|http://www.sina.com.cn 2004/11/04 19:24 新浪教育|
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A GREEK MONK
by Chris Hellier
Every morning at 5:30, Father Iakovos, a monk at Iviron monastery in northern Greece, is awakened by a sharp knock on the door of his sparsely furnished room. He quickly dresses in a black habit, the traditional garb of Orthodox monks, runs his fingers through his long gray beard, and hurries off to a church for morning prayers. In the church, he kneels before an icon of Christ and the Virg
Father Iakovos is one of about 80 monks at Iviron who follow a strict daily routine that has changed little for centuries. After matins (morning prayers), the monks assemble in the upstairs refectory for a simple breakfast of tea, bread, and olives. Monastic meals are often meager, but they give the monks an opportunity to chat about work at hand or to discuss, in hushed tones, news of the outside world.
The rest of the morning is set aside for daily chores. The abbot, or hegoumenos, the leader of the Greek Orthodox monastery, assigns each monk a specific role. Some monks are responsible for the church and chapels; others tend the gardens or work in the kitchens. The bibliophylax, or librarian, looks after the monastery's historic manuscripts and religious texts. The chartophylax, or monastic clerk, handles the administrative duties.
Father Iakovos is Iviron's gatekeeper, or guest-master. He welcomes guests and shows them to their rooms. He was chosen for this job because he is fluent in several languages and has a jovial, or cheerful, nature.
Iviron is one of 20 monasteries that form part of the semi-autonomous community of Mount Athos, the leading center of Orthodox monasticism for more than 1,000 years. The area forms a narrow peninsula, jutting into the northern Aegean. It covers an area of 130 square miles (336 square kilometers). Athos itself, the holy mountain of the Greek Orthodox Church located at the tip of the peninsula, rises 6,417 feet (1,956 meters).
The Byzantine emperor Basil I officially recognized Mount Athos as a spiritual center in A.D. 883. In a decree issued that year, the mountain became the exclusive domain of hermits and monks. Shepherds, women, and all female animals were forbidden from entering the peninsula.
In Greece, every district once had a monastery or nunnery such as Iviron. It was usually the most imposing or impressive building in the area. During the height of monastic power in the Middle Ages, thousands of monasteries dotted Greece. Today, about 3,000 monks live in the 200 stand- ing monasteries scattered around the mainland or perched on rocky island sites. Although the number of monks in most monasteries has declined over the decades, Mount Athos has enjoyed a revival in the last 25 years.
On Athos and elsewhere, monasticism plays an important symbolic role in Greek culture. Indeed, the word "monastery" is derived from the Greek word monachos, meaning "living alone," and dates from the time that Greek was the language of the Christian church. Today's monks, the young as well as the elderly, are drawn by a tradition that dates back to the beginning of Christianity, when hermits retired from the world to live in remote caves.
Being a monk requires dedication and obedience to the abbot. All monks such as Father Iakovos start as novices, sometimes spending several years in different monasteries before settling in the one that suits them best.
Numerous religious festivals break up the daily ritual of prayer and meditation. Most important for Orthodox Christians is Easter, the "feast of feasts," followed by the Twelve Great Feasts including Christmas and Palm Sunday, which celebrates Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem. A number of other festivals of varying importance commemorate Christian saints.
There are fasts as well as festivals. Traditionally, the fasts are far more important in Orthodoxy than in other forms of Christianity. All Wednesdays, Fridays, and, in the strictest monasteries, Mondays, are fast days. During four main fasting periods, monks refuse to eat meat, and on some occasions fish, animal products, oil, and wine.
Mount Athos monks were once recruited from farming backgrounds. Now, however, increasing numbers of educated young men, often with professional or academic backgrounds, are being drawn to the tranquil monastic lifestyle. Recent recruits include a former oil prospector and a nuclear physicist, social workers, doctors, and dentists.
As night draws in on Mount Athos, the monasteries resonate with a repetitive "tack, tack, tack," a haunting sound that seems to echo around the courtyards. This is the call of the semantron, a wooden beam struck with a mallet, and a sign that monks should assemble for evensong. A monk's day ends as it begins, in chanting, prayer, and meditation.