An Athos Beyond Athos: The Spiritual Commonwealth of the Holy Mountain

by Reader Nicholas Chapman

A review of: Speake, Graham. A History of the Athonite Commonwealth: The Spiritual and Cultural Diaspora of Mount Athos (Cambridge University Press). 
294 pp. • $39.95 • Paperback • ISBN: 978–1-10834–922-2

I am writing this review on the feast day of the Elevation of the Precious and Life Giving Cross of the Lord. The troparion of the feast is still freshly in my mind and heart. Through it we ask the Lord, “by the power of Thy Cross preserve Thy Commonwealth.”

The book I am reviewing draws our attention to a commonwealth within this wider commonwealth of Orthodox Christians. It is a book that takes the reader across to many different places and earthly nations. We see how in each of these the seeds of a common vision of the spiritual life as expressed through Athonite monasticism were planted and have borne fruit through the lives of manifold saints. By doing this the work reveals the primacy of Theology ( that is the knowledge of God acquired through prayer and ascetical labors) over political philosophies and earthly kingdoms, which can so easily become the idols that separate us from Christ.