The FoMA Project to Clear the Footpaths of Mount Athos
In his article entitled, "The Orthodox Understanding of Pilgrimage"
(Forerunner 38, Winter 2001-2, 1-10 (p. 8), Bishop Kallistos
of Diokleia wrote,
I count it a singular blessing that I was able to visit the Holy
Mountain of Athos first of all in autumn 1961, and again in autumn 1962,
at a time when there were no roads for vehicles, no buses, no jeeps or
tractors. . . . As a pilgrim, either one travelled from monastery to
monastery by the little motorboats that plied along the coast (but in the
equinoctial gales most of these had been cancelled); or else one hired a
mule (but that was far too expensive for a student like myself); or else
one walked. I walked. At times it was hard work, for the ancient mule
tracks of Athos are steep and stony. I lost my way, slipped into
ravines, fell backwards into a thornbush and twisted my ankle. But by
walking alone -- meeting only the occasional monk, not to mention an
alarming number of snakes, and at one point a family of wild boar -- I was
able to experience Mount Athos as a centre in sacred space, in a way that
otherwise I could not possibly have done. I was able to feel, in the
words of the Russian Athonite hermit Fr. Nikon, "Here every stone breathes
Graham Speake, in his introduction to the Friends of Mount Athos
Annual Report of 2001, pp. 5-14 (p. 7), describes how His Royal Highness the Prince of
Wales, a long time Friend of Mount Athos, became interested in undertaking
this project after receiving the following letter from a concerned Greek:
The problem of the historic footpaths on Mount Athos has been recognized by a friend of Greece,
my Austrian friend Reinhold Zwerger.
He has mapped the footpaths and issued a description of them in a little book which was published also in English.
For many years he has been fighting with the passion of the Castilian knight Don Quixote for the preservation of the footpaths,
but without the official help and co-ordination of a Greek authority it is impossible for a private person to get anything going on a fairly long-term basis.
… I know that you are a great supporter of traditional architecture and their preservation.
But would an old bow bridge built in accordance with Byzantine architecture not be worth preserving?!
The paved old path leading over it is necessary for us pilgrims and friends of the Holy Mountain for whom the way is the destination.
Because only when walking on such ways the body and the soul have the chance to become one and to spiritualise the experience gained in the last visited monastery.
My friends and I would much appreciate Your Royal Highness becoming an advocate for this higher purpose.
In the same Annual Report (pp. 16-22) John Arnell, who led a preliminary Friends
expedition in May, 2001 to assess the size of the task, offers an
illustrated report on the 2002 expedition, in which the real work of the
Footpaths Project began.
FoMA Publications about the Footpaths
As an immediate benefit of this project, we offer via the Friends of Mount
Athos Web Site,
a useful table, "Mount Athos Footpaths: Conditions, Walking Times & Links to Descriptions,"
which we intend to update from reports of members who walk these paths
and from ongoing footpath clearing, restoration and maintenance expeditions.
a series of Footpath Descriptions accessible via links in the above table, a list that will grow over time,
providing pilgrims with indications of distances, views, and
landmarks to help them choose and follow individual paths.
Our wish for every pilgrim to the Holy Mountain is to experience how "every stone breathes prayers"
and how "the way becomes the destination" through contemplation of the pilgrimage while hiking these ancient paths.