So we set off for Pantocrator Monastery. The walk was neither difficult nor tiring. The narrow rocky trail meandered in the shadows of the trees and bushes. We followed it for about an hour, tapping away with our walking sticks under the soft breeze of the sea. Finally, we reached the gate of the monastery. An ancient aqueduct nearby gave us direction. At the door, we met the same company of our countrymen on the Jeep. They said that they had just arrived.
“You walk really fast,” they exclaimed in admiration.
“We practice,” we replied, humbly.
We turned into the arc of the monastery’s gate. It was time to pull ourselves together. In our minds, there was calm and peace. Having left all our everyday hassles behind us at the airport, getting in this peaceful state of mind was no big feat. As everywhere, the area around the monastery was spotless and well maintained. We wondered how it was possible without the help of a woman. I guessed rightly: the Holy Theotokos is present in all of Mount Athos, and is its protectress in heaven. We stood in prayer before the icon of the Most-Holy Theotokos “Eldress”.
It is kept in the main church of the Pantocrator monastery at the Eastern column of the left choir stand. Many years ago, a pious hegumen came here at his old age. He suffered from a terminal illness and knew about his imminent death. Before his departure, he asked to partake in the Holy Sacraments of Our Lord Jesus Christ. He requested the on-duty hieromonk to perform these sacraments on him. However, the hieromonk did not give this request sufficient priority and was too slack in meeting it. At some point, he heard a menacing voice commanding him to perform the sacraments on the hegumen immediately. It was coming from the icon of the Theotokos. From that moment onwards, the icon has born the name “Eldress” (Gerontissa).
It depicts the Mother of God in full statue. The icon is clad in a silver riza. The vessel on the icon reminds of the miracle of the myrrh pouring over without stopping that occurred by the prayers of one of the monastery’s hegumens.
Memories of these miracles of the Eldress Icon are still alive at Pantocrator Monastery.
The Archon (the monk responsible for hospitality) asked us if we were staying for the night. We declined, politely. We were on our way to Vatopedi. “Onwards to Vatopedi,” we exclaimed to ourselves, disregarding – yet again – the Divine Will. We followed our will and bore all the hardships that it might entail. After a visit to the church and the church shop, we prayed before the holy icons and left Pantocrator Monastery soon after. We walked past the monastery wall to the cross, passed the ruins of the old aqueduct, and finally reached a well-used road. The road was leading towards the sea. We followed it for a while until we noticed a sign that said “Vatopedi” and pointed towards a thick grove. Behind it, a barely noticeable trail began that led uphill. At that point, we were feeling tired. But the prospect of reaching Vatopedi Monastery that night was giving us heart. We were looking forward to seeing the many relics there, and the distance on the map seemed very short. “Keep going,” we said to ourselves, as we took the trail.