This essay was originally published by Religion News Service (RNS) and is republished here with permission.
In the Orthodox Christian world, few places are better known or more lovingly venerated than Mount Athos, the 10th-century Greek monastery legendarily dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Composed of 20 citadels scattered over a peninsula of exceptional beauty in northern Greece, boasting magnificent manuscripts and icons, Athos is home to some 2,000 monks. Among them, as in every society, there are saints and sinners, sane and strange. I have visited countless times and have been blessed to engage with some of its more godly ambassadors.
Women are prohibited from visiting Athos. So too are female animals and beardless young boys, who could be mistaken as feminine. This has been tradition for 1,000 years. In its most recent announcement, its mission statement asserts: “Athos is a place of prayer and discipline, with an uninterrupted continuity of liturgy and spirituality, humbly interceding for the whole world and all people without discrimination.”
So I was surprised last week to see that Athos’ highest administrative authority, the Holy Community, had issued a public announcement on the nature of family. The previous week Religion News Service had published my defense of the decision by the Archbishop Elpidophoros, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church of America, to baptize two children born to a gay couple via surrogacy.Continue reading