The monastery, perched just below the mountain’s summit like an eagle’s nest, made me feel like I had reached the end of the world.

The end of October. A gossamer, still afternoon, and another world, different, natural and virgin.

I reverently walked up the concrete steps; my heart crushed by the climb up the mountain’s uphill agony, inexperienced as it is in harsh circumstances… I found myself on the balcony gazing at the magical view, almost touching the clouds weighing on the sky, bathed in the cool breeze that carried with it to my senses the smell of incense mixed with that of salt and the mist.

A strange ritual was playing out before my eyes, of the elderly nuns’ youthful forms: smells, music, voices and gestures – the continuity of a sensitivity born centuries ago… I rushed with childish abandon into the Saint’s skete: to light a candle, pay my respects, admire the frescoes, send up my fervent prayer.

Sister Filothei, blithely reading her book outside the church holding her prayer rope, brought for a moment to my mind the concentrated wisdom of an elderly turtle.

And, strange coincidence, inside the church lay the sister that had passed that morning – “she had a good innings, come in and get her blessing”. Two ever present nuns were standing guard, while the others were busy with their own tasks.

This sentence “come and get her blessing” felt to me like a warm fatherly hand on my shoulder. I hesitantly stepped into the church; I know that sadness radiates a heavy vibration and lends a hard grey colour to the air which has no breaks or breathing spaces.

The incredible peace flowing all around surprised me; straight away I felt the sober synchronicity of the being that arrives and the one that leaves, the timeless and unending co-existence of the visible and the invisible, the flesh and the spirit… My breath became a prayer, my heart was filled with sentiments, the sentiments brought thoughts; my thoughts were drenched in words and words pulled me into silence, where I always encounter miracles.

I kissed the tender elderly hands, received their blessing, held on to what I could of the shining kindness of the place.

Slowly, I retraced my steps down the concrete staircase, anxiously trying to hold on to the memories of the smallest detail. The swaying pines, the sparkling sea, the shadows on the rocks, the other-worldly embrace, the fragrances, all the light granted to me by the world during that magical time.

A stairway to heaven.

A soul-saving stairway.

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