Night Watch of The Hermit

“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
Elder Athanasius of Mount Athos
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 aluminium 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.
daniel kat
Elder Daniel of Katounakia

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.
Holy Altar in a Mount Athos cave
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.

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.”
night in the desert
from “A Night in the Desert of the Holy Mountain’ by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos, Trans. by Effie Mavromichali, Birth of theTheotokos Monastery, 1991:173


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