Day 2 : part II — first steps on the Holy Mountain

Having arrived at the port of Daphne which seemed to consist solely of a cafe, gift shop & customs shed, we disembarked in the same manner as previous, that is, rush down from the top deck to the main deck, retrieve backpack (phew — it’s still there!) and hurry across the lowered platform. Fortunately the considerate folks at Vatopedi had provided us with transport — a large Land Rover — which took our party of the eight first to Karyes & then on to Vatopedi. We overtook  the regular bus packed to the gunwales with pilgrims (standing room only!) on a section of concrete roadway. It looks as though this road is slated to be paved all the way from Karyes to Daphne which I am sure will make a deal of difference to the comfort of that journey. It was also comforting to see that already there were road repairs being made to improve rainwater runoff. I gawped at St Andrews Skete as we descended into Karyes and we stopped there for a short while for the driver to have his cig & a quick leg stretch. After about another half hour of jarring journey we arrived at the entrance to the Vatopedi estate guarded by a gatehouse and portcullis  barrier. Apparently all incoming road traffic has to show an appropriate paper, but travelers using the footpaths are not so examined. Having passed the gatehouse check we proceeded down the track to the monastery proper and stunning views of the bay & buildings.

I.M.M Vatopedi : View North from track approaching from hill.
I.M.M Vatopedi : View North from track approaching from hill.
I.M.M Vatopedi. East view: flight of stairs to the archontariki

At the entrance porch we were escorted up to the guest reception (archontariki) where we were warmly welcomed by the guest master (archontaris) and partook of traditional refreshment of shot glass of raki, glass of water & a piece of loukoumi .

The spacious room displayed large framed photographs of frescoed scenes which I later discovered were from the exo-narthex of the Katholikon and apparently authored by none other than Manuel Panselinos himself ! I spent a happy time declaiming about the iconic subjects to a small audience before being brought to a shuddering halt and summoned to the table for refreshments.

IMM Vatopedi : Prayer on Mount of Olives

Father M, who was to be our personal host, finally appeared on crutches and took us back down the steps and up the steep slope to our guest quarters; two rooms on the first floor with four beds apiece. We shuffled down a long dark corridor of large stone flags past a windowed vestibule  and John, Peter, Vermont Jim & I quickly bagged this first room. Having made up the beds (more of which anon) we unpacked and settled in,  Peter quickly descended into frantic searching for a mislaid item, and then we were greeted by Fr M who took us all down to Vespers in the Katholikon. [More on Vespers later]. After Vespers we were shepherded into the Trapeza by Fr M through a side door ahead of the plebs where we sat at one of the marble tables with horseshoe shaped ends. Then we waited for the Abbot and entourage to signal the commencement of the repast by dealing out the cutlery. The bell having been given we grabbed, stretched and otherwise procured food items while maintaining a strict silence broken only by gobbles, slurps and the monk reading in Greek. A second bell announced that wine could now be consumed and so it was. Finally, having wolfed down as much as I could hold I sat back to study the iconography which was, frankly, unremarkable. The final bell signaled the termination of food shoveling, we arose and the Abbot strode out along the central aisle followed by top table and the rest of the Fathers. (This reminded me quite strongly of my schooldays with the school Headmaster striding out of morning assembly with gown billowing out behind him). The lay workers & pilgrims then streamed out and immediately outside the Trapeza building we encountered on the right hand the Abbot giving a blessing and on the left three monks bowed in semi-proskynesis, ie bowed at the waist. I wondered who these chaps were.

Trapeza at Vatopedi
Trapeza at Vatopedi

Following trapeza we assembled in the quad and were spoken to by Fr E, an English speaking monk of Greek-Australian descent, and Fr C who spoke a little English but was more comfortable chatting in French to the Francophiles. And soon afterwards a couple of monastics, hearing us gabbling in English, approached us. It turned out that Fr Nektarios and Fr Paisius were Americans from the Hermitage of the Holy Cross in West Virginia no less. The very place I had planning to visit over Old Calendar Transfiguration !

Another surprise awaited us when we were invited back into the Katholikon where we were introduced to the sacred relics kept by the monastery :

  • a piece of the wood of the True Cross encased in a bejeweled cross
  • a piece of the reed from the crucifixion of the Saviour
  • the head with incorrupt ear of St John Chrysostom
  • skull of St Gregory the Theologian
  • a bone from the Venerable Evdokimos (“Good Will”) the Newly Revealed
  • the Cincture (or belt) of the Theotokos embroidered with gold thread by Zoe , the wife of Emperor Leo VI the Wise (+912), and placed in a beautiful casket.