My Prayer Ropes Were Full of Myrrh and Fragrance



Last summer I went with friends to Mount Athos and we stayed for two days in
Megisti Lavra, the oldest and first in the order of the monasteries of Mount
Athos, built by St. Athanasius the Athonite. The Monastery is awe-inspiring to
all its visitors, not only for the size of its buildings, but also for the many relics
of Saints kept there, the rare holy artifacts, the many books, and the large
vegetable gardens. It was Saturday 27 of August and according to the old
calendar, which is followed by Mount Athos, it was the vigil of Our Lady. We
arrived in the Monastery relatively early in the afternoon with a small bus. All
the way from Karyes to the monastery we admired the beauty of nature and
the peace that the landscape exuded. On our left we had the sea and, on our
right, the green mountain of Athos. After an hour or so of travel we descended
to a plateau. Walking towards the entrance of Monastery, we crossed the
helicopter area and as we approached, we admired the tower of Tsimiski, the
walls of the monastery and its well-tended olive groves, while in the distance
in the sea we could clearly see the island of Thassos. Entering the monastery,
we headed to the monastery's archontariki. In the guest book we wrote our
information, we were offered the traditional Athonite treat (loukoumi, tsipouro,
coffee and cold water), we were informed about the program of the
monastery, and we were given the key to our accommodation. After leaving
our backpacks, we went out into the courtyard for a first acquaintance with the
monastery's premises. Going to the entrance of the Monastery we passed in
front of the chapel of Panagia Koukouzelissa, which took its name from St.
John Koukouzelis, first cantor of the Byzantine palaces and later (by his will)
shepherd and first cantor of the Monastery. At the central gate of the
monastery, we saw the icon (fresco) of the Virgin Mary, which bears the marks
of the bullets that a Turkish officer in 1830 shot at it and one of them,
returning, fatally killed the unbelieving invader. The center of the monastery is
dominated by the large main Church. To enter we passed through an
imposing two-paneled brass door, donated by the Emperor Nikiforos Phokas.
Inside the main church and in the left chapel, which is dedicated in the name
of the Holy Forty Martyrs, is the tomb of the founder of the monastery, Saint
Athanasius of Athonite. On the walls around the tomb are clearly visible signs
of the Saint's refusal to open his tomb. We also saw the large carved marble
bowl, where every first of the month the holy water is consecrated and to the
right of the bowl a thousand-year-old cypress. It is the cypress planted by St.
Athanasius. We dined on marble tables dented from centuries of use. After
dinner, a monk invited us to go to the main church, to have a tour and to
venerate the holy relics of the Monastery. Immediately all the pilgrims went
inside the church. We listened carefully to the tour given to us by Father
Vasilios, monk and spiritual director of the monastery, about the history of
Lavra and Saint Athanasios. Afterwards the priest, who brought the relics, told
us about each of them and as we passed by, we venerated them with faith
and reverence. Personally, I was impressed by the relic of Saint Nylos, which
in the description of the priest was presented as generating myrrh but when I
worshipped it, it did not give me any fragrance and I thought: 'big deal the
myrrh-generating Saint'. After the tour and the dinner, we went out of the
Monastery for a tour of the surrounding areas and passing by the Monastery's
exhibition we bought various souvenirs and praying ropes for friends and

relatives. After dusk the bells rang, and we went to the Church for the vigil of
the Virgin Mary. It was the dawn of August 15th with the old calendar. We
attended Vespers and the Orthros until 4am. Then there was a break for rest
and Mass began at 8.30am, after a melodious, joyful, and unprecedented bell
ringing. Also, impressive and magnificent was the events after the Mass and
the entrance of the monks and pilgrims for the festive meal. At noon we had
the opportunity to enjoy the surrounding area on our way to the Skete of
Timios Prodromos and the cave of St. Athanasius where we went to
worship. After dinner again the same monk invited us to go to the church for
the traditional tour and the veneration of the holy relics. The group asked me
to bring the prayer ropes I had bought and pass them by the holy relics to be
blessed. Then the thought came to me again: "So what if we pass them? Do
you think that St. Nylos the Myrrh-Generating Saint, who doesn't smell, will
make them smell?" Regardless, I went with the others to the church, listened
to the tour again and took turns to venerate the relics, while at the same time
we gave the priest the prayer ropes to pass them by the relics for blessing.
Coming out of the church we stood near the cypress tree of St. Athanasius
and chatted with other pilgrims. At some point I put my hand in the pocket
where I had the prayer ropes and felt it wet. "How did it get wet?", I said to
myself.  I unconsciously brought my hand close to my nose to smell it. I was
surprised! My hand was smelling! It smelled of myrrh! I put it back in my
pocket and felt my prayer ropes very wet. I took them out and smelled them.
Everything smelled amazingly. My prayer ropes were full of myrrh and
fragrance. I gave them to my friends to smell and they found the same thing.
Their prayer ropes didn't smell as much as mine. It didn't take me long to find
the cause. The grace of the Saint overcame my calculative thoughts, which I
confided to my fellow pilgrims. What happened to me was a sign from the
Saint because I doubted his grace and the power of his miraculous power.
Unfortunately, we didn't have time to visit the place of St. Nylos. But the next
time that I will visit the majestic monastery of Lavra, it will be one of the first
things I will do. To worship at the place where St. Nylos, the miraculous and
myrrh generating saint, struggled and sanctified.


Personal experience of Konstantinos Sikiotis, teacher


Translated by Dr. Nick Stergiou









My Prayer Ropes Were Full of Myrrh and Fragrance