Patmos- The Cave of The Revelation to St John
The Fragrance Of Holiness
A Pilgrimage to Greece, 2004
by David Robles
“ Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are
An amazing transformation happens in the minds and hearts
walked past the massive steel gate of the monastery ofPhilotheou and into the inner courtyard, it was as if I had never left. I could hear my friends, monks S. and D. calling me, but even as I
greeted them, my inner being was still. “ Lord Jesus Christ havemercy on me”. The words come, continuously and effortlessly, “ Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me” and the world behind me is forgotten.
When the talanton called us to Vespers, I entered the main church
and was embraced by the darkness inside. Only a few lamps were
lit and in the twilight of the candles, the icons of the saints appeared
as living and terrible as an army ready for battle; their faces very
holy and radiant but also, imposing in their steadfastness.
I bowed down before the icon of our Panagia, the Sweet Kissing,
and thanked Her for bringing me safely to Her Holy Garden. The
evening service was already in progress. I took my place among the
faithful, as I silently prayed; ”Let my prayer be set before Thee as
incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.”
Psalm 141:2It was very difficult to move my eyes away from the
faces of the Holy Warriors all around me. They seemed to call out
with God’s words to Joshua, son of Nun:” Lo! I have commanded
thee; be strong and courageous, be neither cowardly nor fearful for
the Lord thy God is with thee in all places whither thou goest”.
After the evening services, Fr. S. asked me to follow him into the
forest. He walked ahead silently until we found ourselves walking
on a very narrow path. There was a precipice to our right and to our
left a massive stonewall with sharp edges pushing us in the opposite
direction and into the precipice. And the sight of the beautiful trees
around us was conspiring into making me lose my step. Father S.
walked ahead decisively and with confidence. I was not so sure.
And without any superfluous words of introduction, the monk started
to narrate for me from the lives of saints; “when the moment of death
came for a holy monk and he was already experiencing the life to
come; a demon appeared to the dying monk saying, "Now you have
vanquished me, you have won". But the holy monk, in humility
responded, while I’m still alive, I fear a fall and I will be watchful!
And the enemy vanished!” Throughout the duration of my
pilgrimage, the urgency and seriousness of Father S.’s warning
remained alive in my consciousness.
The next day I visited the osteophilakio with Fr. S. This is the house
where all the bones of the departed monks of Philotheou are kept.
Among them Fr. S. showed me the skull of Fr. Athanasios who was
the brother in the flesh of Elder Joseph the Hesychast. I held his
skull close to my heart and said a prayer for him. When I realized
the significance of what was happening, I could only weep inside.
And why is this blessing given to me, that I may hold elder Joseph’s
brother in my arms? I cannot fathom these things.
Father D. showed me the garden under his care that day, sometime
in the afternoon; after we were done picking green beans. And he
told me that insects do not bother his crop. He never has the need
to use insecticides so his vegetables are very healthy.
Miracles are a way of life in Mount Athos. They are received naturally,
without affectation, as the familiar and even expected outcome of
daily life. And alongside the extraordinary, the daily routine is lived
out in humility and with courage.
And so, I followed the daily schedule expecting the ordinary but
praying for a little gift of grace and mercy. Thursday morning, after the
Divine Liturgy, monk S. and I left Philotheou and drove to Karyes
where we visited a few of the holy sites. Among them, the icon
Agion Estin of the Theotokos is now in a small chapel near the
Protaton, while restoration of the old church takes place.
At St Andrew skete we venerated the skull of the Apostle Andrew
which is very fragrant. The aroma seems to penetrate the depths
of my being. It is very difficult to walk away. In this skete’s main
church there are many icons. Among them, there is an icon of
St. Sergios of Radonez that has a piece of the holy man’s coffin in
it. There is also an icon of St. Seraphim of Sarov, which contains a
piece of the rock upon which he prayed for many days. Fr. Ephraim
explained to us that the rock exploded into many pieces during the
glorification of the saint.
When we arrived at Vatopaidi it was almost time for vespers. After
dinner we venerated some of the wondrous relics of the monastery
like the Belt of the Theotokos, a large portion of the Cross, the
skulls of St. Gregory the Theologian and St John Chrysostom and
the arm of St. Panteleimon. Among the relics are the bones of
St. Evdokimos, an unknown holy monk found at the monastery.
When the relics were found, they were fragrant and their sanctity
was manifest. Later on, the saint appeared in a dream to one of the
living monks and revealed his name to be Savva, but he said that
he accepted the name given to him by the monastery.
While we were at the guesthouse I had the blessing of meeting
some pilgrims from Serbia. One of them, a student from Belgrade,
showed me a book autographed by Justin Popovich, and offered it
to me as a gift, but I thankfully declined.
The next day was Friday and we were in the main church for Matins.
During the service, after the 6th ode of the Canon and the Magnificat,
a relic of St. Silouan was brought out of the sanctuary in solemn
procession, carried by a priest in the midst of incense and chanting.
We all bowed to the saint and, one by one, offered our veneration.
After Matins, some of us went to the chapel of the Holy Girdle of the
Theotokos, for the Divine Liturgy. That morning Fr. S. and I went back
On Saturday, after morning services, I helped the monks pick up and
sort out apples. Even priest E. was there carrying baskets full of
apples, like everybody else. It was a lot of fun to be out there, working
with the monks. They all looked so content!
Sunday night we had the vigil for the Elevation of the Cross. It lasted
over nine hours! And I was not tired! That morning, after the Divine
Liturgy, I returned to Thessaloniki.
While in Thessaloniki, I revisited some of the places I enjoyed during
my previous pilgrimages. Tuesday night I took the midnight express
train to Athens. Athens is a modern and vibrant city with an excellent
Metro (subway) train system. When I beheld the Acropolis for the first
time, I could not believe my eyes! The Parthenon, the theater of
Dionysius and all the ancient temples one reads about in history
books, were really there, in all their awesome wander! I learned
that the Parthenon was used as an Orthodox Church for over a
thousand years; much longer than it was a pagan temple.
Not too far from the Plaka is the Church of Panagia Kapnikarea.
This is a thousand year old church in the center of Athens.
The icons of the church were written (painted) by blessed Photios
Kontoglou. Then I walked to the Metropolitan Cathedral where I
venerated the relics of St. Philothei of Athens. The bones of the saint
are visible through the glass that covers the reliquary. The reliquary of
Patriarch Gregory V of Constantinople is there also. He was hanged
by the Turks and thrown into the sea, but his relics remained incorrupt
and floated on the water. They were rescued and enshrined in the
cathedral in Athens, where they can be venerated today.
Then, I walked to a nearby little church where a priest received me.
He was very kind and warm and gave me directions on how to get to
the church of Papa Nicholas Planas. I was not prepared for the sight
that awaited me when I got to the Church of St. John the Baptist,
where the relics of the holy priest are. The building is immense and
very beautiful. The reliquary of St. Nicholas Planas is in the main
hall inside, and the relics are visible through the glass. He appears
dressed with the stole of a priest.
God has given us great gifts of Grace in His priests. My heart was
overwhelmed with a sense of thanksgiving and all I could do at that
moment was to pray for all the priests that in one way or another
have touched my life, during my sojourn as an Orthodox Christian.
I did not have much time left, before my flight to Cephalonia but I had
to go to Nea Makri to venerate St. Ephraim the newly revealed. A very
nice old lady helped me take the right bus and asked the driver to drop
me off at the park in the center of town. When I got to the monastery of
the Annunciation, I heard a loud growl coming from a chapel by the
main gate. A service of exorcism was being done on behalf of a poor
woman possessed by a demon that was speaking through her with a
male voice. It broke my heart to see her like this. It was also very
frightening. Next to the main church there is a small building that
houses the remains of the tree from which the saint was hanged.
Near by, there is also a water fountain that has healing properties.
When I entered the main church I walked a few steps down and to
the left, where the dwelling of the saint is preserved. The reliquary
of St. Ephraim is in the nave, to the right of the church entrance and
it is beautiful. It is made of carved wood with a glass cover through
which the relics are clearly visible. And I was in tears as I begged
the saint to free the demon-possessed woman from her torment.
I will never forget the wail of her lament. That very night, I boarded
a plane to the island of Cephalonia.
In the city of Argostoli, by the sea-shore; I was able to find a very
cozy little room where to spend the night. Next morning, after visiting
the town’s church, I took a bus to the town of Omala. And what a nice
road trip that was! The island is an earthly paradise, with wide canopy
trees and flowers everywhere I looked. When I arrived to the Monastery
of St Gerasimos, I was surprised to see a newly built church at the
entrance of the monastery, which is dedicated to the saint. I walked
inside and spent quite sometime venerating the newly painted icons
adorning the murals of the cathedral. There were signs of work in
progress all around, and the murals! Oh! I was speechless, what
beauty, how magnificent,what holiness! Nothing less than holy
tradition portrait in egg tempera and gold!
St Gerasimos lived in the sixteenth century and was of noble lineage,
of the Notaras family. After becoming a monk at the skete of St. Anne
in Mt Athos, he traveled to Jerusalem where Patriarch Germanos of
Jerusalem ordained him priest. Later he traveled back to his homeland,
Greece, where he settled in the island of Cephalonia. There he founded
a convent and restored the Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos.
He lived a holy life and reposed in the Lord in 1579. The saint is
particularly known because of the healing he offers to the demon-
possessed. While remembering his life, I walked by the oak tree
planted by the saint and into the little Church of the Dormition, where
St. Gerasimos awaits the day of resurrection. The church is built over
the two-room cave where St Gerasimos lived. I descended into the
cave and wandered how could anyone live in that damp and desolate
When I climbed up the ladder back into the main nave of the church, I
had the opportunity to meet Fr. Panagiotis, who is the priest of the
monastery. He asked for my name so he could remember me during
the supplicatory service to St Gerasimos. The service was about to
begin. Within moments the abbess came and opened the reliquary,
so that we could venerate the relics directly. While the priest chanted
prayers for all of us, I made a prostration and with great awe and
reverence approached the holy one that layed before my eyes. He
was intact and very fragrant! As I kissed his epitrachelion (stole), I
reached out and touched his hand. It was warm and soft! And this
is the power of the resurrection! Our Lord Jesus Christ is risen! And
the bodies of His saints, though sleeping, already show signs of the
life of the age to come!
And while the priest censed the sacred place, the words of Malachi
the prophet were fulfilled, ” For from the rising of the sun, even to its
going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; In every
place incense shall be offered to My name, And a pure offering; For
My name shall be great among the nations, Says the LORD of hosts.”
St Gerasimos of Cephalonia Source