liturgy was the great product of Byzantine culture and sustained the church through dark days of oppression when other forms of expression were denied, and it is now enabling new life to spring up. Modern spirituality begins with meditation on the church and its worship.
If the liturgy is the action which creates the church, then the monastery is the place where the church is sustained. Monasteries are far more than centres set apart for prayer. They are places where the rich and intricate liturgical tradition is maintained and prayed; they are centres for local devotion and often pilgrimage; they have provided education and training, especially of church leaders since bishops are drawn from the monastic body, and are often centres of local economic and social life. In many and varied ways they provide the resources and vitality of church life. So the church needs strong monasteries. The centre of monasticism is Mount Athos in Greece, the Holy Mountain. Here, for over a thousand years, monks have been attracted by the spectacular landscape, by the isolation from the world, and above all by the strength of monastic tradition, which has led to a concentration of ecclesiastical life in a small enclave. Its uniqueness is emphasised by the restrictions preventing the presence of women on the mountain. Through most of the twentieth century monastic life on Mount Athos has declined steadily and inexorably. From the high figure of 7432 monks in 1903 the numbers had sunkto a nadir of 1145 monks in 1971. Its demise was widely predicted. Huge buildings were decaying and emptying. One visitor reported on a visit to the monastery of Zographou when he was told there were no monks present. Athos is dying fast. The disease is incurable. There is no hope', wrote John Julius Norwich.10 Extraordinarily, in the years which followed, there has been a revival. It began in the hermitages and small settlements, called sketes, where young monks were attracted by the teaching and example of some of the well-known spiritual fathers. These groups grew into new communities and gradually moved into the monasteries, which were progressively repopulated, rebuilt and renewed. The previous style of life, known as idiorrhythmic, by which each monk retained his own possessions and decided on his own life style, was replaced by the cenobitic life, in which monks lived in common under the direction of the abbot. Other groups of monks came from the Meteora in Thessaly and from Euboea, while novices began to arrive from other Orthodox countries as well as Greece. The number of monks on the mountain had grown to 1642 by 2000. Spiritual renewal had taken place alongside numerical growth, with younger and well-educated monks enabling the monasteries to develop as centres of church life
10 J.J. Norwich and R. Sitwell, Mount Athos (London: Hutchinson, 1966), 14.
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