Being still - Reflections on an Ancient Mystical Tradition by J.Y. Leloup

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Heavy sun. It must be about noon. The path continues its ascent. In spite of hunger and fatigue I'll continue - besides, where could I possibly sit down? On one side of me is a sheer cliff, on the other, the steep face of the mountain. Kapsokalivià is one of the steepest and most arid places on Mount Athos. Someone has told me, 'Over there you will find hermits. Most of them will be mad, or filthy or ignorant, but it's worth the effort.' I replied that I had not come to Mount Athos to see zoo animals on the verge of extinction. But now I ask myself what am I doing here on this rocky path which seems to lead nowhere? Mere curiosity? The desire to see God in the flesh rather than in the pages of a book? I glimpsed a hut with some garden in front. A monk is standing there with a rosary, made of knotted wool, in his hand. I expect to see some gesture of retreat or alarm as I approach, but instead the monk smiles and raises his finger to his mouth, indicating that I should remain silent. There is something strange about his gaze. I can't tell the colour of his eyes; they are bottomless. Suddenly I feel light-headed and he motions me to sit down. Then he disappears down a track, leaving me rather perplexed, facing the sea, facing my thoughts...

Ninety minutes pass. Irritated by the wait, and somewhat anxious, I see him reappear, carrying a pot of jam and some water. It dawns on me that he has been walking all this time, in the scorching sun, just to quench my thirst!

As he hands me the pot of jam, I get a better look at his eyes, two extraordinary abysses of water and light. Love is not quite the word, but it will suffice. I begin to drink and feel for a moment I will never thirst again.

The smallest act of pure love seems bigger than the grandest cathedral. That day I entered Christianity by its main portal, a pot of jam, the Infinite in a routine gesture.

For years now this anonymous figure, always silent, has never ceased to smile at me: a splinter of water and light in the burnt flesh of my story.