"Arise, cry aloud in the night. At the beginning of the night watches; pour
out your heart like water before the Presence of the Lord; lift up your
hands to Him, " Lamentations 2:19
An old monk wearing a worn-out, patched-up black rasso wakes up in
the middle of the night, and rises from the floor of his cave in Katunakia,
Mount Athos, Greece, to pray. His meal the previous evening
consisted of a piece of dried stale hard bread and some rain water
collected in an aluminum can. He has been rising for prayer for the last
forty years and his legs no longer allow him to stand without pain but he is
undeterred. His callous arthritic shaking hand reaches out for some
matches which he is able to find, always in the same place, in spite of the
stark darkness that shrouds him, and he lights up what remains of the
candle he used the previous night.
The Spartan conditions of his dwelling are intimidating. The cave is cold
and narrow. Its jagged walls are naked and the floor where he stands
consists of the dirt and lose rocks of the cave. Years ago he managed to
gather some thrown away wood, by the monasteries not so near him, and
he was able to put together an iconostasis and an altar. The paper icons
are few and damaged but the faces of the saints encourage him.
As the monk begins the prayers with the opening benediction of the
Midnight Office, he considers himself to be the most blessed of men,
"Blessed is our God, always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages."
The flickering candles communicate warmth, light and spiritual depth
to this sacred space. This cave is Heaven! When the time for the
Divine Liturgy comes, the priest-monk is already rapt in God, his face
radiant, like Moses, as one who clearly beholds the other world.
Elder Archimandrite Sophrony of Essex
Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos was once blessed to be present in
a cave like this one during one of these Divine Liturgies,
"There were only a few oil lamps lighting the church, enough to show the
icons of the Saints and the Most Holy Mother of God and of Christ. The
three disciples with their Gerondas, stood motionless on the old pews
and lived the Mystery. They were not simply attending, but they were
celebrating the Liturgy with me! Their faces looked like the faces of the
Saints in iconography. It was as if they had come down from the walls
and were living the resurrection. Their voices were soft, weak, stifled by
their compunction. Their chanting was coming out of a heart wounded
by divine love; it was coming out of the depths of their soul, which has
been pierced by divine love." from 'A Night in the Desert of the Holy Mountain'
p.173 by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos, Trans. by Effie Mavromichali, Birth of theTheotokos Monastery, 1991
During the next few weeks, the blessed time of Lent, we will also arise
at night for prayer. The deserts of our cities are no less isolated than
the dwelling of the monk. The sumptuousness of our palatial homes is
no less jagged than the naked walls of his cave. With God's help we
will arise, and cry aloud in the middle of the night, "Lord Jesus Christ
have mercy on me!". May God bless us with the warmth of His Grace
in our hearts, in that moment!
"My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning;
indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope in the
Lord; For with the Lord there is loving-kindness, and with Him is
abundant redemption. And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities."