Come with Me to Mount Athos. Part 62

Part 61

Lights out, time to bed

Igor was already in the room. He looked at us from under his sheet, his eyes glowing with inspiration.

“Where have you been?” he asked.

“Looking for a cure for his sore throat,”  I replied.

He was puzzled.

“Sore throat?”

“Yes. Father Nikolai had a sore throat, he washed it with seawater, and it passed,” explained my friend Vladimir.

“Congratulations,” replied Igor and wrapped himself tighter in the sheet. I removed my cassock, took out my toiletries, and had a shower. Then I sat down to write in my diary. The lights were already off, and we had nothing but an old kerosene lamp. Igor lay on one side and then on the other. He could not go back to sleep.

“We are leaving Mount Athos tomorrow,” he said, with palpable sadness in his voice.

“Let us take a walk along the shore to the mainland after the service tomorrow – when we finish packing,” he suggested.

I put aside my diary and joined my friends in planning our last day on Mount Athos. Our ferry was in the afternoon, so we still had time for two more monasteries – Xenophontos and Docheiariou. Docheiariou Monastery keeps the miracle-working Panagia Gorgoepikoos icon of the Mother of God. If all goes well, we can expect the successful completion of our visit.

“God willing!” exclaimed Vladimir as he repacked his backpack.

I finished making my bed and suggested, “Keep the window open?”

“Sure. Let us let in some fresh air.”

Everyone agreed.

“Good night, everyone!”

“Good night!” echoed the Aegean Sea.

Attackers in the night

No sooner had we laid down than hundreds, if not thousands of aggressive creatures descended on us! The blood-thirsty mosquitoes were like scores of night bombers out to disrupt our sleep. People can do strange things when asleep. Startled, I put on my under-cassock and wrapped myself in my sheet. I looked like the mummy of an Egyptian Pharaoh. Why did I do it? I do not know. They say that in their dying moments, many have flashbacks of their whole lives. My flashbacks were of the mosquito repellent I had left behind at St. Paul’s Monastery. I remembered how we all decided not to close a window. I also recalled that this was our last night on Mount Athos.

Going back to sleep was out of the question. Perhaps we were paying for the extra hours of sleep at Gregoriou Monastery. We got up as if we had not gone to sleep at all. We lit the lamp and observed with horror thousands of aggressive Greek mosquitoes covering the walls of our cell. We sprinkled our faces with cold water and headed for the Church of the Protection, lighting our way with lanterns. Going up the stairs, I observed down below dozens of hapless travellers doing the same, lanterns in their hands, like a score of fireflies.

Keep watch and pray

The church was almost empty. I greeted the icons and took my place at the Western Wall. I chose my position well – a soft breeze was blowing from the open window nearby, and a vast open space was before me. I was not the only one who liked the place. Throughout the vigil, many ryasophore monks stopped by to see if the position was vacant but left disappointed.

The service began with an exclamation from the priest. It was in Russian, so there was no need to say my own prayers. I listened to the liturgical text with ease and in full understanding. Eventually, this state of relaxation drew me into temptation. Soon, I began to struggle with drowsiness. It is like driving a car at night: you leave into a surreal world before you notice. I tried different techniques – taking a deep breath, stretching my limbs, and rubbing my face, but nothing worked. I remembered reading about the Christian ascetics who stayed up all night praying. Now I understood how much effort it must have taken them and how much power of the spirit they needed to have. One could not do it without the grace of the Holy Spirit! I sunk into the swamp of sweet slumber and reemerged to the surface. It taxed my endurance. Yet when Liturgy began, everything changed. I became watchful and alert again. God returned my ability to focus on prayer and avoid distractions.

After kissing the cross, we congratulated Igor and Father Sergius on their communion. Igor’s joy was beyond description; his eyes were glowing with the light of Christ’s resurrection. We all shared his feeling, as we should. Inspired, we walked out of the church. The crosses glistened in the gold of the sunlight, an invisible chorus of birds sang glory to God, and the air was filled with fragrances, giving us a glimpse of paradise.

I finished my meal quickly, remembering my army habit. Sitting in front of the empty dishes, I observed the monastics. Now there were the warriors of God, the hardened soldiers of Christ. Their strength was not visible in their size or bulging muscles but in the decisiveness of their looks. God be with you, brethren!

Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds

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