Back to Russia
The ferry came, and the once deserted Dafni pier became lively again. Outside the local customs office, a small hut with a few tiny windows, pilgrims began to line up. Some were travelling to St. Panteleimon Monastery like we were, others were on their way to Ouranoupoli. Inside the customs office, bulky men in uniforms performed random checks, and their manners did not look very polite. But we were spared- they just waved us through. Perhaps we had already blended in with the locals so well that we did not look much different from them. Onboard the ferry, I felt like Sinbad the Sailor – never before had I travelled by boat as often as I did here. The distance at sea is measured in cables and the speed in knots. The new sensations overwhelmed me so much that I lost all sense of distance. We sailed across the bay in the twinkling of an eye and were approaching the Russian Monastery of Saint Panteleimon.
I suppose I was not the only traveler who remembered Pushkin’s Tsar Saltan at this moment. From the sea, The monastery looked like a fairy-tale city: dome upon the dome, palace upon the palace. No more, no less. It was the final point in our pilgrimage, but I did not want to think about it yet.
We arrived. Some fellow travelers who were more experienced than us showed us the way to the orchidarium. We followed a paved trail past some tall compounds that belonged to the monastery. Some had been restored, others were newly built. Their empty windows were like eyes gazing through time and space. I wish I knew what they were trying to tell us.
Our backpacks did not seem heavy anymore, and we had become so used to our walking sticks that they felt as if they were extensions of our arms.
Although we were on the grounds of a monastery, we had not quite reached it yet. The orchidarium was on the second floor of a renovated six-storey building. The purpose of some buildings was anyone’s guess. We crossed a bridge spanning a small cliff and entered the hotel. The door to the office of the hotel-keeper was locked. Other pilgrims mentioned to us in passing that he was already at church and would be back after dinner. We left our backpacks on the wooden racks – as they have in a left luggage facility of a train station – and went to look for the church.
We entered the monastery gates, walked past the icon shop and the wall image of the Holy Great Martyr Panteleimon and entered a city of heaven. It was clean, well-groomed, and full of flowers. Its grandeur resonated in our hearts. Saint Panteleimon Monastery was always different from the Greek fortress-like monasteries. Inspecting the interior, he noticed a detail that reminded him of the Black Sea and the Crimea. I had not been to the Crimea, so I could not say if he was right. Still, it was beautiful and magic!
I secretly made some pictures with my camera hidden under the wide sleeve of my cassock. But no photo is free from distortions. We walked up many stairs and ladders. The last staircase to the Church of the Protection was at the back of the six-store building. It was made of metal and looked more like a fire ladder. The Church of the Protection was on the top floor. If not for the statues along the walls, I would have said that it looked like any other church in Russia.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds
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