Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived at the northern Greek peninsula of Mount Athos, on a visit to the autonomous Orthodox Christian monastic community here.

Putin flew from Athens to the northern city of Thessaloniki Saturday morning, went by road near Mt.Athos and then took a boat — the only means to reach the community.

At Karyes, the administrative center of Mt. Athos, Putin was greeted by the 20 abbots of the monasteries and 20 representatives of the monks, as well as a representative of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, under whose jurisdiction Mt. Athos falls

The Russian leader attended a Mass in his honor, seated in the bishop's throne.

In a short reply to a greeting, Putin thanked the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Church of Greece for their role in fostering relations between Greece and Russia.

"Here in Mt. Athos, there is great and important work done on moral values," Putin said, thanking the community for its hospitality in this, his second visit to Mt. Athos.

After the Mass, Putin was greeted by Greek president Prokopis Pavlopoulos, with whom he held talks at the community's main administrative building.

Putin was then to travel overland to the monastery of St. Panteleimon, inhabited by about 70 Russian, Ukrainian and other Russian Orthodox monks. There, Putin will take part in celebrating 1,000 years of Russian presence in Mt. Athos.

Security in Mt. Athos has been unprecedented. Besides Putin's large entourage, there was heavy Greek police and coast guard presence, with divers guarding and inspecting the landing site and snipers deployed throughout Putin's route. Pilgrims' trips to St. Panteleimon monastery were canceled two weeks ago.

The head of the Russian Church, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, arrived in Mt. Athos Friday.

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Demetris Nellas contributed from Athens, Greece.

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