Πέμπτη 28 Μαΐου 2020

The Life and Teachings of Elder Epiphanios Theodoropoulos of Athens (+ October 28/November 10)

Orthodox Christianity
The following is the first lecture of a seven-part lecture series entitled “Contemporary Orthodox Elders,” offered by Patristic Nectar Publications. This series by Fr. Josiah Trenham seeks to unfold the nature of spiritual direction and eldership in the Church, and examines the lives of influential elders who have served Christ and who are either still living or who have reposed in the Lord in the last fifty years. Each of the seven presentations surveys the life and teaching of one particular elder. 
The elders include Fr. Epiphanios of Athens, St. Porphyrios of Attica, Fr. Sophrony of Essex, Fr. Cleopa of Sihastria, Fr. Aimilianos of Simonopetra, St. Paisios of Mt. Athos, and Fr. Ephraim of Arizona. These great elders from Romania, Greece, England and America, are majestic love gifts from the reigning Christ to His flock on earth and their radiant witness serves as a clear guide for all who wish to enter into the Kingdom of God.
The audio for this lecture, and the entire series can be found at Patristic Nectar Publications.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This is our first installment in the new series “Contemporary Orthodox Elders.” I think you’ll find it absolutely fascinating, and I want to make a few preliminary comments before we jump into our first example of glorious recent elders, Elder Epiphanios Theodoropoulos of Athens. The reason that I’ve chosen to do this series, which is dedicated to surveying the lives of seven elders, is that these elders have lived and reposed in the last fifty years. The reason they’re so important is that they answer the question we have as we struggle in our fallen world, which is, “Is it really possible to be faithful to God now? Things are so bad and the temptations are so great and the world is so pressing. I know it was done in the past—we have so many saints in the past who lived and found their way to the Kingdom of God in this wilderness, but they didn’t live with what we’re living with.” This is the thought. The reason the contemporary elders and saints are so important is that they provide a definitive “Yes.” They tell us that the resources that God has provided for His people—the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Mysteries of the Church, the power of Christian fellowship—are sufficient to enable us, as they have enabled our brothers and sisters in generations before us, to live a life that is holy and come into the Kingdom of God. This is the great value of the contemporary saints.
Transformation is possible for us and Pentecost is relevant now, right here. I have maybe fifteen contemporary men and women who mean a lot to me and upon whom I rely for hope and an example, but I have chosen seven. These real personas are affecting me still and I’m always learning. When I came home a few weeks ago from the country of Georgia I had a strange postcard in my bag. I was in the big cathedral, and a woman came up to me, and without saying a word she seemed to realize I was a foreigner, and gave me this postcard of some monk and walked away. I looked at him and he was so beautiful. I had no idea who it was, but I brought it home and now it’s on my keyboard, looking at me for the past month. This week I found out who it was. I sent the picture to some Georgian friends and found out he’s an incredible recent elder who suffered terribly under the communists and who was a Fool-for-Christ and recently glorified as a saint. His name is Elder Gabriel. That’s just one example of how the contemporary saints are not a static reality. New saints are constantly being made all the time. Just this past year Elder Paisios was glorified as a saint, and more are coming, which is incredible. We discover them and share them with each other and people from other countries visit and tell us about them. I’m always learning new things. 

Perhaps some of these elders you won’t know and I’ll have the happiness of sharing a very rich fare with you and you’ll take from it and eat and decide you want to continue eating from that plate the rest of your life and you’ll become friends with some of these elders. Tonight we’re starting with my favorite of favorites, Epiphanios Theodoropoulos. He lived and served most of his life in Athens, Greece. When I think of him I think of what St. Gregory wrote about St. Basil in an encomium on his life, that he was a professor of life and a teacher of dogmas. This is very much an apropos description of Elder Epiphanios. He was a professor of life. He was a very fine Patristic scholar and canonist and he wrote several books. A collection of his teachings have been published in English called Counsels for Life, translated and published by Fr. Nicholas Palis through his St. Nikodemos Publishing. 
He was a celibate priest, living his whole life in the world. He didn’t retreat to Mt. Athos which he loved dearly, but lived in the city of Athens and became a professor of life for believers and teacher of dogmas for us. He was born on December 27, 1930 in Vornazion in the southern Peloponnese in Greece. He was named Etioklis and he was the oldest of six kids. His parents John and Georgia were pious, and he had an aunt who was crippled a little bit in her feet named Alexandra to whom he was absolutely dedicated, and vice versa. She was a great God-lover, and many times he said that whatever he was in life he owed to God and Aunt Alexandra. 
He absolutely praised and loved his aunt, and also his grandmother. He said the two of them taught him to love Paradise. When he was young and squirmy Aunt Alexandra used to put him on a stool in the kitchen and told him that if he learned to sit still then Jesus would give him Paradise. Sometimes he would grow restless and start to squirm and he would ask her, “Do you think I’ve lost Paradise?” and she would say “If you move a little more you will.” Through those little interactions she taught him to evaluate everything he did in relationship to Paradise. She expected a lot from him. 
This is important for us to hear, in a time when we expect almost nothing from children and we’re taught to spoil them. 

He wanted to be a priest from the age of two and became very faithful to the fasts and services of the Church by the age of five. Sometimes his aunt would suggest that he have a little milk, because he was so young to be fasting so strictly, and he was so incensed for even suggesting drinking milk on a Sunday morning before Liturgy, when he was five! He used to give her little sermons about she needed to trust God and that it’s very important to listen to the Church because it’s the voice of Christ in the world. When he was six or seven he would beat the priests to the church and would be waiting for them by the locked church in the shadows. 
Many times he even scared his priest, making him think he was some burglar standing in the darkness by the locked doors. From childhood he read Small Compline every night and he later encouraged his spiritual children to read Compline. Sometimes he even read it by the light of the moon during the Nazi Occupation, when many Greeks were without electricity. He also had to become very wise in order to offset his aunt’s condescension to him. In humility she didn’t want to push him too hard. When she would get up early to go to some church or chapel for a feast day, she would leave him sleeping and sometimes he would wake up, and she’d be gone, and for him that was horrible. From the time he couldn’t stand it anymore, he would steal her shoes before he went to bed and hide them in bed with him so that she had to wake him up and not leave without him. 

When he was in elementary school he served as the altar boy in the school chapel and would take home prosphora from the liturgies and took a little bit every day to stay connected with the previous Liturgy and to prepare for the next Liturgy. He lived Liturgy to Liturgy. He used to reenact the entire Liturgy once or twice a week with his family in the living room. That’s a very common type—St. Athanasius the Great reenacted the Baptism service over his friend as a young boy. The patriarch of Alexandria saw it and said it was perfect and accepted it. This is how Elder Epiphanios lived. For him, even as a small child, the Liturgy was his greatest happiness.
He was very manly in his courage. His aunt recalls that when he was young, after he made a mistake he would immediately take credit for it. He wanted everyone to know it was his mistake because he couldn’t bear the thought that someone else would be blamed for his mistake.
He went to school in Kalamata. He was very academic, although he hated math. He was especially dedicated to reading Holy Scripture. He developed the practice for the rest of his life of reading the Old and New Testaments in the ancient languages three times each year. He wanted to regularly hear the voice of his beloved, which is the why people are so serious about reading the Scriptures every day. This is a common theme for holy people—think of St. Seraphim who read the New Testament every week. Once his aunt caught him reading some very secular material and was very offended. She didn’t understand why this pious young man would read such things, and he chastised her saying, “I am going to become a worker of the Gospel and I have to read all the things the other people have read. I have to know these things and be able to converse with them and be able to answer them.”
He used to say the university does not make the scholar, but rather the chair makes the scholar, referring to enduring the discomfort on your gluteus maximus and back and eyes from sitting in your chair, reading and studying. The willingness to endure is what produces scholarship and knowledge, which he applied to his spiritual life as well. In high school he stopped eating meat for the rest of his life. He honored the Lord’s Day very seriously and never studied on Sundays. He visited monasteries a lot as young man. He called the monks and nuns the “aristocracy of the Church,” meaning they had the wealth of prayer and the wealth of piety—real treasures, and he wanted to be with them.
He loved the poor and he would often turn his friends’ views of the poor upside down. His dad owned several fields and thieves were often caught stealing the harvest. As a young man he became responsible for the fields, and once a thief was caught. When Fr. Epiphanios heard the thief’s story, not only did he not punish the thief, but he told those holding him that this man had endured far more than his family, and decided that from then on they would set aside a portion of their fields for the thief every harvest, to take care of himself and his family. He didn’t want the man to have to look for other fields to steal from. He now had his own land to work, harvest, and sell.
In 1949 he moved to Athens at about twenty-two years of age and enrolled in the spiritual school and studied both sacred and secular literature very broadly, on the model of the Cappadocian Fathers. St. Gregory and St. Basil had studied the great secular works of the Greek Empire as well as the Holy Fathers and Scriptures in Athens. He often visited the monastery of Logovardo on the island of Paros, the home of the very famous Elder Philotheos Zervakos, who served as his spiritual father until his own death in 1980. He said if he wasn’t a priest he would have studied either medicine or law, because medicine is the most philanthropic of the sciences, and law enables one to champion the cause of the good and the just and to protect the innocent.

He was ordained a deacon at twenty-five, the canonical minimum age and published his first book entitled Holy Scripture and Evil Spirits. He published twenty-two books in all, and many articles. Unfortunately there is a small amount of his material translated into English. There is Counsels for Life, which I already mentioned, which is a thematic collection of his teachings, and there is also the wonderful book Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit which collects the lives of contemporary elders from Greece, including Elder Epiphanios. Hopefully more will be translated into English. 
He was a great zealot for the canons, including the local canons and those of the holy fathers which were ratified by Ecumenical Councils. Many contemporary Churchmen accused him of having a pharisaical attachment to the canons, but he said that to reject the canons and not listen to them was to reject the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Someone said to him: “Father, with your attachment to the sacred canons you will end up a legalist,” and he answered “No, my child. In an age, though, when many invent various excuses to throw these fruits of the Holy Spirit in the wastebasket, I insist on standing with absolute respect before these canons and the God-bearing fathers who instituted their beckonings.” He was not even close to being a Pharisee; he was just faithful—faithful to stand before the fathers and give them their due. We are in great need of that same spirit now. 

As a deacon he spent five years peacefully studying, reading and writing for five years without being bothered. What a nice life! He looked back on that period as a treasure. In 1961he was ordained a priest by Metropolitan Ambrose of Eleutheropolis, who deeply loved him. Fr. Epiphanios loved the priesthood. He used to marvel at archimandrites who were dissatisfied with being simply priests and wanted to become bishops. He had absolutely no idea what their problem was, and he mentioned it often—it’s like someone with the richest fare and they’re just not satisfied. He loved being a priest and serving the Holy Mysteries. He even loved not having to be a bishop and he refused the request of the Church to become a bishop more times than anyone can count. He was offered many offices but rejected them because he loved just serving, praying, hearing confessions, and writing and reading. He loved his cassock. Aunt Alexandra said if she hadn’t been there at the birth and known otherwise she would have been sworn that the man was born wearing a cassock. Once someone asked him what he would do if the Church of Greece banned cassocks. He said “I would live in seclusion.” 

He served his entire ministry in a little chapel in downtown Athens dedicated to the Three Holy Hierarchs, and refused to receive a single penny in payment. He made a deal with God that he would keep his pockets empty through charity if He would keep his pockets full. He ended up building churches and a beautiful monastery, helping students go through university, and taking care of the poor. He was a machine of almsgiving because he stayed true to his promise to God. He edited publications for the austere publishing house of the Papademetriou Brothers which brought him income for food, but he remained unpaid and uninsured his entire life. 

He had a very serious personal Typicon. He woke up and prayed and served the services from 4-9, studied from 9-12, and then opened his confessional from 12-5 or 6, nonstop every day. After Vespers he went to the hospitals and visited the sick, and then he went to bed. That was the basic cycle of his life: prayer, study, confession, services, hospital, sleep. 

In addition to refusing to become bishop, he sacrificed a full professorship, the offer to become the chief secretary of the Synod of Bishops of the Church of Greece, to be the rector in a magnificent large church, and to be the director of a missionary brotherhood. He just wanted to live peacefully with his stole that he could put on people’s heads and reconcile them with God through Confession. Confession was his greatest happiness. It was his own personal crucifixion with Christ to accept this many sins and he wrote, “There is no greater satisfaction for me than to remain for many hours on the seat of the confessional and to reconcile man with God.” 
Once he said to a spiritual child who had behavioral problems, causing himself and others great grief, “Now I can explain why you are acting like this. I have not placed you particularly in my prayers, but from today, this evening, I will do it.” He saw the person’s behavior and blamed himself—because he had been given to him by God as a spiritual child but he hadn’t particularly prayed for him. So he decided to start that night. 

He had terrible insomnia, and three times in his life it was so bad that he begged God to deliver him from it. Each time, when he couldn’t bear to go on, he let the New Testament fall open, and each time it fell open to 2 Cor. 12 where the Lord said to St. Paul that He had given him a thorn in the flesh so that he might not boast of the revelations he was able to see, that he could become strong in his weakness. After the third time he never complained or asked God again, recognizing that it was from God, that he could depend on God in weakness. 

In 1976, he founded a monastery of the Mother of God, "Full of Grace," in Trizina, in the Peloponnese near his birthplace. From then on he split his time between his Three Holy Hierarchs chapel and the monastery, where he provided spiritual direction. He was absolutely devoted to the Holy Mountain and the monastic way though he himself chose to serve God in the city. Once a nun came to him asking very complex spiritual advice about the Jesus Prayer, and with the humility which distinguished him he told her, “I am a man who lives in the world. I am on the one hand a celibate clergyman, but in the end, I live in the world. I will tell you a few technical simple things, but you would do well to seek the counsel of an agiorite [1] father.” He told her of a particular monk who especially practiced and taught hesychasm. The sister answered him, “But elder, he is the one who sent me to you.” 

In December of 1982 he developed cancer of the stomach and had surgery. He was barely fifty. Three quarters of his stomach were removed and in 1988 he had a second operation and he reposed on November 10, 1989 at fifty-eight. Before he died he wrote out the instructions for his funeral—where to be buried, what to write on his tombstone, etc. He lay in state at his Three Holy Hierarchs chapel, then was moved to a very beautiful church that he loved near the chapel, then to his monastery in the Peloponnese, which is where he was buried. On his tomb, which is white marble, he had 1 Tim. 1:15 written: This is a trustworthy statement, worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief. That’s his life—an absolutely beautiful man. In the remaining few minutes I want to share a number of his teachings which I think you’ll find inspiring. He used to say that love, which is the primary characteristic proving an authentic Christian faith, is self-multiplying, just like a candle lights another candle without diminishing. There’s no diminishing when you share love. He was also very tough. In the city a lot of people wanted to find ways to justify themselves. A woman brought her young pregnant but unmarried daughter to Fr. Epiphanios, thinking she could convince him to bless am abortion. He listened to the woman explaining about how they have no money and the father isn’t around and this would ruin her life and the obvious course was to have an abortion, and so on. He looked at the woman, took off his stole and hung it on the wall, and leaned over to her and said “Can you do me a favor,and look at my forehead? Do you see the word ‘IDIOT’ written on my forehead?” She said no and he said, “Get out of my chapel before I scorch you with the holy canons for the rest of your life.” How appropriate. He had the love of Christ and also the courage and prophetic nature of Christ, to do such a thing. What a man.
He loved kids and often gave parenting advice, saying that they needed to talk to God more about their kids than to their kids about God, which St Porphyrios used to say too. He said that when someone is free he has rights and responsibilities, but when he gets married he has few rights and very many responsibilities. Then when he has children he has no rights and only responsibilities. How true. He also said that married Christians need to go to church early on Sunday mornings, because we pray Orthros for the faithful, not for the chairs. One time a woman came to him, and in her Confession she talked all about her daughter-in-law’s sin, who she was very upset with. It kept going and going, so he took off his stole, without reading the prayer of forgiveness. She asked him whether he was going to read it, and he said, 
“Absolutely, just send me your daughter-in-law and I’ll read it right away.”
He was once asked about how to find a holy spiritual father. This is a very relevant teaching today because many Orthodox in America somehow think that you can’t be saved without a God-bearing elder. A theologian told the elder that he was having difficulty finding a suitable spiritual elder, and he said, “My beloved, you don’t have a problem with an elder, you have a problem with yourself. If you had a problem with an elder you would go out on the street, turn right, walk a hundred meters, turn left, walk another fifty meters, and stop and wait there until the first spiritual father walked by. You would do undiscerning obedience and have neither a problem with an elder nor with your own salvation. It is not holy fathers that we are in need of, as much as holy obedience. Did all the great saints of the Church have a particular holy elder? No. What they did have was holy humility and holy obedience and for this reason also they became holy.” It’s a beautiful word to us about what we really need.
Once a woman who had confessed to Elder Epiphanios for the very first time told him she would have preferred to have confessed to a spiritual father who was elderly and blind. So he said to her, “And he if were deaf it would be even better!” 

He said God has provided family dynamics that have to be governed by patience and tolerance. Rubber tires have inner tubes so that the car won’t fall apart on a bumpy road. The same thing happens when members of a family yield to the wishes of each other. This way we surpass many problems without falling apart. You just have to learn how to bump and move whenever you have a little conflict in the family. He used to praise couples who had a fifth child. When he did Baptisms of a fifth child he would give a sermon on martyrdom, saying any family that would embrace a fifth child is embracing a small martyrdom, and that God would certainly help them in a unique way. Once he was asked how he could justify refusing to become a bishop, as he could have done so much more good as a bishop. 
He said, “Through my counseling and Confession I’ve been able to convince many families who were only going to have one or two children to have one more.” That’s how precious and important he thought children were. Once someone asked him if he felt inferior when people younger and with less qualifications became bishops and he said, 
“Oh, child, why should I feel like that? What am I lacking? The crown on my head? I was never jealous of these things, nor do they suit me. I’m not lacking anything. I’m a priest and I perform the Sacraments. I bless the bread and wine and they become the Body and Blood of Christ. I read the prayer of forgiveness over the believer and his sins are wiped out. I join a couple in common life. I do everything. They only thing I don’t do is ordain. However that is an advantage, not a disadvantage. If you only knew what a responsibility the bishops have, that they will give an account before Christ for the ordinations they perform.”
He was once asked if he ever saw a vision, and he said, “Oh, my child, no, nor do I ever wish to see one. The only thing I want to see are my sins.” He was also asked if he’d seen miracles. “Miracles? Nothing but. The greatest miracle which I have seen is that God came down to earth to save me, the most sinful of people.”
He was many times seen burdened by his labor of love, pastoring, and someone said to him, “Elder I see that today you are distressed,” and he answered to him, “And what day am I not? The problems of the Church and of my spiritual children are my won. My heart only has entrances. It has no exists. My worst hell is to realize that i have saddened a beloved person.” Wow! Elder Epiphanios Theodoropoulos. What a man, what a gift from God in His great love to us! God bless you for listening and being saturated with this wonderful man. 

Question: Is there a reason he chose to remain celibate? Was he actually a monk?

He was a monk-priest, and he said he never thought of anything else since he was little. But you see what an authentic monk he is. You can’t be an authentic monk unless you love marriage. He loved marriage and he loved family life so much, and that proved that his monasticism was not a deprecation of marriage, but a deep appreciation and a love offering of his whole energy to God, and that’s what makes a true monk. The fathers of the Church say that if you’re a monk because you think something’s wrong with marriage, you are no monk; you’re a heretic. If marriage is not holy and blessed, then what you’re doing is not an offering to God, but it’s a must, because there’s no other way to live. But it’s not. Marriage is blessed by God, which means that giving up the great happiness of marriage so that you can completely dedicate yourself to God’s service, which is what he did, as a true monk, is the harder path. 

[1] That is, a monk of the Holy Mountain. 

Κυριακή 24 Μαΐου 2020

Elder Evmenios Saridakis: the holy friend of lepers (May 23th, 1999): “Lord Jesus Christ, I want You to save all people”...


Fr. Evmenios was born in 1931 in Ethia of Monophatsion in the province of Heraklion of Crete, the eighth child of a poor family of faithful Christians. He became a monk at the age of 17; he struggled to cultivate his soul with love and prayer and was tested very harshly by leprosy; but later also, while a priest, by a demonic influence which tormented him in body and soul, but was freed of it after many prayers, vigils and exorcisms in monasteries of Crete, such as the monasteries of Koudoumás and Panagía Kalyvianí. 
Leprosy brought him to the Hospital for Infectious Diseases in the St.Barbara suburb of Athens. He was healed there, but, having seen human suffering, he decided to remain at the Hospital as a priest, in order to help comfort his fellow-men as much as he could! That was where “he was to begin his pastoral work, in the presence of which, those with theological degrees and ecclesiastic offices ought to kneel”.
His love and his ascetic labours brought God’s grace upon him; this humble priest (who officiated in the chapel of the Holy Unmercenaries and Physicians, Saints Cosmas and Damianos, situated inside the Hospital for Infectious Diseases) reached a high degree of sanctity – which  he kept secret as much as he could – and became endowed with the gift of foresight, lofty spiritual experiences and visions and helped countless people of every social class and level of education - not only with his advice and his prayers, but also with his sanctified presence.
The Elder loved everyone, every individual personally, and he was particularly a laughing saint – his booming laugh was one of his distinctive features – likewise, he would often exit the Inner Sanctum during the course of a Liturgy, with his beard soaked by his tears, since he used to pray for all of our suffering and unfortunate fellow-men, obviously because he also had the gift of tears.
Our beloved priest laughed; he used to laugh a lot. He would laugh together with us people and would infect us with his joy. He would laugh together with the saints, with the Lady Theotokos, with the angels, and would again infect us, with the joy of the saints, of the Lady Theotokos and of the angels. Which is why, whenever we paid him a visit feeling sad and tired in body and soul, we would depart with spirits…flying high.

Fr. Evmenios also often laughed during the course of services - sometimes while reading the holy gospel or while censing the icon of the Lady Theotokos during the chanting of the hymn in Her honour: 
“More precious than the Cherubim…” [an important troparion in honour of the Holy Mother, chanted at a predetermined point of the daily morning service – Matins], or during the “Paraclesis” services [Paraclesis = Entreaty; aka “Paracletic Canon” = a musical + poetic work comprised of prayers to the Holy Mother or to a Saint.  Christians often read paraclesies in their homes, but they are also chanted in the temple]. 
[…] “Whoever approached him saw a priest, a monk, with great joy reflected in his countenance. This joy would often be expressed with profuse laughter, which would either mingle with his words or overflow from the edges of his closed lips every time he remained silent.  You could tell that it was the laughter of a grace-filled man, a heart brimming with a true divine serenity and joy that poured out and refreshed those near him and made them wonder.
It was obvious that fr. Evmenios strived to restrain himself out of humility so that this divine trait would not be apparent, but he didn’t always succeed.
Whenever I visited him I would receive this gift – that is, his joy and his “different” laughter, which flowed right into to my heart. When he donned his hieratic attire and stood at the Beautiful Gate to say “Peace be to all” or to cense the icon of our Panagía at the iconostasis, his face - compared to his resplendent hieratical attire – shone far more brightly. Especially when in front of the icon of the Theotokos, during the hymn “More precious than the Cherubim…” or during the Salutations to the Theotokos, he would actually hail Her, flooded with joy and laughing on his own, as if the Theotokos had just given him some pleasant news […]” (cf. Monk Simon, Fr. Evmenios – The hidden saint of our time, Athens 2010, ed. 2, pp. 137-146).
Elder Porphyrios used to say about Elder Evmenios: “You should go and receive the blessing of Elder Evmenios, for he is the hidden Saint of our time. A saint like Elder Evmenios comes along only once every two hundred years”.
At the Hospital for Infectious Diseases, he was blessed to meet the leprosied holy monk Nicephorus who, even though blinded by the illness, had nevertheless become a great spiritual father of many Christians and a teacher to Elder Evmenios.
He spent the last two years of his life at the “Annunciation” Hospital and on May 23, 1999 he gave up his spirit in the Lord and was buried at his birth place (in Ethia), in accordance with his wishes. 

The Elder’s prayer (“And God was pleased”) 

The holy Elder’s secret life (= his personal ascetic struggles) is not widely known. However, the following prayer of his is of particular importance; a prayer that is included along with much more information on his life and the witness of many people who had met him (as well as many testimonies about his Holy-Spiritual (= miraculous) charismas), in the excellent book by Monk Simon, Fr. Evmenios – The hidden saint of our time, Athens 2010, ed. 2, pp. 133-134. Metropolitan Neophytus of Morphos, Cyprus, narrates the following story:
“A very important event from Elder Evmenios’ life that I recall, is a prayer that he had coined:   
“Lord Jesus Christ, I want You to save all people”.   
“And God was pleased”, he would tell me.   
“And then I said: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, I want You to save all the Catholics.  And all the Protestants, my Christ, I want You to save them”. And God was pleased.   
“I also want You to save the Moslems and all those who belong to all the religions; I want You to save even the atheists”. And God was very pleased.   
And I told him: “My Christ, I want you to save all those who have fallen asleep, from the time of Adam until now”. And God was very pleased.   
And I told him: ‘My God, I want you to save Judas also’. And finally I added: ‘I want you to save the devil also’. And God was saddened”.   
I told him: “Why was God sad?” 
“Because God wants to, but they don’t (want to be saved)”, he replied; “there is not a trace of good will for salvation in the devil”.    
“Hold on”, I told him, “how did you know when God was pleased and when He was sad?” 
And he said to me: “If your heart becomes one with Christ’s heart, you feel what He feels”. 
So, can you perceive the breadth of this man’s heart? This was one of the most powerful things I have ever heard; and I have never heard something like it by anyone else. And he perceived those things from the intensity of Grace. Depending on the degree of Grace, he was able to perceive His sadness or His pleasure, to whatever he said or did”.
[Grace: God’s benevolent energy, which emanates towards every creature and, depending on the degree that man opens up to that energy (= he desires it and becomes suitable for it to enter him by cultivating humble love), he is saved and becomes a saint. According to the holy Fathers, Grace is “uncreated”, in other words, not manufactured: it is emitted directly by God; it is not a creation of His; thus, whoever opens up and divine Grace enters inside him will have God Himself inside him, not a creation. In other words he becomes united to God (theosis-deification).] 

The battle with the enemy (the devil) 

Because many of our readers would like something more on the subject, let us mention a few more excerpts from fr. Simon’s book (pp. 60-65).
The enemy struck when, after a series of demonic visions with wild beasts, the Elder (a young and inexperienced priest at the time, albeit with faith, full of love and a champion of prayer) ceased to have any demonic offenses and felt that he had “vanquished the devil” and had made a fool of him. That moment was an egotistic fall into a trap and the enemy struck him as he was descending the stairs at the Infectious Diseases Hospital - first on his face and eventually on his soul.
Regarding that period of his life, the Elder said: “It was a time when my tears burned my face; scalding hot tears”. His suffering ended, not with the help of psychiatry, but after fasting, vigils and numerous visits, in the company of faithful friends and fellow-villagers, to the monasteries of Crete. According to the holy elder, the final battle against the enemy took place at the Monastery of Panagía of Koudoumá; a victory by the Panagía for his sake.
It should be noted that the Monastery of Koudoumá (south of the Heraklion province) is one of the most important Orthodox monasteries of Crete and many saints rose there, such as Saints Parthenius and Evmenios (they fell asleep in the early years of the 20th century), Joachim the Dwarf, Gennadius (later ascetic of Akoumiani of Gialia in the Rethymnon province) and others.
A poem dedicated to the venerable Elder Evmenios Saridakis
I do not recall the exact date -
after all, I’m not very good with numbers;
they have too much logic and they tire me.
But what I certainly do recall
is that when the blessed relic arrived in our island,
after a two-day pilgrimage to the capital
I went up to the village to see a Saint.
After all, such a phenomenon is not that common!!!
When I drew near him,
a radiance that scorched every hesitation
and rationalizing custom
appeared vibrantly on his countenance.
No!!! It wasn’t just me who could see it;
there were many there, with lit candles
and wounded hearts:
He was glowing!!!!!!
But that glow had nothing of this here creation.
It was not a light in a sky of ours,
nor was it a form like those that adorn the walls
of our space and time.
It was not a frame that awakens one from oblivion
and loneliness for those departed.
It was a light, out of the light.
A radiance, of an Easter adorned.
But most of all, the thing that muted the sounds of logic
and silenced and calmed
the innermost voices of my defiant thoughts was
… those weary feet of the Saint:
they were warm and soft, like his heart;
and yet, three days had passed since he fell asleep!!!
 (fr. Libyos)

Translation:  Petros

Κυριακή 10 Μαΐου 2020

Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra († 9 May 2019)


The sinners are in the Church also. The sinners too? Of course, the sinners too. God never shuts them out. He keeps them within His body until the very last moment, tied to Him, so that they don’t ever despair at all, and the despair doesn’t overwhelm them, and they don’t lose their crown. “You too, who are a sinner,” says Christ, “are my child, part of my body. Courage then, my child, in your struggle and you will triumph! If you want, I’ll give you even more grace and in the end we will find ourselves in heaven together.” . . . The Church is the Body of Christ. This means that all of us, since we all belong to the body of the Church, are no longer independent bodies, but are members of hers. I am one hand, you the other. You are an eye, he the other. Each of us is one member (1 Cor 12:14-18). Therefore we must not look at another with indifference and coldly, but with tender-hearted love. My hand hurts? I will suffer. That is, we are to see the other people as our hand. We are to love them.

Based on Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra, may his memory be eternal
In this old photo is Elder Aimilianos with Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi (A smile from eternity)
Biographical details by Hieromonk Serapion Simonopetritis

On the morning of 9 May 2019, Archimandrite Elder Aimilianos, former Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Simonos Petras on the Holy Mountain fell asleep in the Lord at the Holy Convent of the Annunciation of the Mother of God, Ormylia, Halkidiki.

You have made known to me the ways of life; you will fill me with joy with your countenance (Ps. 15, 11)

Elder Archimandrite Aimilianos, born Alexandros Vafeidis, was Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Simonos Petras from 1973 until 2000. He was born in Nikaia, Piraeus, in 1934, to devout parents, though by ancestry he was from Asia Minor. His grandmother on his father’s side, Evdoxia, was Constantinopolitan, while his grandfather was from Silivria in Thrace and had studied at the famous Theological School of Halki. In 1906, they moved to Simantra, in the blessed region of Cappadocia, where they served as teachers to the Greek population. After the Asia Minor catastrophe, they went to Greece, because of the exchange of populations. Though married, they lived as monastics, praying and keeping vigils. His grandmother went to her repose as a nun, with the name Eftaxia as did his mother, with the name Aimiliani.

The Elder inherited his spiritual and bodily gifts from his grandfather and from his grandmother he gained indelible spiritual experiences. From childhood he bore within him the desire to devote himself to God and applied himself to the study of the Gospel and many Patristic books and to the unceasing repetition of the Jesus Prayer, from which he drew authentic answers and divine inspiration concerning the course of his life.
He attended primary school in Simantra*, Halkidiki, where his grandmother had settled and secondary school in Nikaia, Piraeus, where his parents were. He was an excellent student. He continued his studies at the University of Athens, initially in the School of Law, at which he spent two years before transferring to the School of Theology, where he could be trained in accordance with the inclinations of his soul.
During the course of his university studies, with a group of like-minded friends from his high school days, he became very active, organizing Sunday schools, talks and other events which allowed his spiritual, leadership and organizational gifts to shine. When he’d completed his studies, because of the prevailing thinking at that time, he considered the priesthood, with external mission as the ultimate goal. He judged that it would be better, however, to begin his preparations for this task in a monastery. He turned to Metropolitan Dionysios of Trikka [Trikala] and Stagi, who had just assumed his pastoral duties and was reputed to be a supporter of monasticism.

Elder Aimilanos’ tonsure as a monk
He came to Trikala in 1960 and placed himself at the disposal of the leader of the flock, who on 9 December 1960, tonsured him and gave him the name Aimilianos. He was registered as a monk at the Holy Monastery of Saint Vissarion, in Dousiko. On the 11th of the same month His Eminence Dionysios ordained him deacon in the church of Saint Paraskevi, Trikala. He was thereafter sent to various monasteries in Meteora, which were going through a time of shortage as regards numbers of monks. Then, on the feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, in the year 1961, he was ordained to the priesthood at the Holy Monastery of Vitouma.

Elder Aimilianos at Dousiko

After his ordination to the priesthood he lived for four months, that is until December of that year, at the Holy Monastery of Saint Vissarion, at Dousiko. In that deserted and isolated spot he lived in complete seclusion and quietude, fervently and intensively seeking God, ‘Who saves us from storms and from faintheartedness’. In His providence, the Lord paid heed to his mystical pleas, appeared to His servant and, transfiguring his existence in the fire, revealed to him ‘the path of life’.
He now turned with might and main to the monastic life. All that was left of it at that time was a shadow of what it had once been, but with invincible courage and soaring hope he envisioned its revival and renewal.

*Many of the places where Greeks from Asia Minor settled were named after their original home town.

Abbot of the Great Meteora and multi-faceted activity in the Metropolis of Trikka

At the end of 1961, the Metropolitan of Trikka, who shared Fr. Aimilianos’ desire for the monastic life, called him back from Dousiko and made him Abbot of the Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration at the Great Meteora. Initially he was there alone, but, despite his always fragile health, he found strength in high-minded fortitude and the tireless pursuit of the ascetic, mystical and sacramental life. He kept vigils, prayed unceasingly and devoted himself to the most painstaking and lengthy study of Patristic, ascetic and ecclesiastical works. With an insatiable appetite, he sought, found and studied every text dealing with the organization and functioning of Orthodox monasticism, particularly the coenobitic form [common life in a monastery], delving into the monastic institutions of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Rules of prominent ancient monasteries.

Elder Aimilianos in the pavilion of the Monastery of the Great Meteora (1963)

Although his way of life was purely ascetic, on 1 January, 1962, the metropolitan raised him to the rank of archimandrite and assigned to him the task of preaching and confessing and of training the young people in the diocese, making him priest-in-charge of the church of the Divine Visitation, dedicated to the Mother of God, in Trikala. Calm, always charming and approachable, with a suitably clerical demeanour and a noble air, he celebrated the liturgy almost every day from then on until he fell ill. He lived and thrived on the Bread of Life: ‘Bringing God into his vital organs and flashing shafts of divine lightning’ he emerged from his caves like a burning lamp, enlightening the faithful and casting his net for the people of God with his Spirit-filled sermons, educating them ‘in all spiritual wisdom and understanding’.
Young people and children flocked to confess to him, and on these he unstintingly spent time, effort, tears, prayer, ‘and even his own soul’. A new period began then in the life of the venerable Elder. He was no longer alone; he’d become a ‘father’, for many ‘sons and daughters of God’. He felt himself to be, and lived as, a real apostle. His life was devoted to his children in all freedom, without any expectation at all of the slightest recompense or reward. From this host of people, a good number began to consider the monastic life, and, as time went by, the first nucleus of the brotherhood of the Monastery of Meteora was formed. Some of the others were more inclined towards clerical status or family life, though all remained a broader spiritual family with the monastery at its centre.
In 1963, the first two monks moved into the Great Meteora, and, at the end of the school year 1965-66, a large group of high school students went to live as novices under his guidance. On August 6, 1966, his Elder, Metropolitan Dionysios, tonsured him a monk of the Great Habit. The life at Meteora and the progress of his young but charismatic spiritual son brought great joy to the heart of His Eminence and filled it with high hopes. While Fr. Aimilianos was establishing the monastic life at Meteora he was advised by and developed spiritual relations with a number of modern, saintly figures: Fr. Athanasios Hamakiotis, Papa-Dimitris Gangastathis, Elder [now Saint] Amfilohios of Patmos, Filotheos Zervakos, Simon Arvanitis and Damaskinos Katrakoulis. At that same time, he also met now distinguished Serbian bishops who were then students at the University of Athens and spiritual children of that pillar of the Serbian Church, Saint Justin Popović. Later, in 1976, by which time he was already Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Simonos Petras, Elder Aimilianos would visit Fr. Justin in Serbia. It was also at this time that the Elder began his pilgrimages to the Holy Mountain, from which he gained a rich store of spiritual experiences. He became acquainted with Elder [now Saint] Païsios, and at the far end of the Athos peninsular, he met the great athlete of obedience Papa-Efraim Katounakiotis [now Saint]. Thereafter, a special spiritual bond developed between the two men, concerning which the godly Papa-Efraim would often say: ‘I found my lost Elder, another Iosif, the golden-tongued and venerable Elder Aimilianos’ [Papa-Efraim had been a spiritual son of Elder Iosif the Hesychast].

Elder Aimilianos at the entrance of the Abbot’s lodgings at Simonopetra

In 1968, with the tonsuring of the then young novices, the brotherhood of Meteora was formed and with profound perception or rather foresight Elder Aimilianos laid the foundations for their coenobitic life. With his gift of insight, he chose and promoted the then high school student Emmanuel Raptis as his successor and the latter is now the Right Reverend Archimandrite Elissaios, Abbot of Simonos Petras. In the year 1972, after years of trials and tribulations, the time had come to form the initial nucleus of a female monastic community, which, under the care and guidance of Abbess Nikodimi, settled temporarily in the Holy Monastery of the Saints Theodore, close to Meteora. While this female community was still in its infancy, the wise Elder was already drawing up its internal Rule- his spiritual testament and his only written work- which was given to the sisters on 5 May 1975, when they had already settled into the dependency in which they live today [Ormylia].

Election to the office of Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Simonos Petras

After the unexpected departure to the Lord of Metropolitan Dionysios in January 1970, the need for a place which would guarantee more peace and be more suitable for the monastic life of the brotherhood, away from the noise and the tourism which afflicted Meteora, as well as the insistent invitation of the Holy Monastery of Simonos Petras, which was suffering from a lack of monks at the time resulted in the brotherhood transferring to the Holy Mountain at the end of 1973. Since the position of Abbot of the monastery was vacant, following the demise of Archimandrite Haralambos, Elder Aimilianos was elected by the members of the old brotherhood to the post, in accordance with the Athonite rules. He was enthroned on 17 December by the Holy Community. The installation of the brotherhood from Meteora was welcomed by the Athonite fathers, bringing with it, as it did, hopes for the future. And, indeed, other communities followed, making for a considerable increase in the number of monks on the Holy Mountain.

Simonopetra. With the then Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Filotheou, Archimandrite Efraim (1973) [Note the poor state of repair of the buildings the Elder inherited. They aren’t like that now].

In addition to his vigilance, celebrating the Divine Liturgy and his other duties, he threw himself into the task of reorganizing the internal life of the new brotherhood. With wisdom and discretion he adopted the Athonite tradition, with its existing Rules and adapted them with his own personal seal- ‘attending to the divine canons’ of the holy Fathers whom he loved so much and, with a burning thirst and much effort, brought back to the fore- thus creating the Rule of the monastery. With respect and love for the experience of the older monks, he focused the youthful enthusiasm, zeal and dedication of the younger ones, greatly increasing the size of the brotherhood. With his administrative abilities in general and the paternal guidance of his flock, he restored the status and highlighted the centuries-old tradition of this long-famed Holy Monastery.

Elder Aimilianos at Katounakia with the late Elder Efraim [Katounakiotis] and the Serbian Metropolitan Atanasije Jevtić

Organization and refurbishment of the dependencies of the Holy Monastery of Simonos Petras in Greece and abroad

Once the community was settled on the Holy Mountain, he also interested himself in a paternal manner in the establishment of the women’s community which, on 5 July 1974, had moved into the old dependency of Vatopaidi, the Annunciation of the Mother of God at Ormylia. The dependency was bought by Simonos Petras and, with the approval of the local bishop and the support of the Holy Community, became a dependency of the monastery and has functioned as such ever since.

The main church of the Convent of the Mother of God at Ormylia

The Elder worked long and hard on the renovation of this small dependency, of which he was to become the wise and inspired co-founder*, since everything had to be started afresh. The first concern was to buy the land around the dependency, so that the nuns could live in peace. In 1980, the building renovations began, ‘by God’s favour and grace’ and with the support of the faithful. Within about fifteen years, it had became a large convent. His joy and emotion knew no bounds when the main church of the dependency was inaugurated by Metropolitan Synesios of Kassandria, in whose person they found a discriminating and understanding hierarch. On October 25, 1991, by a sigillium, that is a command in the form of a letter from His All-Holiness Bartholomew, the Ecumencial Patriarch, it was raised to the status of patriarchal and stavropegic, [which means that it is under the direct supervision of the Patriachate, rather than that of the local bishop].
Following the example of the Fathers, who gave succour to their neighbours in need and affliction, in 1982, he founded the spiritual and social support centre ‘Our Lady of Charity’. This was a bequest from the late Captain Ioannis Hatzipateras and it is run by the nuns of the convent as a humble, altruistic contribution to the life of the people in the surrounding area.
In the Elder’s eyes, all the monastery’s dependencies were Simonopetra: Analipsi [the Ascension] in Athens; Saint Haralambos’ in Thessaloniki, Saint Nikodimos at Pentalofos, Goumenissa; and, in France, Saint Anthony’s, the Transfiguration and the Protecting Veil. A special position was occupied by the Archimandrites Placide Deseille († 2018) and Élie Ragot with their communities. During the period between 1979 and 1984, with the constant guidance and support of Elder Aimilianos, the dependencies we mentioned in France were born: Saint Anthony’s, for men, and the Protecting Veil and the Transfiguration for women. These represent budding shoots as regards Orthodox monasticism in the West.

Elder Aimilanos’ withdrawal to the dependency at Ormylia
At the beginning of 1995, permanent damage to his health forced the venerable Elder to withdraw gradually from his duties as Abbot and leave his beloved monastery and the Holy Mountain, of which he was so fond. In 2000, the revered Elder passed the baton of his duties to the present Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Simonos Petras, the Very Reverend Archimandrite Elissaios, who, with filial respect is continuing his work. The Elder himself lived in peace and quiet in the dependency at Ormylia, ‘supplementing in his body the deficiencies of the sorrows of Christ for the sake of the body of Christ, that is, the Church’, with great patience and fortitude.

Very few texts from the Elder’s rich spiritual harvest were published during the time he was active, because his sole aim at that time was to provide the necessary education for the sound development of his spiritual children and the flock of the Church. For this reason, he humbly avoided making his words public.
The Elder’s address was characterized by an empirical approach to issues, a profound analysis of concepts and a fluent manner of expression. His instructional homilies are a valuable legacy and repository for his monks and nuns: a vessel overflowing ‘with the purest wine’ which, given his later silence, has become ‘invested with gold and silver’. This wine is preserved by the two communities as a most precious inheritance and is being poured out to the Church of God as a labour of love.
The task of organizing his many and varied spiritual instructions and homilies was undertaken by the women’s community at the dependency at Ormylia, which also started publishing them in 1995, inaugurating the Spiritual Instruction and Discourses series. Four volumes have already been published: The Authentic Seal (1998), Life in the Spirit (1998) Let us Rejoice in the Lord (1999) and Divine Worship- Expectation and Vision of God (2001). As well as the original Greek, the works have also been translated into French, English, Romanian, Russian and Serbian.
The publication of the eloquent Elder’s work is a matter of filial love and an expression of eternal gratitude on the part of his children and it is expected that it will extend into numerous volumes covering a variety of subjects: homilies and sermons; interpretations of the ascetic Fathers (Abba Isaiah, Isykhios [Hesychius] the Elder, Gregory the Sinaite, Maximos the Confessor, Saint Thalassios, and Saint Theognostos); interpretations of monastic rules, (those of Anthony the Great, Saint Augustine, Saint Makarios, Saint Pachomius), monastic institutions and practical life (monasticism, the monastic rule, the life of the monastic, and the relationship between elder and disciple; interpretation of the life of the saints (Saint Nilus the Calabrian, Saint Romylos); interpretations of Biblical hymnographical and theological texts (psalms, prophesies, hymns and so on).
The Elder’s tenure as Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Simonos Petras is already considered to be one of the most blessed periods in the more recent history of the foundation, of which it is rightfully proud. It also coincided, by the protection of the Mother of God, with a massive influx of new monks onto the Holy Mountain and the enhanced influence of Athos as a whole. As he himself remarked: ‘The monastic community in a coenobitic monastery is essentially living in the Church, through the Church, like the heart or a bodily member. It cannot be evaluated on the basis of the activities it engages in, but rather by its fervent quest for God. In this way, the monks or nuns prove to be themselves God-like, attracting others to the divine life’ (Rule of the Holy Convent of Ormylia).