“The Saint loves you,” Fr. Panaretos said during one conversation. “You have been called here by the Saint. Nothing is by chance.” He had an unexplainable light in his eyes, one you get only from a lifetime of devotion to others, to the growing of the heart space… of seeking the Eternal.
My dear readers, I write to you at a troubled time in the world. Many of you will be locked-up at home, as so many of us are across the planet right now. But, as always, I give you a little window of escape, a chance to travel through places and lives you would otherwise, perhaps, not see… to visit realms your mind has maybe not yet imagined. Or at least, a chance to walk a little while through the pages of the Diary of an Aesthete; on my journey… a path within, and without. Take heart.
After much thought and counsel (oddly enough) towards the end of last year I decided to make 2020 more-or-less a ‘non-travel-year’ for me… the first in 7 years… I decided to take some time off and reflect on the many things that have been happening in my life, to reflect on the world and my place within it… to stop and centre, to climb the mountain of home and listen for the call of the wind again. My wings need a rest, and the view here really is spectacular… I think there has been a huge shift in things, this current ‘disaster’ is but a side effect perhaps…“as a clothing shall you change them, and they shall be changed…” Psalm 102, comes to my mind… As with all shake-ups some will suffer and some will benefit, and whilst I’m not suggesting for a second that any of us lot will benefit in a worldly way from all of this… there is a chance, always, for revolution. Time to regroup. Rethink, and even make some big changes. The illusion of time falls down, laid bare, nothing now to defend it. Things that are hidden will always be revealed in the end. And in the end ‘time’ is but a product of the mind, and has nothing to with the soul, nor with the Eternal.
Of course all things are connected, and it seems, after all, whether by my own choice or by the Greater Power, I will not be travelling this year.
Still, last year… last year brought so much. So much happened in such a short space of time I could almost believe 2019 was three or four years. I began a journey at the end of Spring that set a great and terrible tremour in my foundations, sparked a fire in my spirit beyond all imagining… pyres are made to burn, and ashes make fertile even tired, wintered soil. Even a desert becomes a delta in the rains… What my eyes and soul witnessed in those days I will never forget. Most of the real details, the day-by-day account, of what I have seen these years will undoubtedly go into a memoir… an actual Diary of an Aesthete… with pages you can feel and smell… when the time comes for me to stop my journey out there, in the Great World, and focus fully on the inner one, and the Great I Am.
Starting in Athens, Greece, I took a life-changing pilgrimage, where I was baptised on a holy mountain, and reborn three days later from the Aegean; I travelled through the stunning islands of Crete, Aegina and Cyprus, where I lived in monasteries, travelling and living with monks and holy men; and then I journeyed to the Holy Land itself, where I swam at the lowest point on earth, traversed the Biblical Judean deserts alone, hitch-hiked to the Sea of Galilee and lived for a while in the heart of old Jerusalem… I prayed a lot. I saw miracles. Came face-to-face with powers from the heavens, and those of below; was frightened and illuminated. Renewed and inspired.
I’m not an expert on these things. But I know what I know and I know what I have seen. I know me, and that me knows the Truth… the One truth, and the storm of lies between us and it. I don’t know all of it, but enough of it to believe in it with everything I can give. It seems after years of seeking, pushing and fighting for Truth, in this beguiling world, God has given me a reward… for 7 years on the Road. Some clarity – ‘signs’, if you will – some answers to the riddle of the soul.
As always, I walk… and God creates a pathway.
The world has many ways, and the eyes have many ways to see… to illuminate, and to blind. But once the eyes of the soul are opened, nothing remains covered. All things become clear as living water.
…And so the quest goes on.
As is usual for me, I came to Cyprus by a series of carefully-linked but unplanned events… little signs and whispers… the kind I always look for when wondering where my feet may take me next.
I was in Greece chatting one night with my God Mother about a certain saint, an icon of whom I’d had on my bedroom wall many years before the idea of Eastern Orthodoxy ever came into my wildest dreams… You see, when all these crazy and wonderful things had started to happen in Greece last year I began combing back through my life, piecing together little connections, small relics of former lives ~ looking, always, for clues and patterns.
The question of whether I would come to Cyprus for an upcoming family wedding arose. I proposed I would stay behind, focus on some writing and prayer and make the most of some alone-time. The sea really is beautiful in Attica, and I relish any chance to breathe in the pines and salty air. But… I did say, if I were to come to Cyprus, I would have to make a journey to see this saint. I knew he had a monastery somewhere on the large island, didn’t know where… didn’t matter how far it was I would have to make that journey (said in my usual determined/stubborn sort of way).
Whilst the crickets clicked and little white stars began to prick the navy sky, I began searching online where the Saint’s monastery was, out of curiosity. It was close to Paphos, up in the mountains a short journey from the town. “Where is the wedding anyway?” I asked, still not with much interest in actually going.
“Paphos,” came the answer… And so I began packing my bag.
Thickets of deep thorn, red rubble and rock. In the arid hills outside Paphos I was straight back in the Middle-east, my mind rewinding to all I’d seen in other lands of similar terrains. All those beautiful faces and scenes. Apart from the first couple of nights (couch-surfing) I didn’t plan anywhere to stay. I knew something would come up…
So naturally I went to visit the monastery of Saint Neophytos ~ whose name means New Light, from Ancient Greek. A ancient hermit who built a sacred space in the cliffs from his own hands to escape the vanity of the world and live in solitude in pursuit of the Divine. Over time his ‘cave’ became a place of pilgrimage… and remains so until this day. The fragrance of the saintly elder hangs in the air, something outside of time and space; omnipotent, drawing pilgrims from far and wide.
It was odd… it was like the monks there were expecting me. Not only did I get welcomed with open arms like an old friend, I was also offered somewhere to stay for a few nights, along with all the food I could ever want (local veg and cheeses – so so delicious) and an offer to tour the surrounding countryside and villages with one of the elder monks, Panaretos, who took a particular liking to me, and I to he.
What a blessing! I was so honoured and overjoyed, and a tad emotional at how, yet again, I could just turn up in a foreign place and be so lovingly welcomed… what a blessing. What blessings upon blessings!
“The saint loves you,” Fr. Panaretos said during one conversation. “You have been called here by the saint. Nothing is by chance.”
The feeling of being in a room in the cloisters all by yourself, as the sun awakens, the dawn chorus begins and you await the ‘talanto’ to sound, is indescribable. I was fascinated by life in the monastery, and took any opportunity to wander around alone whenever I could, soaking in each detail and nuance of this unique holy place… wondering, as always, why God brought me here… and if this Saint, this New Light, had really called me, all those years ago, to this sacred moment.
The blessings of Fr. Panaretos stay alive in the cave of my heart till this day… These are connections that don’t leave you, these are exchanges no money can buy. These memories bring new light into my eyes with each recollection and a dancing to my soul.
In reality, there’s no way I could ever do any single day of my life justice. Life is perfect, a perfect Creation… and I am just a mimic, a witness if you like. But I believe there is something really truly special in sharing and connecting with others. It brings such a joy and passion into my heart. I don’t profess to be perfect myself, or even good, but I do believe, when you are given so much, it is important to give back, in whatever little way you can… I try. One day, maybe, I will do all of this wonderful life justice, whether on paper, here on the ‘web’ or on the canvas of life itself, using whatever colours the Great Artist gives me.
Follow the Journey and Shine Your Light.