Day 49, Xeropotamou
[Sunday, 3 July 2011] Because it was Sunday, both at Vespers last night and at Matins & Liturgy this morning, the monks showed how well they could sing. I caught myself wondering about men who love God so much they will get up at 3 in the morning every single day and give the best that they have in His service. It gave me more respect for the dedication of the monks.
There was a particular highlight this morning. Near the end of Matins, one of the two priests went to the other side altar (the narthex has two) and came out with a tray with two silver objects on them. They were shaped like little astronomical observatories, round with a domed top, about 10 inches high, and made of silver. All the monks took to prostrating themselves fervently and then went up to venerate the objects. Come to find out they were the relics, skulls to be exact, of two local Saints: a Nicholas (not the Wonderworker) and Auxentios. Each reliquary had a round lid on top, which was open, and we were able to venerate the holy pates of the Saints.
A couple of dozen men showed up for the Liturgy; I’m not sure where they came from, unless they’re simply between here and there and stopped in the for service. But they stayed for brunch, too, and then left. After that, the monks locked all the doors and everybody went back to bed, myself included.
The day turned very hot, and the breeze died out and didn’t come back until after Vespers.
In the afternoon, I went to sit out on the pavilion that overlooks the sea, to read a bit and catch what little breeze there was. I didn’t read long before Pavel the Palomnik (“Pilgrim”) came up. Now this was quite a surprise to me. When I was in Ouranoupolis, the evening before I came to Athos, I found the parish church and attended Vespers. The only other man there besides me and the priest was this street person in the place next to me. Overdressed for the weather, wild hair and beard, dark tan, and more than a few days since his last bath, he prayed very piously and didn’t say a word to anyone. I saw him again on the boat to Athos; again, he passed by without a word to anyone. Now he shows up at the gate of Xeropotamou, sits down next to me, and we talk for over an hour. He is Slovenian, the son and grandson of academicians, with an advanced degree in art history, and he speaks several languages, English being one of them. He had done well in life until alcohol destroyed his health and left him with a mild dementia. Now he spends as much time as he can wandering as a pilgrim to holy places. He’s still mad at God for the alcoholism, but he’s trying to come to terms with his life, such as it is now, and he’s looking for Christ’s healing.
It wasn’t my place to speak for the monastery, as to whether or not they would take him. It turns out they wouldn’t give him a room. Maybe it was because they know the type, or maybe it was because his diamonitirion (visitor’s permit) indicated that he was Catholic, I don’t know, but they packed him a nice sack lunch and suggested he go to St Andrew’s Skete near the capital at Karyes, a two-hour walk from here. Maybe they’re more accommodating at St Andrew’s, since that is where the famous Elder Paisios lived (he recently reposed, but St Andrew’s is still high on many people’s list of places to visit). I gave him what hospitality I could by listening to his rather rambling accounts of things and sent him off with a blessing. I wish him well, and perhaps as you read this, you might Cross yourself and say a brief prayer for Pavel, the broken man from Slovenia.
After Vespers, I had dinner with only one companion, a Greek man with a sister in New York, who spoke some English. He is here to work as a cook for a few days, and tomorrow he will be moving to the workers’ quarters. I think I mentioned in an earlier post that there are a few laymen working here. He told me that the reason we were not eating with the brethren is because the century-old frescoes in the refectory have suffered damage from moisture in the walls, and are under restoration, and the monks are forced to eat in a small room that’s barely big enough for them.
Tomorrow, immediately after breakfast, I’m packing off to St Panteleimon’s, called by the Greeks “Rossikon.” I have some vague directions about where to find the path just outside the road into Xeropotamou. I’m to look for a sign with an arrow that says “Rossikon that-a-way” and follow the path. The length of time it’s supposed to take me to get there on foot gets shorter every time I ask someone. It started at 30 minutes and is now down to 20. I hope Greeks don’t estimate time like Texans do and discover it’s actually an hour long hike through rough terrain. With a heavy backpack. In my cassock. In the heat of the summer.