Day 52, St Panteleimon’s
[Wednesday, 6 July 2011] Today is my 26th anniversary, and it is the first time Annette and I have not been together for it.
The bell ringer in the guest house seemed to ring his bell with extra zeal this morning. He is a tall, thin Russian monk, with long black beard and hollow cheeks. “It is time to pray, it is the hour of prayer. O Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us,” he would cry intermittently. I couldn’t move. Standing in church several hours a day and walking around the side of the mountain have made my feet and ankles swollen, and they hurt. The night had been warm and muggy; I don’t think I slept well, either. I didn’t look forward to going to church.
The services were a blur; I spent all my time trying to stay awake and focus. I noted that, here and there, a few of the monks had nodded off to sleep. It is the tail end of the Apostle’s Fast on the Old Calendar. I think between the heat and the fasting, everyone is about done in. It being a Wednesday in a fast, there is only one meal in the refectory today, and that is at 5 pm. However, the monks are compassionate on the poor palomniki (pilgrims), and the tea room in the guest house was open, with two large pots of strong tea, a samovar full of hot water to dilute the tea, bread and jam waiting for us. God bless Fr Filadelf. I ate and went back to bed and slept for two hours.
Everybody here must sleep in snatches of a few hours. I’m probably ruined for life: eight straight hours of sleep seems like a distant dream. I don’t think I’ve had one since I left home.
Random notes: Different customs in different villages lead to misunderstandings. At the end of Liturgy yesterday morning, two trays of antidoron bread had been set out for us. After venerating the Cross which the Abbot, Archbishop Sergei, held, I went and took a small piece from one of the trays and went back to my stall to see if, in fact, the services were over and it was time to go out. It was, and I went out. Later, Fr Zadok told me that some of the monks had noted I had not taken any antidoron and were wondering if the reason was because I was Catholic or something else. Come to find out, the first tray held the actual antidoron, the second tray held extra bread that had been cut up. I had taken a piece from the second tray only. I remembered seeing some of the monks take from both trays but thought nothing of it. This morning I very deliberately took bread from both trays and thus confirmed, to the eagle eyes of the monks that watched for that sort of thing, that I am, indeed, an Orthodox Christian.
It wasn’t lemonade they poured into my cup at lunchtime; it was kvass. I wouldn’t go out of my way for it, but it ain’t bad.
There were boys as young as six or seven with their fathers at lunch today.
I want to describe the rest of today in a separate post.