayed with the monks, shared meals with them and talked a lot about Athonite and Franciscan monastic spirituality. The common spiritual patrimony revealed some differences but also many similarities. There are real points of convergence between the Rule of St. Francis of Assisi and that of St. Basil, the father of Eastern monasticism. St. Francis furthered the spiritual life of his day, which was strongly imbued with the traditions of the Byzantine church. Therefore, if one examines the relationship between the saints of both traditions, one discovers many traits they share in common, traits that touch upon the very roots of one’s faith.
Finally, an attempt was made to reenergize collaboration and friendship between the friars and monks of Mount Athos. Thanks to this second visit, and since all of us are in search of God, we made another small step in our quest for spiritual ties and mutual openness.
Friar Silvestro BEJAN