The night and the starry heavens hold sway over the buildings of the
monastery. It is the hour of prayer, vigilance, and of the aspiration of the soul to
the divine order of things.
At 7:30 by Byzantine time, the verger sounds the first talanto, and lights the
lamps of various kinds - the kandiles, lousernes, phanaria, and phani - of the
katholikon. At 7:45 he sounds the second talanto, and at 8:00 the third. The
priest puts on the petrachili (stole) and the Mesonyktikon (midnight office) begins.
This service brings vigilance to the alert soul which looks for the coming of the
Bridegroom Christ at midnight. It is a dividing point between the darkness of error
which the Christian, and particularly the monk, has left behind him and the life of
light which is expected to dawn the next day. As the ‘Amomos’ hymn begins, the
verger prostrates himself before the Abbot and sounds in turn the kopano and
After the third devotional troparion, the verger opens the Royal Doors. The
priest comes out into the nave and says the ‘Evlogiton’, standing before the
sanctuary screen. During the reading of the "Epakousai sou", he censes the
church. The ‘Exapsalmos’ (‘Six Psalms’) is read by the Abbot.
After the end of the sixth Ode, the Synaxari (lives of the saints) of the day is
read, and the verger again sounds the sideraki. At the ninth Ode - "More
honourable ..." - the priest censes the church while the monks remove their
hoods and step down from their stalls, a gesture which demonstrates eloquently
the special honour in which the monks hold Our Lady the Theotokos.
Towards the end of Matins, a talanton is sounded at three points around the
church. The dismissal is given and all move to the chapel where the Divine
Liturgy is to be celebrated. There, first of all, the Third and Sixth Hours are read.
At the ‘Glory be ...’ of the Sixth Hour, the verger sounds the sideraki. It is at
roughly this point that the priest rings the little bell of the prothesis (the side of the
sanctuary for the prepartion for the Liturgy) and the Fathers, removing their
hoods and stepping down from their stalls, silently commemorate the names
which each calls to mind of the living and departed.
A short while after this the verger lights the ‘drakontia’ of the screen of the
chapel and the Divine Liturgy follows. The sanctuary doors remain closed,
opening only at the two Entrances and for the Holy Communion.
At the third antiphon, the priest, carrying the Gospel book and preceded by the
verger with a lighted ‘eisodiko’, makes the Little Entrance. The readings, the
Epistle, and the Gospel follow. Soon after the Hymn of the Cherubim is sung as
the Great Entrance, in which the sacred elements are brought from the prothesis
to the altar, takes place. The central prayers of the Liturgy create a holy tension,
which lasts until the saying of the Lord’s Prayer. Before Communion, the monks
venerate the icons. This is followed by the Holy Communion of the Body and
Blood of Christ, the central point in the life of the monk, and of every Christian.
The dismissal follows. The blessed bread is distributed and the congregation
on leaving take holy water from a special vessel in the lite.
Then, if it is not a fast day, on which there is no morning meal, the community
moves into the refectory. Grace is said, and while those present eat their meal,
extracts from patristic texts or lives of saints are read. The priest, if the Abbot is
absent, with the tap of a wooden gavel indicates that the meal is at an end, and
blesses the left-overs, giving thanks to God. At the door of the refectory, the
priest blesses the community and guests as they leave, while those who have
served the meal bow from the waist, seeking forgiveness from their brethren for
any errors or omissions. Two or three hours of rest precede a return of the
monks to the task allotted to each of them.
Just as any small community needs, in order to live, a correct distribution of
tasks, so a coenobitic monastery, a skete, or a kelli survives, progresses, and
fulfils its saving mission by assigning the various tasks (diakonimata) to the
monks who live there.
The guestmaster waits to refresh the guests as they arrive with the traditional
tray of water, raki and Turkish delight, and to arrange their rooms. Other brothers
deal with the lay workers employed at the monastery, look after the older monks,
see to the animals, make bread, or prepare the food in the kitchens. The verger
is in charge of the cleaning and good order of the church; others have as their
manual labour the making of prayer ropes, icon-painting, woodcarving,
silversmithing, the making of incense, and, occasionally, the making of vestments
The older monks who await their passage to an unageing blessedness speak
to one another of spiritual things, and turn to memories of the past or thoughts of
the future, while the whole surroundings perpetuate an unbroken peace which
illuminates the domes, the crosses, the phiale, and the fountain which adorn the
At 8:30, Byzantine time, the verger sounds the first talanto, at 8:45 the second,
and at 9:00 the third. at this point, the Ninth Hour begins in the lite. At the "Glory
be ...’of the Ninth Hour, the verger leaves the church to sound the kopano and
then the sideraki. When the Ninth Hour has ended, the priest, standing before the
sanctuary, begins Vespers. This service, according to ancient Christian custom,
with its roots in Jewish worship, is the introduction to the following day. The
‘Proimiakos’ is read by the senior monk present. At the words "Lord, I have cried
...", the priest censes the church. On ordinary ferial days there is no Entrance.
After the Nunc dimittis, the verger extinguishes the ladokeria, and the dismissal
The monks leave the church for the refectory. Again the meal is accompanied
by devotional and instructive readings. At 12:00 the verger sounds the sideraki
for Compline, which takes place in the lite. This is a time of prayer and
supplication to God to keep under His protection all those who depart for sleep.
After the Creed, the lamp before the icon of the Theotokos is lit, and a monk, with
head uncovered, recites the Salutations. During the course of Compline, or
immediately afterwards, pilgrims have permission to venerate the sacred relics in
the nave. Before Compline ends, monks and pilgrims kiss the icons and receive
the blessing of the Abbot or the priest before the dismissal.
After this, some choose to learn from conversation, others to read, and others
to rest. Finally, everyone retires to his cell. The monks wake soon after midnight,
in order to fulfil, before going to the church, their own individual ‘canon’ (rule of
life), which normally includes prostrations, prayer with the prayer rope and
In this way the day begins and ends, the everyday routine of monastic life on
Athos, for a thousand years now. The abiding impression is that the night which
rules at its beginning and its close is not the horror which shrinks and contracts
life, but the hope-bringing calm which gives life to a revitalising mortification, a
burial which bears life within itself like seed, and night with its darkness which will
give place to the fullness of the light of the Triune Godhead.