Mount Athos is home to many different Orthodox monks from different countries living in 20 different monasteries, who have resided on the location since 963, and they all know this mountain as the Garden of the Mother of God.
As we know from the Sacred Scriptures, Our Lady was given to the care of Saint John on the Cross by Christ himself. Saint John was to care for Mary as he would care for his own Mother. It was his role to accompany Mary. There is a tradition that teaches us that the Mother of Our Lord, along with Saint John the Apostle accompanying her, visited the holy mountain in Greece sometime after the Ascension of Jesus Christ. The Blessed Mother was invited by St. Lazarus to visit him on the island of Cyrus, this is the same Lazarus Jesus raised from the dead, and the brother of St. Martha and St. Mary Magdalene. However, the ship that was carrying Our Lady was blown off course and arrived on the eastern coast of Mount Athos, near the pagan temple of Apollo.
As Our Lady went to shore, tradition also states that the pagan idols went out to the people living on the island and invited them to come and meet the Holy Mother of God. After seeing the people of the island convert to Christianity, Our Lady asked Our Lord to besought the island to her and make it part of her domain. Her prayer to Jesus was granted and the Holy Mountain was now hers. From that day forward, Mount Athos has been known as the Holy Mountain of Our Lady.
It has been reported over the centuries, by the monks who live on the island, that Our Lady has appeared numerous times presenting her as patroness and protector of the Holy Mountain. In the Life of St. Peter the Athonite, Gregory Palmas has documented the words of promise from the Blessed Virgin Mary that she protects this mountain particularly –
“In Europe there is a mountain, very high and very beautiful, which extends towards the south and very deeply into the sea. This is the mountain that I have chosen out of all the earth, and I have decided to make of it the country of the monastic order. I have consecrated it to be henceforth my dwelling: this is why people will call it the “Holy Mountain.” All who shall come to live there after having decided to fight the battle against the common enemy of the human race will find me at their side throughout their lives. I will be their invincible aid, I will teach them what they must do and what they must avoid. I myself shall be their tutor, their physician, their nurse. I shall take care to give them both food and the care that their bodies require, and that which is necessary for their souls, to inspire and invigorate them, so they depart not from virtue. And all who finish their lives on this mountain in a spirit of love for God and repentance, I promise to recommend to my Son and God that He accord them complete remission of their sins.”
On the Holy Mountain, referred to the “Garden” of Our Lady, there are many icons that depict Our Lady, including Axion estin, Portaïtissa – Our Lady of the Gate, Tricherousa – Our Lady three-handed, Holy Zone, or girdle of the Mother of God, and Ephor, the Mother of God as “Overseer” of Athos.
She is also known to the monks of the island as – the archetype of monasticism, the paradigm of Christian holiness, the abbess of the Holy Mountain, and the monk’s guide to the Kingdom of Heaven.
O Lady of the Holy Mountain…Pray for Us
Roten, S.M., Father Johann G. “All About Mary.” Denise James : University of Dayton, Ohio, udayton.edu/imri/mary/m/mount-athos-and-mary.php.