Mt. Athos: A visit to the Holy Mountain

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

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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. "Many Christians in the world, they are looking for the original church, you know, for the ancient church," he said.

Asked if he thinks this is the closest to the original church, Father Thedosios said, "Yes. When you come to orthodoxy, you will see, it has everything you ever sought for."

Father Averkios takes care of the ancient footpaths by clearing 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.

"I've been to many places," he said. "From Switzerland, of course, from Sweden, Finland, Spain, Portugal, Canary Islands, Singapore, Australia and Texas."

Asked how he liked Texas, he told Simon, "I liked very much. I liked mostly the people."

So how did Father Averkios end up at Mount Athos?

"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," he said.

The family at Simonospetras consists of 54 monks from eight countries. Father Iakovos arrived there 25 years ago from Winthrop, Mass.

He took us on a tour of the monastery.

"It would be tough enough to build a monastery on a rock today, but how did they do it in the 13th century?" Simon asked.

"You know that's something which even modern day architects are amazed at because what happens is when the workers came and saw the site where Saint Simon, the founder of our monastery wanted to build that monastery, they looked at him and the said ...'Are you crazy?' Of course. And he said, 'Yeah, but this was from a miracle. And I have to build this monastery,'" Father Iakovos said.

"So being crazy was not a bad thing," Simon remarked.

"Not at all," he replied.

Asked how they got building materials up the steep inclines of the mountain, Father Iakovos explained that they used mules.

It takes 15 minutes to walk through the monastery into the sunlight - enough time to find out that Father Iakovos' journey to Mount Athos started at the age of six when his father showed him a picture.

"It was just so impressive," he remembered. "And I turned around and I said to him, 'Dad, you know, I don't think that I'm gonna be able to believe that somebody lives in that building until I step on those balconies myself.'"

Father Iakovos doesn't follow what is going on back in Winthrop, or anywhere else today. There are no newspapers, no radio, and no television on Mount Athos. There are a few telephones. And Father Iakovos got a call last year: his father was dying.

"Prior to his death he was asking if I would go, so I could see him one last time," Father Iakovos remembered.

He said it was a reasonable request from a father, but his response was negative - he didn't go.

"I didn't go because of the fact that monastics do not go to funerals of their relatives or their friends. They remain here at the monastery," he explained.

"When your father asked you to come see him one last time, and you said, no, was there any feeling of, 'I'm letting my father down?'" Simon asked.

"Not at all," Father Iakovos said. "I know that we're gonna see each other in paradise one day."