Simonos Petras Monastery, Holy Mountain of Athos.
"Mt. Athos is a bit of paradise. The sea all around is deep green and blue. The hillsides are rich green, with splashes of yellow as the gorse is in full bloom. Along the roadsides there are all sorts of wildflowers; around the well laid-out vegetable terraces are
carnations, roses, and geraniums. Unfortunately,
tourists do litter - though actually very little. There are signs along the road asking for care - especially against fire.
"Shortly after I got settled, Father Dionysios came along and we sat out on the balcony. What a view! I am sure I will never get used to it. It is just breathtaking: the sea a thousand feet below, Athos in all its grandeur soaring into the azure. Father Dionysios is a very kind, gentle, loving, and reverent man. He made me feel truly welcome. He is a young priest who assists the Hegumen in whatever way he is asked, is available to the novices and to all, and takes a special interest in foreign visitors since he can speak English well and has traveled in the West. He has his cell among the old monks on the floor below the hegumenate. When the community came here from Meteora about two and a half years ago, there were fifteen of these 'granddaddies' - the oldest is now ninety-six. They were among the most zealot community on the Mountain. But with great love they embraced their new Hegumen and his sons. And they have become more free and open. At their request Father Dionysios took up his abode in their midst, to be able to help them more readily. Some of them are so aged that they eat regularly in their cells and rarely or never come to the church for the Services. Father said that as I lived with them, I would get the feel of their community. I think I shall like that. He said that their Gerontas liked me very much and that there would be no difficulty with my staying. He thought it would be the first time a Catholic Hieromonk stayed so long on the Mountain.
"Father Dionysios spoke of the saints who have
lived here, Saint Gregory Palamas occupied a cave
just over the hill, Saint Nectarios is especially close to Father Dionysios for he knows personally a spiritual son of the Saint who is still Gerontas at Paros, an island off the coast of Greece. The saints are very much alive here.
"The monk has three treasures: the Services, Communion, and the Jesus Prayer. They sing the Services with enthusiasm and joy here. All are encouraged to come to Orthros, Liturgy, and Vespers. For the other hours they are free to pray in their cells. Father Dionysios' cell is really a chapel, with many icons, a lectern, lamps and candles, and a choir stall.
"Father Dionysios is so beautifully open, generous, and encouraging. He said he thought that God would so greatly reveal himself to me during this retreat that I would have to hide my face and that he would surely make known his will for me. I do trust he is right.
Saturday, June 13
"Other visitors are constantly surprised when they hear I am staying so long on the Mountain. I didn't realize it would be such a unique thing. I hope that besides having a good retreat for myself, it will be a meaningful ecumenical presence.
The Elder Aemilianos, Simonos Petras Monastery, Pascha, 1983.
"The Hegumen presided at the Liturgy this morning. He does it with such dignity and grace that it is a special joy to be present.
"A short while after lunch Father Dionysios came knocking at my door with a tray. There are a couple of mulberry trees near the monastery. One has white berries, the other black. He had picked a dish of these for me. And there was a side plate of nuts, a sort of almond. He has a most beautiful smile. His eyes are so clear - they tell of pure joy. The brothers here seem truly to find their joy in making others happy. Sometimes we - and I am afraid I have to say 'we' in this case - do things for others more for our own sake than for theirs, to sort of prove to ourselves and to assert to others our value, that we are worthwhile, that we are needed. There is none of that here. It is just pure gift. I am in what is a good position for me to be in for a while, where I can give nothing but my prayers and love - and I am not fooled by their worth - and have to receive everything humbly, gratefully. It is good, because at home I tend to be all-giving, always trying to do for others. I need to be less independent and realize that one way of giving is to receive, because it gives another the joy and opportunity of being a giver. Every giver needs a receiver. If I may so express it, this is why God needs us - to receive his great bounty. 'Unless you become as children...' I think that is what he is trying to say. We have to be done with all pretense at being in any way independent of God our Father.
"Before Vespers Father Dionysios was at the door with coffee and stewed peaches. There was only a short Vespers and a good meal in preparation for the Vigil. It is the Feast of All the Saints of Mount Athos. It is joy to be in their midst for this feast, to be in their house. After supper I walked up to the cave where Saint Simon lived until he saw a star on the mountain and received directions to found this monastery in honor of the Birth of Christ.
V. R. Fr. M. Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O.,
O Holy Mountain,
(Michael Glazier, Wilmington, Delaware, 1984).
At Simonos Petras Monastery, 1994, witk the former Athonite Abbot Galaction and Monk Nicodemos, far left, who together with the Monk Silouanos were the first tonsured in the Brotherhood originating from the Great Meteoron.
EXALTATION OF THE HOLY CROSS MONASTERY
322 00 THEBES BOEOTIA, GREECE.
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