February 22, 2010

The Ascetics of Karoulia on Mount Athos

The most isolated area on Mount Athos is an area known as Karoulia. Karoulia is located at the southernmost shore of Mount Athos on a rocky and very steep site. The hermit monks have built their huts inside caves, holes and rock protrusions. The name "karoulia" (pulleys) derives from the fact that in the old days supplies were delivered to the monks with pulleys. To move around they need to climb down with chains that are nailed to the cliffs. Only those who truly desire with their whole hearts to imitate Christ can endure this harsh and dreaded lifestyle.

The ascetics are principally occupied with prayer. They have diminished their corporal needs to the absolute minimum. They drink rain water which they collect and eat just enough to stay alive; they support themselves by weaving baskets and making prayer ropes, which they sell or exchange for food in Daphne.

Father Stefan, Serb by origin, cooking in 1982. He spent over 40 years on Karoulia. A great ascetic, his kelli was burnt so he had to go back to Serbia, where he spent last days of his life in the monastery Slanci near Belgrade (capital of Serbia). He is buried there, returned to rest in peace in his homeland after 40 years of asceticism in the most cruel part of Mount Athos - Karoulia.

Below is a one-hour documentary in Greek about the modern day ascetics of Karoulia, most of whom have passed on and left their cells empty. It begins in the cell of Fr. Stephan (pictured above) and the guide, who knew many of these ascetics while they were alive, moves on from cell to cell telling stories of the various holy personalities of these great ascetics who lived so strictly their Orthodox ascetic calling. It is said that the ascetics of Karoulia live like the birds of the air, only receiving and being sustained with that which God provides for them. This documentary reveals how true this is as if one were there.