Here is an intimate portrait of Mount Athos, the spiritual home of the Eastern Orthodox Church. For more than ten centuries this monastic community in northern Greece has been a centre for the montemplaative life, a staging ground for mystical visions and teachings, a watchtower for Byzantium. Christopher Marril’s pilgrimage to this hidden heart of Christianity forms the basis of this spiritual autobiography, a meditation on the oldest unbroken monastic tradition in the West. The poet-journalist’s search for meaning in a land untouched by modernity offers an eloquent and relentlessly honest view both of the Holy Mountain and of himself.
In the mysterious world of Athos – its monks and hermits, icons and liturgy, mythology and history, flora and fauna – Christopher Merril experiences a change of heart, a deepening of faith, which forces him to consider his life in a new light. What he learns from monks who grow their own food and make their own wine, fast three times a week, and sing a liturgy sanctified by a thousand years, is to appreciate the sacred order of existence – the daily round of prayers; the hermitages clutching the cliffs above the sea, where anchorites live and praise God in complete isolation; the wild boars and jackals roaming the mountainside.
His impressions of the monastic republic reverberate in the journey he makes into his own soul, each step revealing more about strange new worlds – without and within. Merrill’s spiritual yearning, his despair born of reporting on the war in Bosnia, a difficult passage in his marriage, the birth of a daughter: all figure in this eloquent account of a place apart, the Holy Mountain of Athos.