Title: Miracle on the Monastery Mountain
Author: Douglas Demetrios Lyttle
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group (April 1, 2004)
Reviewer: Dian Moore
Interview with Douglas Demetrios Lyttle, Author of Miracle on the Monastery Mountain
Interviewer's Note: Back in June, for Father's Day, I reviewed Miracle on the Monastery Mountain. Its author, Douglas Demetrios Lyttle, was in Greece and not available for interview. He has since returned, and I wish to share our conversation. Mr. Lyttle is a delightful man who delights in the Lord.
FWM: You have now embraced the Eastern Orthodoxy religion as your own. How has that decision impacted your life?
DDL: Wow! It has been a watershed event, opening doors of knowledge and spiritual growth that I couldn’t have imagined. See the endings of the first and third (p.118) chapters.
FWM: When did the inspiration to compile a book of this magnitude become set in your soul and begin to drive the project on its own.
DDL: It was always in my mind from my second or third visit onward, but never a driving force. The experiences and the present challenges, both informational, inspirational and photographic were the driving force, and the fact that it was all really exciting and in a way, fun.
FWM: How would you like to see Miracle on Monastery Mountain ultimately used?
DDL: It is my fondest wish only that it be widely distributed and sold, perhaps providing not only information but also inspiration to many. Plans are underway to have it translated and published in Greece.
FWM: Do you have plans to visit the island again; and if so, will you be visiting for pleasure, spiritual renewal, advanced documentation of the lifestyles observed there – or all of the above?
DDL: The "island" is actually a peninsula attached to mainland Greece. I have just recently returned from spending the month of May in Greece, including over two weeks on the Holy Mount. This was not a working trip, but to thank important people with the gift of an autographed book. It was an unexpectedly wonderful visit as the book has been received with great enthusiasm by the people who have, over the years, made it possible and many of whom are in the book in both photographs and in words.
Two week before I left I purchased my first digital camera, a Nikon D70, and while photography was not my intention, I did manage to make about 3,500 photographs, among them some of the best photography I’ve ever done.
It was, as always, a pilgrimage, a wonderful opportunity to worship with friends in the beautiful and inspirational setting of the monastery churches, and also on the mainland in Ioannina and in Thessaloniki – where I worshipped and received the sacrament in the large, historic church of St. Dimitrios with a church full of fellow Greek Orthodox Christians. This church has special significance for me because when I became Orthodox, I took the name Demetrios, meaning that Saint Dimitrios of Thessaloniki who was martyred in about the year 350 became my special relation among the saints of the church.
FWM: Have you had formal training in writing? Repeatedly, the descriptions in your prose were enough to stand alone – so vivid were the word pictures you created.
DDL: I had only the required English courses in high school and college with some experience doing technical writing as a research chemist. It was my great good fortune to have grown up in a literate family.
FWM: Over the course of your 22 visits to Monastery Mountain, can you share one of your more unique situations you had to overcome in order to get a certain shot?
DDL: There were many, but the one I will recount for you began one morning before sunrise with a vigorous, rapid knocking at my door in the archondariki (guest quarters) of Simonopetras Monastery. It was Father Stephanos, who told me to get up and come with him, that I had just been given the abbot’s evloyeia (blessing/permission) to make photographs of a most significant event, a baptism that would be done at the seaport of the monastery at sunrise.
The further account of this event is to be found on pages 140 and following. I knew that this event would occur, but did not know exactly when or especially what time, and had asked for permission as soon as I learned that it would happen. Very typically, things did not happen as hoped, and I had given up on the possibility of making photos, so was quite unprepared when on the cusp of the event I received the knock, etc.
FWM: When did you first know that you loved photography?
DDL: On January 15, 1944 our first daughter, Judi was spanked into breathing and almost immediately, we, who were living in Rahway, New Jersey where I worked for Merck and Co. as a chemist, were inundated by requests from grandparents who lived in Michigan, to send photographs of the first grandchild in either family. So, in due time, Margaret and I appeared at a photo studio in Elizabeth, after taking two different busses (no car in wartime and on my small salary). The photographer spent all of five minutes with mother and daughter in the studio before she came out with our darling. I had just settled down with a newspaper, and as I came toward her across the room I could see tears in Margaret’s eyes. "What’s the matter, did you forget something?"
"No, (sob), he just put her down and took two quick shots, though she was almost crying, and then said, ‘We’re through.’"
It was obvious that this was no way to treat anyone and could not possibly result in the kind of photograph anyone would want as a record of their child, so I stormed the desk, told the salesperson that I did not want to see the proofs, and demanded my deposit back. When news of this fiasco reached Michigan, Margaret’s brother, who had been interested in photography and had a good Kodak camera of German manufacture with a Schneider lens and was about to enter the military (WWII), offered to loan me his camera for the duration so that I could make some pictures to send home. I accepted.
I had not finished the first roll of film before the bug hit me. At first, I made photos of Judi; then her sister, Janet, who arrived 13 months later; then by request, of children of friends and neighbors.
All the photographic equipment that I have ever purchased has been paid for by photographic work I have done.
I believe that the rest of the story is on the jacket of the book.
FWM: Miracle on Monastery Mountain holds that unique feel to it – a work of love made as a gift to others – almost as if Monastery Mountain demands to leave an imprint, and you were chosen as the keeper of the legend. As the years went by, and your visits increased in number, the narrative suggests your spirit, once captured by the essence of this holy place, was filled with a longing to return again and again. Would this observation be an accurate description of your experience?
DDL: I would agree but would change your words" - - - essence of this holy place, - -" to read, "the holy and spiritual essence of this place and its people –" I literally met God in both the place and its people more really and personally than anywhere or anytime previously in my life.
To order a copy of Miracle on Monastery Mountain or preview some of the photos, visit the Athos Monasteries website.
Dian Moore is a freelance writer, editor and reviewer and the hands behind Hands for Hope, www.handsforhope.com. If you would like to write to Dian, you can do so via the Letters page of this magazine.
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