Arose at at the crack of dawn, 7am, and scampered down to the Katholikon together with Peter ‘the forgetful’ to witness my first Diving Liturgy on the Holy Mountain. To my dismay I discovered that all the places in stalls were already occupied and so, balanced against a wall, I stood peering into the naos of the church. The service caused me a good deal of bewilderment, however. Most of the Litanies seemed to be chanted by a sole psaltis as did the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer as far as I could ascertain. But the Antiphons from the Psalter together with the Beatitudes were sung with great gusto by the two male voice choirs together with verses of unknown provenance. And during the service someone (I think a Greek) offered me his stall which I gratefully accepted. On the occasions that the choirs sang antiphonically they did so with great feeling and one’s spirit was definitely raised up by the heartfelt nature of their chanting. The process of Communion, however, was chaotic to say the least. I joined a queue of men who seemed to be Eastern European but was then ambushed by a monk who asked me for my nationality and then passed me to another who interrogated me. “Are you Orthodox?” he demanded; ‘yes’, was the response. “Have you taken confession recently?”, was the next question. I paused to consider. Being honest with myself my last confession was not that recent, so I responded with a “no”. At which he told me the name of a monastic confessor to whom I should make a confession before going to communion. So that was that and I wandered away downcast.
After the service I talked with Peter who had sussed out what might happen in advance and had got a blessing from his spiritual father to take communion on the Holy Mountain. My spirits were also boosted by talking with two English (American english) speaking monks who it emerged were from no less an establishment than the Hermitage of the Holy Cross in West Virginia. Then it transpired that Fr Paisius was from the Hermitage proper, while Fr Nektarios was the superior of a dependency, the skete of St John the Theologian in Hiram, OH. We invited the two Americans to join us for walks either along the coastline (Fr Nektarios took this route) or a stiffer ascent to the skete of St Demitrios (which Fr Paisius joined).
Here we are, on our way to St Demetrios skete :
After we returned, myself with aching feet (Note to self : wear two pairs of socks rather than thick wooly ones) I had time for a quick shower and then it was off to Vespers. We quickly figured out a procedure for table occupation at Trapeza. Immediately after Vespers finished we were to assemble as a group of eight in front of the Trapeza and then Fr Matthew would lead us to a secret side door of the building where we would gain entry and bag a table before the great unwashed plebs descended en mass through the main door.
Having gobbled dinner as fast as possible between the bell rings for start of feed, distribution & consumption of wine, and immediate end of eating, and having stood precariously while the Abbot and all the fathers processed out, it was our turn to make an egress. Of course, immediately the monks left conversation erupted among us proles. Interestingly (and unexpectedly) just outside the building steps the Abbot stood on the right with his hands in blessing, and on the left three monks made deep bows to all the people as they left. It was a profound gesture of humility which I greatly appreciated.
So, the second day on the Holy Mountain and already lots has happened!
But more was to come. In the evening Πέτρος (Petros, Peter) and I decided to attend the vigil service at 10pm for an hour or so. Having found ourselves available stalls we settled into the service. However, we were discombobulated to observe that at around 10pm everyone started to file out of the Katholikon. Clearly something was going on, so we joined the exodus and discovered that the Abbot Ephraim was giving a talk to everyone — monks and pilgrims alike. We joined the procession up several flights of stairs and along a passageway and were directed by Fr Paisius (who spoke excellent English) to wait in an alcove. Still ignorant but in excited anticipation we waited for his return to learn that he, Fr Paisius, would be translating the talk for us as it took place. Apparently, the main assembly room contained all the Greek speakers and other rooms accommodated Russians (20), Georgians (15), Romanians (12) all of whom had a translator. We felt very privileged to have a translation for just the two of us English speakers! After the talk & responses to questions which lasted about an hour and a half Petru and I bid our friendly translator adieu and retired to our residence cell since the hour was late.