Day 44, talks and a word

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[Tuesday, 28 June] I must cram a whole lot into a single blog post.

On Sunday, I did mosey down to the church early and take pictures, and I concelebrated the Liturgy in the ancient church, with Igumen Kyrill, the visiting Romanian priest, and Fr Petros and Deacon Bartholomew of the monastery. It was a lovely Liturgy, with well over 150 people in attendance, all crammed into the little church. Several of the sisters were on hand to sing, and if I haven’t said so in an earlier post, they do sing angelically, in English, French, Slavonic and Greek.

The monastery serves two Liturgies on Sunday: one in the church over Elder Sophrony’s crypt, at 7 am, and the other at the ancient All Saints Church at 10:15. Lunch is served about 1:30 pm. At 3 pm there is a Paraclesis service to the Mother of God, ca. 4 pm there are hour-long presentations in both Greek and English, with High Tea following (which means tea with sweet things to eat). Very many of the people who were at the Liturgy in All Saints hung around for lunch, the Paraclesis, the talks, and tea, basically spending the whole day at the monastery.

My talk went very well, in part because I’m simply exotic and people were curious, and in part, well, because I’m good at that sort of thing. Not only did the talk go well from my point of view, but it was well received, too. Some of the sisters attended my talk, and whatever lingering hesitation some of them may have had about me were swept away, and my relationship with the all the nuns flourished from that point on, as well as it had flourished with the monks from the beginning. Also, several people gave me pomelnics (lists of names) to remember at Liturgy, and one woman included with her list a considerable sum of money, at which I was simply astonished.

Because of the busyness of the day, there was no evening service at the monastery, dinner was a serve-yourself sort of affair that was sparsely attended, and everyone, I think, went to their cells and dropped from exhaustion.

On Monday morning, there was only one hour of the Prayer, everyone being allowed to sleep in for an hour. I boxed up a very big book I had bought, along with a few small souvenirs, and toted it all up to the post office in Tiptree, and shelled out for postage the entire considerable sum of money I received as a gift on Sunday. It covered the amount almost exactly (thank you, Carmen). In the afternoon, Fr M. and I shared coffee and more fine talk about St Maximus, St Gregory Palamas, and the writings of Elder Sophrony and St Silouan.

I had asked to talk with Fr Zacharias once more, if he had the time, and before the evening prayer service, he approached me in the church and said the only hour he would have would be during the second half of the service and that I should follow him out of the church when he left. So that’s what we did. He didn’t take me back to his office, where we talked before. Instead, we went into the old rectory, and through several rooms, to a beautiful wood-paneled study filled with Icons and shelves of big, old books: exactly the kind of office I’ve always dreamed of having. When we sat down, Fr Z said that this had been Elder Sophrony’s study, and that “here he spoke the word of God to us.” Well, if that didn’t set the tone for the meeting…

We exchanged a lot of small talk, mostly about a few mutual acquaintances and the possibility of his next trip to America. I had only a handful of serious questions, mostly follow-up from our first talk, and I got very fine answers. Then I said one of the scariest things I’ve ever said to anyone (maybe second only to proposing to Annette). I said, “Father, would you give me a word.”

For those not familiar with Orthodox Tradition, to ask a Spiritual Father or Mother for “a word” is to ask him/her to reveal the will of God for you or provide fundamental direction for your life. Sometimes monks ask regularly for a “word” from the Spiritual Father, and if it is regularly given, it may direct the tasks at hand, or the course of the day or of the week. Other times, the request is completely open-ended, as mine was; it is asked for with great seriousness, faith and prayer, and it is given with the same, and it must be received with the same. Failure to obey the word that you ask for is tantamount to rejecting God’s will consciously and the consequences are generally acknowledged to be seriously sinful and disastrous. You never know what you’ve asked for until you get it, and then it’s too late to say no.

What he told me, he said in few words. I won’t repeat it here, and don’t bother to ask me later what he said, because I’m not telling. Besides, the word was for me, not for you. It was not revolutionary or surprising to me; I don’t know, in retrospect, why I should have been afraid; rather, it was a solid, absolute confirmation of something I needed to have confirmed, and after the initial shock of it wore off, I found that it was profoundly comforting, too.

But enough of that. It’s going to take a lot of prayer, thought and work to assimilate the word I received. I doubt most people will notice anything different.

That evening (Monday), I took a walk down another footpath with Fr M; it’s clear we’ve found kindred spirits in each other. Thunderstorms were threatening, and the fine clear day had turned very cloudy, and the air had grown still, humid and heavy. That night we all went to bed hot and sweaty, but, sure enough, sometime in the night it cooled off and the cold, clammy bed was back, and I woke up cold in the damp. I slept poorly and woke up early.

Today, after morning prayer, when I was again asked to recite the second prayer rope, I packed up all my things, stripped my bed and cleaned up my room (thus stealing part of Fr P’s blessing, who derives great spiritual benefit serving the guests by cleaning up after them). A group of some half-dozen Benedictines, mostly from St Willibrord’s Abbey in Holland, arrived on Monday afternoon and we had a little time to chat. One of the sisters who serves lunch packed me a “picnic,” a sack lunch to take with me when I left. After lunch, I said my good-byes to quite a number of the community. It seems they enjoyed having me almost as much as I enjoyed being there. I took a cab back to the train station in Witham, the train to Liverpool Street Station, the Underground to Paddington, the express train to Heathrow, checked in to my flight tomorrow, then took the shuttle bus to my hotel outside the airport. All in all, it took 3 ½ hours and cost me 48 pounds (about $90).

So here I sit at a Holiday Inn Express, not far from the international terminal, drinking my pint of John Smith’s Extra Smooth Ale, watching the rain, and wondering whether the general strike in Greece will mean that I will be stuck at the airport in Thessalonica tomorrow afternoon when I arrive. It appears that planes are still flying, but whether or not there will be a bus or taxi on the other end remains to be seen. Oh, well. More adventure.

The plans are that I will be in Thessaloniki on Wednesday night, then take the bus to Ouranoupolis on Thursday and stay the night there, and finally get my diamonitirion (permit) for Athos on Friday and take the ferry Friday morning to the Holy Mountain. What kind of internet access I have in Greece, I’m not sure. If I’m incommunicado for the next week, please pray for me. As I said in an earlier post, I’m a little apprehensive about this part of my trip; ignoring the civil unrest in Greece, there is still the language issue.

One of the monks here in Essex knows a Fr Ieremias at Philotheou Monastery (not far from St Pantaleimon’s, where I am going) who is Texan. Supposedly he drives some kind of vehicle around the monastery and drives it like a Texan, so when you see a big cloud of dust, you know it’s Fr Ieremias coming. I may have to pop in for a visit.

It’s a small world, after all. (Now try to get that out of your head!)


Posted on June 28, 2011, in Photos, Travelogue and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Rev. Jeff Steele-Steeber

    To “hear a word”…even though I am not there, and the word was not meant for me, I shall live vicariously through your experience. It is one thing to experience God’s presence so vividly that it takes your breath away. It can only be that more magnificent to hear the affirming words of God through a devout agent of our Lord. May God count your steps Father Michael, and if my prayers reach His throne, I trust that He will.

    • Your prayers ascend quicker than mine. I could say more about this and other things, but not on a blog post, out of respect and love for the monastery and its brethren who have done so much for me.

  2. Love the pictures of the old church and cemetery. It’s hard to get me head around how old it is… 🙂

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