Any good deed is usually associated with difficulties and all kinds of temptations. My vigilance was disturbing me. I was waiting for something to start to happen to me. With my mind’s eye I saw myself overcoming difficulties and quietly grumbling about the enemy’s temptations. But day after day passed, and nothing happened to me. Apparently, my spirituality was posing no danger to the enemy of mankind, while my companions were starting to encounter temptations. Valera had his gallbladder removed, Igor’s firm faced economic difficulties and Georgievich had to deal with exclusive legal issues. I was the only one left ‘problem free’
until one day, about three weeks before the trip, I had a ‘heavy landing’. I was on my way to the store to get bread when my foot tripped over a curb, and I fell on my knee at full speed. Rubbing the bruised spot and counting the glints in my eyes, I thought, “If it goes on like this I may have to crawl all the way to Athos”. But, thank God, nothing happened to me after that. Although the knee hurt for quite a while.
On the Road
Squeaking and clunking with all its joints, the train stretched, as if warming up, and set off steadily and without haste on its journey. The car was rocking slightly at the rail joints, and for some time we were looking thoughtlessly at the autumn landscape floating outside our compartment window. We had some time to realize the current moment in our lives before the road conversations began. I don’t think I have ever met people who do not like travelling by train (provided, of course, that their life circumstances allow it). Since my early childhood I have loved trains with the coziness of their passenger carriages, the traditional fried chicken with conversations over a signature glass of hot tea. Regardless of how long you have to travel, it never gets boring. So, Minsk was ahead of us, and I was on my way to Athos after all!
From time to time I took out a notebook and recorded my thoughts, describing events and faces. This time I wrote down a few lines and thought about my expectations from visiting Athos. I thought that I wasn’t going there just for impressions. I was yearning for nothing less than a renewal of spirit. I had the feeling that I had a swamp in my heart where even frogs refused to live. Looking at myself, I saw an unpopular character from the works of art like the Tea Party in Mytishchi, the Procession of the Cross, or the Tale of the Priest and of His Workman. That was an unpleasant experience.
In fact, I thought that perhaps I was even worse, because I had stopped feeling the mere compassion to people. I was badly in need of fervent faith! The fact that the Holy Fathers warn about such a state of mind as a natural stage on the path to God did not comfort me.
“And yet, I am going to Athos!” I thought. “Wait, you haven’t arrived yet” said my inner voice.
A message from Georgievich interrupted my chain of thought, making me burst in laughter, “I bought 10 rolls of toilet paper. Do you think that’s enough? ” I realized that I had not the slightest idea where exactly we were going and what awaited us.
The train arrived in Minsk at 23:20. I was met by good friends, and the few hours left before the flight passed quickly. We still had plenty of time to get to the airport, but at some point we missed a speed sign and got pulled over by vigilant road police for speeding. For some reason, after studying the driver’s licence for quite some time, the traffic officer returned it to its owner and let us go. We tried to explain what had happened, but it was beyond our understanding. The registration ended almost immediately after we burst into the airport and checked in for our flight. Had the officer hesitated for a couple of more minutes, we would have been forced to be looking at the departing plane and our unfulfilled dream from the ground. But we were already on the plane.
We fastened our seatbelts, watched the flight attendant’s pantomime with a life jacket and began to observe our gigantic trembling bird, crawling along the marked paths of the airfield to the one designated for the take-off. That took a long time, but as soon as I started making a joke about travelling all the way to Greece in that manner, the engines howled and gained strength, while the earth rushed back and down. By the strange sensations in my stomach, I guessed that we had overcome small air bumps and maybe even hills. The plane quickly reached the desired altitude, and new impressions began to flow.