Mount Athos — a place where heaven bows down and touches the earth. It is where the veil between this world and the next is thin and translucent. Its soil bears the footprints of countless ascetics and has been watered by the tears of our most beloved saints. Since biblical times, it has been a land that flourishes under the mantle of the Mother of God. It is her garden, where she waters the souls of all those who flock to her, raising them past the Mountain's peak and into heavenly abodes. For well over fifteen hundred years, Mount Athos has been a place of pilgrimage and spiritual retreat.
Last year, His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph blessed the Antiochian seminarians to make a pilgrimage to Mount Athos as part of our seminarian education. Under the pastoral care and supervision of His Grace Bishop Nicholas, we boarded flights to Greece and before we knew it we were sailing along the Athonite coastline, gazing at the small hermitages and castle-like monasteries that dot the rugged terrain. As the boat's gate opened and we stepped foot on the Mother of God's garden, we could hardly believe where we were.