Orthodox Byzantine Chants
Holy Mount Athos
A true story
The old woman felt a pain throughout her body, without being able to tell precisely what was the place that hurt the most. She kept on rubbing herself with ointments and strong smelling salves, but in vain. She thought to put in a jar some herbs known only by her – comfrey, basil and celandine- and leave them there to macerate, then rub herself with them, like the rheumatics. Yes, that’s what she was going to do! Surely all her pains would go away with quack remedies.
The news that she had cancer dazed her like a snake bite! She was a sturdy woman, still in power, she ate well, slept well, she still had the strength to work in the field…how did that sickness slipped into her body?
For some time she refused to believe it, but one day she told her son that „unusual things were happening inside her body” – she could not express that in words, but there was something wrong, her body had no more power, so she asked him to take her to a doctor, somewhere in town. The boy immediately started to look for some skillful doctors, but most of all he believed in God. He put all his hopes in Him.
So one day he got off with his mother to a famous monastery. He had heard of an old monk who healed only with herbs picked by himself. When he saw his face, the boy suddenly trusted him. His face was like a breath in the palm. His gentleness captivated you in an instant. He spoke quietly and slowly and his voice was sun ray, shadow and tear. He recognized nature after its green, love after its whiteness and faith after its blueness. That’s how he joked! His words were the right remedy for any disease, for his words had inner power. With great difficulty, the boy came off the charm exuded by the monk and confessed his pain, with the belief that it would be found for sure a herbal remedy, a decoction to heal his mother. And the old woman thought the same: surely that monk with bright face would heal her! But the man of God cast a long gaze upon them, weighed his words carefully and he said very gently:
“Unfortunately, this sickness won’t heal with herbs!”
“But whereby, father?” asked the boy trustfully.
“This sickness will heal with another kind of remedies: with sunsets, with whispered singing and child laughter.”
The old woman put her hand to her mouth, puzzled. How’s that? What kind of words are these? What song and laughter? Was he making fun of her? Bitter tears were falling down her cheek. That was why she travelled for such a long way? And all that painstaking effort till the top of the mountain…
Bearing it no more, she got out of the monk’s cell, moving backwards, in a continuous bending, round-shouldered by the misunderstanding of what happened to her. Without being afraid, the boy asked for details. He asked what to do and how, till everything acquired a full meaning. Later on, he left the monk and went home with his mother.
In the car he told her soothingly:
“Three days of kindness, mother ! That’s how he says you’d get cured.”
“How’s that?” she asked.
“Meaning that for three days you should sing uninterruptedly, smile continuously…”
“What to do?!” asked the woman amazed.
“Smile like at the coming of spring, when you see trees in bloom! Or when you see that the grass or what you sow – the onion, the garlic – have sprouted.”
”Ah”, said the old woman wistfully.
“And in these three days to forgive everybody, no matter what would happen to you. No matter who would upset you, you should forgive him! Be full of tolerance and patience. If you don’t succeed in these three days, you should start again from the beginning, till you fully succeed.”
“Three days!” said the boy. “Three days of kindness!”
“Would it be hard?” asked the old woman.
“I don’t think so”, he answered wistfully.
On the way home, the woman chewed over the words of the monk… “Sunset”! But she looked at the sky for so many times when she was in the field, only without any joy, without any hope, just like every day.
Now she was thinking that only in her childhood she watched the sunset with the cheerfulness and happiness that age give you! She had forgotten for so long to watch the sunset peacefully, tranquilly. In her mind were only counts, how much ground to harvest, to sow, to weed out…Oh, God! After that sigh it came the even more painful memory of the whispered singing. Hear that: “whispered song”, meaning not to sing out loud to be heard by the entire village, but in a whisper, to hear only yourself and your soul…tired, withered, thirsty for beautifulness! She hadn’t sung for so long and what a nice voice she used to have, that all the village stopped to listen her…She had forgotten to sing! She had no more time for singing and especially for singing in a whisper. But if she had to…, she would do it! She would sing, she would watch the sunset…she would smile! But where could she find a child laughter? It’s true that she had grandsons, but it had never crossed her mind to make them laugh! To have what to eat, what to dress, cause life is hard, money is scarce, the pensions are small, isn’t it known? How could she make a child laugh? And how would she get cured with the three days of kindness, tolerance, gentleness and forgiveness? No, for sure it wasn’t easy what she was required to do. But she was going to try!
Once arrived at home, she found it appropriate to pray in order to get power from God for that awkward fight. And one morning she plucked up her heart and started to sing! Lightly, whisperingly, just like singing a lullaby. Her voice had got new, melodious, crystalline inflections. She finished the entire song and resumed it from the very beginning. She liked her pure, young voice. And go figure! She felt so good and full of joy! She hadn’t believed it but it was true! The song made her forget about her sickness.
Another day she started to watch the sunset in a different way than she had ever done before. She was glad she could still see it. Glad that she was surrounded by so much beauty in the field, till she felt that its raw green permeated her soul and healed all her bitterness and trouble! Without understanding how, she was surprisingly happy. And her heart bolstered her up to sing. And she sang! And her song tangled with the sunset till they became one and her joy was complete.
Then she began to think more about her life, to put it in order , to analyze what she did right and what wrong. And above all she felt guilty for not drawing near her children and grandsons. She didn’t know how to make them laugh, not even to smile.
You couldn’t draw near a child unless you were in a certain mood, full of understanding and love! And she wasn’t such a good granny. She knew it. But she had in mind to start with her grandsons. To visit them, make them presents, get interested in their studies. She succeeded all these and in a supreme effort, she gathered all her energy and went to her grand daughter’s school festivity.
Either it was just her impression, or it was perfectly true, but her niece seemed to be the most beautiful of all and to recite the best her poem. Anyway, such a beautiful dress as that of her niece, no one else had, she was sure of that! She applauded the loudest and the nearby parents looked at her amazed.
“That’s my grand daughter. Do you see her? Did you see how nicely she recited her poem? She’s my grand daughter!”
She was so glad that she decided to stay over night at the children and read them a story. The kids were moving around her, joyfully and overwhelming her with their care: “Granny, do you want some tea?” “Do you want a blanket, grandma?”
She solemnly put on her glasses and told them gravely that she would read them the story “The White Moor” by Ion Creangă. So let it be silence! While she was reading about the emperor who dressed himself in the bear skin to try the courage of his sons, her smallest niece interrupted her and whispered:
“Is it so, granny? Under the bear skin was always hiding the emperor? Who wants to make us more courageous? “
“Is it so, grandma? asked the bigger girl. Behind the bear , cause of trouble or sickness, does it hide the hand of the Father?
Grandma couldn’t speak anymore, she had burst into tears…for she saw what hidden joys she had lost, drawing away of her grandsons. She understood that by bringing joy to the ones around her, by attendance and kindness, she offered herself the most precious joy.
It was weird that she felt induced to be kinder with everyone, not just with her loved ones. However sometimes she found it quite hard to express her kindness. She had understood a great truth: a little kindness shown to a fellow required from her a much bigger strain than a mowing day from early morning till late in the evening.
At the beginning she tried to be kind just for one day and how hard it was for her! She had done it for two hours then quarreled out of nothing with a neighbour. The next day she succeeded till noon, then she got a phone call from town, from one of her children and she got so upset that she could not continue her attempts till the end of the day. Later she succeeded for two full days, from morning till night, but when the third day came, she felt a dreariness and a burden in her heart. Either she was depressed by loneliness, or the thought of death was hovering around, there was something that could upset her. And in this way she found she could get rid of bad moods by singing. And it worked! So the fight was started all over again!
When she knelt down to pray at night, she thought how much she had changed since she had met the strange monk who talked to her and how much she understood him now. How many attempts she made for just three days of kindness…She hadn’t reached yet three full days, just one, two, two and a half.
Her kindness arose by a tough, painful struggle with her ego and only the despair caused by her sickness gave her the strength to continue. Her health condition amazed the doctors and she told them firmly that she felt healthy. How? By kindness! Every time she was full of compassion, forgiveness or understanding, she felt that her life bound back, got tied back from where it was broken by the troubles, worries and sorrows of this age. She knew that all the afflictions are tools in the hands of God, shaping her life towards holiness.
The Great Lent approached and the old woman thought that maybe along with the fasting and the prayer would come the victory in her attempts. Days passed one after another, easier or harder and she finally found herself in the Resurrection night.
She set off for the village church, lighthearted, keeping her little niece by the hand, happy that she partially fulfilled what she was told by the monk. From now on she would surely get healed. She arrived at the church and to her surprise there were so many people. They all seemed so beautiful, so bright, so pure to her.
She felt tempted to say a kind word to everyone! What a nice headkerchief Maria had! And what a nicely embroidered skirt Smaranda had! And how beautifully shone Ileana’s hair! She smiled to everyone and had a good word for everybody. She was so happy! In this disposition of deep gratitude she attended the holy service of Ressurection.
And during the service her soul opened and she understood with her heart and mind that it had no more importance if she got cured or not and that it did not matter anymore if she succeeded to be full of kindness for three whole days or not. The attempt had in itself the seed of healing by means of forgiveness and love. She smiled furtively and her face brightened with a secret joy, as if she had discovered a treasure hidden for centuries.
She understood that she didn’t have to be kind in order to become healthy again or to accomplish one thing or another, but out of gratitude for the extreme kindness God had surrounded her with as long as she had lived! Her kindness was not springing from education or culture, it was a reflection of the kindness of the Lord who suffered on the cross so that she would share forgiveness and love.
The holy service ended and she got out from the church content of the joy God had given her on that holy night.
She went home convinced that her life had changed for ever and that the one who had once gone to the monastery was quite a different person of that who got out of the church then. She knew she had the duty to make from her life a permanent triumph against death, evil and darkness. She felt she was not alone anymore, she was protected, she belonged to the divine meaning and she would never die knocked down by the stone of troubles, no matter how heavily it would have been put over her fragile body.
Keeping her niece by a hand and a candle in the other, she walked on with small steps, carefully, so that the light she wanted to bring home would not die away. And she started to sing in a whisper, wholeheartedly, the song of a new beginning, of a new time bearing holy grace:
Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling down death by death
And upon those in the tombs
Testimony published in the magazine Familia Ortodoxa no. 88/May 2016