The daily life in Agion Oros is quite unique. It’s a life of constant prayer for the monk. The phrase “Lord, have mercy on me” never leaves their lips. Although the visitor is not obliged to follow all the procedures of the monks’ life, it is advised to express your respect by attending some part of the church procedures, the meals and the general atmosphere of quiet and tranquility.
The day starts at around 04:00. A monk will come and knock on your door to warn you that church is about to begin with the morning prayer (orthros). This lasts around 2 hours. At 06:00 the church continues with the liturgy. At that time the monk passes again and knocks on the doors to wake up those who skipped the previous wake up call. After the liturgy is over in about 2 hours, all the congregation passes to the refectory for lunch. Eating is a procedure. Usually the refectories are old beautifully decorated buildings located west of the Catholicon. Eating takes place in silence. The only voice heard is that of the reader (anagnostis) a monk reading from holy books so that people can feed their bodies with food and their spirits with wisdom. The monks and of course the pilgrims follow a strict vegetarian diet. They eat no meat and they usually spend 200 days per year fasting.
After the food is over the visitors return to the church for a recitation of the monasteries history by the monk in charge for that duty. The details of the church and the miracles associated with the various icons are explained and the holly relics are displayed. In the meantime the monks return to their cells for a brief rest before starting their various duties. These can be from cooking the food, making the bread and attending the gardens to carefully conserve the old icons and frescos. At that time usually the visitors depart from the monastery, after filling their can tins with fresh water, to walk to the next monastery. In the evening vesper takes place to be followed by the second meal of the day. The visitor after the meal is free to relax and rest under the shade of the trees and to enjoy a conversation with the other guests or the monks who want to join them.
Even if you pass by a monastery you are always welcome to come in, pay your respect in the church and enjoy a sweet treat and a cup of coffee before you continue your way. In the evening, a second liturgy takes place followed by dinner. Agion Oros runs on Byzantine time and calendar. That means that they do not follow the Gregorian calendar but the older Julian one. That brings Agion Oros 14 days behind the date of the rest of the world. Also, the sunset coincides with midnight. It is then that the outer doors of the monastery close and do not open for anyone. So, it is very important that you beat the sunset unless you want to overnight under a tree. Soon after that time, people retreat to the dormitories for a much needed rest. The visitors usually share rooms. Usually each room can accommodate something around 5 to 10 people. Clean sheets and blankets are provided, however it advisable that the visitor brings his own towel, soap and sandals.
A few hours later the knock on the door signals the start of another day, like so many that passed in the 1000 years of Agion Oros.