I still don’t know. Fermor didn’t encounter any hermits, though he passed a hermit’s hut, wryly observing that it was the most desolate sight he had ever seen. Perhaps being a hermit was one step too far for the convivial Fermor. Despite his skepticism, I’m sure he would have known what to say: it would have been the ultimate test for this gifted conversationalist.
Periodically the monasteries on Athos crack down on the hermits, accusing them of encouraging personality cults. They undoubtedly do. But I think there is another reason for the crackdowns: the hermits capture a truth about Athos. Having set itself apart, the island lays in waiting for pilgrims and travelers, waiting for our questions, fears and desires, a Christian oracle speaking in voices that are not of this world.