One of the most trying times for a seminarian, in my inexperienced opinion, is the period leading up to a great feast; the Home Stretch. For all Christians, there are of course temptations, but at a monastery, they seem to be especially magnified. Thankfully, by the time the feast comes along, everything is okay in the end.
After winter exams and before the Nativity of Our Lord we seminarians have to do a number of things in preparation for the feast. One of them is cleaning, known throughout the seminary as uborka, which my Serbian friend says sounds like the name of a scary Russian lady.
For my uborka, I was first assigned to clean and wax the monastic quarters, but then I got transferred over to cleaning the Seminary hall, which was relatively easy. However, I then found out that I also had to do the monastic quarters after all. Since we worked in teams, it turned out that the time that was most convenient for us was the night before Christmas Eve, or rather the very early morning thereof. We worked through the night, and (kinda) finished sometime around two in the morning. I went to my bed exhausted, and (un)fortunately slept through the liturgy of Christmas Eve.
That day, I also was assigned to work in the kitchen, where I managed to make the salad all by myself. According to Orthodox custom, on Christmas Eve we don't eat until nightfall, or specifically when the first star appears in the sky. I was working on an empty stomach, sustained only by a cup of juice or two. However, thanks be to God, people who work in the kitchen usually don't get very hungry, and I managed to work, standing up, for four hours preparing the festal meal.
After supper (which consisted of vegetables, mashed potatoes, soup, my salad, and kutia, a mixture of boiled wheat grains, raisins, and nuts) we went to church to serve the vigil service, which was a combination of Great Compline and Matins. It was another four hours of mostly standing; I was singing in the choir.
I was, to say the least, a bit tired. But then we sang the triumphal words:
God is with us!
Understand, O ye nations,
And submit yourselves,
For God is with us!
And then I began to feel that the Nativity was here, that the forty days of fasting and preparation were coming to an end, and that the time for celebrating the Incarnation of the Word made flesh was finally here. The suffering, the temptation, and the falls became as nothing. For God is with us!
Christ is born, glorify Him!