The caique from Lavra

monachos's picture



Michael M Nikoletseas

copyright ©2022 by Michael M Nikoletseas
Published in USA

ISBN: 9798844014710

Και φόρεσα το μπερεδάκι μου
χωρίς κορώνα
και είπα να πάω στον πόλεμο
για ποιό στρατό μάννα;

And I put on my beret
without a badge
and I ran away to war
which army

Far Pitched Tents: Poems of War
by Michael M Nikoletseas, 2011

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Summer 2022

These days my days are like sleep, half sleep, my dreams are of dirt roads and comrades I search, they rarely notice me, peace.

Early eighties I came to Agion Oros first time. I only remember scenes, patches of memory that to be honest I am not sure they happened as I tell or they happened at all. What I dream is so real sometimes, sometimes I see things on the wall, on the side of the mountain.
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Late afternoon I was waiting on the beach of Iviron for the small boat to Megisti Lavra. There were about ten men scattered on the sand talking two to three together. In the yellow light of the setting sun their voices sounded like animals over the swishing waves.

Two guys about forty stood with me and told me their stories which I cannot remember I never did. They were short and stocky I think they were shepherds that is what shepherds of Arcadia look like. Over the years they come back in my memory and I have concluded they liked me.

The boat came, we had to wade, and we headed south to Lavra. It was like a blow, a little panic, the shepherds? Never saw them again.

At the archondariki of Lavra a young skinny monk with a deep Macedonian voice offered us loukoumi and raki. Prodromos. He spoke as if teasing us. Suddenly his eyelids blinked rapidly and his eyes rolled up for lack of sleep.

On the way to the Rumanian skete I teamed up with a middle-aged man from Thessaloniki. His fat L amused me as did his jumping gate and lively speech. We got brave and ventured past the Rumanian skete to the cave of Athanasios the Athonite. I see us floating over the rocky path of Athos talking, jesting, pushing each other amicably.

In the cave we fell silent. We stayed there for a long time. Were it not for the sanctity of the place I would have grabbed his head and kissed it, he was a different man now.

For years I have struggled to bring up memories of that day. All that I can recall is an uneasy feeling, awe like fear.

A picture of me in a group of young men follows, we are walking on a dirt road in the forest. Someone suggested we go to Father Paisios' cell.

We lit a candle at Filotheou monastery and headed downhill to Panagouda. There was excitement as the stories of the miraculous abilities of this monk were firing my chest.

I stalled and turned back.

I am not ready, I said to them.

I headed north to Stavronikita.

A dainty monk that looked like a clerk told me there was no space. I headed north again.

The trail was quiet and hot. I was alone, my mind empty, I had set no destination, just walking in the forest.

Hours later I came upon a young man who was pacing around now in the forest now on the trail.

Where to, I asked. He looked like he did not hear.

What are you doing here? I said loudly.

I must decide, he replied.

At Esphigmenou I remember I ate with the monks at the trapeza. These were wild looking monks. I can still see a pirate face devouring a huge piece of watermelon in a storm of flies. The black flag on the fortification read "Orthodoxia or Thanatos". His black eyes pierced me like nails.

Orthodoxia or Thanatos I whispered.

Fear enveloped my body, I was exhausted. North to Hilandari the Serbian monastery.

Soon the trail disappeared and I was dizzy and fatigued. I made brief runs back and forth and around and finally suspicions of a trail emerged.

Today I recall nothing of the night at Hilandari except for the ancient grape vine that a monk said was miraculous, it cured sterility.

The next day I met a young Serbian who liked to talk to me I do not recall the subject, he was a universitario too. Around noon he took me to the abbot and we sat at a long table about ten of us. We talked in English mostly about things men of letters talk which is mostly up in the clouds.

I see myself almost running holding my airline bag all my belongings, tight on my chest to the sea. This time I knew clearly what I was afraid of. And there, they drove behind me in a tractor, past me.

At the end of the road there was a tower almost on the sea. I waited for a long time. An old monk appeared.

Is there a boat to Ierissos?
Not today he said.

I surrendered to the ground

The sound of the motorboat brought me back. A small fishing boat loaded with plastic containers swiftly appeared, unloaded and as swift;y was about to leave. The fisherman was talking to the monk in an animated voice the monk was silent.

Take me to Ierissos I yelled.

The fisherman ignored me all this time.
I pleaded with the old monk to persuade him to take me to Ierissos.

I must catch the plane a patient of mine needs me, urgent a crisis.

No one leaves from here, the old monk said.


The law, the monk replied and turned inland.

Thirty drachmas the boatman yelled as he stretched out his hand to lift me up onto the boat. What's that you have in that bag.

The trip was long, we run into strong winds and rough sea. I soon got sick I thought I would die.

Want to go back? the boatman yelled.

The world spun around me I fell into a kind of sleep . I must grab on to something, there the dark eyes of the pirate monk at Esphigmenou, the black flag on the monastery tower, there.

At Ierissos I got the bus to Thessaloniki.

At the airport I sat in he departures lounge drinking lots of orange juice. It would be a long wait before my flight.

Leaning against the wall in front of me two cops their eyes making frequent scans over toward me. One of them was short and stocky with fleshy lips and thick fingers. Asia minor Egypt I said. His eyes I had seen before but could not remember.

Now he stared at me almost steadily it was like he was telling be something, the iron hand of the law or friendship.

Soon the quantities of liquid I consumed had their effect, I got up looking for the men's room. The cops followed me around and into the men's room.

I returned to the lounge they planted themselves in front of me against the wall.
My flight was announced I lined up to have my bag checked and board the plane. The cops rushed close to me the cop with the black eyes almost touching me I could feel his breath.

I emptied my bag on the belt.
My cop hugged me.

You left something on the mountain go back he said his face now shining his look almost erotic. I will follow you every place you go.

Late afternoon the next day or perhaps later I am not certain I climbed the stairs of the archondariki at Lavra. The belfry on my right invaded my insides a taste of death. There is a small campana that rings at three every night to drag the men from the kingdom of the flesh to the kingdom of God to the chapel through prayer and death.

Straight ahead at the door of the kitchen Father Prodromos.


I bowed and kissed his hand. I stepped back and stood there for some time looking past him. My body must have been swaying Father Prodromos stretched out his hands around me.

Now he rushed into the kitchen and cane back holding a piece of bread. I took the bread and turned to the right to the dormitory.

The little campana pieced my gut three after midnight time to go to the chapel. There is no sound in the world that chimes death more faithfully than the little campana of Lavra.

In the darkness the monks keep coming to pray kyrie eleison a thousand times. I did not.

End of August I could feel fall descending upon the skin of my arms. Summer had passed peaceful helping Father Prodromos with the chores of the archondariki making coffee for the pilgrims loukoumi and raki. On a couple of occasions Father Prodromos said

Mikail get married or become a monk.

I kissed the hand of Father Prodromos my eyes wet and headed downhill to the arsanas with four or five others today the caique was coming. The dirt road was wet and there was strong wind almost forcing us back. Waves broke on the rocks and jetted high up to the tower of the small port. A gendarme outside his office high up below the tower his back toward us paced back and forth raising his arms to the clouds.

The caique appeared in the midst of breaks of giant columns of white foam aiming the narrow mouth of the tiny port now lurching toward the dark rocks. The pilgrims screamed and ran back uphill. The gendarme now facing us waved his arms telling us something or blessing us I could not tell. It was a dance the caique the gendarme the pilgrims over and over again like in an ancient drama. This was all the gendarme's doing.

The pilgrims left on a truck to Karyes later that day. Bad weather continued for days, the caique came and the dance was repeated, then there was no caique winter no pilgrims.

Mid November I was awake before the campanoula chimed, a deafening thunder storm it was Sunday I think. I stood at my stasidi my mind empty seeing nothing. An old monk his body curved his face deep inside the black hood sat in the stasidi next to me whispering his prayer I could not hear the words.

Close to daybreak his voice gained strength. It was hard not to notice now pleading now asserting now blasting out like a bugle.

kyrie eleison kyrie eleison kyrie eleison

and here is something that I have never lived before or after. My whole body started shaking my shoulders got heavy tears dripping on the floor I was invaded my lips whispered repeatedly

kyrie eleison kyrie eleison kyrie eleison

till I fell asleep.

A very strong thunder like an artillery shot struck the southwest of Lavra. After the trapeza we walked outside the walls of the monastery to see.

An oak tree was struck only the black trunk remained shooting a couple of meters from the ground. Now I knew who did this but miracles are undone if you talk about them.

These days I feel it heavy on the skin of my arms fall is coming. All pilgrims are gone. I have not gone down to the arsanas for many years. I will get bold one day and walk down the hill see if the gendarme is still around.

These days I talk to Father Prodromos my gerontas often It is very late the pilgrims are gone I will be alone on the caique.


Agion Oros
Holy Mountain, Mt Athos


A section of the monastery for welcoming the pilgrims

a type of sweet, Turkish delight

a type of alcholic drink, tsipouro

Athanasios the Athonite
St Athanasius, the founder of the monastery of Megisti Lavra, the first monastery on Mt Athos

monk dwellings outside the twenty main monasteries on Athos

fat L
Macedonians pronounce the letter L in a characteristic was that sounds like Lh.

the dining hall of monasteries

church bell

kyrie eleison, pronounced kerieh eleh eson
lord have mercy on me

the port of a monastery with its ancillary buildings


The administrative center of Athos

a special wooden armchair found in orthodox churches

a monk, my gerondas refers to the abbot, the hegoumenos of the monastery


The Storm
Ivan Aivazovsky, Russia 1817−1900
Painting, 1850, 82×117 cm
The National Gallery of Armenia, Yerevan

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Average: 5 (285 votes)

The shepherds. please tell us more! I think I know...

Average: 5 (20 votes)

I read this many times. Everytime a blessing! Thank you.

Average: 5 (51 votes)

και δικό μου όνειρο. το Όρος είναι τόπος γεμάτος πνεύματα.

Average: 5 (28 votes)

Every man has walked these trails, has roamed aimlessly in his dreams, searching. Thank you for the blessing.

Average: 5 (33 votes)

What is he searching for?

Average: 5 (15 votes)

he is on a very ancient path, he is not searching, he is driven

Average: 5 (20 votes)

The Green Hills of Athos. Bravo! Please never end this story.

Average: 5 (31 votes)

I don't get it. What does Hemingway got to do with Athos?

Average: 5 (3 votes)

Breathless! You will not be alone on the caique Monachos, He will be onboard too.

Average: 5 (20 votes)

Path of when I pray

Average: 5 (1 vote)

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