A conversation with Monk Apollo-SV2ASP/A…

Posted: August 8, 2014 in Uncategorized


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K3LP, SV2ASP, N6PSE share a moment.

In November, 2012, I made a visit to the Balkans, including Greece and Mount Athos. I flew from San Francisco to Belgrade Serbia, where I was met by my friend Hrane Milosevic-YT1AD. Hrane showed me his wonderful contest station in the countryside and then we proceeded to drive through Serbia, Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro and Macedonia into Northern Greece.

Along the way, we met with many of Hrane’s wonderful ham friends and we were able to operate from each of these countries.  In Greece, we were joined by David-K3LP and we met with Demetreos-SV2GWY and Vangelis-SV2BFN. Greek Hams are very friendly and hospitable.

It’s no secret that we like to do DXpeditions and it’s no secret that we visited Mount Athos. We went to Mount Athos hoping to get permission to conduct a Dxpedition there. Many have tried to gain permission over the years however they have found it quite impossible for various reasons. Mount Athos is on the eastern peninsula of Chalkidiki, the domestic name is “Holy Mountain”.


Some of the Monasteries at Athos are very beautiful.

There are several important rules that you must follow when visiting Mount Athos. You must dress properly at all times. No shorts or white shoes are permitted. You must not stand with your hands clasped behind your back. Only males are allowed to visit the Holy Mountain. You may take photographs but you must have permission to photograph Monks. No video cameras are allowed. You cannot bring any meat products to the Holy Mountain.

There are two forms of Government in Mount Athos. The lera Epistasia or “Holy Council” which represents the 21 Monasteries on the “Holy Mountain. The other form of Government is the Greek Government which has a complex in the Capital of Karyes the main village on Mount Athos. At Karyes, there is a large Fire Department, the Police Department and a small hospital. While we were there, we met with the Police and Fire Chiefs. They were very friendly and approachable. We interviewed the Chief’s about their many challenges. They need many types of equipment and they were very interested in potential solutions that we might be able to provide.

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David-K3LP and the Athos Police Chief.

We made a good connection with the Greek Government representatives and when we left them, we had their permission to bring a team of operators and to conduct a Dxpedition from their site on the top of the mountain in Karyes. Next to the Fire Department is a small hotel. We were elated that the Greek Government representatives were so eager to work with us on our Dxpedition project.

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The Tiny village of Karyes. The ferry that takes you to Mount Athos.

Following our meetings, and before departing Mount Athos, we decided to visit the Dochiariou Monastery, home of SV2ASP/A Monk Apollo. When we arrived, Monk Apollo was away from the Monastery however we were told that he was on the Ferry from Thessaloniki. We toured the Monastery and we examined Monk Apollo’s antennas in the garden above the Monastery. Monk Apollo’s main antenna was a three element SteppIR Yagi with the 30/40 element on a military type of mast. This antenna has since been replaced by a new antenna. I’m told that Monk Apollo has also moved his tower further away from the Monastery as his old location had his Yagi beaming directly into a large and very tall stone tower structure.

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The Dochiariou Monastery with 40 meter antenna in the foreground.

After about an hour of touring the Monastery, Monk Apollo arrived and we had a nice visit with him. Monk Apollo seems to be very shy and reserved. While he speaks limited English, he prefers to speak Greek and to have the conversation translated. We were introduced to Monk Apollo as American Hams. During the visit, Monk Apollo showed us the cell or room within the Monastery that he was in the process of moving into. He showed us his hand-written log book.

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Monk Apollo shows us his hand written log book.

Monk Apollo had a great many QSL cards awaiting his attention from all over the world. Monk Apollo explained to us that his role at the Monastery is to coordinate construction projects and to drive the various tractors and heavy equipment. He also operates the Olive production facility at the Monastery and he took great pride in showing us the olive production.

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Monk Apollo in the Olive production area. Olives awaiting processing.

We sat and had a nice conversation with Monk Apollo although I must say; he is a man of few words. I wanted to ask him many questions however I sensed that he preferred not to be pressed with my many questions.

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David-K3LP, Monk Apollo-SV2ASP and Demetreos-SV2GWY pose with our banner.

Monk Apollo signed a banner that we had brought with us that now hangs in the classroom at the K6DGE Dorothy Grant Elementary School Club Station. We didn’t ask Monk Apollo if we could operate his radios and he did not offer. We knew beforehand that doing so was very unlikely. As we were departing, Monk Apollo gave us a stack of outgoing QSL mail and asked us to drop it in the Postal Office in Thessaloniki.

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Inside the central area of the Dochiariou Monastery.

We went to Athos to fully understand the situation there. We met with representatives of the Greek Gov’t and we did obtain permission to operate from the Greek Gov’t facility at the top of the hill. We were offered a location and a place to put all of our gear.

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The Athos Firemen enjoyed our visit.  Hrane and Demetreos speak to the Fire Chief.

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We became fast friends with the Fire Department. The Intrepid banner from Mount Athos.

Weeks later, we learned that we could not get permission to bring fuel for generators or permission from the lera Epistasia to bring radios and operate. The lera Epistasia runs the Pilgrims Bureau and has control of who gets to visit Mount Athos and for how long.

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The Holy Mountain as seen from Karyes. The Headquarters for the lera Epistasia.

The reasons why the lera Epistasia will not allow a Dxpedition are many and varied. We are told that the main reason is that radio activity is not in keeping or compatible with the worship and Monastic life at Mount Athos. Visiting Mount Athos was a very interesting experience. I highly recommend a visit to the Holy Mountain.

What do you think?



  1. N0UN says:

    For “Holy Community” (Holy Council, Holy Committee, Government, lera Epistasia, etc.) approval/decision of anything, a super majority of votes are required. 14 of 20 I have been told. Not just a majority, but a 70% majority!

    That form of self-rule government is the beginning (and end) of permission to operate there in my opinion. I’m sure that’s also the reason it’s been EXACTLY that way for centuries! Nothing gets approved/decided on unless it is “that” important to all. Unless something happens where 14 of 20 feel strong enough about Ham Radio (again), I don’t see anybody anywhere getting approval at anytime. People called to the monastic lifestyle do not view what we call “progress” favorably.

    Can you imagine ANY scenario where 14 of 20 will pass something, anything? Can you imagine the politics involved?

    • n6pse says:

      Hi Wayne, the lera Epistasia has five elected board members representing the 21 Monasteries. Shortly before our 2012 visit, Monk Apollo rotated off of the lera Epistasia board. The leader of the board is currently from Serbia and a good friend of YT1AD. There is still hope. If it was solely up to the Greek Government, we (a multi-national team including Greek hams) would have been there yesterday. Lets keep hoping.

  2. Tony says:

    We are told that the main reason is that radio activity is not in keeping or compatible with the worship and Monastic life at Mount Athos.

    I am still wondering why after this previous sentence from the article that Mt.Athos is still a DXCC Entity? If it’s not conducive to their lifestyle why it isn’t struck from DXCC and given an IOTA designation only. Other entities needed to be removed are P5 and EZ since neither one permit amateur radio at all.

    If DXCC is to be a lifelong journey, shouldn’t that journey have an achievable goal? How many hams have gone off into the ether and not even had a chance to work some of these countries?

  3. n6pse says:

    Mount Athos is a peninsula, much like the San Francisco peninsula. It is not an island, however you do have to take a ferry boat to get there. There is a large guarded wall separating the Athos peninsula from Greece. I still have hope that it will be activated with much more devotion, passion and fairness than it is currently.

    • Tony says:

      Yes Paul you’re right it is a peninsula don’t know what I was thinking about it being an island. One person just cannot handle what the DX community needs for this entity. I agree with your passion and devotion to get it on the air, but that just doesn’t get it done when as I stated earlier when enough DXer’s don’t even have a chance of working it. It’s one I may never work and that’s one of the reasons I’ve quit sending any updates to the ARRL. I’m not going to participate in sending funds for something I may never achieve. Anyway nice article though.

  4. Robert WD8NVN says:

    Thanks for the insight at Mount Athos !!

    • Steve says:

      Looking at Monk Apollo’s log page I couldn’t help but notice the absence of W6/W7 calls. It seems that only the U.S. East Coast and Midwest have any chance of working him. For whatever reason, he seems totally oblivious to the hordes of West Coast folks that need SV/A for an ATNO.

      • n6pse says:

        I have always noticed that Monk Apollo always works the strongest signals into his receiver. He never seems to ask EU or the East Coast to QRX so that he can work a weak signal. If he tried that a whole lot of guys would get in his log book. I’ve worked him twice from N. California but both times were very difficult and there was a lot of luck involved.

  5. k7ioa says:

    People don’t NEED Mt. Athos as a dx entity, it is there to pray for the world. While it is nice that Monk Apollos ( and now Monk Iakovos ) have their ham license, their primary job does not concern giving a bunch of hams another contact in the book. I would hope that somehow people would understand this. I am all for a continued ban on DXpeditions to the Holy Mountain.

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