THE SOCIETY’S YEAR: 2011

 

 

My dear Friends,

As I write these lines in the closing hours of 2011, the Orthodox world stands aghast. An incredible, perhaps unprecedented, event has occurred. The abbot of an Athonite monastery has been arrested and imprisoned, and at Christmas, the so-called season of goodwill, when we joyfully celebrate the nativity of our Lord! Of all the abbots on the Holy Mountain Archimandrite Ephraim of Vatopedi is surely among the most respected and the most loved. During the twenty-two years of his abbacy he, in company with a remarkable group of multi-talented monks, has revolutionized his monastery and turned it into one of the showpieces of contemporary Athos. Every aspect of monastic life has benefited from his attention. A strict cenobitic regime has replaced the old idiorrhythmic one, attracting a dedicated brotherhood from all parts of the world. The buildings are in better shape probably than they have ever been. A new guesthouse has been created to receive the ever-increasing numbers of pilgrims who compete for the privilege of staying at this celebrated house. Distinguished visitors from all nations and all walks of life never fail to include a visit to Vatopedi and are made welcome every day of the year. A stream of eloquent publications bears witness to the fact that this is not only one of the most powerful monasteries in the whole Orthodox world but also one of the most revered.

Abbot Ephraim’s election as Abbot coincided almost exactly with the foundation of our society and we have matured together. Since our early days he has been among our most vigorous supporters, going out of his way to attend and address our meetings and conferences in the UK, operating always as the most charismatic of ambassadors, captivating audiences wherever he went with his twinkling eyes and eloquent facial expressions, even when speaking an unfamiliar language. On his home territory he has been unfailingly generous with his hospitality and his spiritual guidance. Readers of the 1994 Annual Report will remember with affection the words of welcome that he addressed to the members of the very first SYNDESMOS camp, as reported by Dimitri Conomos (p. 34):

He also made it quite clear from the outset what he saw as his responsibility in the project and how he understood his role. Yes, it was all very well for us to come to the garden of the Mother of God with the intention of cleaning and caring for it: to make it beautiful in the sight of God and man. But what about our souls?

      No abbot has ever been more assiduous in the care of souls. Only a couple of weeks before his detention Fr Ephraim returned from an exhausting five-week tour of Russia, taking with him the precious girdle of the Most Holy Mother of God to be venerated by an estimated 3 million Orthodox believers. Not surprisingly, Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill have sprung to his defence, as have leading figures in church and state from all corners of the Orthodox world. But from Constantinople there is an eerie silence...

      Now Abbot Ephraim needs us. Of course we must tread carefully and must not be seen to be interfering in the judicial process or meddling where we are not wanted, but the brotherhood have made it clear that they would welcome our support. We must not fail them, if we are to be worthy of our name.

      Our first move has been to write a letter of protest, addressed to the President and Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic and to the Minister of Justice and other officers of that ministry. Dated 30 December 2011 and signed by the President, all the members of the Executive Committee, and the Membership Secretary for the Americas, the letter reads as follows:

Your Excellencies,

We have been greatly disturbed by reports of the detention of the Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Vatopedi, Archimandrite Ephraim, on 23 December 2011.

      We are particularly concerned by the timing of the decision, on the eve of Christmas, and do not understand why preventive custody was thought appropriate for the elder who is a well-known public figure and who has shown no sign of absconding or refusing to face his accusers, despite having had every opportunity to do so.

      We hope that the abbot can be released speedily from custody and the trial be swiftly progressed to allow a full exposition of the charges and allow the monastery to present its defence.

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In the course of the year under review we have lost a number of distinguished members whose memory we do well to celebrate. I shall mention them in the chronological order of their deaths.

      Robin Corfield, whose death at the age of 81 in fact occurred in 2010 but was only notified to us in 2011, was more a military historian than a soldier, though he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for his efforts, particularly his history of the First World War battle of Fromelles entitled Don’t Forget Me, Cobber (2000). He was a great traveller and in 1952 spent a memorable fortnight on Athos about which he published an article in the Melbourne Age Literary Supplement. ‘The library of Vatopedi’, he writes, ‘has some of Ptolemy’s maps and a certificate from the late Peter Frazer, former New Zealand Prime Minister, thanking the monastery for the protection it gave some N.Z. troops cornered there after the fall of Greece in 1941.’ This reminds me of the piece we published in last year’s Annual Report by Christopher Paul entitled ‘“Dare to Follow”: Retracing the Escape Route of W.B. “Sandy” Thomas’ and gives me an opportunity to apologize for inexplicably misnaming him as ‘Sandy Wilson’ in the caption to Plate 5.

      Barbara Mastrud, who died on 21 March at the age of 85, had been involved in church singing for most of her life, first in her native Chicago where as a young girl she sang in the choir of the Lutheran church. Later she became choir mistress at the Anglican convent of Fairacres in Oxford. Finally, after becoming Orthodox in 1976, she became director of the Slavonic choir at the church in Canterbury Road. Her funeral was taken by Metropolitan Kallistos on 30 March.

      Anthony Abrahams died on 22 April, aged 87. As his obituarist wrote in The Times,

Tony Abrahams had an odd experience in the closing months of the Second World War. As a Jewish officer in the [British] Indian Army, he led a platoon of Muslim soldiers to the rescue of Greek Orthodox monks on Mount Athos, where they were being threatened by communist partisans... Although his battalion was manned exclusively by Sikhs before the war, the platoon he took to Mount Athos were Punjabi Muslims who had joined from India to replace the casualties suffered in Italy. Enthusiastic for their unusual mission and impressed by the magnificence of the monastery, the soldiers were warmly welcomed by the monks.

The monastery was Vatopedi and the date 3 April 1945. Abrahams went on to visit Iviron and the Great Lavra and to instal a Civil Governor in Karyes. The story is told in his own words in our Annual Report for 2005 (pp. 84-8) and the following year he returned to Athos for a fiftieth-anniversary visit which, according to his widow, was ‘one of the highlights of his later life’.

      On 10 June Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor died at the age of 96. Paddy, as everyone called him, had been a close friend of Derek Hill and Steven Runciman and so it was natural that he should be invited to be a Patron of the Friends when the society was first formed. Michael Llewellyn Smith, who is a current Patron, contributes an article in our Annual Report 2011 (pp. 89-90) on the ways in which Paddy was influenced by monasticism, but sadly for us there is almost nothing in his published writings about the Holy Mountain. His imagination could not have failed to be stirred by its Byzantine heritage. In the absence of anything specifically Athonite, I hope that you will allow me to quote a few sentences from his wonderfully graphic description of ‘Byzantium Restored’, inspired by a chance meeting with a fisherman called Evstratios Mourtzinos who is discovered to be the heir to the throne of Constantine. The Turks, however implausibly, had decided to give the Byzantine empire back to the Greeks; Paddy, modestly enough, assumes for himself the captaincy of the Varangian Guard; and Greeks were now streaming back into Constantinople and Asia Minor.

Bells clanged. Semantra hammered and cannon thundered as the Emperor stepped ashore; then, with a sudden reek of naphtha, Greeek fire roared saluting in a hundred blood-red parabolas from the warships’ brazen beaks. As he passed through the Golden Gate a continual paean of cheering rose from the hordes which darkened the battlement of the Theodosian Walls... The heat had become stifling. In the packed square of Constantine, a Serbian furrier fell from a roof-top and broke his neck; an astrologer from Ctesiphon, a Spanish coppersmith and a money-lender from the Persian Gulf were trampled to death; a Bactrian lancer fainted, and, as we proceeded round the Triple Delphic Serpent of the Hippodrome, the voices of the Blues and Greens, for once in concord, lifted a long howl of applause. The Imperial horses neighed in their stables, the hunting cheetahs strained yelping at their silver chains. Mechanical gold lions roared in the throne room, gold birds on the jewelled branches of artificial trees set up a tinkling and a twitter. The general hysteria penetrated the public jail: in dark cells, monophysites and bogomils and inconoclasts rattled their fetters across the dungeon bars. High in the glare on his Corinthian capital, a capering stylite, immobile for three decades, hammered his calabash with a wooden spoon... (Mani, pp. 36-7).

If he could write like that about Byzantium, which he had not seen, how well might he not have written about Athos, which he had seen?

      Finally on 20 July Archimandrite Athanasius Ledwich died. Having served a novitiate at the monastery of Vatopedi, he returned to the UK as a hermit, settling eventually in Essex. He will perhaps be best remembered as the founder and editor of the magazine Orthodox Outlook but he was also a familiar figure at the monastery of St John the Baptist, Tolleshunt Knights, and was a regular attender of our AGMs. His funeral, taken by Archbishop Gregorios with the support of Metropolitan Kallistos, Metropolitan John of Pergamum, and Bishop Paul of Tracheia, drew a large crowd of mourners from all over the country.

      May their memory be eternal!

 

* * * * *

 

As usual, the first event in our society’s year was a Vasilopitta party, held on 11 January, hosted once again by Maria Andipa in her celebrated Knightsbridge gallery. The party was attended by about eighty members and guests and made a small profit of £321. We were honoured to have Archbishop Gregorios to bless and cut the pitta. We were also pleased to see the occasion written up in the London edition of the newspaper Ta Nea but puzzled to see our President identified in the article as Cardinal Kallistos!

      Over the weekend of 25-7 February we held our fifth residential conference at Madingley Hall, Cambridge, this time dedicated to the theme ‘“The Earthly Heaven”: The Mother of God and the Holy Mountain’. There were six presentations: Metropolitan Nikolaos of Mesogaia spoke on ‘The Place of the Mother of God in the Life of the Athonite Monk’, Aidan Hart on ‘Festal Icons of the Mother of God: Theology in Colour and Form’, Fr Lukas of the monastery of Xenophontos on ‘Painting the Mother of God’, Dimitri Conomos on ‘Mary in Athonite Poetry and Song’, Dimitrios Skrekas on ‘The Mother of God in Athonite Hymnody’, and Metropolitan Kallistos on ‘Athonite Writings on the Mother of God’. Each paper was followed by some lively discussion. As usual, there was a framework of Orthodox services, kindly arranged for us by Fr Ephrem Lash, for which the local parish church was made available. The event attracted a total of fifty-seven delegates from all over the world including Greece, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, France, Canada, the USA, the UK, and, of course, Mount Athos. The conference was deemed to have been a great success and was very much enjoyed by all who participated. We regard such conferences as central to our remit as an educational charity and we are extremely grateful to our sponsors (in this instance the A.G. Leventis Foundation, the Eling Trust, and the Michael Marks Charitable Trust) for their generous support which is so vital to their success. An appreciation of the weekend, written by Thomas Small, appears in our Annual Report 2011 (pp. 91-94). We plan another such event for the weekend of 8-10 March 2013 which we hope even more of our members will support with their presence. A weekend at Madingley is invariably a memorable experience: stimulating presentations, comfortable surroundings, excellent food, congenial company, shared worship. Give it a try if you have not been before, and do come again if you have. Bursaries are available for students.

      In May we dispatched a party of nineteen volunteers to the Holy Mountain under the leadership of Andrew Buchanan to spend two weeks clearing footpaths. As Andrew wrote to me, ‘John Arnell is a hard act to follow, but the team made my first trip as leader a great pleasure.’ Of this year’s expedition in general, he writes:

The Footpaths Project now maintains a route network of around 80km in the area between Karyes and Esphigmenou. 50km of this is old kalderimi, 30km on forest tracks. Our priority for this year was to check the condition of all these paths, and to clear any growth that might obstruct pilgrims. We also wished to verify our written route descriptions and capture GPS data for the eventual publication of route maps. Despite some appalling wet weather, and the departure of one member because of illness, we achieved our aim. In addition we managed to find a lost coastal route from Vatopedi via Kolitsu to Pantokrator, which we plan to clear properly next year. [Website editor's note: the Footpath Team's description of this path is now available online: Vatopedi via Kolitsou to Pantokrator and Pantokrator via Kolitsou to Vatopedi]

It was encouraging to hear from guestmasters and gatekeepers that they are seeing a gradual rise in the number of pilgrims using the footpaths. Clearly the news is spreading that routes are open and maintained.

 

We are immensely proud of our Footpaths Project, which was originally an initiative of HRH The Prince of Wales. It is now producing concrete results in the form of increased usage of the paths, the erection of new signposts, and up-to-date written descriptions of routes. Real progress has also been made towards the production of a new map, for which there is an ever-growing need, as the last edition of Reinhold Zwerger’s map (2001) becomes increasingly out-of-date. We wish the team every success in 2012.

      The society’s twentieth Annual General Meeting was held at St Anne’s College, Oxford, on Saturday 21 May. Since this was the feast of Sts Constantine and Helena, the day began with a celebration of the Divine Liturgy at 9.00am at the Orthodox church in Canterbury Road. Formal proceedings commenced with Metropolitan Kallistos taking the chair at 11.30am and introducing the first speaker, Fr Nikolai Sakharov, monk of the monastery of St John the Baptist, Tolleshunt Knights, who spoke on the subject, ‘Father Sophrony’s Contribution to Orthodox Spirituality’. A version of this talk is printed in our Annual Report 2011 (pp. 76-88). In the afternoon there were two more talks. Professor Paschalis Kitromilides, Professor of Political Science at the University of Athens, gave an illustrated lecture entitled ‘Athos and the Enlightenment’. This fascinating presentation focused in particular on the Athoniada, the academy that was established on the Holy Mountain in the mid-eighteenth century, and was largely constructed around its many illustrations which sadly we are unable to reproduce here. Anyone who would like to read more is referred to Professor Kitromilides’s paper of the same title which was first published in the volume entitled Mount Athos and Byzantine Monasticism, edited by Anthony Bryer and Mary Cunningham (Aldershot, 1996), and reprinted in his more recent collection of studies entitled An Orthodox Commonwealth: Symbolic Legacies and Cultural Encounters in Southeastern Asia (Aldershot, 2007). In the final talk, ‘Golden Domes and Images of Heaven’, Dr Nicholas Richardson, Emeritus Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, gave his impressions of the 2010 pilgrimage to Russia.

      Earlier in the afternoon, and following an excellent buffet lunch, the formal business of the AGM itself was transacted. In my capacity as Secretary I read aloud the names of recently joining and recently deceased members and I gave a brief account of the society’s activities over the previous twelve months. In his capacity as Treasurer Simon Jennings presented the accounts for the year ended 31 December 2010 which had been examined by Peter Lea and were adopted by the meeting. After many years’ service as our independent examiner Peter was now retiring and we were seeking a replacement. (He has now been co-opted on to the Executive Committee and will be standing for election at the 2012 AGM.) Lee Moss and Chris Gilman, both colleagues of the Treasurer’s at Rawlinson & Hunter, were commended for the contribution that they had made to the smooth running of the society. Elections then followed. David Cadman, Alasdair Cross, and I had all reached the end of our term of office and were offering ourselves for re-election. There being no other nominations, the Chairman proposed that all three be treated en bloc and we were duly re-elected by the meeting. There being no other business, the Chairman closed the meeting at 2.50pm.

      On Saturday 9 July a small group of about twenty members made a one-day pilgrimage to the monastery of St John the Baptist at Tolleshunt Knights. As usual, there was a tour of the monastery, and after lunch a talk, this time given by Sister Theodora.

      In the second half of October a group of forty-eight pilgrims, led by Metropolitan Kallistos, travelled to Georgia for a ten-day visit. Robert Jackson contributes an appreciation of this trip our Annual Report 2011 (pp. 105-8) and Peter Lea will offer his impressions at the 2012 AGM, so little remains to be said by me except that once again Dimitri Conomos achieved a triumph of planning and organization. The majestic splendour of the Caucasus Mountains was no less uplifting than that of the patriarchal Liturgy in Tblisi Cathedral and we were all captivated by the charms of this remote, beautiful, and God-fearing country.

      The autumn meeting, held this year on Thursday 22 November, followed the usual pattern of vespers served in the Romanian church of St Dunstan in the West followed by a reception at the St Bride Institute in Bride Lane. But instead of the usual lecture, this time we were treated to the world premiŹre of a new film directed by Jean-Claude Lubtchansky entitled Living Prayer in Christianity. The film explores the tradition of hesychastic prayer through images of icons, icon-painting, and scenery of great natural beauty (on Mount Sinai, Mount Athos, Solovki Island, Suzdal, Sergiev Posad, etc.) with scenes of monastic life, interviews with monks (Fr Justin of Sinai, Abbot Ephraim of Vatopedi and other Athonites, Fr Silouan of Shropshire), and text quotations from a variety of sources (mainly the sayings of the Desert Fathers and the writings of Fr Sophrony). It was introduced by Sir Richard Temple, well known as the founder and proprietor of the Temple Gallery in London, who was historical consultant to the film. This meeting attracted an appreciative audience of more than eighty members and guests.

     

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Our appeal for the rebuilding of the monastery of Hilandar, half of which was destroyed by a catastrophic fire in 2004, has now been running for seven years. The first round of fund-raising, in 2004, raised approximately £25,000, which enabled the monastery to build a new bakery. A second round, in 2008, raised a similar sum, which the monastery used to refurbish one of the rooms of its library. In 2011 we conducted a third round, this time raising more than £30,000, making a total of £80,000 so far donated to the monastery, a most creditable sum for a small society. This time the funds will be used for the refurbishment of two rooms intended for the conservation and restoration of books, manuscripts, and icons held by the monastery.

So far, roughly 40 per cent of the section of the monastery that was destroyed has been rebuilt, at a cost of about 7 million euros. It is estimated that another 10 million euros will be required to complete the work. Despite the financial crisis, reconstruction work has continued without interrupution, though in recent years progress has been somewhat slower. All contributions from Greece ceased in 2009, and those from Serbia have been reduced, so the monastery is more than ever dependent on donations from independent sources such as ourselves. But the Abbot writes, ‘with God’s help and the support of people of good will, our generation should yet live to see Hilandar restored to its former glory.’ It may be relevant to note that the Abbot is aged only 41!

      In his capacity as Patron of the appeal His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales invited donors to a reception at Highgrove on Thursday 28 July. This was attended by about a hundred members and guests including Abbot Methodios of Hilandar Monastery, our Patron Dr Vladeta Jankovic, and a large contingent from the Serbian community in London. During the reception the Abbot presented the Prince with a framed lithograph of an eighteenth-century engraving of the monastery and renewed his invitation to His Royal Highness to visit the monastery again as soon as circumstances permit.

      It is a pleasure to record that as a result of the appeal our society now enjoys very close relations with Hilandar. In a recent letter to me, Abbot Methodios wrote,

Please accept on behalf of the Hilandar brotherhood, and also convey to the members of the Friends of Athos, our most sincere gratitude for their magnanimity and consistency in extending help for the renewal of our fire-stricken monastery... The brotherhood of the monastery deems that a relationship so soundly established between the Friends of Athos and Hilandar deserves to be especially cherished and should be of a lasting nature.

      Meanwhile the appeal remains open and donations, however small, will always be gratefully received. Cheques in sterling or euros should be made payable to the Hilandar Appeal and sent to [updated address:]

Hon Treasurer Simon Jennings
18 Warwick St.
Oxford, OX4 1SX
England.
Cheques in US dollars should be made payable to the Friends of Mount Athos and sent to
Roger McHaney, Treasurer
The Friends of Mt. Athos in the Americas
2810 Kelly Drive
Manhattan, KS    66502
U.S.A..

 

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A gathering took place in Oxford on 11 August to celebrate the publication of a Festschrift for our Patron Fr Andrew Louth. Edited by Andreas Andreopoulos, Augustine Casiday, and Carol Harrison, the volume is entitled Meditations of the Heart: The Psalms in Early Christian Thought and Practice. Essays in Honour of Andrew Louth, and is published by Brepols at Ř70.00. The list of contributors reads like a Who’s Who in Patristic Theology and includes Archbishop Rowan Williams, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, and Dr Dimitri Conomos.

      Also published this year is our own volume, Mount Athos: Microcosm of the Christian East, edited by Graham Speake and Kallistos Ware and published by Peter Lang at £30.00 (but thanks to a bulk purchase by the society we are able to offer copies at £21.00/Ř28.00/$34.00 plus postage). Most of the chapters in this book were originally delivered as papers at our 2009 conference with the same title, held at Madingley Hall, Cambridge, though there are some additions intended to make the coverage more comprehensive. The contributors are Dame Averil Cameron, the Revd Professor Constantin Coman, Dr Nicholas Fennell, Dr Tamara Grdzelidze, Dr Vladeta Jankovic, Professor Kyrill Pavlikianov, Dr Marcus Plested, and the two editors. Copies may be ordered from the Treasurer, Simon Jennings, at [updated address:]

Hon Treasurer Simon Jennings
18 Warwick St.
Oxford, OX4 1SX
England.
(Please add £4.00 for delivery to a UK address, £10.00/Ř13.00 for delivery to Europe, or £14.00/$23.00 for delivery to the rest of the world).

 

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Those members who have chosen to receive their mailings from the society by e-mail will know that we have been invited to act as co-organizers of two conferences due to take place in Greece in the first half of 2012. The first, to be held at the Ecclesiastical Academy of Thessaloniki on 7-15 March, is entitled ‘St Gregory Palamas: The Theological and Philosophical Significance of his Work’ and will include visits to the major monasteries in Thessaloniki, Veroia, and Athos associated with the saint. Further details are available from the convener, Dr Constantinos Athanasopoulos (ca356@cam.ac.uk).

      The second conference, to be held in Ouranoupolis on 25-6 May in honour of the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Joice Loch, is entitled ‘Spirituality and the Life Cycle’. Further details are available from the convener, Professor René Gothóni (rgothoni@mappi.helsinki.fi).

      I mention these forthcoming conferences, not only in order to encourage members to think about attending them, but also to draw attention to the fact that more and more of our incidental announcements and communications are made only by e-mail. It is therefore in the interests of everyone to ensure that we have your correct e-mail address. The Post Office threatens yet further increases in the cost of postage, so it is also very much in the interests of the society that we should use other means of delivery wherever possible. If we do not already have your e-mail address, please send it now to the Treasurer, Simon Jennings [updated email address:] (admin@thejennings.org.uk). The Annual Report will, however, continue to be published in printed form only and will therefore be sent by post to all members (assuming we have your correct postal address).

 

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Apart from our donation of £30,500 to Hilandar, we have made a number of grants in the course of the year. We gave the usual donation of £2,000 to SYNDESMOS for its annual ecology camp. We continue to support Fr Romilo of Hilandar who is working for an Oxford DPhil (on the theology of Fr Sophrony). And we gave a scholarship of £1,000 to Thalia Conomos who has been accepted by the Ormylia Diagnostic Centre to work as a volunteer restoring icons from the Holy Mountain as part of an MA course at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts in London.

It is a pleasure to record that Archbishop Elisey of Sourozh has recently accepted an invitation to become a Patron of the society.

 

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Finally a piece of news that strictly belongs to 2012 but is far too important to keep for another year. We are delighted to announce that HRH The Prince of Wales has accepted the invitation of the Executive Committee to take on the Patronage of the society, initially for a five-year term. Having been an Honorary Member since 1994, His Royal Highness is already well acquainted with our objects and our activities. We are greatly honoured that his continuing support should be confirmed in this new position and we look forward to working even more closely with him in the years to come.

 

GRAHAM SPEAKE

Hon. Secretary