Thursday, September 29, 2011

Celebrating the Divine Liturgy at New Skete

The boat dropped us off at New Skete in the early afternoon, and we soon met the dikaios, or the monk in charge of hospitality at the skete for this year (it's a rotating responsibility), and he got us settled in a room near the katholikon. Just to give an idea of how different life in a skete is from that of the major monasteries, the monk asked us what time we'd like to have dinner. The few other guests that arrived preferred 5:00 PM, so we had some time to rest, which was quite welcome considering all the walking we had done in the hot sun.

At 5:00, we headed up to this monk's cell, which was near the very top of the skete. Above is a view of the skete from his cell. He prepared us a very simple dinner of pasta with tomato sauce. It had oil, so this is what made it a non-fasting meal. The monk himself didn't eat with us, since he only eats once a day. He lives in the rather large but ramshackle cell by himself and, since he's not a priest, he does almost all the services on his prayer rope, going to the katholikon on Sundays and big feasts for Divine Liturgy.

After dinner, we headed over to Elder Nikon's cell. The elder has several disciple monks with him at the cell, which is dedicated to St. Spyridon. We were fortunate to meet this wonderful monk, who is a spiritual child of Elder Ephraim of America, during a previous visit two years ago. Above and below are views at sunset from the balcony of his cell. Like many monks in the cells, we did Small Compline together outside on the balcony, facing the setting sun.

It is Elder Nikon's custom to talk with his handful of visitors out on the balcony after Small Compline, so we spent some time chatting with him then, along with his other two guests, two Roman Catholics from Germany, one of who is a professor of New Testament there. Since neither Elder Nikon nor any of his disciples are priests, I was given the very great blessing to celebrate the Divine Liturgy the next morning in their chapel dedicated to St. Spyridon.

The next morning, we met at 5:30 to do the proskomidi and to read names, and then started the Liturgy about 6:15. I was very impressed with Elder Nikon's great love, hospitality, and discernment. Athonites generally follow the rule that non-Orthodox are not permitted inside the temple during the Divine Liturgy. He was therefore somewhat hesitant to have the Liturgy because he did not want to exclude his visitors, but finally he found a discerning compromise -- he told his disciples to bring some comfortable chairs and to set them up just outside the rather small chapel's door, so that he could keep the tradition regarding attendance at the Liturgy as well as the equally venerable tradition of love and hospitality.

After the Liturgy, we had coffee and pitas and a wonderful discussion.

After breakfast, Trif and I went to venerate the grave of Elder Joseph the Hesychast, which is located at New Skete, near the tall tower. Above is a photo of Trif next to the grave site. Below is a sign pointing the way there.

We then went back to Elder Nikon's for lunch before starting our journey back to Thessaloniki. Above is a sign that says "Monk Nikon," located at the entrance to his cell.

We caught the boat in the early afternoon as it headed down to the very end of Mt. Athos; Trif thus had a chance to see all the sketes and cells on the very southern end of the Holy Mountain -- revered as the original starting point of asceticism on Mt. Athos and still the most ascetic part of the Mountain. You can just make out a cell or two in the photo above. We then slowly made our way back to mainland Greece and Thessaloniki.

For more photos from the trip, click here.

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