What Is It Like to Be a Monk?

A very respectful, even loving, account of a religiously ambiguous (Atheist? He says “not exactly”) philosopher’s brief visit to Mount Athos:

I have never seen a church seem so alive. At certain points in the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, it felt as if the whole church was glowing gold inside as the sunlight began to come up in the morning light. The physical discipline of the monks was hard to comprehend. They stood for hours on end without moving, twitching, fidgeting or biting their nails. No one drank anything or looked thirsty. At other times, all the candles were extinguished and there was a low droning chant in darkness. Toward the end of the five-hour vigil, around midnight, I noticed one or two stifled yawns, but nothing much. By this time, the monks had been awake for at least 24 hours. At the end, Ioanikios looked as fresh as a daisy. I was shattered, hungry and thirsty (I hadn’t eaten since the previous morning and had only a few hours’ sleep). But I felt such a lightness.

Simon Critchley, What Is It Like to Be a Monk?, New York Times

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