A Greek monk at Mount Athos, the holy mountain of Orthodoxy, has been waving the Greek flag for years. He does so each time a military plane passes over his monastery.
Whenever Monk Joseph hears the sound of an aircraft, he stands close at the edge of a cliff above the Aegean and waves a huge Greek—or sometimes Byzantine—flag at the Greek Air Force pilots flying over the peninsula of Athos in northern Greece.
The pilots fly low in response to the monk’s special greeting, paying respect to the man known among the Greek Air force circles as the patron of pilots.
But how did this strange yet fascinating greeting begin? Some years ago, when Monk Joseph traveled to the island of Skyros for a local fair, he also visited the airbase of the island.
A pilot recognized him as the monk living on a Mount Athos top that happens to be a turning point for aircraft. After their acquaintance, the pilot used to fly low each time over that point so that he could greet the monk in this special way.
Monk Joseph waved to the pilot with a huge Greek flag
Then the monk would wave back in response until one day Joseph took a huge Greek flag and started waving it back at the pilot.
From that moment on, the story of the monk spread rapidly within the circles of the Hellenic Air Force, and, soon, one pilot after the other flying over the area flew closer to the ground to greet the monk.
The story of the humble monk and the pilots circulated on the internet and has become popular around the world. In every photo, the monk stands at the edge of a steep cliff with a huge flag in his hands while the pilots’ faces flying by are close enough to be recognized.
Sometimes, the peculiar greeting is met by navy ships sailing close by the point where the hermit resides. Many pilgrims who have happened to be at the scene have also joined Monk Joseph in his greeting ceremony.
The hermit has now become a sort of patron or protector of pilots. He waves at them before they head to their air missions and waits for them to return and greet him in their own special way. Many pilots have visited the monk in his cell and presented him with souvenirs including an Air Force uniform with his name sewn on the garments.
“I love them all like my children,” said the hermit Joseph in a conversation. “I have also met some up close.”
“Every day, when I hear the sound of airplanes, I dash from my cell,” he revealed. “I go out and wave the Greek flag. I weep with emotion, as these young lads always, following any mission in the Aegean, come to greet me so that I may give them my blessing.”
“I have watched too many battles,” Joseph said recently. “I felt fear and pride. But the feeling I get after each engagement when they pass over my hermitage to greet me is indescribable…Some of the pilots came here and found me. We embraced, we talked, they opened their hearts. They revealed their problems. I feel that my words are words of God, and will make them even more courageous to defend everything in our Greece.”
Born in Corinth sixty-four years ago, Joseph was the son of a priest originally baptized as Christos. Before he became a monk, he was known to the world as Christos Bairaktaris.
He comes from the village of Agios Vasilios in Corinth, and the Greek Air Force has embraced him as part of its own family.
In 1983, at the age of twenty-five, he decided to become a monk at the Monastery of Megisti Lavra on Mount Athos. From there, he was sent to the cell of Saint Minas in the location known as Vigla, where he would be responsible for taking care of the 19th-century small church.
It is said that Joseph’s cell looks over the very point where the Persian military commander Mardonius lost half of his fleet at sea in 492 BC.
Joseph is not fond of media attention or flashlights, so he only shares his thoughts and words with the visiting pilgrims. He is one of the most well-known cantors of Mount Athos and often chants in churches and metropoles outside the monastic community of Athos. He also attends religious fairs around the country.
“He is a saintly man, a biblical personality, who whenever anyone comes to meet him, opens a window to a world of goodness and love,” said George Vazouras, a pilot who visits him often.