Monday, November 10, 2008

Trip to the Holy Mountain

Early Saturday morning, I went with two friends--one Greek, and one new American who is studying here now--to Mt. Athos (my sixth visit). We had reservations at Vatopaidi, so we were hoping to take the boat from the east side of the peninsula and go to Vatopaidi directly (see map here). My friend Paris drove and we arrived in Ierissos around 8:00, but the boat was canceled due to the rough seas. So we drove over to Ouranoupoli, the tradional departure point, and took the boat down the west side.

God arranged it that my friend, Fr. Barnabas, an American hieromonk of Karakallou monastery, was taking the same boat with us, so we got to visit with him for the whole two-hour trip. The photo above is of Fr. Barnabas and my two friends on the boat, with Xenophontos in the background.

When we arrived in Daphni, we caught the bus up to Karyes. There, we had to wait for a bit to take the van over to Vatopaidi, so we went with Fr. Barnabas into the Protaton to venerate the wonder-working icon, Axion Estin. The picture above is of us walking into the church.

Eventually, we got into the van and headed over to Vatopaidi. Interestingly, I suppose since Vatopaidi is in a rather remote location by itself, it has a gate and guardhouse along the road about halfway there (see photo above). The old guy they had "guarding" was quite a character. First, we stopped and waited forever. Then the guy came over with a list of invited guests to the monastery and was supposed to check all the people in the van. He asked us to call out our names and he checked them. When we called out "Edwards" (the reservation was in my name), he was totally lost and confusion set in. Eventually, my Greek friend, Paris, showed him our visas. Apparently, when the monastery had radioed him with the names, he couldn't understand my foreign name, so he just didn't bother to write it down. So, anyway, very little having actually been checked or guarded, we finally resumed our journey after about 45 minutes of total confusion.

We finally arrived at Vatopaidi around 1:30 probably and got settled in our rooms. The photo above is of my two friends just outside the entrance to the monastery. At 3:00, we went to Vespers, followed immediately by a meal, followed immediately by Small Compline. During Small Compline, we venerated an amazing array of relics, including the Holy Belt of the Theotokos (the actual belt worn during the earthly life of the Virgin Mary) and the skull of St. John Chrysostom, whose left ear is still incorrupt. According to tradition, this is because the Holy Apostle Paul himself whispered the correct interpretation of his epistles into the ear of St. John Chrysostom, who then used this information in his masterful homilies. We also venerated several miraculous icons of the Panagia. After Small Compline, we took a brief tour with one of the monks. After that, we visited the bookstore, which is quite extensive, and then went to bed (around 7 PM!)

More tomorrow...

For all the photos of the trip, click here.

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