In 1914, Nikos Kazantzakis, perhaps the greatest Greek author of the twentieth century, traveled to Mount Athos. He wrote about his forty day sojurn on the Holy Mount in his book, "Report to Greco." The following excerpt describes his meeting with the ascetic elder, Makarios.
My sight finally became accustomed to the darkness and as I peered inward with protruding eyeballs, I saw a gentle phosphorescence---a pale face and two emaciated arms---stir in the depths of the cave and I heard a sweet gasping voice.
Working up the courage, I entered the cave and proceeded toward the voice. The ascetic was curled on the ground. He had raised his head, and I was able in the half light to make out his face as it gleamed in the depths of unutterable beatitude---hairless, with sunken eye sockets, gnawed away by vigils and hunger. All his hair had fallen out and his head shown like a skull.
"Bless me father," I said, bowing to kiss his hand.
For a long time neither of us spoke. I kept looking greedily at this soul which had obliterated his body, for this was what weighed down its wings and prevented it fron mounting to Heaven. The soul that believes is a merciless man-eating beast. It had devoured him, flesh, eyes, hair---all.
I did not know where to begin. The ramshackle body before me seemed like a battledfield following a terrible massacre; upon it I discerned the tempter's scratches and bites. Finally I gathered up the courage.
"Do you wrestle with the devil, Father Makarios.?" I asked him.
"Not any longer my child. I have grown old now and he has grown old with me. He doesn't have the strength.....I wrestle with God."
"With God?" I exclaimed in astonishment. "And you hope to win?"
"I hope to lose, my child. My bones remain with me, and they continue to resist."
"Yours is a hard life, Father. I too want to be saved. Is there no other way?"
"More agreeable?" said the ascetic as he smiled with compassion.
"More human, my Elder.
"Only one way."
"What is it?"
"Ascent. You must climb a ladder, from full stomach to hunger, from slaked throat to thirst, from joy to suffering. At the peak of hunger, thirst and suffering sits God. The devil sits at the summit of the comfortable life, Choose"."
"I am still young. The earth is good. I have time to choose."
The ascetic stretched out his five bony fingers, squeezed my knees, and nudged me.
"Wake up, my child, wake up, before death wakes you up."
The Bridegroom Cometh in the Night
sung by the Choir of Vatopaidi Monastery, Mount Athos, Greece.
Behold the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night:
and blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching,
but unworthy is he whom He shall find in slothfulness.
Beware then,O my soul,and be not overcome by sleep,
lest thou be given over to death and shut out from the
But return to soberness and cry aloud:
Holy,Holy,Holy art Thou,O God:
through the protection of the heavenly powers,