A monk’s love of God, wine, food
Father Epiphanios from Mount Athos talks about his life’s work and his devotion
Father Epiphanios is one of the betterknown monks of the monastic community of Mount Athos in northern Greece. A dedicated winemaker with exports from his vineyard at the Skete (monastic settlement) of Timios Prodromos Iviron – a part of Mylopotamos, a dependency of the Holy Monastery of Megiste Lavra – traveling all over Greece and Europe, he is also an excellent cook with international distinctions and the foremost ambassador of the monastery’s cuisine and dietary habits overseas.
Epiphanios has gladdened hearts and stomachs in France, Italy, Britain, Spain, Germany and elsewhere. He has been invited to cook in the kitchens of eminent chefs, while his book “The Cuisine of the Holy Mountain Athos,” has been translated into seven languages. During the annual commemoration of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary on August 15, he cooks 2.5 tons of fish, feeding around 4,000 mouths.
“Epi,” as he’s known by his many friends, is open-minded, well-traveled and dedicated to God. He’s an expert at the winery and in the kitchen, and an absolutely delightful conversationalist.
We met in a taverna in Thessaloniki and had lunch while discussing his life and work.
Epiphanios was born in the small village of Nikisiani in Kavala, northern Greece. His father had a vineyard of a half a hectare in an area that has been renowned for wine production since ancient times.
“The people were real merrymakers. They enjoyed life and drank a lot of wine and tsipouro. The had a lot of festivals dedicated to wine. Their days off from work were spent eating and drinking,” he says.
These were the early influences that led to him being regarded as a top chef and winemaker at Athos. “It’s all a matter of having experience in and love for what you do,” he says.
He produced his first vintage from the vineyard of Mylopotamos in 1997, a merlot, with the help of an Italian oenologist. Today, the winery exports seven different labels.
“If you don’t love your vineyard, it’s a complete hassle. If you do, it’s majestic.”
Becoming a monk is not a simple matter. To be captivated by the love of God you need to be uplifted, to be summoned by God, if you may. And you need to have an inclination to God.
A monk’s primary deed is prayer and studying the Scriptures. These two lift us and bring us closer to ascension. Union with God is the monk’s aim. Monks dedicate about four-and-a-half hours to prayer every day at communal monasteries, six hours on Sundays and holidays and 15 hours at Christmas. That’s ridiculous. Sure, they may come here of their own free will and then regret it and leave, but it’s not something you can force on people.
No. I’m not concerned by a monk owning a car, a jeep or a cell phone. I am concerned about young people who become monks when they are carrying a lot of negative baggage that they can’t get rid off.
Nothing at all. Lay people drink and buy such things. Don’t forget that Mount Athos had three banks, two Greek and a French one, in the interwar years. There also used to be butcher shops.
The lay people eat it. Athos has 2,000 monks and as many people coming in every day as laborers or pilgrims. Now, if 30 monks among the 2,000 do eat meat, that is not a stain on Christianity.
I wouldn’t call it hospitality anymore; it’s an invasion. We get more than 200,000 visitors a year. A single monastery may have 40-50 monks and 100-150 visitors a day. This needs to stop. Sure, it’s tempting because everything on Mount Athos is free. Visitors pay 25 euros for an entry pass and the fare for the ferry boat and then spend five days here without having to pay for food, drink or anything.
Charge 20 euros and you’ll see how fast we’ll separate the wheat from the chaff.
We have people who come here out of interest or love for the community, out of spiritual motivation, and others who are just here for the ride.
Father Epiphanios’s book ‘The Cuisine of the Holy Mountain Athos,’ has been translated into seven languages.