National Geographic : 2009 Dec
Christian monks (derived from the Greek root monos, or "single") rst began forming col- lective refuges, or monasteries, in the Egyptian desert in the fourth century. e practice spread across the Middle East and into Europe, and by the ninth century hermits had arrived on Mount Athos. Since that time, as civilization has grown more complex, the reasons for distancing one- self from society and turning to monasticism have multiplied. Indeed, a er two world wars and communism reduced the monastic popula- tion to 1,145 in 1971, the past decades have seen a rebirth. A steady in ux of young men---o en with college degrees, a number from the former Soviet bloc---has dramatically increased Mount Athos s ranks to nearly 2,000 monks and nov- ices, while Greece s entrance into the European Union in 1981 made the peninsula eligible for EU preservation funds. " ere are 2,000 stories here---everyone has their own spiritual walk," says Father Maximos, whose own walk began in Long Island as a teenage devotee of edgy musical artists like Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen, and who later Monks chant "Christos anesti---Christ is risen" during a midnight vigil. is Easter gathering ends seven weeks of solemn fasting. Monks rise to pray during the quietest hours of the night because that is when they believe the heart is most open.