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Joining the Holy Mountain

$537 of $3,000 goal

Raised by 7 people in 5 months
Christos Jonathan Seth Hayward  WHEATON, IL
Some people people know me as an Orthodox Christian author with a diverse and almost inexhausible collection of books , and the flagship title being a collection in mystical theology: The Best of Jonathan's Corner.


(Cover, The Best of Jonathan's Corner)


Looking to a journey of repentance
I want to convey some of what I want and why I am asking. In short, I want to go to Mount Athos and spend the rest of my life in repentance as a monk. And no, this desire is not morbid; read Repentance, Heaven's Best-Kept Secret. Repentance cleanses and heals, and leaves a stronger Christian in its wake, and the identification of monasticism as exemplary repentance is an aspect of monasticism as the supreme privilege within the Orthodox Church. And you it is really a liftier aspiration to be a mere monastic, without ever receiving any form of further ordination, than to seek to be the Oecumenical Patriarch.

St. John Chrysostom wrote a book I have not succeeded in acquiring, A Comparison Between the Monk and the Emperor. I tried to follow in St. John's footsteps and make an even sharper point in my own A Comparison Between the Mere Monk and the Highest Bishop :

❝ I believe that if some of the best bishops were asked, 'How would you like to step down from all of your honors, and all of your power, and hand the reins over to an excellent successor, and become only the lowest rank of monk at an obscure monastery in the middle of nowhere with no authority over any soul’s salvation but your own—would you take it?'"their response might be, "Um, uh… What’s the catch?” ❞

And no, the piece is not meant to take any public dig at any rank of bishops. My suspicion is that some bishops, after reading the whole piece, might have an immediate reaction of, "SOMEBODY UNDERSTANDS ME!"

 (Cover to A Pilgrimage from Narnia)

A Pilgrimage from Narnia
C.S. Lewis is more than anyone else the author who formed me in the beginning of work as a writer, and in Surprised by Joy, Lewis speaks of not connecting with one boy of his age, and then of increasingly being drawn by the pull of the icy, forbidding beauty of the Norse mythos, and finding out that the boy he had the same interest in Norse mythology as him, and in very much the same way. He wrote, "I had been so far from thinking such a friend possible that I had never even longed for one; no more than I longed to be king of England."

There are a number of things that are possible on Mount Athos that I simply had not considered in any form as possibilities. Another Lewis quote comes to mind, this time from The Chronicles of Narnia (specifically, The Magician's Nephew):“'Glory be!' said the Cabby. 'I'd ha' been a better man all my life if I'd known there were things like this.

Both of these quotes are things I'd say about Mount Athos. I have in one sense left C.S. Lewis behind; in general for Orthodox I would suggest reading saints' lives rather than staying with Lewis's stories, and for masterful nonfiction analysis and writing, the absolutely inexhaustible St. John Chrysostom (his last name is Greek, meaning "Golden Mouth"). And Lewis does not cover one basic Orthodox kind of writing: the concentrated, terse, inaccessible, and austere genre of St. Maximus the Confessor's so-called "chapters" on charity or knowledge , and is more broadly found as the baseline for most of the Philokalia . But C.S. Lewis is very definitely the starting-point for a poems as I have grown: A Pilgrimage from Narnia.

What about Mount Athos had I considered no more a possibility for me than Lewis longed to be king of England?

What about Athos left me wanting to say, "Glory be to God on high! I'd have been a better man all my life if I'd known there were things like this."

Let's look at a quote from the Wikipedia:
❝ According to the Athonite tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary was sailing accompanied by St John the Evangelist from Joppa to Cyprus to visit Lazarus. When the ship was blown off course to then-pagan Athos, it was forced to anchor near the port of Klement, close to the present monastery of Iviron. The Virgin walked ashore and, overwhelmed by the wonderful and wild natural beauty of the mountain, she blessed it and asked her Son for it to be her garden. A voice was heard saying "Ἔστω ὁ τόπος οὖτος κλῆρος σὸς καὶ περιβόλαιον σὸν καὶ παράδεισος, ἔτι δὲ καὶ λιμὴν σωτήριος τῶν θελόντων σωθῆναι" (Translation: "Let this place be your inheritance and your garden, a paradise and a haven of salvation for those seeking to be saved"). From that moment the mountain was consecrated as the garden of the Mother of God and was out of bounds to all other women. ❞


Icon of Christ the King holding the monarchical Orb. Oil on wood. Russia, 19th century.

But there's vastly more to say than the Wikipedia gives.


Doing one better than Plato: a monastic Republic
The Platonic ideal of a city-state ruled by a philosopher-king was not something I had even imagined would be a door opened to me but it in fact is alive and kicking on Mount Athos. Each monastery is both a city and a state, and each Elder is a philosopher (in a much fuller sense of philosophy than one really finds in higher education). Each Elder is also a monarch, with a fuller and more beneficial authority to strengthen disciples spiritually than any first-world royalty or ruler.

And Mount Athos is not just a monastic Republic. It is a theocracy, with God ruling through Elders and other authorities.

Monasticism is royal
Monasticism represents an unequalled position of privilege within the Orthodox Church. It's not just that monastics, in forfeiting last names and being given just one single new Christian name, are in the company of kings and bishops. Monasticism is royal, meaning not just that bishops or other monastic clergy is royal, but monastics are called to the full human stature of the royal race of mankind in even sharper relief. In Plato's Republic, it is clearly stated that the most noble class in society, the rulers par excellence whose very character is gold, are simply not allowed to touch merely material gold. That may be the base to the tradition that royalty do not touch money; monasticism does one better and would have no more than one dedicated treasurer able to store money. Monastics may have access to treasures, and the holy treasures open to Orthodox in Athonite monasteries may leave any personal possessions in the dust, but still monastics are placed above money and property like royalty are simply placed above money and property, and it is a matter of privilege, ultimately, that a monastic is freed from all the cares of possessions.


(Cover to Merlin's Well)

Medieval adventures in a rugged mountain wonderland
It is said by many that to visit Mount Athos is to step back in time and return to the Byzantine Empire, to live in medieval stone edifices and maybe a castle, old buildings that are dwarfed by the traditions of those who live in them. That’s interesting to me as the medievalist author who wrote The Sign of the Grail . The Holy Mountain can be called a garden and has in fact been called the Garden of the Theotokos. It is a rocky mountain with footpaths and ravines, and wild boars and snakes, it is considered dangerous to be outside after the monasteries close their doors, and a slightly out-of-date Friends of Mount Athos site tells visitors to gear up for an adventure. I have no clue how much I would be going out after entering a monastery, but when I go out I expect to have not wear my duster and sturdiest boots, but also my compass watch, Swiss Army Knife, iPhone with the best local carrier's SIM card, cantee, flashlight, lighter, and probably more. I've already given away my climbing shoes, but I expect to have plenty of occasion to use my climbing skills. I played the genre-defining role playing game Dungeons & Dragons (see my character sheet) in high school at IMSA , and some years after, and created and playtested The Minstrel's Song , and I've just dipped my finger into historical re-enactment. Neither of them holds a candle to going to Mount Athos. Role-playing games and re-enactments offer a way to get away from your daily grind and vicariously enter a compelling place that is less real, or at least no longer real. Mount Athos opportunities to enter a place that is more, not less, real than ordinary life.

Healing of soul and body
I don't know necessarily what healing to expect, and it is in fact probably better not to have any expectations at all (except, as Fr. Thomas Hopko wrote , "to be fiercely tempted until your last breath"). God might heal me of physical diseases, or might not. Some saints have been saved through the ailments they suffered through; one thinks of St. Pimen the Much-Ailing of the Kiev Near Caves .  Furthermore, this is really not just a matter of saints or giants. It's true of many monastics and laymen. The medical condition(s) I face may be the cross which God has assigned for my salvation, and every Christian must bear his cross. The crosses people bear have no need to be medical in nature; that is only one possibility. But whatever cross God gives, your salvation is tightly related to bearing your cross nobly. 

I believe healing is possible, and there are a couple of patterns it might take. It might be that an Elder or other monastic takes a single swift action, such as a light blow to the chin, or a Molieben of healing after Liturgy, and heals me during the course of one single day. This is possible, and it does come to mind readily; most miracles narrated in the Bible follow this pattern.

However, there is another, quieter pattern of healing, a healing that might catch one unawares. It is simply this: if I am making any progress in monasticism, I will be repenting of sin, and rejecting sin. This process starts in the soul, and initially it is "just" an untangling of the soul's condition, but something interesting often happens: as the soul starts to become untangled, the body follows suit, and then the body itself starts to become untangled. This process can be called "spiritual healing", and though it may be quieter than someone with the gift of healing instantly laying hands, it is just as much an aspect of God saving a whole human being.


(Cover, Business Essentials)

A not-so-hostile work environment
I am disabled, and sometimes I can get by in a job without (added) accommodation. However, when I’ve needed accommodation, every single time I’ve formally requested an employer for accommodation for disability, I’ve been fired (allegedly for cause) within 30 days, with no exceptions even when I am doing stellar work. (And this has happened something like a dozen times—I've lost count.) That’s not exactly how the law works, but it is exactly how the business world works. And it is stressful like you wouldn’t believe: there’s nothing pleasant about trying to work while having your boss deliberately manufacture enough failures on your part to be able to have a paper trail to justify terminating a stellar employee.

Meanwhile, at a monastery there is work that needs to be done, but monastic obediences, which include all work assignments, have a #1 purpose of benefitting the person who does them. You don’t know how much it looks like Paradise to me to report to a boss who actively seeks to further my true and best interests.


Better temptations
I'm sorry if this sounds odd and silly, but I expect better temptations if I am able to enter monasticism. One parish priest preached as a leitmotif that everything that happens to us is either a blessing from God, or else a temptation which God allows for our strengthening. There have been times in the past when I have grown in bracing struggles, but in recent years I've just been ground down and bogged in unproductive territory. I expect more temptations, and worse temptations, if I reach the haven of monasticism, but I also expect an Abbot who will help me grow from both the temptations which I resist and the temptations where I fall.


Immense tranquility
One of the biggest things reported by visitors to Mount Athos, including non-Orthodox and those visiting for not primarily religious reasons, is that it is a deeply peaceful environment and visitors walk away carrying a deep inner peace in their hearts. 


Decoy #1: The exotic "psychosomatic" technique
I would like to mention a couple of things that don't draw me to Athos or monasticism, and shouldn't be. There is from ancient times a "psychosomatic technique" involving breathing and posture; the report I've read is that it is not necessary but under the best conditions it acts as an accelerator for growth and prayer. It also requires the delicate care of an experienced spiritual director and is extremely dangerous without well-qualified supervision. A former parish priest had commented that he had attempted at length to identify someone competent to teach and supervise learning of the psychosomatic technique, and everyone he was able to call denied being such. Now I can see some reasons why authorities might hide their skills; someone who wants the psychomatic technique as an Orthodox version of yoga, might really be better off not to learn it at all. The priest's comment was, "There seem to be very few hesychasts among us." My comment, at least for now, is, "Maybe, or at least breathing and posture techniques aren't very important." Where we are in the U.S. there are parishes and communities, monasteries, full sacraments, relics, a slowly growing body of local saints, bishops and other clergy, laity, and everything else essential. If it were essential that people know the psychosomatic technique, God would provide us a great many more lighthouses than he's put in the U.S. now. I honestly don't care now if I am trained in the psychosomatic technique; I will learn it if my Abbot decides that I should learn it and not learn it if my Abbot does not decide that it would be helpful for me.


Decoy #2: Religious experiences
I understand that monastics often have extraordinary religious experiences, but that is not something to seek. I'd be wary of claiming, of my own experiences when I have been a non-monastic Orthodox, that they were some kind of deep reward for how flawlessly I've been doing. I can't deny that there seems to be a tiny dimension of God rewarding goodness in us, but more often a religious experience is an industrial-strength merciful intervention when I have been doing particularly poorly. I wouldn't want God to stop giving monastics religious experiences, but they should not be focused on or sought. If we focus on the Kingdom of Heaven and repentance of our sins, we will probably have all the helpful religious experiences and more than someone who approaches monasticism as a venue for having religious experiences.

 
Icon, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Sinai, 12th century, depicting both the possibility of growth and the possibility of being dragged down to Hell.

What remains if none of these are the point?
One thing that was observed with Elder Thaddeus was that Orthodox pilgrims who approached him seeking spiritual guidance left their pilgrimages immeasurably enriched for the visit, while those seeking worldly help, perhaps with tourist-like motives, "left as empty as they came."

I might be the medievalist author who wrote The Sign of the Grail, but moving to a home in a medieval-built monastery, possibly a castle, does not constitute an adequate or legitimate reason to seek residence in Mount Athos, nor would it give me the strength to adapt to ongoing long services in church. The motive, like the others mentioned above to some degree, is essentially a touristy motive and I do not see that any of them constitute a motive deep enough to be legitimate and possibly a starting-point for a successful vocation. But I have another motive that in fact does constitute a legitimate reason to seek to join the Holy Mountain and in fact could possibly be the starting-point, and remain a permanent defining feature, in a successful monastic vocation. I want to enter monastic repentance for the rest of my life.

I almost wish I hadn't written Repentance, Heaven's Best-Kept Secret , which explains how those who repent are often simply blindsided by reward. What I consider more to the point here is that, as given form by St. Nikolai's beautiful Prayers by the Lake, in which the saint reflects on how birth and death are only an inch apart, while the ticker tape after death goes on forever. The only time we have in which to repent is before death; after death our eternal choice between Heaven and Hell is sealed.

"Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand:" repentance is pre-eminently how we let go of Hell and open up to Heaven.

I’ve seen billboards making the simple point that most of us spend more time planning our next vacation than our retirement. And if it’s more important to plan your entire retirement than a few days of pleasure, how much more is it wiser to spend our few days on earth as mortals in ways that will decently prepare us for eternity?


(Cover, Doxology)


Prayers and gifts requested

I am looking for money to use to travel to Mount Athos. Certain things have not been defined yet, but I am essentially seeking travel expenses before taking a vow of poverty.

As regarding how much you might give, some people would simply ask for generosity. I would ask in a certain sense for generosity, but that is not exactly how I would ask. What I would ask would be: Pray, and then give little or much money, or simply prayers, as it seems best in your heart. I was going to offer to give a signed copy of The Best of Jonathan's Corner for people who give $100 or more (and have a physical mailing address within reach of media mail), but even if that would get me more money, I do not consider that desirable. Christ is extraordinarily clear that a widow who very quietly donated her entire wealth—two of the most worthless "coins" you could find—donated more than all the gifts surrounded by loud fanfare of rich people giving out of things that they don't need. If you pray and it seems best in your heart to donate $2, I don't want to make that $20.

In terms of timeline, all the information I have now is that the pilgrimage is tentatively set to leave October 16, 2017. I don’t know yet when any deposit is due.


A Note of gratitude
As regards the question "How thankful you will be," I mean in entire literalism, "Eternally." I need a spiritual hospital like the Holy Mountain, and this may make a difference between Heaven and Hell. It is said that you can only get to Hell on your own steam, but I have plenty of steam. If I find a saving spiritual hospital on Mount Athos, I will be grateful to you for the rest of my life, and pray for you thereafter.


(Please Reshare!)
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Update 7
Posted by Christos Jonathan Seth Hayward
1 day ago
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Christ is risen!

I have been given, or have had a little more money to buy, equipment that should be useful at a monastery. Four pair of nice Firehose Ultimate trousers should be very useful in manual labor.

I'm also expecting a package today with a black leather trenchcoat. It's meant to be able to fight road rash for bikers and I would regard it as somewhat being armor if I slip on a path down into a ravine.

And I have been enjoying prayers and trust in God's generosity.
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Update 6
Posted by Christos Jonathan Seth Hayward
5 days ago
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A friend loaned me:

Konstantinos Faridis, "Mount Athos: The Garden of the Virgin Mary"

Graham Speake, "Mount Athos: Renewal in Paradise"

Sotiris Kadas, "Mount Athos: The Monasteries and Their Treasures"

All three have given a better basis for understanding the monasteries on Mount Athos than their heirarchical ordering.

Right now I am hoping to join Simonopetra, but trying to keep an open heart about the matter.
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Update 5
Posted by Christos Jonathan Seth Hayward
6 days ago
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I've been having struggle (and spiritual benefit) even now when the pilgrimage is (for now) months away. Repentance is a powerful thing!
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Update 4
Posted by Christos Jonathan Seth Hayward
2 months ago
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I invite you to visit my full collection of books & Kindle, broken after a website upgrade but now available from:

https://CJSHayward.com/books/

The list of books is shuffled for each visitor and each visit, so that you can return to https://CJSHayward.com/books/ and see something new again and again.

I invite you to consider buying a title or contributing through https://GoFundMe.com/the-holy-mountain


Thank you for your consideration,
Christos Jonathan Seth Hayward
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$537 of $3,000 goal

Raised by 7 people in 5 months
Created October 30, 2016
Christos Jonathan Seth Hayward  
$100
Anonymous
1 day ago
CC
$50
Christopher Chisom
6 days ago
NT
$100
Nathaniel Tillinghast-Raby
23 days ago
$15
Anonymous
26 days ago
$22
Anonymous
2 months ago
$50
Anonymous
5 months ago
$200
Roman Krayevskyy
5 months ago

I like your promise about praying for me for the rest of your life.

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