Friday, October 23, 2020

When Two Turkish Muslims, a Journalist and an Architect, Visited Mount Athos


Two Turkish Muslim professionals visited the Greek monastic peninsula of Mount Athos a few years back and related their experiences to the Turkish press.

According to the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet (published on June 8th, 2014), journalist Ertugrul Ozkok along with architect Ali Esad Göksel, who both visited Mount Athos for a period of three days after receiving authorization from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew himself, said the following:

"Like most Turks, I first heard about Mount Athos in the work Aynaroz Kadısı by Musahipzade Celal. After I discovered it, I read enough and wanted to go. Eventually I went with the help and the permission of the Patriarch.

After Mecca, Yemen, the Vatican and Bhutan, we are now at Mount Athos, the "Garden of the Virgin". Just after the boat carrying me and the architect Ali Esad Göksel turned, we saw a beautiful building on the hill. We had in our hands the admission that was given to us by the Patriarchate of the Phanar.
I took my headphones from my bag and put music that I had arranged beforehand, Anna Netrebko singing 'Pie Jesu'. I felt happy that I was doing something that I dreamed of for years, isolation on Mount Athos.

I faced Dionysiou Monastery; one of the most beautiful churches in this region of Greece called Mount Athos. We lived in this monastery for three days and thee nights. From the moment you set foot on the land, you lose all contact with the world.

The boat left us and disappeared in two minutes. Waiting with our luggage, we didn't see anyone greeting us. The monastery is at the end of a steep and long road. We had to start walking. Climbing with our heavy suitcases, within the first ten meters we understood what ascetic life is. At that exact moment a voice saved us. Up there on the balconies someone shouts: 'Wait we are coming!'

A little later we found before us a 4x4 van, and we are brought to the monastery. Inside the vehicle are two priests in black robes sitting. One says 'Welcome' in Turkish. We met Father Gabriel who for three days will guide us and help us in everything. The vehicle climbed the steep hill and stoped somewhere that looks like a castle gate; we took our luggage and we entered. The landscape reminds us of the series Game of Thrones. In the middle of the courtyard there is a church with walls painted in burgundy and white. We went next door and climbed the stairs. Before we went to the room that we would stay in, we entered a parlor. They offered raki and loukoumi. Our first impression: They aren't scary people like we were taught when we were young, about those priests with the black beards. Instead, all of them treated us very friendly.

Because we arrived a little late to the monastery, we couldn't follow the evening service. They prepared food and we ate from the menu of the monks, potatoes with eggs, olives, bread, tomato and an orange.

At 6:30 in the evening everything stopped, so we went up to our room. Father Gabriel closed slowly the inner courtyard of the monastery and the heavy door separating our room from the outside space. The courtyard at once was immersed in silence. Life ends early evening but starts very early in the morning. You wake up at 3:00 for the morning service."

The two Muslim pilgrims further stated:

"I can say that we were treated more warmly compared to guests from other countries. They never spoke to us about the Ottoman occupation, about what the priests suffered. They treated us openly and helped us in every issue."

The Turkish journalist Ertugrul Ozkok, when referring to the Divine Liturgy, said: "The chanting came from the right and from the left and turned into an enthusiastic torrent that flowed into the corridor. A magical vocal seesaw. Can art be metaphysical? That night we believed it could. We watched speechless and enchanted… The trembling of the candles and the light of the lamps, the colorful worlds of icons and frescoes, the gold, the shadows… everything was a unique moment of time."

According to the first superintendent of Mount Athos, Fr. Symeon Dionysiatis: "We do not examine your religion, we do not discriminate. Everyone is welcome here, as long as they respect the place."

This love and hospitality is the testimony of Christ to all peoples, which the Orthodox monasticism of Mount Athos illuminates.