Path Clearing on Mount Athos

According to a report on the Friends of Mount Athos website entitled The Footpaths of Mount Athos, in 2001 Prince Charles, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales,  became interested in sponsoring a long term project to clear and maintain the footpaths of Mount Athos.  Under the auspices of the Friends of Mount Athos the following year the project began in earnest and every year since then a party of volunteers has visited the Holy Mountain to hack and chop away at vegetation encroaching upon various footpaths. Here he is, hard at work :

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The Footpaths of Mount Athos  is the best place to gain background information about this venture but it does not give much information about the details of the project activities, the mechanics of getting to the Holy Mountain (which seems to be filled with potential pitfalls)  and the process of joining the volunteer group. What follows will hopefully address these points.

Joining the Path Clearing Group

With a limited number of 24 places available not everyone who applies will get accepted. It’s important to read the email from Andrew Buchanan which has the precise details for the 2017 expedition; filling in the form is an expression of interest only — the plan is to contact successful applicants by the end of December 2016. So, don’t go booking flights & hotels in anticipation.

Specifically the organisers are looking for :

Note that you do have to be a member of the Friends of Mount Athos to join the group. It’s not expensive — $35 / year — this FoMA membership page gives all the details of joining.

Dates

Generally the pilgrimage occupies two weeks in May after Bright Week of Pascha. This year (2017) it spans two weeks from Sat May 6th to Sat May 20th; it’s possible to do a single week as well (see below). Obviously if Pascha is late in the spring the start date will also be later.

Getting to the Holy Mountain

The main party of workers will be coming from London, Gatwick departing in the early morning of Friday.  On arrival in Thessaloniki in the early afternoon a coach will take them from the airport to a pre-booked hotel  in Ouranopolis where they will stay the night prior to boarding  an early boat (9:30am) to the port of Daphne on the Holy Mountain.

Coming from the USA and given the very late arrival of the flight you have to arrive a day earlier (Thursday) and stay overnight in one of the hotels indicated above. Then a taxi to meet the coach.

On the return journey, the group usually stay at the Vergina Hotel (50 – 60 euros).  Hotels others  have used in Thessaloniki include the Tourist (about $50/night) and Europa.

The work schedule

The schedule and team allocations for each year depend on which monasteries can host teams and when, plus which paths need most work. The details below give a broad outline of what happens on a typical Path-clearing Pilgrimage.

There is a maximum of 24 men in the working party which are divided into 5 teams  based in different monasteries :

  • a team of 8 will be based at Vatopedi
  • 4 teams of 4 men each will be given a monastery to work from

Obviously  no power tools can be used (which would shatter the silence & also insurance issues).

On Sunday when there is no work  there will be an opportunity to attend Divine Liturgy. The minimum requirement for reception of communion is to be a member of a canonical Orthodox jurisdiction and probably also it would involve confession (in the language that you speak)  at the Saturday evening Vigil service.  Best to ask at the monastery for a blessing well beforehand. On the first Sunday afternoon the teams may be reconfigured and will be assigned to new monasteries. Single week participants will leave at this point.

The second week’s work is only 5 days from Monday to Friday since we leave the Holy Mountain on the Saturday for Thessaloniki and return home.

Credits

The FoMA  Project to clear the Footpaths of Mount Athos  is led by  John Arnell. The annual path-clearing pilgrimages are co-ordinated by  Andrew Buchanan.

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