Faces: Scott Cairns

Thursday, April 14, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:42 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

For 50 years, Scott Cairns has been on a spiritual migration. It has led this MU English professor on a journey to Mount Athos, a monastic republic in northern Greece.

“About 10 years ago, I became fairly disenchanted with American Christendom,” Cairns said. “I was looking for a richer expression of my faith when I came upon Eastern Orthodoxy.”

The monastic republic, Cairns said, is the center of Eastern Orthodox monasticism. It is occupied by 20 monasteries and many smaller communities called sketes. He said he looked forward to visiting this center of Eastern Orthodox mysticism for eight years and has gone twice this year while on research leave. He has one more trip planned for June.

He was accompanied on his first trip by friend and colleague Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes of the Agricultural Economics Department.

While in Greece, Cairns was expected to live the life of a monk. This included fasting on some days and attending about seven hours of church services daily. When there was a vigil, such as the three feast day vigils during Cairns’ second trip, the services lasted as long as 12 hours.

“After the first several hours comes a nearly hallucinatory elation,” he said. “That strange sensation slips away but is replaced by an even odder sense of being outside of time.”

Having done extensive research on Mount Athos, Cairns was well-prepared for his trip and “had a good sense of what it would be like.” One thing he was surprised about, however, was how crowded it was.

Having published five books of poetry, Cairns chronicled his trips and spiritual journey in a different writing style. Cairns is preparing a spiritual memoir titled “Slow Pilgrim” scheduled to be published in 2006.

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