Original film by John E. Keshishoglou
Produced and Directed by: Marcia Kuyper Schneider
Written by William O’Connell
From the review of the original film
Mt. Athos: The First One Thousand Years.
1977. A film byJohn Keshishoglou, produced in
association with the School of Communications,
Rhode Island College
In 1963 the orthodox monastic republic of Mount Athos, located on a remote peninsula in
northern Greece, celebrated its 1.000th anniversary.
Much has been written about this unique community, but rarely have moving pictures
been allowed to penetrate and record life in the monasteries, hermitages, and dependencies
(sketes and lamas) there. This 1977 film attempts to capture the essence of monastic life on
the mountain today, with a strong emphasis on the endurance of tradition and continuity with
the past. Scenes of everyday life are balanced with formal interviews and historical data. In an
early scene, the Greek governor of the precinct describes its constitution and explains the
special relationship obtaining between the community and the Greek government.
Quite a bit of information is packed into this production. Snippets of history and legends are
interspersed with a treatise on monastic architecture, with some background information on
the administrative organization and economic bases of the monasteries, and with an extensive
review of the rich treasures housed on the mountain: icons, frescos, manuscripts, relics,
There are rare shots of frescos by Panselinos and icons attributed to El Greco.
One particularly interesting sequence documents the activities of the House of the Brotherhood
of the Daniels, a prosperous skete (monastic dependency) of icon painters and a
composer of hymns. These monks appear to lead a quiet and serene existence. Another sequence
features an interview of an aged monk who once owned a restaurant in the American
Midwest. His explanation (in English) of monastic life is slightly confused, but nevertheless
illuminating. The film ends with dramatic scenes from the annual celebration of
the Feast of the Dormition at Iviron monastery.
All the pomp and circumstance of the orthodox high clergy is shown in the preparations, the services,
the procession of the holy icon, and the sumptuous feast ending the long ritual.
On the negative side, the distinction between the two types (cenobitic and idiorrhythmic) of
monasteries might have been developed a bit more, and it is disappointing that the only
scenes of Lavra, the largest and most important of Athonite monasteries, are washed out stills.
Moreover, the general tone of the film is very upbeat and positive: there is no mention of the
neglect and sale of icons and manuscripts, the dearth of serious scholarship, the high incidence
of mental instability among monks, and other problems that plague the community today.
A straightforward informative narration dominates the soundtrack, but there are several
interviews and other scenes with live sound and a few with ambient sound. Unfortunately, the
film is uneven technically. The spectacular settings of the monasteries are generally well
depicted in some exquisite footage, while other scenes do not begin to do justice to the material
and are drab and unexciting. Furthermore, the quality of the color varies considerably and
some of the editing is very rough. The film is altogether too long and could be shortened by
about a third without sacrificing any substance.
Nevertheless, it is the best film on Mount Athos, and well worth viewing.