Orthodox America

   The Abbess of Mount Athos

From the rich depository of the Church's Sacred Tradtion, we are told that in the year A.D. 52 the Holy Virgin, accompanied by St. John the Theologian and others, set sail for Cyprus to visit Lazarus, for he had written of his great desire to see her.  A storm drew the ship off course and drove it north along the Agean Sea until at length it found harbor on the northeast coast of Athos, in a cove where today the monastery of Iveron is located. Marvelling at the beauty of the place, the Holy Virgin heard a voice: "Let this place be thine inheritance and garden, a paradise and a haven of salvation for those seeking to be saved."

From ancient times the Macedonian peninsula of Athos was inhabited by pagan tribes and boasted a large temple of Apollo. When the Mother of God stepped ashore, the idols in the pagan temples, constrained by a higher power, began falling over and screaming: "Men of Apollo, hasten to welcome Mary, the Mother of the great God Jesus!"   The people crowded around to listen as the Holy Virgin told them of the mystery of the Incarnation, the purpose of God's coming to earth, Christ's teaching, His suffering, the glory of His Resurrection and Ascension.   Many were baptized, their faith confirmed by numerous miracles wrought by the hand of the Mother of God. Leaving one of her company to shepherd the newly-enlightened people, she bid them farewell.  "May the blessing of My Son and My God be upon this place and upon all those who dwell here with faith and piety, keeping His commandments."

It is recorded in the Life of St. Peter the Athonite (+681) that while living virtually alone on the Holy Mountain as a hermit, he had a vision of the Mother of God telling St. Nicholas of her love for the place.  "The time will come when, from every direction, it will be filled with a multitude of monks.... If those monks shall labor for God with all their hearts and faithfully keep His commandments, I will vouchsafe them great gifts on the great day of my Son. And, while even here on earth, they will receive great aid from me.  I shall lighten their afflictions and labors. I will be for the monks an invincible ally, invisibly guiding and guarding them, a healer, a source nourishing them, and make it possible for them, with but scant means, to have sufficiency for life."  Over the centuries the monks who came to inhabit Athos experienced the truth of these words. Not in name only but in very deed is the Mother of God honored as the Abbess of the Holy Mountain.