2013 marks the 40th anniversary of HE Travel. As we’ve been reflecting what this means for us as a company, we’ve been looking back to other milestones in our company’s long history. While looking through our archives, we came across this “Millennial Moment” article written by our CEO Philip Sheldon as we approached the Millennium in 1999, and what this meant for him. The article was originally published in Courier Magazine of the National Tour Association in 2004 and is specifically about Phil’s 1999 experience on Mount Athos.
Below is the article written by Phil. Enjoy!
“My Millennial Moment”
While much of the world was carefully planning where they would be at midnight on December 31, 1999, my millennial moment occurred at sunset on a warm September evening, three months earlier.
The theocratic republic of Mount Athos is home to 20 Orthodox monasteries, spread across a peninsula in northeastern Greece. All affairs of The Holy Mountain are governed by the 20 abbots of this autonomous republic within Greece. The oldest monasteries were built 1000 years ago, and from the earliest days, all female beings, both human and animal, have been forbidden. (One legend has it that there were too many dalliances between young monks and the daughters of nearby farmers.)
Twice I have been privileged to be one of the ten non-Orthodox men granted a four-day permit to visit Mount Athos, staying at a different monastery each night, and hiking or taking a small boat between the medieval fortress-like buildings by day.
My very personal millennial moment came the first night on Mount Athos just after sunset. We had just stepped back into the Xenophontos Monastery from watching the sun set into the Aegean Sea from the belvedere, outside the monastery walls. After the massive wooden gate closed behind us and was locked for the night, I sat down in the courtyard to observe the scene in the fading light.
In front of me was the “old” church, 1000 years old and much too small for any purpose other than individual meditation. As I sat under a fig tree, I could envision the workers 1000 years ago seeking shade under a long-ago ancestor of this tree. As the sky darkened, a light breeze brought the smell of incense over my shoulder, accompanied by the chanting in two-part harmony as the monks began an overnight vigil to the Virgin Mary, led by their 70-year-old abbot, a man with a remarkable tenor voice.
The monks were in the “new” church, only 600 years old, honoring a woman of 2000 years ago who had a son whose influence on the world included the calendar which was about to begin its third millennium.
That night, as I lay in my bed in the guest quarters and looked out the window at the kaleidoscope reflection of the full moon in the sea, my communion across the millennia was complete, and it would not matter where I was when the clock passed midnight on December 31.
Philip Sheldon is President of Hanns Ebensten Travel, Inc., the first company to offer tours for gay men in 1972, and Alyson Adventures, Inc., which offers active hiking, biking, kayaking and other vacations for gay men, lesbians and their friends.
Published in Courier Magazine (National Tour Association) 2004
As of 2014, HE Travel does not operate a group tour to Mt. Athos; however, we are happy to arrange your private trip, following a similar or custom itinerary.