The Long and Winding Road to Karyes
We went back to pick up our backpacks before moving on. We found our stuff surrounded by a group of brethren who became interested in our walking sticks with carved animal heads on their hand grips. The monks were smiling with excitement, studying our exotic apparel. Our walking sticks had already aroused a similar reaction several times during our trip and were even photographed. Personally, I did not see anything special in them. When we asked the local brethren where we should go, they unanimously pointed to the road with the words “Karyes! Karyes!”
Finally, Georgievich and I tasted the grapes, looked back towards the sea and the monastery, crossed ourselves and hurried to catch up with the rest of the group. Despite such “hospitality”, I really liked the monastery. If God blesses me with another chance to visit Athos, I will try to find a way to spend a night and pray in this beautiful place. God willing.
Judging by the map, Karyes was about 5 kilometers away. Considering the late hour, the tiredness of the group members and the fact that it was all uphill, we had no chances to make it there before darkness. In the meantime the sun, apparently also tired, was beginning to lean against the surface of the sea somewhere near the Vatopedi monastery.
I had my prayer rope in the left hand, my walking stick in the right and the Jesus Prayer on my lips. Despite all that, there was a real storm inside my soul. “How could they just send us away late at night? What happened to Christian hospitality? If someone came to me, I would never kick my brothers out into the street at night. Weren’t there cases when angels came under the guise of wanderers? Where is the love here? Where is the fear of the Lord?”
About twenty minutes later, I said:
– I am going to leave the terrible sin of condemnation at the next turn.
– What are you talking about, Father Nikolai? – Vladimir Georgievich could not hear what I had said. He and Cyril were walking the closest to me. Igor had already disappeared around the corner, where I was planning to improve, and Valera was walking in the rear and was still passing the places where my sin peaked.
– I said that although I teach people not to condemn others, and all the way from the monastery of Stavronikita I am doing just that. I never thought that I myself would fall into this spiritual pit.
“Oh, I see,” Georgievich reacted. – What are you going to do about it?
– I’m going to leave my sin right at that turn!
Everything worked out just as I planned. The right thought suddenly came to my mind (Lermontov once voiced it in one of his poems), “If it were not God’s will, it would not have happened…” Isn’t the Mother of God the mistress here? She won’t leave us! After such reflections, my prayer became attentive, and peace was restored in my soul. Passing yet another turn on our road to Karyes, we saw an abandoned church. A narrow board connecting the cliff with the second-floor window was still strong enough. The church was a solid building and would still stand for hundreds of years, and yet, inside there was rubbish and desolation. For some time we were considering the option of spending the night in the abandoned church and decided to move on.
It was already getting dark. At some point a car drove quickly past us. Then some buildings appeared in our sight. Reaching the open gate (we had no idea what was behind the fence), we sent Cyril to go inside to negotiate. He left his backpack on the steps of the stairs (where we had already accommodated ourselves, enjoying the warmth of the heated stones) and disappeared from view.
Another Athonite night was approaching. The air was ringing with myriads of cicadas’ violins. Some unfamiliar birds were having a chat. I wiped the sweat from my forehead with my skufia and began to listen to “everything that breathes” praising the Lord. It became obvious that we were not going to make it in time anywhere, and suddenly that thought was relieving, “Come what may!”
It got even darker. I took out a lantern, waiting in the wings somewhere in my backpack, and shone to the sides. The beam was strong enough to reach the bamboo grove. Bamboo trees looked unusual to us, residents of the temperate zone. At first we mistook them for large reeds. The trees by the road were all dusty. Aimlessly pointing the light beam around, I was just passing the time. I wondered what was taking Cyril so long.
– Maybe I’ll go get him? – Valera volunteered.
“Let’s wait a little longer,” I suggested. The minutes merged with the darkness of the approaching night and were almost indistinguishable. A motor could be heard from somewhere to the left down the road.
– Someone is coming! – Igor perked up.
– Let’s try to flag them down.
I imagined us, clutching our hands and trying to block the road like characters of an old sitcom movie. Soon the headlights appeared. I jumped upon my feet and started hitching. An unknown off-road vehicle, stopped sharply next to us, raising clouds of dust. We saw a monk in the driver’s seat, and then the back door opened and there was Cyril! My goodness! The monk spoke Russian, with a slight accent, “Come on, load your things and get in! The driver will take you to St Andrew’s skete. But please don’t say anything about us there!” Those were some Athonite mysteries. Still not believing in the miracle that was happening to us, we thanked the unknown monk, gave a “volley” slamming the car doors and raced along the winding road of life towards St Andrews skete. I remembered recently thinking that we would not be able to visit the former Russian skete, and there we were, going there with the hope of a night’s lodging.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds