The greatest joy in my life was my journey to Mount Athos in 2013. At the time, my Wife of 28 years and I could see our marriage coming to an end. In my desperation for Spiritual Healing, I battled through several attempts by the evil one (who was working overtime) to prevent me from completing my Spiritual journey to Mt. Athos. After many obstacles were overcome, I finally made my visit to Hilandar, a Serbian Monastery (and, now my Spiritual Home). I really needed an especially most Holy Place to address my pain and this visit took years in the making. Mt. Athos is an Epicenter of the Orthodox Faith; the Mother of God called it Her Holy Garden and asked Her Son to Bless the Place and fulfill Her wish. Of course, that wish was honored. The monastery, for the Serbian people, was founded by Prince Rastko; who took the Monastic Name of Sava. He is the Patron Saint of the Serbian people and his presence at Mt. Athos in 1200 was not by chance.
I went to Mt. Athos for many reasons, but especially to Pray before the Icon of Mary with Three Hands to beg the Mother of God (the Speedy Intercessor to the Faithful) to help preserve my marriage. And, much happened for me on Mt. Athos that I am very Grateful for. My most-singular and complete joy of the trip, however, was being touched by the Holy Spirit along with three of my fellow travelers (a Parish Priest, a colleague, and one of my Friends). I was about to leave the island, but, before we left, my Parish Priest, a very Holy man, wanted me to go with him to visit a very special Church built upon the Grotto where the Monk Sava had remained for years Praying.
The Church there is filled with Prayer every hour of every day with various Monastics in attendance. Once inside, we walked towards the Iconostasis and saw an unusual small door on the furthest left side. It was there that the entrance to the Grotto was located. As we quietly-entered the dimly-lit, smallish cave was only illuminated by a single candle that revealed an icon of the Mother of God and the Child Jesus. I was overwhelmed and fell to my knees and, following my Parish Priest, we all prostrated ourselves with our heads pushed down towards the ground. While I had a firm set of Prayers to present to Christ, I was immediately overwhelmed and sobbed with my chest heaving uncontrollably. I could neither present nor muster a single thought. Time itself came to a standstill. All that I could do was cry uncontrollably and then it was gone. I looked-up without any idea of how much time had passed. As we exited the Grotto, I quickly started to explain what happened to myself to the Parish Priest. My Priest simply replied, “we all did”. And, immediately, I thought, “How could he know what I was going to say before I said it?” The answer, of course, was clear to me; the Holy Spirit had revealed Himself to all of us.
I still often ask myself, “Why me? I am not worthy. I am nothing. I am no one, and yet, this terrible sinner received the most Precious Gift anyone can receive. Who am I?” I tear-up every time I tell the story (including right now while I write this); knowing the abundant Joy that awaits us simply by turning to Him. To me, there is nothing better! We are beneficiaries of such majesty only washed by the Blood of Christ, for all of mankind’s sins. This is the Greatest Gift! The thought is so precious that the tears are clouding my eyes again. I need Him so…