Hilandar is a Serbian monastery on Mt. Athos, a judicially autonomous peninsula in Greece that is home to twenty Orthodox Christian monasteries. Also called the Holy Mountain, Mt. Athos is accessible only by boat and is protected from the intrusion of modern times by strict regulations: ascetic religious life without hot water and only minimal electricity.
Mt. Athos is a supremely male territory that hasn’t felt the presence of female energy for over a thousand years. Only men are allowed on this sacred soil, either as monks or visitors (and this rule extends to animals as well—males only).
When I was in my late teens I was so drawn to Hilandar that I frequently devised plans for disguising myself as a man so that I could visit this holy place. Many years later my wish was fulfilled vicariously when I sent Dwight as my emissary. He spent two weeks in the Serbian monastery surrounded by virgin (no pun intended) nature.
Hilandar was founded in the 12th century by the great Serbian saint Sveti Sava, who had established the first educational system in old Serbia. Dwight found the monastic life there simple but hard. Monks stand for seven hours each day in liturgical chanting and praying (no chairs or pews in Orthodox churches). The rest of the day is spent in labor or reading in the library that contains thousands of old manuscripts and some exquisite frescoes from the 13th century. It’s a life steeped in devotion, utterly simple and removed from present times.