Inside an ancient monastery
CBS correspondent Bob Simon interviews Father Matthew, one of the monks on Mount Athos.
April 22nd, 2011
04:42 PM ET

Inside an ancient monastery

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) - It was two years in the making for a television crew to get access inside one of the holiest sites of the Greek Orthodox world, the monasteries on Mount Athos in Greece. The cluster of 20 monasteries has remained perched on the cliffs high above the Aegean Sea for centuries.

In the monasteries, also known collectively as the Holy Mountain or The Garden of the Mother of God, the monks spend most of their time in prayer and are purposefully isolated from the outside world.

"A woman hasn't been allowed on the mountain for over a thousand years," said Bob Simon, correspondent for CBS News' "60 Minutes."

That prohibition against women even extends to animals, with the exception of cats who pull double duty as rodent control. The only food the monks import is cheese - because it comes from cows. Otherwise they all grow their own food on the island.

"The whole purpose of [the monks] being there is to be away from the outside world to a remarkable extent. Monks have spent decades there without spending a day off the island," he said.

"Technically it's a peninsula, but they don't have newspapers or television or radio or women, and the whole idea is to just devote themselves entirely to prayer, so they're really not interested with what goes on in the outside world and they don't want to get involved in it."

Simon thinks the only reason he and his crew were granted access to the monks, many of whom had never done interviews, was a story they did on the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the leader of the global community of 300 million Greek Orthodox Christians.

Simon said the interview was received well, especially in the United States.

"I think [the Patriarch] sort of leaned on the monks to say, 'Hey, we're OK, let them in,' but he has no executive authority the way the pope does, he can just make recommendations," Simon said. But even with that recommendation from on high, it still took several years to work out the shoot.

Just getting to the monasteries is chore. First you have to get to Thessaloniki in Greece.

"From Thessaloniki you take a long drive, about three hours on roads that are not great. Then you wind up in this place that is, I think I called it scruffy in the script, then you take a ferry. The only trouble is the waters between this town and Mount Athos are really rough," Simon said.

He said his producers got stuck in the town for three days while they waited for a day where the waters were calm enough to travel to the peninsula.

"There may be a forest or mountain somewhere that hasn't changed in the last 1,500 years, but in terms of an inhabited place, I don't think there's any place that has changed so little as Mount Athos," he said.

During World War II, Mount Athos came under the personal protection of Hitler when the Nazis invaded Greece. At the advice of German officers, the monks wrote Hitler and asked for the protection, which he provided. The monks told Simon that Hitler was planning to pillage the monasteries for their art treasures, even going so far as to send officers to photograph more than 1,000 works of art. But they said Hitler got bogged down in Russia and never removed any of the art.

Simon said in the course of their centuries-old tradition on the mountain, the monks viewed it as just a speed bump.

"They have no connection with our world. Their only consideration is to survive to keep the mountain going, because it is the most sacred spot on the world as far as they are concerned. It is a place [where] a life of prayer is more effective than anywhere else. So sure the Nazis threatened them, but over the centuries they been threatened by everybody."

Simon's report is scheduled to air on Easter Sunday. You can see a preview of the report here.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • Church • Europe • Greek Orthodox Church • TV

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soundoff (803 Responses)
  1. qzorro

    A group of monks decided to live in a monastery away from the IPads, Facebook and Lady Gaga. They live in peace and they harm nobody. Why so many are upset and posting sarcastic or even hateful comments?

    April 23, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  2. jt

    ......so much intolerance and hatred on this board for people of different beliefs.

    April 23, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  3. Sigmund Freud

    Sorry Ida. Parthenogenesis works only with females.

    April 23, 2011 at 10:42 am |

    Women are good for 70 things. 69 and making sandwiches.

    April 23, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • cmc


      April 23, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  5. Mookster

    No women? Sounds like heaven.

    April 23, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  6. Bell

    Makes me want to dress up as a man and at the end of the tour expose myself "fooled you" LOL

    April 23, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • Sigmund Freud

      You can practice at my place.

      April 23, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  7. Sally Li

    Every spring, bikini-clad young ladies arrive at Mount Athos by small boats, and try to scale the cliffs – and when they get to
    the top, they are chased away by a man waving a broom around.

    April 23, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • skeptic


      April 23, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  8. Ida

    No women are allowed? They should figure out how to multiply by themselves. Male chauvinists should be denied the right to fathering children. Women are obviously good enough as breeders.

    April 23, 2011 at 10:33 am |


    April 23, 2011 at 10:33 am |

    Good, they only belong in the kitchen making sandwiches

    April 23, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  11. hw

    I could not figure out where ZZ top went, now I know.

    No women, hey ZZ its your turn in the barrell today

    April 23, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  12. john malanas

    No women are allowed here because, because Mt. Athos is where Mary, Christ's mother was blown away to while on a ship to Greece, and she landed in Mt. Athos and asked Christ, what is this beautiful land here? And he responded this is your land, and only your land. This is why no women are allowed here.

    April 23, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • hw

      OK, I guess you were there to record that event.

      April 23, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  13. MP


    April 23, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  14. TB40

    'That prohibition against women even extends to animals, with the exception of cats who pull double duty as rodent control.'

    Obviously he means females instead of women.
    Terrible writing yet again.

    April 23, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  15. ***dude***

    And that is reality

    April 23, 2011 at 5:03 am |
  16. petra

    Simon gets a plum, eh? CNN ppl are jealous, i'll bet.

    April 23, 2011 at 1:23 am |
  17. Fist of Reason

    At least they're where they can't hurt anybody but each other.
    An asylum run by the inmates is what religious retreats are all about.
    Makes a good filler piece, but it's hardly investigative journalism.

    April 22, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
  18. (B)iraq Hussein Osama

    no woman has been there for centuries?
    then how do they have children???

    April 22, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
    • john malanas

      This is because Mt. Athos is where Mary, Christ's mother was blown away to while on a ship to Greece, and she landed in Mt. Athos and asked Christ, what is this beautiful land here? And he responded this is your land, and only your land. This is why no women are allowed here.

      April 23, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • john malanas

      Greek Orthodox Priests are allowed to marry only before they take their final duty to become a priest, but they are allowed to have children throughout priesthood with their wives, although they cannot marry if they have already become priests, this is why many priests wait until marriage to become priests in the orthodox church. Monks on the other hand live an aesthetic life, where they choose to be left in solitude, and i'm not sure, but I assume they cannot marry if they have already become monks without already being married.

      April 23, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • skeptic

      They dont have children, they recruit, and this interview is used as a propaganda to get more members.

      April 23, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • scuster

      Hmmm...wonder why no one reported that wondermous question.

      April 23, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • Finger Puppet

      @ john malanas,
      I thought he told her "Let me issue you a real estate contract, not unlike the one I gave out to some nomadic cannanites, that will pretend to show this is your Promised Land. Just flash it and call it bi.......well maybe we better not push that one".

      They think they get to feel all fuzzy and self righteous about the contempt for women. (But they really don't know.) They have never done strip searches or genetic testing. Who knows what horrible evil, lurks under those robes. Who needs women ? Just lure the local boys up there.

      The male pink monkeys like to live in groups up on the rocky cliffs.

      Why didn't CNN draw a comparison with monastic groups here, or anywhere, and the idea, generally accepted by archeologists, that, for sure, John the Baptist, was a monastic, and very likely, Jesus was also, from the apocolyptic Essene
      community outside Jerusalem at Quumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were produced.

      April 23, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • vsk

      People choose their profession after reaching certain age, so even it applies to Monks...They keeping away from women and external world is to keep away six passions of mind – desire, lust, anger, greed, delusion and pride... This is the tradition followed in olden days by monks and even followed by very few in this generation...

      April 23, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Caracoles

      What a bunch of crap!!! If by any chance there's a valuable around the mountains (gold, diamond, or whatever) those monks should start packing.

      April 24, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  19. Eric G

    So THAT is what ZZ top is doing now!

    April 22, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  20. Reality

    And in less than 15 words, said monestaries come crumbling to the ground:

    There was and never will be any bodily resurrections i.e. No Easter, no Christianity!!!

    More details upon request.

    April 22, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      When are you going to admit you follow the Talmud that will fry your soul. No eternity for you.


      April 22, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
    • Adelina

      Reality, read I Conrinthians chapter 15. Obviously the Bible knew what you would think. No Resurrection = No Christianity is right. But there indeed was resurrection of Jesus; that's why Christianity endured and covered the whole Earth with the Good News of Jesus Christ. People are getting saved every minute all over the world. Jesus is risen. Praise God!

      April 23, 2011 at 3:33 am |
    • Reality

      Hmmm, tis holy Saturday. Tis not this the day, the simple, preacher man spent in Hell?

      Time for an update:

      The Apostles' Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians during the past 200 years)

      I might believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
      and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
      human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven.

      I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
      preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
      named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
      girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

      Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
      the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

      He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
      a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

      Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
      many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
      and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
      Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
      grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
      and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
      called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.


      April 23, 2011 at 7:42 am |
    • Jellyfishdude

      Reality; he was committing blasphemy ONLY according to the Judeans. Not Pilate.

      April 23, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • bailoutsos

      My kid doesn't do a freaking thing to deal with the outside world. He hides in his room. Could he a holy monk?

      April 23, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • bailoutsos

      For all their praying, there is still all the chit going on around them. Sounds like a "head in the sand" religion.

      April 23, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.