What a weekend! My friend Dn. Gregory and his (and now my) Greek friend Paris and headed off to Vatopedi Monastery on Agion Oros where we spent our Saturday, Sunday and part of Monday.
Upon leaving the Holy Mountain, Paris made the comment that every time he goes, it feels like time passes very slowly while he is there, but then when he leaves, it’s as if he had just left a moment ago. I truly felt the same way. Going to monasteries, for some reason, feels like an eternity of precious moments and blessings all strung together. Yet the “descent” into normal life is an experience in and of itself, often a battle between the loud and stressful jungle of everyday life and the quiet, unassuming, simple and eternal beauty of the spiritual life.
We were able to speak with the Abbot (Ephraim) and receive his blessing. He is a wonderful man--fairly young, white beard, very kind and joyful. I was struck by how intently focused he was on everyone he spoke to, devoting his entire attention to each individual, instead of scattering his attention all at once on everyone. He was very kind to us as well.
Providentially we met an American young man who Dn. Gregory immediately pegged as an American when he saw him in church. I, on the other hand, had this strange feeling that I recognized him. I couldn’t figure it out until we started talking and I discovered that he was the boyfriend of a friend of mine from our Diocesan conferences. We had even corresponded at one point during the past year, and I had seen pictures of him (which is why I recognized him). What a small small world.
One thought: I dragged a bit of skepticism along with me initially, as Vatopedi is such a LARGE monastery (over 100 monks, thousands of square feet and multiple large-scale projects being accomplished on site), and my experience had been at smaller monasteries. Would it be very impersonal or busy? Would the swarms of pilgrims (over 100,000 every year) detract from the desire for silence and pray? All of these thoughts ran through my mind before we arrived, and all of them were quickly put to rest as we were treating with the utmost kindness and philoxenia (very rich word for hospitality). Despite the shear enormity of all that is Vatopedi, one still sensed the intimacy of each monk’s struggle and intense prayer-life amidst it all.
Well, I’ll let the pictures say the rest. I’ve included a link of Dn. Gregory’s wonderful pictures of our week. Enjoy!