Koutloumousiou Monastery and Cats
Upon returning to the main square of Karyes, our kind guides said that the Koutloumousiou Monastery was only a 15-minute walk from our location. At one time, this monastery escaped devastation by Turkish barbarians, who were suddenly blindfolded by the descending fog. The Turkish word “kurtulmus” means “escaped”, but the Greeks pronounce it in their own way, changing it beyond recognition to “Koutloumousiou”.
I do not remember the names of the good Ukrainians who took us on a tour of Karyes. With their rustic, beautiful faces they looked like movie actors. They were on their way to the Great Lavra, but missed their “minibus”, because they were busy taking care of us. They ended up going in a different direction, not worrying a bit about the sudden change in their plan. Protect them, Mother of God!
We headed in the direction of Koutloumousiou, walking along the street with the Protaton building, the Assumption Church, the post office and a small bakery. We were joined by a young man from Moscow. He just turned 24 years old, and, in his own words, a trip to Athos was his birthday gift for himself. An excellent gift idea! He was built like an office worker, which, as we soon found out, he truly was. His face looked childish and was not crumpled by life in the metropolis.
After asking permission to come with us, he introduced himself:
– Nice to meet you, Kirill! – We told him our names.
Soon we were stopped by a pleasant obstacle. A delicious smell of bread enticed us into a mini-bakery where a few hot pies with feta cheese and potatoes chased by some fresh water taken from Vatopedi brought joy to our bodies. Life is good, as people say. It is indeed! Finishing his meal, Kirill began to scatter around him the crumbs left from his pie. I expected that he would attract some local pigeons and sparrows, wishing to have a banquet, but I was wrong. Not less than 15 cats immediately appeared from the nearby gateways and began to indulge in pieces of fresh pastries that we threw to them. It looked like the tailed beasts had been watching us all that time. Incredible!
When our snack was over, we went past the city limit of Karyes and walked along the slope on a path with some buildings until we approached a fence, surrounding the monastery grounds. We opened the gate and, passing some spreading trees and well-groomed gardens, soon found ourselves in front of the high walls of the Koutloumousiou. Coming inside, we saw the refectory on the left side of the entrance arch. Someone was already being hospitably treated there. We were not hungry and went straight into the monastery courtyard, where we sat down on a bench near the main church of the monastery and waited a little.
The cathedral in the middle of the monastery was consecrated in honor of the Transfiguration of the Lord. According to some reports, the following relics are kept in Koutloumousiou: a fragment of the Life-giving Cross of the Lord, a part of the foot of the Righteous Anna, the head of St Alypius the Stylite, the palm of the Holy Martyr Eustratius, particles of the relics of St Mary Magdalene, Holy Great Martyr Anastasia and many other saints. On the territory of the monastery there are many small churches and chapels in honor of the Mother of God, St Natalia, Sts Cosmas and Damian, All Saints, St Spyridon and St John the Baptist. Outside the monastery there are also churches of St Tryphon, St Nicholas and the Holy Archangels. Koutloumousiou owns eighteen cells, three hermit houses and the Greek skete of the holy Great Martyr Pantaleon, founded in 1785. The skete consists of twenty kaliva cells scattered throughout the forest. The famous Panagouda cell, in which St Paisios of the Holy Mountain lived is located not far from here. Currently, about seventy brothers live in different parts of the Koutloumousiou monastery.
This information can be found on the Internet, while what we saw with our eyes was an amazing proportionality in everything, including the brickwork. Everything here spoke of the impeccable aesthetic taste of the monastery’s inhabitants. In different parts of the wall facing the monastery courtyard there were niches, emphasized by skilful and yet simple masonry. Inside each of them there was a random object, such as an old jug, a porcelain dish, or a piece of an ancient ceramic tile. Everything looked as if a woman was engaged in the construction of the monastery. By the way, we had a similar impression visiting other monasteries and hermitages as well.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds