Skete of Prophet Elijah
Tapping away with our walking sticks on the rocky path we, a band of pilgrims on Mount Athos, are making our way to Elijah’s skete. The skete is below us in plain view, but the distance is considerable. As Novice Paulin has said, it should take us an hour and a half to two hours to get there. But we are not as athletic as we had used to be, and we do not expect an easy journey. Going down the steep slope, we look carefully under our feet to avoid stepping on a snake. At this point, let me say preemptively that we have not come across a single snake throughout our journey to Mount Athos.
Georgievich and Valery are stopping all the time to take pictures. Igor and I were using the time to rest while we waited for them to catch up. Finally, we reached a road that trailed the mountain slope towards the sea. A short distance down the road, we find a narrow trail and turn into it towards our destination. We are still going downhill, and finally, we reach the bottom of a creek valley. The trail takes us to a bridge. To our surprise, we have crossed it before in a car. Today, you can only cross it on foot. The bridge was been built as a viaduct with great skill. I doubt if anyone could build something similar from rocks without using any cement. Amazingly, it fits perfectly into the surrounding landscape. We looked and we wondered. “How beautiful!” was exclaimed.
We stop to take some rest. Somewhere down below, we hear the gurgle of a small creek that becomes a raging stream every spring. At this point, I remembered my duties as chief navigator for our group. Sitting on the railing of the bridge, I take out the map. I estimate the remaining distance by tracing with my fingers the curves of the level lines. It looks as if we will be able to reach Watold before dark, as Father Simon had told us, and spend the night there. It is only two fingers away. But as always, the reality is far more complex.
We stock up on water and continue. We find the uphill journey very hard. The slope is not too steep or difficult, but we are all getting tired. With my heart problem and a handful of other conditions that only my doctor can name, I find the ascent particularly challenging. My doctor had warned me not to bend too fast or overstrain myself. He also told me to monitor my blood pressure. I had been doing sport all my life and forgot all about caution. My heart grew oversized, which is a common problem among athletes. But that was not all. After my ordination, my heart problem got worse for some unknown reason. Perhaps it was meant to be this way, to get me to live in the spirit, not in the flesh of my athletic body. My condition still causes me considerable discomfort. I have difficulty running up and down the mountain slope like a roe. At church, taking the gospel from the pulpit to the altar makes me short of breath. Even walking in the procession of the cross gives me a hard time. Still, I could not afford to miss the opportunity to travel to Mount Athos. And I was not being reckless. I do not have the slightest fear of dying on Mount Athos – it is an honour one has to work hard to deserve.
At last, the people with the cameras have caught up, and we can continue our ascent. Fortunately, we are walking in the shadows of Mount Athos’ trees that protecting us from the wrath of the scorching sun. We take another resting break and finally come to a fence with a gate and a small garden door. We walk through and continued past an orchard of olive trees with occasional outbuildings hidden in their midst. We are at the door, at last!
By our standards, the skete looks more like a monastery. We are on the grounds of Elijah’s skete. The area is neat and well maintained. In the past, all its inhabitants of the skete were Russian monks. A chapel with four clocks rises above the gate. The clocks show different times – Greek and Byzantine. We cross ourselves and put down our backpacks. To our disappointment, the church is closed.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds