Saturday, March 21, 2009

Book Review: The Monastic Magnet

Emma of our School has written a fine review of The Monastic Magnet: Roads to and from Mount Athos edited by Rene Gothoni and Graham Speake. Published in New York by Peter Lang, 2008, 197 pages, ISBN-13: 978-3039113378. Available from Amazon. Read Emma's review, below.

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Most of the 11 contributions included in this volume were delivered as lectures in Helsinki in 2006, to open an exhibit on the treasures of Mount Athos. The introduction by the editors summarizes each intervention. The general theme focuses around exchanges between Mount Athos and the rest of the world, through the visits of pilgrims and through what monks offered them in return, on site and through their foundations in the world.

The first part deals with the Athonite monks: Rosemary Morris (Where did the early athonite Monks come from?, p.21-40) identifies 2 periods of settlement of the Mount, with Mount Olympus and Constantinople as platforms for recruitment, Alice-Mary Talbot introduces a few athonite saints, hermits and cenobitics (Holy Men of Mount Athos, p.41-61), and Ismo Pellikka studies the network of Russian monasteries associated with Athos (Monasteries as between Bridges Athos, Russia, and Karelia, p .63-88).

The second part is more about pilgrims, through the testimony of a monk, Father Simeon (Mount Athos: A Center of Pilgrimage, p.91-95) and authors who often travel to the Sacred Mountain. René Gothoni (Pilgrimage as Dialogue, p.97-108) and Marco Toti (Inner Dimension of Pilgrimage to Mount Athos, p.109-121) try to identify the nature of the pilgrimage. Graham Speaker reflects on what attracts pilgrims to the Mount (The Way of a Pilgrim on Mount Athos, p. 123-132); he illustrates his point by the examples of Nikos Kazantzakis and Alexander Golitzin and of very spiritual monks they encountered (Angels of Peace: Encountering the Elders of Mount Athos, p.159-168).

Other examples are provided: a very prolific Russian pilgrim, unfortunately never translated, by Nicholas Fennell (Parfeny Aggeev and Russian Pilgrimage to Mount Athos, p.133-141), and those of 2 British who collaborated with the English edition of the Philokalia, by Kallistos Ware (Two British Pilgrims to the Holy Mountain: Gerald Palmer and Philip Sherrard, p.143-157). This captivating book ends with a hunting article by Nikolas Hatzinikolaou (Mount Athos: The Highest Place on Earth, p.169-189): it relates his experiences on the Mount and his meetings with monks leading extreme ascetic lives at the boundary between heaven and earth.

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