Over time, the image of the Theotokos “Quick to Hear” began to fall into disrepair. The image on the wall was crumbling, and the monastery brethren asked an unknown Russian icon painter to conserve the icon. The prototype remained on the wall, but it was covered by a painted copy placed over it. The miracles continued to happen after prayers before the copy as well. After some time, while cleaning the chapel, the brethren took the copy off the wall and were amazed to see that the prototype was miraculously restored. Since that time, the Monastery has two revered images of the Mother of God “Quick to Hear”. One of them is the icon where Father Sergius and I recently prayed, and the other… A Hieromonk opened the doors of the chapel for us. We entered the dark space in front of the miraculous image and knelt down. Fear, trembling and quiet joy in the heart—these signs accompanied us every time we venerated miraculous icons here on Mount Athos. That time was no exception. The Most Pure Lady gave us Her blessing for the remaining part of our lives. We prayed for those back home, for our parishioners, our families and strangers, for familiar and unfamiliar Christians of the Holy Russia and for our earthly Fatherland. The Mother of God heard all our prayers, because She is quick to hear every person praying to her with tears. “Let there be God’s will, and not ours. However, one thing is very important to us: O Most Holy Virgin, give Your blessing to all who will pray in front of these copies of Your miraculous images that we are taking with us.”
Then we visited the catholicon and left the walls of the Docheiariou monastery, finishing our pilgrimage. We went down to the sea and walked on a concrete pier. It was inappropriate for us to stay longer at the Monastery, among the working brethren. We still had about an hour before the ferry. There was absolutely nowhere to hurry, and we were idly wandering along the pier, watching a group, accompanied by the travel agency, embark on a boat and disappear from view.
Farewell and a few “surprises”
Father Sergius approached me with joyful news, saying that he had already arranged for a sea taxi to come from Ouranoupoli to get us and that we would soon be on the mainland. I was not so sure if I liked the idea, because it also meant that we were going to leave Athos an hour earlier, but then I remembered Cicero’s “Abiens abi”, so thanks anyway…
Our boat appeared on the horizon and started increasing in size. When we made ourselves comfortable “in the belly of the whale,” Father Sergius told us that we needed to pay 24 euros each for the service. It turned out that our early departure cost 120 euros. Oh well…
The boat accelerated and rushed us away from the Holy Mount Athos, purring like a pleased cat. Past the high shores of Athos, past the Hilandar pier called Ivanitsa we glided along the waves of the Aegean Sea. For the last time I looked at my fulfilled “crystal dream” disappearing in the distance. I looked until my eyes began watering, trying to memorize the smallest details. Who knows if I ever get a chance to visit here again? The greenery of the slopes, the sea, the taste of Athos air and the silence inside my soul… It had not even been a week after we arrived on the Holy Mountain, and yet there were so many impressions and inner changes… Perhaps this too would pass, but it was still there, and I was not going to let the time wash that memory away from my heart.
Suddenly the mobile phone came to life. A message came from Minsk: “Due to the strike at the Thessaloniki airport, your flight is delayed by one day. The tourist firm has paid for your stay at the Princess Hotel until tomorrow.” It said something else, but I cannot remember. It was probably irrelevant. Here was another surprise. Even more surprisingly, I was not at all annoyed by such a turn in our fate. After thinking for a while, I realized that it was a farewell gift from the Most Pure Lady. There was a day in the resort town of Ouranoupoli ahead of us.
Another day of extraordinary summer, the sea and Retsina, while it was already a cold and rainy mid-autumn back home. We even managed to get sunburns on the beach. Father Sergius found a big turtle in the bushes and made it pose for 20 minutes in front of the camera while he took pictures for his children. Then he went to gather sea urchins to bring them to Minsk. He pricked himself all over, but that did not bother him at all when he thought about how happy his children would be.
To be honest, the time that we had spent here turned out to be quite enough for the first pilgrimage to Mount Athos. We were still too weak to embrace any more than we had. We would wait and see what happens next.
Two hours after our check-in, Valera’s ferry arrived, and he joined us in one of the rooms at the Princess hotel. He took his backpack and gave me a stone from the Summit of Athos and a black trouser belt made on the Holy Mountain. He said that he felt as if someone pushed him to buy that belt for me… Wonders will never cease!
In the evening, we were listening to stories about Valera’s adventures over a delicious dinner with Tzatziki and Horiatiki, but those are his stories…
Almost six months have passed since my pilgrimage to Mount Athos. By the time these lines reach you, my dear reader, more time will pass. It is March now, and Great Lent is here. An icon of St. Gregory Palamas is laying on the analogion in the church where I serve. Tomorrow the Holy Orthodox Church celebrates the week marked in history by the victory over the delusions of Barlaam and Gregory Akindynos about the nature of the Light of Tabor. Looking back at my personal Tabor that I have found in the inheritance of the Most Holy Theotokos, I still see reflections of that Light in my heart and I am afraid to lose it.
A woman called who was formerly infertile, and now is expecting a child. We talked about this and that… The path of life unwinds further, so I will go knock on it with my walking stick. It is time to say good-bye. I wish you all the best and God bless! Maybe we will meet again.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds
All chapters are here