Koutloumousiou Monastery and Cats (Continued)
After a long wait, no one came to talk to us, and Cyril went to the arkhondarik to ask if they would open the church, while Georgievich and I took a walk around the central cathedral and looked inside a cave, serving, in all likelihood, for collecting water. There we saw a bottomless well. Soon we began taking pictures of everything that surrounded us. On Mount Athos, looking through the camera’s viewfinder is completely optional, you can just click in any direction, since beauty is all around.
Valera soon came. He was occupied with his unceasing search for elders.
– Father Nikolai, bless me to go to Elder Gabriel, it’s not far from here.
There was no point in trying to stop this ‘collector of grace’, so I nodded in agreement.
– Go on! But don’t take too long.
Valera rushed off. Cyril came and said that there was no one to open the church for us, since they were all having an afternoon rest… We sighed and, finally, set off on our way back to Karyes, while our eyes were sending ‘farewell kisses’ to Koutloumousiou walls.
On the way to pick up our backpacks left at the door of some bureau in the main square, I went into a post office and sent home a postcard with a view of the Docheiariou Monastery. I imagined how this little greeting would please my beloved wife and children.
While the guys were making themselves comfortable next to our backpacks, I decided to do some shopping and found a simple white Greek style vestment, just the kind I have always wanted. Seeing the price tag, I put it back on the shelf and walked out of the shop. 600 Euro… For that kind of money, I could buy at least four vestments back home, or even more, if I was willing to sacrifice their quality. Cyril found out that soon there would be a “minibus” to the Iveron Monastery. I was worried because Valera still wasn’t back from his trip to elder Gabriel.
– Maybe he decided to stay? – Igor said jokingly.
– Yeah, and went into seclusion… – I was worried, and my joke must have sounded gloomy.
– What time is it? – Georgievich raised his left hand to look at the watch. – Wow! He’s been gone for an hour and a half! Maybe something happened…
– Nothing can happen to him there, – Igor reassured us, – perhaps, Elder Gabriel is giving him a ‘thorough’ blessing.
– Okay, let’s wait a bit.
We waited a bit, and then a little more, and then we waited again. Finally our Athonite Valera appeared in his blue jacket.
Our minibus approached; we loaded up and happily departed. On the road, we started asking Valera about his meeting with the elder.
– Well, have you seen Fr Gabriel?
– How was it?
– Clearly, Valera was feeling important and started ‘playing a war prisoner’, making us wring every word out of him.
– Valera, let’s start talking now, or you’ll be left with no sweets. – this argument took effect, and Valera told us about his spiritual walk to the elder, who blessed him, and then they “spoke a lot”.
– What did he say? Come on, tell us! – Vladimir Georgievich was burning with impatience. There was a moment of silence when we all felt like Valera was going to tell us some deep Athonite wisdom.
– I dunno, he spoke in Greek. I didn’t understand anything.
For a minute or two we laughed hysterically. Our amusement was accompanied by the feeling of shame for being such giggly pilgrims, but we couldn’t help it.
The minibus drove on, raising a cloud of dust behind it. I managed to read a road sign, pointing towards the Pantocrator Monastery, and a wooden arrow, indicating the turn to the monastery of Stavronikita. On the right there were the spurs of Mount Athos with monastic cells on its slopes, overlooking the blue sea on the left. We were still on Mount Athos!
Driving along the shoreline and past the Monastery’s carpentry workshop, our minibus made a ‘puff’ with brakes and rested its broad iron forehead against the wooden fence near a gazebo, serving not only as a resting place, but also as a public transport stop. Our backpacks climbed onto our shoulders and, swaying to the pace of our steps, rode past the scaffolding to the famous monastery. In such moments we seemed to cease to exist. We concentrated in attention and reverence, trying not to let a single superfluous thought enter our minds. God let us walk the road of life to yet another shrine of the Orthodox world!
I am writing these words remembering how many times people who are far from Orthodoxy have told me that “God is one”. People often use these words to calm themselves by the thought that their faith is also ‘true’, but in a slightly different way. In moments like that I feel sorry for these people, because behind these cunning words there is a secret door to worshipping the Antichrist. It’s not even the words that are cunning, but the meaning that they imply. God is certainly One and Indivisible, but different ideas about God give rise to different religious practices. As a result, faith leads some people to blow up buses with people, wage unjust wars, destroy cities and persecute innocent people while others worship True God, bestowing upon the world giants of spirit like Seraphim of Sarov, John of Kronstadt, Silouan the Athonite and the Holy Great Martyr Demetrius. Love, in the true sense, is also one, but why, then, do so many people use this great word for the debauchery that modern Sodomites are engaged in?! The apostle says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God (1 John 4: 1)”.
Like a majestic giant, the Iveron rises above the world, protecting it from the ultimate downfall and personifying the unshakable truth of the Orthodox faith.
This time we did not go to the monastery with a guided tour. Dropping in the icon shop, we bought some reproductions of the Iveron icon, known in the Orthodox world as The Panagia Portaitissa (Greek, “the Gate-keeper”), and hurried into the church to worship the Mother of God.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds