Time definitely passes differently at a camp near a monastery. I have asked two people already for the time and the day and both have responded alike that they count the day and the hour not according to their watch or phone, but according to their obedience: when it begins (now), when it ends (soon), when we will eat the next meal (soon enough), and when we will go to bed (before and after prayer). Who needs to measure the day with numbers in such an arrangement?
This monastic pattern of life makes this camp feel very different then even Orthodox camps I have visited in America. For it makes even loud events like sports or singing more subdued, more controlled— a kind of sober exuberance.
I go to the metal yard for a repeat obedience in the morning. The campers are older this time and beg permission afterwards to go to town and buy things. They seemed to do fine without my permission, so I don’t give it. Don’t ask don’t tell, I suppose. We are not all monks after all, only pilgrims visiting a monastery.
In the afternoon, I spend time with my son and his friend who are my tent buddies. We go to the monastery together for the Akathist to Elder Ambrose and venerate his opened relics. My buddies help me find a clergyman’s skufia (hat). The rest of the afternoon is spent doing odds and ends and running errands including two water runs and a trip into town to fix the back door handle on the UAZ (a simple grey van spoken of previously). The latter mini-adventure was a lesson in the circuitous ways of getting things done in Russia. We went first to four different shops, then back to the original one. After my British friend and fellow pilgrim, the gnome from Scotland, took the door handle off and handed it to the mechanic, this Russian man could no longer resist. As my gnomic friend said, “What Russian man can resist fixing a broken part once he has touched it?” The 200 rubles (about $3) he charged for the quick fix completed the triumph.
In the evening, I get just a small taste (thankfully) of what state the camp goes into when rain begins to fall. All run to their tents and doff the required rain boots and full poncho. Communal tents are all unrolled and loose articles secured. In case of a thunderstorm, the whole camp must run to the road and hold an enormous tarp over their heads to wait out the storm because one strike of lighting can easily bring down one of the tall, slender trees. Happily, our squall only lasts about 10 minutes and does not include thunder and lightning.
Late at night, after most campers had fallen asleep, my new friend and fellow UAZ patriot (not the British fellow) gathers a small group of young adults around the dying embers of the campfire for a bit of marshmallow roasting and wine toasting. My friend keeps the mood light with his copious amount of jokes and choice English phrases I presume he has memorized from somewhere online. Then one of the young ladies asks me to tell the story of how I became Orthodox.
It is a hard enough story in English. I don’t think I have ever tried to tell it in Russian. I get about 5 minutes into it, when eyes begin to glaze and the company begs to hear more when physical exhaustion is not so strong and my Russian language ability is better. I think I was at least able to communicate how fortunate it is to be Orthodox by birth and not have to wade through the pluralistic mess that led me to the Church.
On this last day, I feel fully satisfied with our time spent at camp near Optina. I think we will mark this as one of the best vacations ever. Glory to God for all things!