*** The Moscow Patriarchate seeks to strengthen the Russian Orthodox Church's presence in Mount Athos
Moscow, December 3, Interfax - Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia plans a visit to Holy Mount Athos, head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk said.
"Patriarch Kirill visited Mount Athos several times as Metropolitan and fell in love with this place. He will visit Mount Athos at the first opportunity. It will be most convenient to combine this trip with his official visit to Hellas Orthodox Church which is planned in a few years to come," Metropolitan Hilarion told Interfax-Religion in an interview after his trip to Holy Mount Athos.
According to him, Patriarch commissioned him to visit Mount Athos every year to maintain bilateral relations and provide any necessary assistance to Russian brethren of Mount Athos, "for conducting joint prayers and gain spiritual wealth from the treasury of the holy monastic tradition."
Today, the Russian monastery of Agios Panteleimon (Saint Panteleimon) has 60 brethren. Some of them serve in New Thebaid and Xilury sketes, and metochions in Krumitsa (Athos), Constantinople and Moscow. Beside, one or two Russian monks serve in most Greek monasteries. The followers of the Russian Orthodox Church also occupy individual cells in different Athos monasteries. The total number of Russian monks does not exceed 100 people.
Metropolitan Hilarion recalled that once the total number of the Russian monks in Athos had reached two thousand, and even five thousand including pilgrims and people working in monasteries, but "the tragic events of the 20th century dealt a heavy blow on the Russian Athos."
"The Russian Church is aware of its commitment to maintain the Russian monastery of Agios Panteleimon, and the monastery represents the Russian Orthodox faith in Mount Athos," Metropolitan Hilarion said.