13 AUGUST 1887, Page 18


THE MOUNTAIN OF THE MONKS.* Tars most interesting book is an account of a visit paid to Mount Athos, in the summer of 1883, by Mr. Athelstan Riley and his friend, the Rev. Arthur Owen. In ordinary books of travel, it is seldom indeed that we meet with scenes so curious, and ways of living so unfamiliar, as are to be found on this strange mountain, where hermits have lived for the last thousand years, and one of the convents "was restored nine hundred years ago." This Greek peninsula, this corner of modern Europe, is almost the same now as it was in the Middle Ages; the modern spirit has hardly begun to find its way there. The occasional traveller, who for objects of his own goes through the real hardships of a visit, finds it difficult to get there, more difficult to get away, and most difficult to live while he is there, in spite of the hospitality of the monasteries. Yet we cannot imagine a more interesting experience to look back upon.

The objects of travellers are various. Mr. Robert Ourzon's object, for instance—most of us made our first acquaintance with Athos in his entertaining book—was the collecting of old manu- scripts; and, alas ! he has left behind him on the Holy Mountain the reputation of a thief, though he paid for his treasures honestly. In the fifty years since he was there, the monks appear to have become conscious of the value of their libraries. Mr. Riley's object was a wider and more unselfish one. He wished to give a full and true account of the present state of this curious monastic republic for the help of future travellers and historians. He has also "tried to give a picture of the Greek Church as it is to.day, of the Greek ecclesiastics and religious, and of the habits of thought that obtain amongst them Whilst the Orientals can learn much from us, we can learn many things from them." Mr. Riley is one of those Anglican Churchmen who, no doubt very rightly, strive and long for the unity of Christendom, and he sees many paints of contact between the Greek Church and our own. In order

• Athos; on the Mountain of the Monks. By Atheist= Riley. London Longmens sad Co. WIT.

to promote that knowledge which leads to charity, he enters most fully in this book into descriptions of churches, services, and religions peculiarities of all kinds belonging to the Eastern form of Christianity. To any one who cares to study the sub- ject, his account of these things will be interesting and valuable. Written with real sympathy and understanding, it is a sort of living commentary on Dean Stanley's History of the Eastern Church.

Travelling by Constantinople, Mr. Riley and his friend arrived on the Holy Mountain in August, 1883. In Con- stantinople they had an interview with the Patriarch, to whom the Bishop of Lichfield had given them a letter of introduction. And to show the advance of things during the last fifty years, an advance, it certainly seems, towards that unity so much desired, one need only contrast their reception by the Patriarch —his room furnished in the French style, his engraving of Murillo'e Madonna, his writing-table covered with books, his friendly and wise talk about the English Church, and kind inquiries for the Archbishop of Canterbury—with Mr. Curzon's experience on an occasion of the same kind. The Patriarch of those days sat on a divan and stroked his beard, like a Pasha:—

"When we had smoked our pipes for awhile, and all the servants had gone away, I presented the lottor of the Archbishop of Canter- bury. It was received in due form was read aloud to the Patriarch, first in English, and then translated into Greek. And who,' quoth the Patriarch of Constantinople, the supreme head and primate of the Greek Church of Asia, 'who is the Archbishop of Canterbury ?'—' What ?' said I, a little astonished at the question.— ' Who,' said be, is this Archbishop ?'—' Why, the Archbishop of Canterbury.'—' Archbishop of what ? ' said the Patriarch.—' Canter- bury,' said I.—' Oh !' said the Patriarch. ' Ah ! yes ! and who is he?"

Mr. Riley and his friend spent six weeks on Mount Athos, travelling from one to another of the twenty monasteries, at all of which they seem to have been entertained with almost equal kindness. Perhaps some of their good fortune was due to the fact that they had a distinguished Greek fellow-traveller, the Archbishop of Cavalla, who made great friends with them, and was himself received with honour and respect everywhere.

Mr. Riley cannot say enough of the romantic beauty of Mount Athos. It can only be approached by sea, or by a dangerous, brigand-haunted land journey from Salonica r-

" The promontory, or rather the peoinsula, of Athos (for not far from its base, at the spot whe5e Xerxes cut his canal, it measures but a mile and a half across) is long and narrow, having an average breadth of about four miles, whilst its length is forty. A ridge of hills runs down the centre of the peninsula, beginning from the narrowest part near its base and reaching some height where the monastic establishments commence, at a dietary.. or fifteen to twenty miles from its extremity. From this point the ridge rises gradually from 1,000 to between 3,000 and 4,000 feet, when it sud- denly shoots up into a mountain nearly 7 000 feet high and falls into the sea. There is but little level land on Athos The moan- fain is one vast mass of white or whitish-grey marble, clothed with trees to within a thousand feet of its summit, and then rising in a bare and conical peak. From the top car be seen the islands of Thaws, distant thirty miles ; of Lemnos, forty (upon which the shadow of Athos is said to fall as the sun sets); of Samothraki, sixty ; and on a clear day the Thessalian Olympus, distant ninety miles; whilst, on the other hand, it can itself be seen from the shores of Asia Minor on the plain of Troy. Round the shores of Athos stand the twenty ancient monasteries to which the whole peninsula belongs, and which form the monastic republic of the Holy Mountain. The origin of this ecclesiastical state is lost in the obscurity of centuries."

The monks of Athos submitted to Turkish rule in the year 1448, on condition "that their ancient privileges should be respected, and that they should be allowed to govern themselves." These terms have been faithfully kept, and the Turkish Governor and his staff are, in fact, officers of the Holy Synod, which sits at Caryes, consisting of representatives from the twenty monasteries. This Synod is not without its serious disputes, some of the monasteries being Greek and some Slavonic. One, of which we shall have more to say later, is a distinctively Russian monastery. The names of the monasteries, given almost in the order in which Mr. Riley visited them, are these r- Vatopedi, Pantocratoros, Stavroniketa, Iveron, Pbilotheon, the Lavra, St. Paul, St. Dionysius, St. Gregory, Xero- potamon, Contlonmoussi, Caracalla, Simopetra, Xenophon, Docheiarion, Constamoniton, Zographou, Esphigmenou, Chilian- dari, and Runic°. Every one of them seems to be beautiful in its situation, especially St. Paul, in its wild ravine among crags and woods, and Simopetra, perched wonderfully on a roek one thousand feet above the sea. The buildings of all are more or less picturesque and interesting, the churches curious, the relics and treasures most valuable. One feels especially at home, perhaps, at Vatopedi, the travellers' first halting-plane. They seem to have found most to interest them at the Lavra ; but each had its features, and there is not one that does not in some way deserve the full description that Mr. Riley gives of each alike. The monks, as a rale, are childish and ignorant, though there are bright exceptions. They are kind, good-natured, and curious, and a certain liberality of mind is shown by the fact that Mr. Owen was more than once allowed to perform Anglican services in the churches. The friendly Archbishop approved of our Liturgy, and pronounced it to be "the Liturgy of St. Gregory Dialogue, and a very good Liturgy too."

The monasteries have not improved in comfort or cleanliness since the time of Mr. Curzon, and the nights of these travellers were not more peaceful than his. But after the first they took refuge in their " levinges," or sleeping-bags, and we should advise no one to follow in their footsteps without these clever contrivances. As to the food, it, too, has not improved since the days when the Superior of the Lavra prepared that dish with his "own hands" for Mr. Curzon,—that "admirable dish" the taste of one spoonful of which lasted for days. We should say, on the whole, that that dish, with its garlic and cheese, was to be preferred to most of the food set before our modern travellers. As no female creature of any kind is allowed to set foot on Mount Athos, there is no milk to be had, and the eggs which reach the monasteries have made a long journey. Tomatoes steeped in rancid oil ; soup, three-parts hot water and one-part hot rancid oil, in which lobster and octopus had been boiled ; octopus by itself, cooked in the same oil with red tentacles swimming (this fish has to be dashed forty times on a paving- stone to make it fit for human teeth), are some of the favourite viands. Black snails cooked in oil are also a favourite dish ; now and then, as a special dainty, a boiled cock appears, but he s generally dressed with rancid butter, and uneatable. In fact, if travellers can manage to live on coffee and sweetmeats, they will find it advisable to do so.

It is impossible not to wonder how long, in an age like this, the monks of the Holy Mountain will keep themselves and their domain apart from the rest of the world. In modern Europe, one can hardly put aside the thought that the days of such a strange and ancient colony must be numbered. Mr. Riley talks of the long-projected railway which is to connect Salonica with Europe, and which will bring "eager tourists to the threshold of the Holy Mountain," and he advises "the guardians of the sacred shrines to add to the severity of their laws and increase the jealousy which guards their borders." But we suspect that he foresees a greater danger to Athos than the curiosity of tourists. Russico, one of the largest of the monas- teries, is a Russian colony ;—

"The inhabitants pride themselves upon being the subjects of a first-class European Power, and despise the Greek civilisation as a relio of Oriental barbarism. The whole place is more like a small town than a monastery, although the convent itself is enclosed and can be entered only through a gateway; for all around it and down to the water's-edge are workshops, and storehouses, and dwelling-houses; and still the monks are building more, so that the great monastery is increasing in extent year by year. It cannot be disguised that Russico has more concern with polities than religion, and that unless the Russian colonisation of Athos receives a cheek,

the greatest political complications will ensue I am folly persuaded that Russico is mainly a Government affair supported by Government money, and indirectly, if not directly, under Government control. But it will be asked, what interests other than religious can Russia have at Mount Athos ? From a political point of view, the possession of the Holy Mountain is of the highest importance to Russia in furthering her schemes for the extension of her territory to the shores of the Mediterranean. The eyes of Russia and of Austria are both turned covetously upon Salonica, a town second to Constan-

tinople alone in political importance and the acquisition of the Athonite peninsula would enable Russia to give checkmate to the schemes of her rival, for the whole promontory may be looked upon as One gigantic natural fortress."

The Greeks on Mount Athos suspect the Russians of scheming against the pre-eminence of the Greek Church, and fear that their ultimate aim is to remove the (Ecumenical Patriarchate to Moscow, "or in some other way to subject the mother to the daughter Church, and both to the Czar and his Ministers." Anyhow, the monastery of Ramie° is regarded by the Greek monasteries as a colony of enemies.

We have tried to give some idea of the varied interest of Mr. Riley's book, and should like to quote some of the amusing adventures and stories in it, especially the Archbishop's story of the marriage of two cousins, but it is unfortunately too long. We will end with what Mr. Riley call, "a curious but very characteristic instance of the way in which religion engrosses the minds of the inhabitants of Athos :"—

" After the soup, boiled eggs were served for our benefit. 0 -- being very particular about their being well cooked, complained they had not been long enough in the pot. Whereupon the serving monk insisted that that could not be ; 'for,' said he, 'I said a Pater and a Pieter° whilst they were boiling.' It seems that on the Holy Moun- tain they boil eggs in this manner : They put them on the fire and oommence the recitation of the Lord's Prayer; this being finished, they commence the Nicene Creed, at the end of which the eggs are taken out of the pot and are :supposed to be properly boiled."

We have only to add that the book is well got up, and prettily illustrated with engravings front the author's photographs.