This idea he had now was of the second sort, a flash of inspiration so blinding that he staggered and almost fell, unable to bear up under its impact. For a moment he did not even know-or care-where he was. The words, the glorious words reverberating in his mind, were all that mattered.
And yet, because the inspiration came to him in his native language, his intelligence was also engaged. How could he put his thoughts into words his fellows here and folk all through the empire would understand? He knew he had to; God would never forgive him, nor he forgive himself, if he failed here.
The refectory was dark but, since it was filled with summer air and sweating monks, not cool. The monk took a loaf and a cup of wine. He ate without tasting what he had eaten. His comrades spoke to him; he did not answer. His gaze was inward, fixed on something he alone could see.
Suddenly he rose and burst out, “There is no God but the Lord, and Christ is His Son!” That said what he wanted to say, and said it in good Greek, though without the almost hypnotic intensity the phrase had in his native tongue. Still, he saw, it served his purpose: several monks glanced his way, and a couple, having heard only the bare beginning of the song, made the sacred sign of the cross.
He noticed the others in the refectory only peripherally. Only later would he realize he had heard John say in awe to the abbot Isaac, “The holy fit has taken him again.”
For the prior was right. The fit had taken him, and more strongly than ever before. Words poured from somewhere deep within him: “He is the Kindly, the Merciful, Who gave His only-begotten Son that man might live. The Lord will abide forever in glory, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Which of the Lord’s blessings would you deny?”
On and on he sang. The tiny part of him not engaged in singing thanked God for granting him what almost amounted to the gift of tongues. His spoken Greek, especially when dealing with things of the world, was sometimes halting. Yet again and again now he found the words he needed. That had happened before, but never like this.
“There is no God but the Lord, and Christ is His Son!” Ending as he had begun, the monk paused, looking around for a moment as he slowly came back to himself. His knees failed him; he sank back to his bench. He felt drained but triumphant. The only comparison he knew was most unmonastic: he felt as he had just after a woman.
He rarely thought these days of the wife he had left with all else when he had given over the world for the monastery. He wondered if she still lived; she was a good deal older than he. With very human vanity, he wondered if she ever thought of him. With his own characteristic honesty, he doubted it. The marriage had been arranged. It was not her first. Probably it would not have been her last, either.
The touch of the prior’s hand on his arm brought him fully back to the confines he had chosen as his own. “That was most marvelous,” John said. “I count myself fortunate to have heard it.”
The monk dipped his head in humility. “You are too kind, reverend sir.”
“I do not think so.” John hesitated, and went on anxiously, “I trust-I pray-you will be able to write down your words so those not lucky enough to have been here on this day will yet be able to hear the truth and grandeur of which you sang.”
The monk laughed-again, he thought, as he might have at any small thing after going in unto his wife.”Have no fear there, reverend sir. The words I recited are inscribed upon my heart. They shall not flee me.”
“May it be as you have said,” the prior told him.
John did not, however, sound as if he believed him. To set his mind at ease, the monk sang the new hymn again, this time not in the hot flush of creation but as one who brought out an old and long-familiar song. “You see, reverend sir,” he said when he was done. “What the Lord, the Most Bountiful One, has granted me shall not be lost.”
“Now I have been present at two miracles,” John said, crossing himself. “Hearing your song the first time and then, a moment later, again with not one single change, not a different word, that I noticed.”
With his mind the monk felt of the texture of his creation, comparing his first and second renditions of the hymn. “There were none,” he said confidently. “I would take oath to it before Christ the Judge of all.”
“No need on my account. I believe you,” John said. “Still, even miracles, I suppose, may be stretched too far. Therefore I charge you, go at once to the writing chamber and do not leave it until you have written out three copies of your hymn. Keep one yourself, give me one, and give the third to any other one of the brethren you choose.”
For the first time in his life, the monk dared protest his prior’s command. “But reverend sir, I should not waste so much time away from the work of preparing for our journey to the city.”
“One monk’s absence will not matter so much there,” John said firmly. “Do as I tell you, and we will bring to Constantinople not only our humble selves but also a treasure for all time in your words of wisdom and prayer. That is why I bade you write out three copies: if the worst befall and the Persians overrun us, which God prevent, then one might still reach the city. And one must, I think. These words are too important to be lost.”
The monk yielded. “It shall be as you say, then. I had not thought on why you wanted me to write out the hymn three times-I thought it was only for the sake of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
To his amazement, John bowed to him. “You are most saintly, thinking only of the world of the spirit. As prior, though, I have also to reckon with this world’s concerns.”
“You give me too much credit,” the monk protested. Under his swarthy skin he felt himself grow hot, remembering how moments ago he had been thinking, not of the world to come, but of his wife.
“Your modesty becomes you,” was all John said to that. The prior bowed again, discomfiting the monk even more. “Now I hope you will excuse me, for I have my work to see to. Three fair copies, mind, I expect from you. In that matter I will accept no excuses.”
The monk made one last try. “Please, reverend sir, let me labor, too, and write later, when our safety is assured. Surely I will earn the hatred of my brethren for being idle while they put all their strength into readying us to go.”
“You are not idle,” John said sternly.”You are in the service of the Lord, as are they. You are acting under my orders, as are they. Only vicious fools could resent that, and vicious fools will have to deal with me.” The prior set his jaw.
“They will do as you say, reverend sir,” the monk said- who could dare disobey John? “But they will do it from obedience alone, not from conviction, if you take my meaning.”
“I know what you mean,” the prior said, chuckling. “How could I be who I am and not know it? Here, though, you are wrong. Not a man who was in the refectory and heard your hymn will bear you any but the kindest of wills. All will be as eager as I am to have it preserved.”
“I hope you are right,” the monk said.
John laughed again. “How could I be wrong? After all, I am the prior.” He thumped the monk on the back. “Now go on and prove it for yourself.”
With more than a little trepidation, the monk did as he had been ordered. He was surprised to find John right. Though he sat alone in the writing chamber, from time to time monks bustling past paused a moment to lean their burdens against the wall, stick their heads in the doorway, and encourage him to get his song down on papyrus.