Premonition on the Holy Mountain

Years ago, poet and literature professor Scott Cairns ran headlong into his midlife crisis. Cairns realized his spiritual life was advancing slowly and time was running out. For this this Baptist turned Eastern Orthodox, a desperate need to seek out prayer led him to Mount Athos—the Holy Mountain.

Originally published in 2007, Short Trip to the Edge is the narrative of Scott’s spiritual journey to the mystical peninsula of Mt. Athos. With twenty monasteries and thirteen sketes scattered across its sloping terrain, the Holy Mountain was the perfect place for seeking out and discovering the stillness of a true prayer life.

Scott revisits Mt. Athos in the poem Premonition on the Holy Mountain: Remembering Brett Foster. Enter the katholikon, embrace the “dark hours,” join the host of silent witnesses and bide your time in peace as we prepare our hearts for Holy Week.

Read an excerpt of Short Trip to the Edge

Premonition on the Holy Mountain—remembering Brett FosterIn Vatopaidi’s dark katholikon
the liturgy has just begun, though we
three pilgrims have stood propped in our stasidi
for, lo, three dark hours already. The Psalms,
the Midnight Hours, the Matins—all have filled
our drowsy heads with Greek as we have drifted
in and out of what seems very like a dream.
It seems a dance, it seems a slow, a ceaseless
prayer, and, when I close my eyes, I feel
that I am also dancing with a crowd
of silent witnesses. It is a taste—
one might suppose—of what one finds interred:
embraced, asleep, and biding time in peace.

Just now, three tall thin monks float into view
to set lit tapers to the oil lamps,
and we awaken to the call announcing
“Blesséd is the kingdom of the Father,
of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
I turn to see my friend. He has fully
wakened now, his face aglow, his face aflame,
his lovely spirit singing Blesséd is the name.

Other titles by Scott Cairns:

Slow-Pilgrim

Compass-of-Affection

 

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