The number of Russians visiting Mount Athos in northern Greece has surged since the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin in May, I was told by people living in Ouranopoulis.
Putin was accompanied by Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, on his visit to the Russian monastery of St Panteleimon in a new hot war region.
The Russian church pulled out of a historic council in June in Crete led by the Greek Orthodox Church amid fears it was a covert attempt to take control of the Russian church under the pretext of the need to set up new, more streamlined, unified administration.
There are so many visitors from Russia that some shops in Ouranopoulis, the port from which boats leave for Mount Athos, have Russian names.
I was told by locals that Russians and Rumanians are the most frequent visitors. Some Russians come two or three times a month. All the menus are in Greek and Russian at a minimum.
The Russians are known as big spenders, big singers, big drinkers and the most faithful in Ouranopoulis. It is not uncommon to spot Russians stumbling blind drunk on the streets, it seems
This is a picture of the office where pilgrims go to collect their permits or diamonterion. These permits to stay for three nights are so difficult to get and so sought after that there is a black market in them, I was told.
The cost depends on whether a pilgrim is Orthodox or not. There are discounts for students.
One Protestant male who spent two nights at a Skete, founded by Russians but now run by Greeks, told me he only managed to get his permit after a Greek colleague made it his mission to get him one.
He told me all IDs wer checked by Greek police when he landed at Dafnes and customs officials searched all the bags. Anyone with an icon had to pay a fee…
He said he had a very positive experience, appreciating the community spirit manifested in the Skete. He was allowed to stay two nights because he could not speak Greek and was unable to arrange his trip to another monastery on time. Also, he said a priest intervened to help him get a place on a boat heading back to Ouranopolis so he could catch his flight on time.
The Russian monastery of Panteleimon, founded in 1765, is a gigantic complex capable of housing two thousand visitors and a thousand monks.
I managed to get a picture of St Panteleimon with my tablet.
I forgot my smartphone, am not a photographer and don’t feel any obligation to entertain readers of my blog with great pics even if I were able to take some. Also, pictures of Mount Athos are all over the internet for anyone interested in more and better pictures.