Thomas Jesse Roach’s autobiographical narrative details his spiritual exploration of his Greek Orthodox faith by means of historical, cultural, archaeological, and social routes. Roach’s theological curiosity leads him, and four other members of his Orthodox Fellowship, to a Greek peninsula of crucial importance to the heritage and preservation of his religion. The author’s journey begins with a cultural mapping of his church and personal life, focusing on his pointed interest in expanding his knowledge of the history and spiritual foundation of the Greek Orthodox faith. The account then navigates through the Fellowship’s decision and fundraising to make the journey to the Byzantine-ruled monasteries on Mount Athos, where the lives of asceticism led by the monks are an example to those in search of a profoundly higher purpose. All that needs to be said of the physical journey itself is that Mount Athos does not disappoint.
The path that Roach takes is captivating. At times, he conveys a seemingly unimpressed reaction to what he is witness to, only to later expose the erroneous nature of his initial reactions. As a result, Roach increases the marvel and relevance of that moment and how it teaches us the follies of the human condition, revealing the self-reflection and patience needed to prevent us from continuing down a path of frustration rather than contemplation. What makes these lessons more poignant is the hauntingly beautiful descriptions that weave a careful fabric of aesthetic depth into the narrative.
The narrator is often presented with ambiguous answers and often offers the reader none at all, almost to the point of frustration, but this mimics the numerous unknowable elements faced on a spiritual journey. The message echoed through all the points of the book: patience. We must wait for some answers. If they are given too freely, we may never truly hear the answer. It is a simple point, but there is a true mastery in the way this point is made.
Journey to Mount Athos is a beautiful story because it is, ultimately, about understanding where you are headed in life. It reminds us that it is impossible to understand your current path if you do not know where you have been. A truly profound book is one that teaches us how to pay close attention to ourselves while we are simultaneously immersed in its narrative, and this is one.