Day 53, the end of Athos
[Thursday, 7 July 2011] Despite getting to bed after 2 am, I sprung from bed when my alarm went off at 6. I had sweat through my pants, t-shirt and cassock while walking to and from Xenophontos yesterday and badly needed a bath, which I took. I was as clean as I could get and was already walking out of the guest house when the gaunt monk started to ring the bell to wake everybody up. “It is time to pray, it is the hour of prayer. O Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us and save us.” Clang-clang-clang…
I went directly to the church and found the one monk, wooden semantron in hand, ready to start banging out the call to prayer. A few minutes later and the bells began their bone-rattling toll.
The relic of St John the Baptist was made available again for veneration. Full hierarchical Liturgy proceeded flawlessly, the singing was magnificent, I received Communion at the altar with the other Priests, and life was good.
Lunch was a formal affair, with the monks following the clergy in procession to the refectory. Having entered the altar at Liturgy, I was now indisputably and publicly kosher, and one of the monks grabbed me and pulled me into the ranks of the brotherhood walking in procession. I was accepted as one of their own, and it felt good to be “in”.
After lunch, procession back into the church for final blessing and dismissal, I was taken to Fr Asterik, who promised to allow me to venerate the relic of St Silouan the Athonite. I had been waiting in the church, but I found out the relics were not stored there. They were in their own separate chapel. What I saw there took my breath away: two long glass cases filled with reliquaries: large relics of St John the Theologian; the Three Holy Hierarchs; SS Seraphim of Sarov; the wonderworking Unmercenary Physicians Cyrus and John (their whole skulls); all the Apostles; the True Cross; several New Martyrs I didn’t know; St John the Baptist back in his usual place; many, many more that I can’t even remember; and in one corner, on a table by itself, in a large, round silver reliquary, the skull of St Silouan the Athonite. Fr Asterik graciously left me alone in the chapel for a few minutes to pay my respects to the Saints and to pray. A great big, final Amen to the whole visit to Mount Athos.
Since I had an hour or so before the ferry boat came around to St Panteleimon’s, I went back to the guest house to check out and found Fr Filadelf puttering around in his tea room. There was tea, to be sure, but it being the heat of the day, Russians don’t drink hot tea, but prefer kvass, which he makes from leftover tea that he sort of ferments in a big vat that has a large, stinking mass of some kind of yeast or fungus floating on the top of it. I got detailed lessons in the homemade production of kvass, the difference between the Russian and Jerusalem productions, and the generous offer of my very own jar of stinking yeast/fungus to bring home with me to start my own production (like I was going to get that through customs without charges of biological warfare). We sampled both the Russian- and Jerusalem-recipe kvass (it’s made from rice and lemon instead of tea and sugar), and I have to say, it grows on you (as well as in the vat). There was also a little rose-flavored loukoumi (Turkish Delight) to go with.
Finally, it was time to leave. The ferry boat made the return trip from the Port of Daphne, and we put in at all the same monasteries on the way back. I stood on the top deck again, this time with a pair of men I had met on the path while hiking to Xenophontos. Come to find out, they were both Polish Catholics (gasp!), one a Carmelite who had studied Scripture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, and the other, a newly-minted diocesan Priest who had just finished his Ph.D. at the Institute Biblique in Jerusalem. They had been tracing St Paul’s missionary journeys and undertook a side-trip to Athos while visiting the latter-day Thessalonians. We had fabulous conversation.
The bus ride back to Thessalonica was long, hot, and uneventful. In the city, I transferred buses and saw that the temperature was 43 C, which is somewhere over 100 degrees; no wonder it was sweltering in the bus. I made it back to the hotel, had dinner without incident, took a long, exquisite shower, posted a few blog posts to the blog site, and went to bed.