It was 5 AM, and we hurried to pick up our diamontiria. When my turn came, a girl in uniform asked me for my passport. To my surprise, it was not in its usual place. Where did it go? I turned out all my pockets, but they were empty. I could feel drops of sweat appear on my forehead. The girl said that I had one and a half minutes left. I needed to act fast. The guys were already on the ferry. With lightning speed I rushed to the hotel. Going through my bedside table drawers, climbing under the bed and checking the shower gave no result. I passed some children at the hotel entrance and saw one of my parishioners (what is she doing here?) but none of that mattered any more. That was the end. The Mother of God won’t let me go to Athos. I was not worthy! The only thing left for me was to die.
…And then I woke up. Whew! Lord God, Glory to Thee! It was only a dream! I looked at my watch. It was around 3 in the morning. That dream just tore me to pieces. The enemy of mankind could have tried to frighten me with ugly faces, but he chose to hit me in my most delicate and sore spot. I almost turned gray in my sleep. Coming all the way to Greece, reaching Mount Athos and not being able to set foot on the peninsula… What a nightmare!
Meeting with Athos
I tossed and turned until the alarm went off at 4:30. We got up and prayed. The first thing that I did before we went for our diamontiria was checking my passport. We went outside into a beautiful southern night. Technically it was morning time, but we could see a scattering of bright stars overhead. The shops were sleeping sweetly as the pilgrims marched briskly through the empty streets, knocking with brand new walking sticks. This created a very special festive and solemn atmosphere. Children who still believe in Santa Claus experience something similar in the morning when they go looking for their gifts under the Christmas tree.
For some reason, Diamontiria are issued at a gas station (the only one in Ouranoupoli), or rather, in a small office on the side of the gas station building. People line up and hand their passports to an employee who checks something in his computer and prints out a headed and stamped paper. One couldn’t dream of a more exclusive souvenir than a personal permission to visit the earthly domain of the Most Holy Theotokos with your name on it.
We walked down the street towards the pier and the old tower. There was a ferry moored there with the name “Saint Anne”. That name finally released my mind from the night fears and worldly vanity, putting it in a state of reverence and awareness of where we were WHERE we were going. Most of the passengers (about 100 people) were seated in the spacious main cabin inside the ferry. The interior of the room was very simple. It consisted of many tables next to leatherette-covered benches and wide windows. On the wall, closer to the stern of the ship, there was a large icon of the Holy Righteous Anna with the infant Theotokos in her arms. On top of the image, according to the Athos tradition (as we discovered later) there was a large rosary.
The giant metal body of the ferry trembled; the engines began to work, and the lights of the coastline on the left side slowly began to fade and eventually disappeared. The darkness embracing the ferry seemed to act as a vestibule between the material and the spiritual world that we were entering. That did not last long. As soon as the sky lit up slightly, the people hurried into the fresh air. It turned out that we were sailing along a high mountainous shore. This shore was the Athos peninsula. The cliffs seemed to be growing straight out of the water, making hiking along the coastline an impossible task. A small white building high on the slope came into view. Perhaps it was a dwelling of some holy Athonite ascetic. My glance ran along the coastline and without any hindrance climbed the top of Mount Athos. There were no clouds there. The dark skufia of the mountain, perfectly distinguishable against the background of the brightening sky, was tilted slightly towards the sea. It seemed as if a pair of invisible eyes were peering attentively at us from underneath the mountain:
— Who is it there, sailing to Me?
— It is us. And it is me, a worthless clergyman, a priest by name only. I am reaching out to You, О Mother of Light ,with every cell of my nature, nearly falling overboard and asking You to heal my soul! With my last bit of strength I am begging for Your help, O Holy Mother of God!
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds