FOMA PATH CLEARING PILGRIMAGE
Coming to the mountain purely a spiritual retreat or a holiday (the peninsula has steep slopes and stony paths, plus many uneven surfaces and lots of stairs inside the monasteries) but nor is it a commando training fortnight.
While we are on the mountain to work, we are inclusive. A basic level of fitness is required but we really are a mixed bunch, and each group works to accommodate the capabilities of all of its members. Have a look at the attached ‘what you need to know’ note but if you are not sure if it is right for you please feel free to ask any of the leadership team questions – see email address below.
We realise that many of you, especially younger ones, have family and work commitments that make it difficult to spend a full fortnight on the Holy Mountain, so, there will once again be a small number of one-week places available in both the First and Second weeks.
Path clearers travelling from other countries and continents often travel via London, but sometimes also find it more convenient or inexpensive to meet up with the Team in Thessaloniki. Our accommodation on the Holy Mountain is provided free by the monasteries who host us.
We shall ask for a non-refundable payment of £100 towards the project costs, mainly equipment and tools, plus ferries and incidental expenses. Those of you who were part of the cancelled 2020 trip have already paid this and you will obviously not need to do it again. One final requirement is that you must be a current paid-up member of the Friends of Mt Athos.
If you are interested, we think these are some of the things you need to know about the Footpaths Pilgrimage:
This is a working pilgrimage, so you can expect a mix of open-air physical labour and sharing in the daily life of an Athonite monastery.
The overall group is divided up into 4 or 5 teams of between 3 and 8, depending on the amount of work needed at each monastery. Each team will have a First Aider and we try to make sure it also has Greek speaking and Orthodox members
If you’re coming for two weeks, it is highly likely that you will move to a different monastery during the middle weekend. If you are coming for one week, then you will probably stay in just one monastery.
There is normally a ‘Walking Team’ who move every night. They do get to visit more monasteries, but it’s a tough assignment as they must carry all their belongings with them and work on the way. It’s not just walking!
If you wish to stay in a specific monastery, or work in the same team as someone else, the organisers will do their best to make this happen. However, the needs of the project and transport difficulties may mean this is not possible.
You need to be physically fit – not marathon level, but able to walk between 6 and 8 miles / 10 and 13 km a day in the heat while carrying water and tools.
We normally work 5 or 6 days in each week, though this can vary depending on feast days.
You will be out on the paths for 8+ hours each day.
In the middle of the day, temperatures can reach 30°C/86°F. Occasionally there is heavy rain.
Some of the areas we cover are fairly remote, perhaps 2 hours from the nearest vehicle track.
We use only hand tools, for example loppers and pruning saws.
Sleeping accommodation is communal – you will be sharing a room and fairly basic bathrooms with anywhere between 4 and 20 other pilgrims.
How to behave
You are generally expected to attend some of the daily services, though path-clearers are allowed some leeway because the monks understand we are working.
Two meals each day are normally taken in the monastery dining hall along with the monks and other pilgrims. These meals are part of the ‘services’ and are eaten in silence with an accompanying reading. In some monasteries, non-Orthodox pilgrims will eat separately, or at different times. Food is simple and predominantly vegetarian, with fish on feast days.
Pilgrims – and path-clearers – are expected to dress appropriately at all times, especially when inside the monasteries. This means long sleeves and long trousers, ideally in sombre colours and without obvious graphics or slogans.
Sometimes other pilgrims behave badly – for instance talking during meals, using mobile phones inside the monastery, or wearing inappropriate clothing. Path-clearers must observe a high(er) standard of behaviour as we are representing FoMA and we want to be invited back.
Do not bring a suitcase – think lots of uneven stone cobbles and rushing to catch a ferry or bus! A comfortable backpack is far easier to move around.
You’ll also need a smaller daypack plus a way of carrying at least 2 litres of water.
You’ll need working clothes – we advise long sleeves to save your arms from sun and scratches. Breathable clothing is ideal, as it will also dry quickly, as you will wash it frequently. Good walking boots which protect your ankles are essential.
Register – firstname.lastname@example.org
The diamonitirion is an intrinsic feature of every visit to the Holy Mountain. Although sometimes referred to as an Athonite ‘visa’, technically it is something quite different. The distinction was clearer in the days when a diamonitirion had to be obtained in Karyes, well after entry to the Holy Mountain had been effected. Now it is obtained before entry, and so it is easily confused with an entry permit.
The standard diamonitirion for visitors (there is a slightly different kind for invited guests) is essentially a letter of introduction from the Holy Epistasia in Karyes that is addressed to the twenty monasteries. It identifies the bearer of the letter as a pilgrim who has come to the Holy Mountain in order to visit the monasteries and venerate their holy objects (icons and relics). Any monastery receiving the letter is asked to welcome the bearer and provide him with the hospitality required for his pilgrimage. The diamonitirion is normally valid for a period of four days, and it is expected that no more than one night will be spent in any one monastery.
The reverse side of the diamonitirion now contains a brief code of conduct to guide the visitor to the Holy Mountain. In the past it was blank, and at one time listed monastery telephone numbers. These have become ever more important as most monasteries now require pilgrims to make reservations for their stays in advance. It has to be said that the code of conduct is patchily observed and patchily enforced.
A diamonitirion has to be arranged well in advance (the whole process is described in detail on the FoMA website: https://athosfriends.org/pilgrims-guide/), and presently costs thirty euros.
Visiting the Holy Mountain requires pilgrims to respect a number of basic rules. Most rules are common sense, others require minor adaptations from everyday behaviour but all are critically important because they are designed to maintain the peace, tranquillity, holiness and beauty that together contribute to the mountain’s unique landscape and atmosphere.
- Your clothes and behaviour should be decent and fit for a sacred place. Never wear shorts, short sleeve shirts or sandals – colours should be muted – see below for behaviour.
- Your mobile phones should be turned off in church, in the trapeza and generally inside the boundaries of the holy monasteries or other sacred buildings such as sketes and cells.
- Do not enter parts of monasteries not associated with hospitality unless invited.
- In church and at trapeza, you should be silent and noiseless, and you must observe the order and special rules of each monastery. The guest-master at each monastery will make you aware of what’s expected of you. You should obviously be quiet and focussed during services – trapeza is an extension of the service so you must continue to be silent and to follow the example set by your hosts.
- The use of television, radio and music playback devices is prohibited.
- Smoking is prohibited. See 7.
- Be especially careful to avoid the causes of fires. It is strictly forbidden to camp out in the open. The Holy Mountain does not have a fire service so fires anywhere on the mountain can be especially devastating. And please do not even think of camping or sleeping anywhere other than a monastery or skete – animals including snakes, wolves, jackals and wild boar consider the mountain to be their patch, particularly at night.
- Hunting is prohibited as is the importation of weapons and dogs.
- Cinematographic/video equipment and filming are strictly prohibited. Filming anywhere on the Holy Mountain requires the permission of the Holy Epistasia.
- Photographing of monks and the interior of monasteries is forbidden without prior permission. Common courtesy is required in both instances.
- The duration of your stay shall be 4 days in all and no more than 1 day in each monastery or skete. Be sure to make a reservation in advance. Exceptions are only possible if you are engaged in work to support the Holy Mountain such as clearing footpaths with the annual FoMA pilgrimage – see 12.
- Even if you have a special Diamonitirion, issued by a particular monastery or skete, it does not entitle to stay anywhere other than the issuing institution.
In all instances, you should fully plan your pilgrimage – the monasteries are not hotels and they are not really geared up to accept last minute guests – and nor should they be.
Email addresses of various monasteries, etc: https://athosweblog.com/?s=monastery+emails
In accordance with the procedures established by the Greek Government, foreigners must obtain a written permit to visit Mount Athos from the «Holy Executive of the Holy Mount Athos – Pilgrims’ Bureau» located in Thessaloniki. Reservations are made six months in advance by phone (+30 2310 252578) or fax (+30 2310 222424) or e-mail
The delivery of this permit is carried out by the “Pilgrims’ Office” branch in Ouranoupolis. Personal appearance with passport /ID card is required in order to obtain this permit. A letter of recommendation is no longer required.
The office in Thessaloniki is open from Monday through Saturday (09:00 – 16:00). It is closed on Sundays and bank holidays.
The office in Ouranoupolis is open from Monday through Sunday from 05:30 – 13:00, Saturday 06:00 – 13:00 and Sunday 08:00-13:00
In general, the “Holy Executive of the Holy Mount Athos – Pilgrims’ Bureau” issues only ten permits per day for non-Orthodox visitors (foreigners) and 100 for Greeks and Orthodox visitors. These permits are valid for a four-day visit on specific dates. Prolongation of the four-day validity can be issued from Mt. Athos authorities in Karyes. Clergymen should obtain in advance a written consent (“Evlogia”) from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople by writing to: The Ecumenical Patriarchate, Fanari, Istanbul, Turkey (tel +90 2125 349037).
Upon arrival in Ouranoupolis, the port where the boats depart for Mt Athos, visitors must obtain a residence permit “Diamonitirion”. This permit, which costs 30 Euros, allows the visitor to visit and stay at the monasteries of his choice. Students who can prove their student status through a school ID pay only 10 Euros. The holder of a permit may proceed to Mount Athos without any other formalities.
The monasteries do not charge for their hospitality, but donations are accepted. U.S. citizens may also make tax-deductible donations to the Mount Athos Foundation of America ( www.mountathosfoundation.org ) and U.K. citizens may make tax-deductible donations to the Friends of Mount Athos ( www.athosfriends.org/giving/gift-aid-form.pdf ).
Most of the monasteries and sketes require prior arrangements for accommodations.
Mount Athos visitors should be decently attired. In the event of misconduct, a permit can be withdrawn. Severe penalties are enforced against anyone who attempts to remove religious items from Mount Athos collections. While taking photographs is permitted, the use of video and movie cameras is strictly forbidden. Also, because hunting is strictly forbidden on Mount Athos, hunting dogs and rifles are strictly forbidden.
The following is information on bus and boat lines (It is advisable to check timetables before departure because they are subject to change).
Bus Terminal to Ouranoupolis: “KTEL CHALKIDIKIS” tel. +30 2310 316 555, web site:( www.ktel-chalkidikis.gr)
Daily departures by bus from Ouranoupolis (148 km,3 hours). The first bus is at 05.30h.
There is a boat connection with the bus from Thessaloniki, as well as with the domestic bus Daphne – Karyes (12 km).
“Mount Athos Lines”: 23770 21041, 23770 71149
“Microathos”: 23770 71400
“Aghia Anna” Boat: 6974 819885
The Friends of Mount Athos website (www.athosfriends.org) should give you all the information you need to plan your pilgrimage. By the time you receive your diamonitirion the only part of your trip that should be unplanned is the wonder you will feel so many times in the days ahead – as you depart the ‘world’ at Ouranoupolis, as you glimpse your first monastery when the boat rounds a headland, as you disembark at Daphne, and as you enter a monastery, speak to a father, share prayers and trapeza for the first time. buildings such as sketes and cells.
The Friends of Mount Athos website should give you all the information you need to plan your pilgrimage. By the time you receive your diamonitirion the only part of your trip that should be unplanned is the wonder you will feel so many times in the days ahead – as you depart the ‘world’ at Ouranoupolis, as you glimpse your first monastery when the boat rounds a headland, as you disembark at Daphne, and as you enter a monastery, speak to a father, share prayers and trapeza for the first time.
The Holy Mountain has an extensive network of stone-flagged and other footpaths, many of which date back to the Byzantine (late 1500’s) period. These paths are typically trails designed for human foot traffic and mules, were built at great expense, and are not wide enough for motor vehicles. They connect the various monasteries, sketes, cells, and hermitages on the peninsula to each other.
In the 1960s, many of the footpaths began to fall into disrepair, with the introduction of vehicles and ad-hoc roads.
At a reception for the Friends of Mount Athos held on 2 August 2000 at Highgrove, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales expressed similar concern and suggested that the Friends should put their minds to this problem to see what could be done.
The first path-clearing pilgrimage took place in spring 2001, and has been generally repeated annually since then.
Today, most of the footpaths are signed, well maintained, and in good condition.
The Friends of Mount Athos (www.athosfriends.org) maintains an up-to-date list of the conditions of the paths, as well as detailed descriptions of each path. This information is vital for the pilgrim, as the routes can be steep and difficult.
The main map sold on this site shows all the paths in some detail, with profiles to help you gauge the effort required.
To provide some early assistance, here is a short list of some of the major paths, basic information, and, attached, a KMZ file of these that can be directly loaded into Google Earth to give readers a good idea of the terraine!