Seraphim Danckaert is Director of Mission Advancement at St. Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Seminary. He holds an M.Div. from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology and is a Ph.D. candidate in theology at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.
Long before 60 Minutes produced a documentary about life on Mt. Athos, some French filmmakers managed to obtain permission in the early 80s to take extensive footage of the famous Athonite monastery of Simonopetra.
The result is the distinctive documentary embedded above, which provides a window into many aspects of monastic life and piety at the monastery.
Although Simonopetra is well known throughout the Orthodox world today — both because of its photogenic appearance, perched high on an impossibly steep cliff, and also because of its large and prolific brotherhood, distinguished in its chant, learning, and spiritual disciple — in the 70s the monastery was in a depressed state.
By the middle of the 20th century many areas of Mt. Athos had fallen into poor condition, with far too few new novices arriving. Prospects for spiritual revival seemed dim. Some feared for the very future of the illustrious monastic peninsula.
History ended up taking a very different turn, with a massive rebirth of interest in monasticism and swelling brotherhoods, attracted to the Holy Mountain in the 70s, 80s, and 90s by a number of charismatic elders and abbots.
One such figure was Elder Aimilianos, the long-time abbot of Simonopetra, who appears in the documentary as a vibrant monastic leader, having come recently to the Holy Mountain with the specific charge to revitalize Simonopetra.