A Night at the Holy Monastery
The stone slabs underneath our feet and the high walls surrounding us made our shelter look like a safe haven for our weary souls. We were still far from these blessed places on the previous day, and there we were, already participating in the life of the Holy Mountain. The life in the monastery was running its course, while we were watching it, as it were, through a glass. God was closer to us than our own breath! This truth was ceasing to be only speculative, making the beats of my sinking heart become quieter.
Each person ‘navigates’ his own life, meeting along the way the signs of the chosen road. These signs are there for us to assume what will happen after the next ‘twist of fate’. It amazed me that the path that I was walking led me to this holy place. If I do not get confused in my own will and learn to discern God’s quiet voice in my own heart, then, perhaps, something in my soul will change for the better, making me ‘fitter’ for Heaven.
The arkhondarik on the second floor of the monastery hotel building was crowded. We put our backpacks against the wall and sat right next to them contemplating the portraits and paintings on the walls. We were noticed by a monk who invited me to follow him into a room and translated my words for another monk behind the desk writing down the necessary information about us. I was told that in future I should always call before coming to their monastery. This admonishment was expressed very softly and did not hurt any of my feelings. After that the monks apologized that the dinner had already finished and said that they would still try to feed us with something. They also asked some questions about Putin and Lukashenko, which I was already used to. I did not remember very well what exactly we discussed.
The registration procedure was finally over. We were escorted to the 3rd floor.
– Your room is 301. – he was addressing me – This cell is for priests. You can leave your things here and come down to eat.
– Thank you!
My companions disappeared behind the door with the number 302. My cell had three neatly made beds with a pair of slippers next to each. A small lamp was lit on my bedside table. “Where am I? On Athos?! In the famous Vatopedi monastery?! I still couldn’t wrap my head around it. Glory to our Great Lord God!
I put down my backpack, changed my shoes and went to see how the guys were doing. Their room was truly luxurious and had an ancient sofa, a mantel clock, chandeliers, portraits of holy abbots and a balcony. All of this created a special impression of a time warp.
– Father Nikolai! – Igor was jubilant. – This is just a royal mansion!
I was also impressed and unable to say much more than “Whoa”. We went down to the floor below and were ushered into the dining room with a well-laden table covered with a snow-white tablecloth. The old sideboard at the entrance looked like a butler waiting for the orders of his dear guests.
The dinner was fantastic and included fried cold eggplant with garlic, salted olives, sweet large tomatoes, cheese, water in a jug, Athonite bread and ouzo, all to match our healthy appetite after a long day. The small Athonite glasses soared up together with our delight.
– Brothers! Glory to our Great Lord God! – this toast was succinct, and no one had anything to add to it. We ate and chattered like children, wishing that moment would last.
Our floor had all the comforts of modern life, which made us quite happy. The warm shower washed away the salty sweat and fatigue of our busy and exciting day. I came over to the guys, and we read the evening prayers together. Igor, who was a very experienced man, was already lying under the covers, saving his time and effort. Taking the opportunity, we shared our impressions and discussed the prospects for tomorrow:
– Man, we really rocked today! – Igor’s voice said from under the blanket.
– That was almost too much, – Georgievich agreed – We might as well have warmed up a bit first.
– It’s Ok, tomorrow we will rest! We’ll take a minibus from here to Karyes, then to Iveron and then we’ll see. If there is transport, we can head out towards St Athanasius Lavra.
Everything seemed clear and simple to me as I was sitting on the old sofa and digesting my dinner after a refreshing shower. Life teaches us that too much self-confidence always leads to negative consequences. Our hopes to have a relaxing day were about to collapse, giving us a perfect opportunity to improve our progress in track-and-field. But we did not have to worry about that until tomorrow. Our spiritual experience was only beginning, and the Most Pure Lady was wisely arranging our ‘Athonite upbringing’ for us.
Georgievich went to take a shower. Igor went deep into self-contemplation on his pillow and soon departed into the land of dreams. Valera and I sat down on a small balcony hanging over a small church. It was very quiet. I was remembering my childhood years. Once I destroyed my mom’s umbrella by poking holes through it so that I could shine through them with my flashlight in a dark room, emulating a breath-taking night sky. The punishment for damaging house property came as a total surprise for a brave space traveller.
The sky above us was like my mother’s umbrella, and she, my ageless mother, was somewhere very close. I have never experienced any despair after the loss of my parents, always feeling their care and closeness. For an atheist, life eventually turns into a tragedy. A Christian knows no death. The only reasons to worry are our inclination to sin, and our imperfect love for God.
The silence was sweet under the myriads of stars looking at us from above the monastery rooftops, while the same number of cicadas’ were glorifying the Creator from the dark space. “Let all creatures magnify the Lord!”
Soon Georgievich joined us. I didn’t want to go to bed. Not that I wasn’t sleepy, rather I didn’t want to see that day go.
I still had one more important thing to do in my room. I kept a diary of my trip to Athos and needed to add to it some notes about the passing day.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds