Back in the Mountains
We went outside the gates of the monastery, crossed ourselves and bowed with gratitude in the direction of the cathedral church. Our shoulders had been resting for a full day. Besides, our backpacks became lighter when we left our gifts at the Monastery. However, their weight did not seem to have changed at all. Our legs were supposed to have rested, but we were moving them with great effort. During the long descent towards the sea, where the trail towards the Dionysiou monastery began we all felt like chatting. Idle talk was something that we needed the least. The special state of grace, acquired with great difficulty, could be lost without any effort. Something had to be done about this.
I remembered that once in my parish I hosted an all-Belarusian religious procession. The men and women carrying banners and icons were singing the Jesus Prayer. The men began, “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on us!” The women were silent until the men would stop singing. Then the women joined in and continued the prayer-hymn in the same manner. These pilgrims would walk for many miles without talking to one another. It was important for them not to miss their turn in singing the prayer.
I decided to adopt this idea. After a brief discussion, I received the approval of all the members of the group, and we began singing in turn, “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on us!” We took turns singing solo, one at a time. I started, Igor continued, then Nikolai and after him, Vladimir Georgievich closed the cycle. There were three pilgrims walking along the shore pebbles ahead of us. Judging by their speech and appearance, they were Germans. For some time they were turning around fearfully, apparently touched by our singing. After some time, they decided to let us go ahead of them, and we never saw them again. None of us could carry a tune, but that made us even louder. Even the birds would fall silent, “admiring” our approach. Singing in turn worked well, allowing each of us some time to catch a breath while the others were singing. When the ascents began, we no longer felt like talking. Our remedy for idle talk worked!
The path along the shore reached a vertical rock and turned sharply to the right and up. We had to climb, and we did not know how high. Things went very slowly, as the ascent turned out to be very steep (literally a couple more degrees would force us to use not only legs, but also arms). When Nicholas, who was walking light-handed and (unlike us) was in excellent physical shape, overtook me at one of the halts, his shoes were not far from my face. Five meters high. Ten meters. Soon we were already at the level of a nine-story building (27 meters) above the sea. In a short time, we were on the same level with the monastery of St Paul, a corner of which looked out from behind the mountain slope (a hundred meters, no less).
My heart was like a moth beating against glass in desperation. I was not afraid to die because of a heart failure, firstly because I considered myself unworthy to repose on the Holy Mountain, and secondly, because my fear of death was suddenly gone. This fear was still present in Ouranoupoli, but now it was gone. It is very difficult for me to describe this yet another amazing state that visited us on Athos. This fear of death, hidden deep underneath our skin, controls many of our actions in everyday life. We try not to think about death. Often we would give false hope to someone on his deathbed, depriving this person of the opportunity to prepare for the mysterious transition to eternity. At that moment, I clearly realized that the fear had disappeared. The closeness of the heavenly world on Mount Athos left no place for flawed, imperfect fear. What other surprises was Athos preparing for us?
Having reached the top point of the ascent along a rocky, barely noticeable path, we stopped near a cross, located on the crest of a rock, hanging over the sea. Far below there was a boat with passengers on its deck. We tried to wave to them, but they did not seem to notice us. The day before, we were looking at the same cliffs, pointing our fingers at the microscopic men on them, perhaps in the same spot that we were in at that moment. We were enjoying the wonderful view spread before our eyes, as if the whole world was in the palm of our hands.
– Some water? – Igor held out a plastic bottle. I passed it over to Georgievich, and turned to Nicholas:
– Kolya, will you go with us to Dafni or what?
– I will stay at the Dionysiou. Today I have a meeting with Elder Gabriel. He will decide in which monastery I will stay.
– I thought it has been decided already.
– In general, it has, but I will resolve the details today. Kolya also took a sip of water, thinking about something. – I am afraid I will not be able to catch the ferry if I go with you. Father Gabriel only comes once a week. If I miss him, I will have to stay in a state of uncertainty for another week.
– So, don’t wait for us! Go alone; especially since you are not carrying any weight, you will make it on time. Go on!
Nikolai asked for a blessing and soon disappeared from view. Good man. His father, he said, serves in Pochaev, in Ukraine. May God grant His servant Nicholas the strengthto fulfill His calling!
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds