Day 47, Xeropotamou
Photos by Fr Michael Butler, Jun 30, 2011Vodpod videos no longer available.
[Friday, 1 July 2011] Woke up before the alarm, ca. 5:30, probably in anticipation of the day. Breakfast at the hotel was a good buffet, but it was spoiled somewhat by late coffee service and a child that was scalded by hot tea. Got my diamonitirion at the office, found the sales desk for the boat to Mt Athos, sat at an outdoor café and drank coffee until it was time to board.
The “Axion Estin” is a large boat, and carried several vans and trucks to Athos, as well as the group of pilgrims and a dozen or so monks. I met a Romanian monk who went to school with Bishop Ireneu, the auxiliary bishop of our Romanian diocese; talked with a pilgrim from Arlington, TX, and one from Florida. Met some Cypriots who were professional photographers (one took 800 pictures in the 2 hours it took us to get to the port of Daphne.) Members of a biker gang, Arkhangeli Srpski, got on the boat, too, leather vests, tattoos and all; attitude they seem to have left on shore.
Stopped at the docks of several monasteries along the way until we got to Daphne. Athos is very beautiful. The monks have allowed nothing more than a few dirt roads for buses and trucks, and while there are many vegetable patches, orchards, and vineyards, it doesn’t spoil the untouched naturalness of the place. It is a very green and very beautiful peninsula. No wonder they call it the Garden of the Mother of God.
As we passed by Xeropotamou Monastery on the boat, I saw it, high and lifted up, several hundred feet above sea level. I was thinking twice about walking up to it. Thankfully, on asking directions, I was instead put on a bus and put off along the dirt road several minutes later, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, because I couldn’t see the monastery or anything else from where I was standing. A Greek man got off with me—he spoke no English, but thank God, he knew what he was doing—and together we went to the monastery.
There is much that is renovated at Xeropotamou: new walkways, newly stuccoed walls, new doors and windows everywhere. The front and entrance way to the monastery seems to be new construction. The guesthouse is completely refurbished, as are all the rooms and restrooms in it. I have found the toilets, sinks and a place to hand-wash clothes. I have not found the showers yet (I’m suspecting there aren’t any). The rooms all have three beds, a dim wall light, a table lamp, and one electrical outlet. Plain, but comfortable. The architecture would make any resort proud.
The guest-master looks like Saruman the Wise.
Niko (the man I came in with) & I were given the usual Athonite hospitality: a shot of ouzo, a glass of cold water, and a sweet (we had little bowls of cherries in very thick syrup), then we were given the schedule and shown to our rooms.
Niko and I decided to go exploring. Even though it wasn’t formally open, we managed to get into the catholicon, the main church of the Monastery, which is dedicated to the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste. The iconography is mid-18th century, somewhat in need of cleaning, but breath-taking nevertheless. Every square inch in frescoed, and there are many square inches. Regrettably, there is renovation going on in the main part of the church, and scaffolding is set up. Three Greek men with very good English explained that they were scanning the Iconostasis for restoration work; they had two computers there, with large screens, and 3-dimensional graphical views of parts of the Iconostasis that they were preparing.
We, the only two guests at the monastery, were given lunch at 1:30: stewed veggies (squash, okra, onion, tomato, and much garlic), bread, and fresh apricots for dessert. Oddly, at my place, I had two whole tomatoes and a whole cucumber instead of a salad. The guest-house refectory is very modern, with air conditioning and a kitchen at one end that any American woman would lust after, with new, stainless steel appliances, hardwood cabinetry, and tiled countertops.
After lunch, I took a nap, since it had turned warm and muggy and had even rained a little, and besides, I’ve figured out that nothing goes on in Greece in the heat of the day anyway, except some of the work of day laborers, and there seem to be several around here.
Vespers was at 5 pm, and, due to the construction in the main nave, it was served in the narthex, which, by the way, has two side altars complete with iconostases. A few minutes before Vespers, the Priest brought out one of the treasures of the monastery: a large relic of the True Cross (with a nail hole, even) and relics from some of the 40 Holy Martyrs of Sebaste, which we were allowed to venerate. After Vespers, the guest master herded Niko and me back to the guest-house, where dinner was waiting: a rice dish with carrots, mushrooms and a thick sauce, over which we poured lemon juice; a very tasty kind of sauerkraut; and halvah for dessert.
It was after dinner that Niko discovered he had cell phone reception outside the buildings…
Apodeipnon/compline was at 7:15, and is a short service. Once the monks had gone out of the church, the guest master herded me and Niko back to the guest house. Apart from these two, I’ve had next to no contact with any of the other monks. Niko knew one of the monks, and the two of them sat outside by the agiasterion (big basin for blessing Holy Water) and talked it up.
I am reconsidering my plan to stay here for three days. Niko is going off to visit another monastery tomorrow, and I don’t relish the thought of being here all by myself with no one to talk to. It would be one thing if I/we were with the community, but it seems we’re not, and aren’t likely to be. If I want to pray, I can do that during the services, which, if Xeropotamou is a typical example, are served so rapidly I can barely follow them. I might just decide to follow Niko off to Vatopedi tomorrow, on the other side of the peninsula, and then go on to one of the other monasteries the day after, ending up at St Panteleimon’s on Monday like I’m supposed to.
By the way, it seems that my information on Athos is out of date. Athos has modernized rather completely. There are busses and shuttle-busses that run every day from the port of Daphne and from Karyes, the capitol of Athos, to all of the monasteries and back. You don’t have to hike to any of them if you don’t want to; it seems, in the height of summer, nobody does. I know I don’t.