When we left the refectory, Andrei approached me and asked:
– Do you know who was sitting across the table from you?
– No, who was it?
– Father Panaretos, abbot of the Gregoriou Monastery.
– Are you sure? – I asked in disbelief, – Then why wasn’t he in the abbot’s place?
– Because he is a real ascetic.
We nodded sagely. My spiritual experience was not enough to distinguish between Athos ascetics. Compared to me, even simple workers in this realm of the Mother of God were true saints.
– Andrei, do you know what time the night service begins? – Igor asked.
– Why? – Andrew seemed surprised. – The monks will wake you up anyway.
– And still, – I supported Igor’s curiosity, – it would be nice to know what time to set the alarm for.
– I do not use it. Why worry? I hear the semantron, I get up.
I could tell that our new companion was an experienced person, and for the first time I did not set my alarm. We went to the arkhondarik. I thought that it would be nice to take a walk along the shore after the meal and to have a Socratic conversation. In his time, the philosopher and sage Socrates taught his students, while walking with them in a garden, hence the name of the conversations that they had. I am no Socrates and I do not have any students (if I did, I would not know what to teach them). Besides, the shore was not more than a hundred meters long, certainly, not enough for a decent Socratic dialogue.
We walked up the stairs to our arkhondarik-ship and sat on a bench on the middle deck, i. e. the balcony of the second floor, overlooking the sea and the Sithonia peninsula, visible in the distance, like a ghost.
– Well, where are we going now? – Igor asked, leaning on the balcony railing. It sounded as if he was waiting for me to say something like “20 points to the right, full speed ahead!” Then he would spin the helm, causing our balcony to lay over, setting in the course.
The sea was merging with space. There was a complete calm. A plane high up in the air was drawing a line across the sky. It felt good in my heart. My inner calm made me feel peaceful, quiet and carefree. My state of mind could be described in the following words: “the sea was an extension of the soul, which merged with the cosmos.”
– You mean tomorrow? – I clarified just in case.
– Well, yes, tomorrow.
– I don’t think we have many options. Tonight we will spend the night here in the Gregoriou Monastery, and then we have one more night left. After that, we have to get to Ouranoupoli, at least if we want to catch our plane. Our last overnight stay should be on this side of the peninsula. Most likely, we will try to spend tomorrow’s night at the monastery of the Holy Great Martyr Panteleimon, if they accept us there. The latter reservation was the result of our previous experience, supported by some of the stories that we had heard. At the beginning of our pilgrimage, we were still making plans, but every time things turned out differently.
– Valera must have received enough blessings for the rest of his life.
— Yep, or perhaps he has become a disciple of some cave-dweller.
– I hope not. If he eats all of their meager food supply, they will have to return to worldly life.
The guys were being real wits. Of course, they were taking advantage of the situation, while Valera was absent. Besides, we had finally been able to talk to him on the phone, which gave them something to talk about.
– I don’t remember you showing your sparkling sense of humor while we were up in the mountains, – I tried to stop this fountain of laughs. Jokes do not always distinguish the boundaries of what is permitted. In the spiritual sphere, they tend to become the subject of regret. At the same time, good cheer is certainly not a vice.
— It was not a good time for humor while we were up there. – Vladimir Georgievich agreed with me.
— When we were climbing through the thorns towards Stavronikita, I really thought I was not going to make it. First, I was caught on a liana and literally became stuck. Then I crawled on my back, hands and knees. Besides, my backpack seemed huge; it kept getting caught on everything. When we finally made it to the seashore, the weight of my backpack did not matter any more. I felt so good; I could carry someone else’s things.
— When I saw Father Nikolai confidently making his way through the thickets, I was sure that he knew where he was going.
We kept sharing our mountain-climbing impressions until our perfect idyll was interrupted by a smell of tobacco smoke. Several pot-bellied Greeks were enjoying coffee and cigarettes on the balcony next to ours. They were happy in their own way, while we had to descend from heaven to earth and hastily retreat to our cabin. Of course, if they were our compatriots, we would not think twice before teaching them a healthy lifestyle. However, we were not sure if our methods would work with Greeks… I wonder what Socrates would do.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds