“You’re Going to Xilurgu”
Unloading our backpacks off the coach, I saw a driver in a minibus who was about to leave without any passengers. He seemed to be hesitant to leave though. I ran up to him and asked:
– Vatopedi? He answered me in Russian, with a slight accent:
– Yes, to Vatopedi, but I won’t take you.
– While he was still waiting for something, I decided to bum-rush him.
– Why? We will pay you a good price!” I was trying to be persuasive.
“They won’t let you in anyway. Do you have an invitation?
– Invitation? Oh, yes, they know that we’re coming – Remembering the dialogue with the siromakha on St Anna, I realized that I was talking some nonsense.
– No, I won’t take you. – There was nothing I could do. He was the boss. And then I took a trump card from my sleeve:
– Well, then we are going to Xilurgu.
That actually worked. The driver eased off and named the price:
– Forty Euro. I decided not to waste time bargaining, especially since that was a shared expense. Besides, we had a plan to stick to…
– Igor! Call the guys! Let’s go!
The door of the minibus fired a final salute, and we sailed away. Besides us, there was a man on the minibus who looked like a monk and remained silent. He had a rosary in his hands and did not look around. When he sneezed, Igor politely said “God bless!”, following our custom. The man paid no attention. Igor’s eyebrow went up as he gave me a glance that I interpreted as “Is he deaf or what?” Before I could think of an answer, I remembered an incident with my elder son that made me turn to the window and burst with laughter.
At the age of three, my son Tyoma dressed neatly and went to the city to run some errands with his mother. They were riding a trolley-bus where the compassionate co-passengers quickly put him in a separate seat. Tyoma was proud and felt important. Spinning in his seat and making himself comfortable, he suddenly turned his attention to a girl of the same age (and dignity) sitting opposite to him. The girl was paying no attention to Tyoma, just like a true lady would. But then she happened to sneeze. The girl had a few extra pounds, and her sneeze, sounding like a balloon pierced with a needle, was so intense that her hat slid to one side. That however had no effect on her stance. Tyoma was delighted to find a convenient cause to introduce himself and chat. As a real gentleman, he addressed the lady with the polite “God bwess!” The girl didn’t react, so Tyoma said the same thing, but louder: “God bwess!” – again, with zero result. Determined to achieve his goal, Tyoma shouted his “bwessing” at the top of his lungs. Alas, there was no response. Then, turning to his mother, pleased with her well-bred child, the boy said very clearly: “Mom, this boar didn’t even say ‘thank you’”. The trolleybus howled with laughter.
In my parish, when I get a chance to talk about Pharisaism, I use this incident with children as an example. Of course, the monk did not understand our language. But a parallel can be drawn here between this incident and the church environment where we are taught everything about church piety and still we do not fill our actions with love to God and people. My head was just a mess of thoughts and impressions.
Meanwhile, the Athonite road was taking us past St Andrew’s skete again . We were heading towards the Vatopedi monastery. There it was, the checkpoint with the unbribable Greek standing and waving his hand to us. Feeling emotional, I also waved my hand to him and thought, “When we come to Vatopedi, I’ll tell the guys about this miracle and our slick move avoiding this Greek and moving to a new level!” The glee was short-lived. After passing several bends on a dirt road, the minibus sharply braked. Turning to us, the driver said:
– Xilurgu. Your stop.
– No-no, Vatopedi! – I was taken aback and could not believe that we failed after our triumph at the checkpoint.
– We’d rather go to Vatopedi…
The driver was adamant:
– You said you were going to Xilurgu. We don’t lie on Mount Athos.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds