“The Mountain is on fire these hours, the devil groans, truly the monks are deified”

I went out and I sat on a rock. It was getting dark. The soft roar of the sea could be heard from afar. All the sweetness of eternity came into my disturbed soul. Boundless calm. I felt the presence of Christ, Who knows how to fill the desert.

Very few moments in my life have I spent like these. … The Prophet Isaiah says: “Blessed is he who has seed and relatives in Jerusalem”, and the Athonite Abba of Stavronikita Monastery interprets profoundly: “We, too, can say that we are all blessed because we have the Zion of Orthodoxy—the Holy Mountain—the seed of the Holy ascetics and we have so many relatives in the Jerusalem of Heaven. They live for us and they are the light and hope of our present and future life”.

I wanted to practice what the elder ascetic had told me during the discussion, (the elder) being for me “an initiator to the heavenly mysteries than a lawgiver” (Abba Poeman). I bowed my head, put it between my knees—like the Prophet Elijah did on Mount Carmel—and I started to warm my heart so that I could start the Jesus prayer afterwards.

The hours of night are life-giving for the monks who are like “workshops of unceasing prayer and very sweet thoughts of Jesus within their heart”. Night responds effectively to the experience of angelic life, and that is why they prefer it for the carrying out of spiritual work and the Jesus prayer. Monks abolish night, as monastic life abolishes everything. Monastic life abolishes death, for marriage renews life but also death. A new life is born; but this life will die, whereas with life in chastity death ceases to oppress humanity. The life of a monk is the beginning of eternity, the true life, that is why he experiences the eschatological reality, the angelic way of life. The Lord said: “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Lk 20.34). The monk belongs to another age. Present life becomes eternity, it becomes the timeless passage of time! “Although walking the earth in chastity, the monk touches heaven”. That is why we can say that life in chastity abolishes even the night. Night becomes day, since the monks live the eschatological and angelic way of life. Since “there is no night there”, according to Revelation, here too for the monks, who are angels in the flesh, there should be no night. The Lamb, the Sun, Christ illumines them.

According to the Holy Fathers, “night is beneficial to all”. It is beneficial both for the practical and theological souls. Practical are the monks who are at the first stage of monastic life, who must fight their passions and try to change them to divine love. They are “the stock-breeders”, who try to lead the cattle, that is, the perverted states of the soul. And theoretical monks are those who have overcome this stage. They have passed from the slavery of Egypt (of passions) to the desert of dispassion, and are shepherds who guide the sheep—that is the pure mind and the pure heart—to the mountain of contemplation (divine vision). The Fathers say that night is important and very beneficial for both of these groups.

Those who are at the first stage remember the sins they have committed during the day, the “disturbance of the wrongdoings”. They discover their transgressions with the help of the life-giving grace, truly and not imaginably, and then they start crying: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me”. They do not let all guilty thoughts, shameful desires and sinful deeds be shut into the caverns of the subconscious, but they enter, with the power of grace, into the caves and boldly drive out whatever is suppressed there and so they are cured. They purify their heart and minds not only from complex but also from simple thoughts. The monks who are at the stage of illumination spend their night in a different way. Being purified from all states which are contrary to nature, they give glory to God, the Holy Trinity. They rest noetically and lead their thoughts and hearts to the mountain of theoria (divine vision).

When nightfall arrives, they think of the day of creation when “the earth was invisible and uncreated and darkness was above the abyss”. When the stars appear shortly thereafter, they think of the creation of stars and like the angels who immediately praised God then, they now praise God for all creation. While others sleep and seemingly do not exist, these monks stay awake, alone with God and glorify Him, like Adam before the Fall. When it is thundering, they think of the dreadful day of Judgement. At the sound of birds of prey, they experience the voice of trumpets which call the dead to rise up from their tombs. The rising of the morning star and daybreak remind them of the appearance of the precious and life-giving Cross, the sign of the Son of man. The brilliance of the sun reminds them of the coming in glory of the Sun of righteousness of Christ. Those who rise up immediately to praise Christ are the holy ones who “shall be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thes 4.17), and those who neglect to praise God at dawn and sleep are those who will be judged as sinners …

I tried to live that night somehow like in this manner. I tried to warm my sinful and frozen heart with these thoughts. When my heart began to thaw, I prayed with the same loving words of Holy Augustine:

Thou Who art
chosen arrow and sharpened sword,
piercing by Thy power
the hardened shell of my heart,
enter by the strength of Thy love,
so that my soul may say to Thee,
“I am wounded by Thy love,
I am wounded by love for Thee:
day and night I shed abundant tears”.
Master,
I implore Thee,
Strike my hardened soul
by the sharp lance of your love.
Enter into my inner most being.
Refresh me with living water.
Open in my eyes a spring
of ever-flowing tears.
Protect me by Thy steadfast love.
Give me hope to see Thy glory.
Give me perpetual tears.
Not in this life do I seek consolation.
But in the heavenly bridal chamber,
may I be worthy to see Thee,
Beloved, my Lord and my God.
Bring my parched soul,
thirsty for Thee alone,
to the never failing streams
of living water.
Or rather, my God, my Life,
draw me towards Thee
the living fountain,
so that I may drink
and be satisfied,
And live eternally with Thee.
O, Thou the source of life
fill my mind with the outpouring
of Thy compassionate love;
make my heart overflow
with the bright sadness of Thy love.
May I forget the passing cares of earth
and keep Thee forever in my heart.

And then I repeated with all my strength the “Jesus prayer” which the ascetic taught me. I did not know how long I was there. There are times when the hands of the clock stop turning. Eternity has stopped time.

Midnight had already passed long ago. I could see now the huts of the ascetics being lit up one after another. The nightingales get up to sing. “They are the springs of compunction”, which start flowing and water our thirsty land! “The lighthouses of the mountain”, which shed light! “The fragrant and delightful lilies”, which perfume the whole world! The cells will resound with their voices in a little while and will flood with tears or repentance or tears of divine illumination. They arise to praise Christ and ask Him to send His divine grace, His rich mercy.

Jesus, Thou who art
rapture of goodness,
splendour beyond imagining,
glory to Thee
Who makest will and strength
combine in unison.

Jesus, Thou who art
Love beyond our comprehending,
glory to Thee
Who dost sustain the universe
by Thy power.

Jesus, Thou Who art
the Way, the Truth, the Life,
I thank Thee
for showing me the truth,
in Thy life-giving words.

Jesus, Thou Who art
the desired contemplation
of those who are blessed,
I thank Thee for deeming worthy
our fallen nature.

Jesus, Thou Who art
Light beyond all light,
I confess to Thee
that I walk in darkness,
the darkness of sin.

Jesus, Thou Who art
final judge of all,
I confess to Thee
that I have never been pierced
by Thy Love,
as I should have been.

Jesus, Thou Who art
Life giving and sweetest warmth,
rekindle my frozen heart
Jesus, Thou Who art
garment of light,
worn by the stars,
clothe my nakedness.

Jesus, Thou Who art
all in all,
purify my heart
that I may see Thee.

Jesus, Thou Who art
in all and beyond all, my God,
show me Thy face
and I shall be saved.

Jesus, Thou Who art One,
beyond all comprehending,
Show me myself re-united in one,
by the restoration of my mind
and by single hearted prayer.

Jesus, Thou Who art
mystery beyond all unknowing,
bring me beyond all
that may be felt and known.

Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me.

The Mountain is on fire these hours. The devil groans. Truly the monks are deified.

Met Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

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