Father John Dixon travels to Mt. Athos, Greece
October’s Second Saturday Spotlight
Written by Kh. Loukia Dixon
October 14, 2023
Christ is in our Midst!
The month of October has been very memorable for my husband, Father John Dixon. For the first time in his 20 years of the priesthood, he was able to journey to Greece with a few other pilgrims to visit Mount Athos. I urged him before he left to take a journal to write about his experiences.
Upon his return, I asked him if he was able to keep up with the journaling of his pilgrimage, and he replied he was able to do so for the first couple of days, but he also expressed that some experiences he witnessed in this “timeless” environment could not always be written in the form of stories. He came to my aid, however, to write the October Second Saturday Spotlight for the AWE. Please read along…from the pen of Father John Dixon.
"This past week, I was privileged to visit the Holy Mountain of Athos. There is a lot to be said about my pilgrimage, but since this will be part of the Antiochian Women of the East Second Saturday Spotlight, I will focus on matters that pertain particularly to women. This might be considered a stretch, since it is known that only men are permitted on the Holy Mountain. However, as we find generally in all facets of life, the impact of women is certainly found there.
"Although women are absent from Athos, the peninsula is nonetheless principally associated with the Virgin Mary. In our tradition, Saint John the Evangelist with the Virgin Mary were traveling from Asia Minor to Cyprus. After being blown off course in a storm, they were forced to take shelter in a port on the peninsula.
"When the Theotokos beheld the wild beauty of the place, she asked God to make the mountain hers. She then heard a voice, “Let this place be your lot, your garden and your paradise, as well as a salvation, a haven for those who seek salvation." Since that time, Mount Athos has been called "The Garden of the Virgin Mary." A common icon depicts the Mother of God standing on the mountain holding the staff of an abbess.
"During my time on Athos, I was blessed to stay at Saint Paul Monastery. Two of the valued relics at St Paul’s also are associated with women. First is an icon of the Mother of God called “The Mirror.” The icon was saved by Empress Theodora, whose husband Theophilos, was one of the fiercest of the iconoclasts. Theodora hid the icon of the Mother of God behind a mirror in her chamber. It was discovered by her husband, and he cast it into the fire. Theodora managed to rescue the icon, which still shows burn marks around the periphery. Upon the death of her husband, Theodora restored the veneration of the holy icons, an event we celebrate each year on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. Saint Paul, the founder of Saint Paul Monastery, brought the icon back with him from Constantinople.
"Another interesting example of the impact of women on the Holy Mountain can also be found at Saint Paul’s. Halfway up the hill from the port below the monastery is a shrine called the “Cross of the Queen.” This place is associated with Empress Maro, a pious Christian and wife of the Sultan, and stepmother of Muhammad II, the conqueror of Constantinople. She asked her son for the Gifts of the Magi – gold, frankincense, and myrrh – which had been treasured in Constantinople. She brought the gifts to Saint Paul Monastery but was impeded by the Theotokos from going beyond the point where the shrine stands today. These gifts are in 28 gold pieces of various shapes with frankincense and myrrh beads sown into them.
"These relics, along with a large piece of the True Cross, a portion of the skull of Saint Panteleimon, and the iron cross worn by Saint Paul, are brought out each evening for veneration by the pilgrims visiting the monastery.
"Although women are forbidden from visiting the Holy Mountain, the impact of women, particularly the presence of the Mother of God and the deep devotion to her by the monastics, is certainly present."
Yours in Christ,
Khouria Loukia Dixon
AWE Religious Coordinator
Editor of October Second Saturday Spotlight