Mount Athos: A visit to the Holy Mountain

"60 Minutes" gets extremely rare access to the monasteries at Mount Athos, perhaps one of the most sacred places in Christianity

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Father Serapion wanted us to understand that there is no place on Earth closer to heaven than Mount Athos.

Serapion: Everyday a thousand divine liturgies are celebrated on the peninsula. It's unique in the world, and in the Orthodox Church.

Simon: Exactly what makes it unique?

Serapion: It's sort of-- absolute way of life of the monks.

It's a Spartan way of life, but all the monks we talked to said they never want to leave, not even for a day, so they try to be self sufficient. They grow their own fruit and vegetables, do their own tailoring. And when they get sick, there's an in-monastery doctor, Father Ermolaos who is not very busy because the monks are in excellent shape. There's remarkably little cancer, virtually no heart disease or Alzheimer's. They must be doing something right. In addition to drinking wine at nine in the morning.

They eat two meals a day! There's what they call "the first meal" - which lasts 10 minutes. And "the second meal"- which lasts 10 minutes. There's no meat and no dinner table conversation. The only sound - a monk reading from sacred texts.

We were surprised by how busy the monks are. When they're not praying, they're working. Father Thedosios, born a Lutheran in Germany, is a mechanical wizard, who has given the monastery continuous electricity and occasional hot water.

Thedosios: Many Christians in the world, they are looking for the original church, you know, for the ancient church.

Simon: You think this is the closest to the original church?

Thedosios: Yes. When you come to orthodoxy, you will see, it has everything you ever sought for.

Father Averkios takes care of the ancient footpaths here. He clears the trails. We went with him on what was, for us, an exhausting hike on the hills above the monastery. It wasn't tough for him though. He says that after decades of roaming the world, this is his path.

Averkios: I've been to many places.

Simon: Tell me where?

Averkios: From Switzerland, of course, from Sweden, Finland, Spain, Portugal, (Canary Islands) Singapore, Australia and Texas.

Simon: Texas? How did you like Texas?

Averkios: I liked it very much. I liked mostly the people.

Simon: Now, with all the traveling you've done, how did you end up here?

Averkios: I was searching for as well any of life. I can give all of myself to that. And I think the God of Jesus is above all the others: money, lifestyle, even family.

The family at Simonospetras consists of 54 monks, from eight countries. Father Iakavos came here 25 years ago from Winthrop, Massachusetts.

Simon: This is about as beautiful as it gets.

Iakovos: I think so.

He took us on a tour of the monastery.