A Bedtime Story about Xeropotamou Monastery
Returning to our room, the first thing I did was take out a map of Athos. We began our “Council at Fili”, studying the relief of the Athos spurs.
— If we get to Daphni before noon, we can climb to the monastery of Xeropotamou. St Panteleimon is within easy reach, just down the path from there.
— What kind of sights are there in this monastery?
— In which one, Xeropotamou?
— As in any monastery on Mount Athos, there are many relics of saints there. A large particle of the True Cross with a nail hole is perhaps the monastery’s most important relic. It is said to be the largest fragment on Athos. According to legend, this monastery has suffered from some disastrous events in its history.
— Can you elaborate? – asked Vladimir Georgievich.
— Sure. The Xeropotamou Monastery traces its history back to the 11th century… – leaving the map, we sat down on our beds and proceeded to our “bedtime stories”. This little miracle of human communication was one of our favorite pastimes.
— It happened in the 13th century, after the Fourth Crusade of the Latins (1204), when the crusaders captured Constantinople. The Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos, a supporter of a union with the Catholics, having arrived on Athos, ordered the brethren of Xeropotamou to perform a Catholic Mass together with the Latin priests who were part of his retinue.
The abbot and some of the hieromonks did not find the courage to stand up for Orthodoxy to death and agreed to celebrate Mass with the Catholics under pressure of the emperor’s threats. When the iniquitous service began, the walls of the monastery shook, as if there was an earthquake, causing the monastery to crumble to the ground.
All the perpetrators of lawlessness perished under the ruins, and the surviving emperor fled from Athos in disgrace. Miraculously, this strange earthquake damaged not one of the Athos monasteries. After the death of the apostate, his pious son, the emperor Andronikos fully realized the significance of this sign of God. He restored the monastery, where a large particle of the True Cross was kept since the time of the Emperor Romanos. The relic has a hole from a nail, used to pierce the body of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Outside the window, subtle splashes of the sea waves could be heard. The sun was finishing its endless procession across the horizon, disappearing on the other side of Mount Athos. It became quite dark in the cell.
— Father Nikolai, how do you know this story so well?
— I have a writer friend. I have read it in one of his books about Athos.
— Well, shall we pray now? We have to make an early start for the morning service tomorrow. It is time to gain some strength.
— Yes, it’s time to pray and go to bed, – Igor summed up one more day of our stay on the Holy Mountain.
— Shall we set an alarm clock?
— Let the semantron wake us up.
On Mount Athos, we began to read the evening rule in turn. This way, everyone had a chance to become a reader. Besides, this helped each of us stay focused, waiting for his turn, so we all participated in this sacred ceremony. After the last “Amen” and a few minutes at the washstand, we switched off the light, allowing our tired bodies some rest until the morning. Good night everyone!
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds