The first visit to the Holy Mountain Athos

My spiritual journey began on a torrid summer when I was with my family on vacation in Greece somewhere near Thessaloniki at about 100 km from the Holy Mountain. I have heard some stories from and about the Holy place but I didn’t believe them anyway and I was very wary smiling mistrustfully. The educational system and the environment where I lived imposed to me a life which did not allow me to see another way of living spiritually without giving such importance to the material stuffs. Arriving in the port of Ouranopolis, I had the feeling of a huge border. But not a physical border, as if you stepped in a different country, as a border which separates you of another world, composed of different elements with different kinds of people with a different air, with a different light. Everything was different comparing to what I had seen before.

We were three adults and three children and although we had the permits of access we missed the trip because the ship had left without us. We had to go on the holy land a day later. Upset we found out that there was a fast boat which was ready to depart but the reservations were made with some time beforehand so our chances were small. The Greek told us that he had only six seats left and it was the case to hurry. We looked at each other surprised – we were exactly six – and we got on the boat and got on the ship thinking of the small miracle we all saw. The encounter with the grace coming from the wonder maker icons was devastating for me. It was almost unbearable for me to feel that, I considered that I did not deserve to receive so much positive energy, so much joy. I tried to be a man but my tears flowed without being able to stop them. I began to understand gradually the phrase `wonder making icon` and feel my soul filled of a feeling I can hardly describe. Our elders thin from fasting and ascetic strife but hard as stone spiritually were those I began to follow as models of living. many of them had been men like us some of them with families, children, others with high positions, with big bank accounts. What made them leave the wealth and comfort they had? What did they find there that they had left behind positions, fortunes gained after years of study? Who keeps them here and especially why? Many questions whirled in my head then  anyway too many to get the answer on the spot. I noticed then that these men make great efforts to get rid of their passions. They don’t eat meat, they don’t drink alcohol, don’t smoke, they gave up on all the worldly pleasures. They keep vigils day and night praying, they loved to love their enemies. If I were to describe them in worldly terms I would describe them as real man, good fighters with their own passions. Not without a reason, the Holy Mountain is called the `factory of saints`.

The fathers of the Holy Mountain beside the spiritual activities make rosaries, small wooden sculptures, paint icons, record religious chants, translate and write books. Briefly they have a rich cultural activity. Our fathers, the guides of the pilgrims are in the same time real encyclopedias of the Holy Mountain, knowing each detail of the histories about the wonder making icons and of the miracles made by the Holy Mother of God in Athos. The hermitage `The entrance of the Theotokos in the church` at that time was under construction almost finished. On that occasion I met father Pimen who was our guide on that pilgrimage. From that time on he also became our adviser. When we asked him how he could build the hermitage the father gave me an answer that makes me muse even today: `with the help of the Holy Mother of God!` How is that, father? How is that possible? Then the father told me that every morning he looked in the agenda of the construction works and because they were so many he divided them with the Holy Mother of God. `And this for a few years until the hermitage was finished. I told to the Holy Mother of God` : `today I am going to do this or that and in what regards the rest of the things from the list, please help me! And the Holy Mother of God helped him. She did everything he asked her in the same time father Pimen did his part. And his pious feelings for her grew a lot. Now when he finished the last detail of the construction which is of an inexpressible beauty the hermitage offers very good accommodation conditions for those who visit it.

On my first trip I was to live a strange experience. Before withdrawing a father asked me to give him the phone to call in the country for a serious matter. I told him that there was no signal, that I had hardly tried to make a call and it had been in vain. I gave him the phone to see for himself. To my big surprise I saw that in his hand the signal reappeared, the father called, solved the problem, closed and after he ended the conversation the phone became again nonfunctional. In vain I stood in his place, the signal did not appear at all. It was obvious, I thought, the fathers from there were used to miracles, these don’t seem uncommon to them anymore, they make part of their natural daily life.

I left the Holy Mountain with the regret that I was leaving a place that had already made part of my being, of my chemical structure after the first visit. I left so happy I cannot express in words, with the promise to go back soon.

Excerpt from the book `Down to earth` author Ionuț Riteș.