Approaching the monastery, we could not even imagine that our stay there would be so warm and memorable. The descent seemed endless. Drenched in sweat, and constantly wiping the salty streams that strung my eyes, I folded the flaps of my cassock, so as not to step on it, and tied them in the place where until recently there was my monastic leather belt. A shadow in the stone arch near the cathedral church made us stop. The tired travelers collapsed on the bench, leaving their backpacks in disarray. We were going to take a break and then continue all the way to Simonopetra. “We still have time until tonight.” Judging by the map, the distance is not too great, however, the height made it unpredictable. Overcoming the acute desire to lean against the cool stones together with everyone else, I went into a small monastery courtyard. We needed to find the arkhondarik and we could certainly use some coffee.
To my left there was a church. At that point, I did not know in whose honor it was consecrated. To the right there was a refectory with large windows, through which one could observe what was going on there. Life in the refectory was in full swing, and we could hear kitchen sounds coming from behind the door in front of me, made of solid wood. I knocked timidly, doubting whether it was appropriate to be interrupting the monks, busy with their obedience. The door was too thick to convey the scarcely distinguishable vibrations caused by my trembling knuckles. However, it did open.
— Imais Ireis Nicolaes. Pui Ney archondarik? – I could not believe that I had just said it. I did not know where these Greek words in my head came from. However, I introduced myself and asked whether we could be treated to some coffee. At least it was something close to that. In front of me stood a short monk in an apron. He was about 55 years old, with a remarkably Greek appearance. A black beard was growing on his open and intelligent face under a faded Athos skullcap. He reminded me of one of the apostles, but I was not sure which one.
— Where are you from? – asked the monk in Russian. Despite his accent, I could understand everything. That was a pleasant surprise.
— We are on our way from St Paul, through Dionysiou…
— Where are you from originally? – he repeated his question.
— From Levkorossia, or Belorussia – I corrected myself.
There was a very small, almost imperceptible pause, during which something dawned on me. I drew some air into my lungs and asked quietly:
— We would like to pray in your monastery until tomorrow, if you give us your blessing. At that moment, I had no idea that I was talking to the person in charge of accommodating guests in their monastery.
— You need to go to Simonopetra – the monk answered also in a low voice.
— Yes, we were going there, but… – I looked into his black kind eyes. We looked at each other in silence, interrupted by sounds of the sea, bird chirping and the clattering of pans, coming from the kitchen. Stanislavsky would definitely appreciate this duel between our eyes, but the pause was getting a bit too dramatic. Igor was listening with tension to our dialogue from around the corner. He was ready to stop for the night, and the thought of having to continue our ascent was difficult for him to accept. I broke the lingering silence.
— Won’t you receive us? – I said this very quietly, but God only knows how much effort I put into these words.
— Room 21. Your room number is 21. Tell the person in the arkhondarik.
I was right! I knew that a man with kind eyes like his must also have a kind soul.
— Thank you! What is your name? – I still could not quite believe what I heard.
— Tell them that you have Father Paul’s blessing.
If I was a little less ceremonious, I would have hugged Father Paul, but I preferred to join the rest of the crew before he changed his mind. Igor heard everything, and now he was glowing with happiness, dancing and trying to get his other hand into the backpack strap hanging on his shoulder. We grabbed our luggage and went to look for the arkhondarik. I forgot to ask Father Paul where it was located. The three-story guesthouse building was outside the monastery gates. To get there, we had to pass through another courtyard, somewhat larger than the first. Ripe black grapes were hanging on special constructions above our heads, just high enough to remain beyond reach. A paved path descended smoothly from the gate, past a kiot with a mosaic icon of St Nicholas of Myra, and a water faucet protruded from a whitewashed wall. Apparently, it was a holy spring. Along the path grew slender, dark cypress trees, looking like schema monks wearing koukoulia. Finally we reached our shelter. The building of the arkhondarik stood right on the shore, like a ship that had dropped its anchors in a quiet hidden bay. We went up the stairs to the front desk. There was nothing in the spacious room except for a long wooden table and two benches. The cleanliness of a well-maintained village hut was reigning all around. We could feel the smell of coffee and wood.
A young man came towards us. He was wearing old blue jeans and a short sleeve T-shirt. In the blink of an eye, a plate of lukum, glasses of water and the invariably fragrant Athos coffee appeared on the table. After treating us to such a feast, the front desk person, who did not speak Russian, began to explain something, pointing towards the monastery.
– Father Paul said that 21 room for us.
I said this with the crudest accent possible, looking resolute and uncompromising, like the Statue of Liberty. The young man understood everything and quickly gave us the room key. What a powerful blessing Father Paul has, God bless him! His name opened for the three of us a cozy five-bed cell with two screened windows, located just above the water. What more could we ask for?
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds