The Memory of Four Contemporary Elders3 December 2015
In the Orthodox Church, its greatest boast and most valuable treasure is its Saints. There’s no period in human history when there haven’t been saints. The saints verify in the flesh, in their faces, the presence of the Holy Spirit in each generation. So today is a great day for Orthodoxy. By a fortunate combination of circumstances, the Church today honors the demise of four saintly figures. Let us look briefly at the central points of their lives.
- Saint Porfyrios Kavsokalyvitis
Saint Porfyrios was born in 1906 in Saint Ioannis, Karystia, Evia. His name in the world was Evanghelos. He attended school for only two years. The illness of the teacher and the poverty of his family forced him to work as a shepherd for the few animals they owned. When he was about nine, he started work in a coal-mine in the area, then, in Piraeus, in the grocery shop belonging to acquaintances. His father had gone off to work on the Panama Canal in order to provide for his family.
When he was eight years old, he came across a pamphlet with the live of Saint Ioannis ‘Kalyvitis’ (‘Hut-Dweller’), which he read haltingly. The life of the saint moved the little shepherd boy to imitate him. So when he was about twelve he set off alone, in secret, for the Holy Mountain. On the boat he met the person who was to become his Elder, Hieromonk Panteleïmon, who lived in the house of Saint George in the Skete of Kavsokalyvia, on the Holy Mountain.
The young novice gladly showed extreme obedience to his Elder and Father Ioannikios (the Elder’s brother ‘after the flesh’), and so in a few years was allowed to become tonsured as a monk. Because of his ardent faith, his obedience and his asceticism, he was visited by divine Grace and, at an early age he acquired the gift of foreknowledge.
He became ill with pleurisy while on the Mountain, when he was 18 years old, and his elders sent him to a monastery in Evia to recover. There he became acquainted with Archbishop Porfyrios of Sinai who, when he realized the young monk’s spiritual progress, made him a priest, at the age of 20.
After a short interval, the local Metropolitan made him a confessor and so, his gift of foreknowledge was at the service of the faithful. Through this gift, the young Hieromonk and confessor was able to help people avoid the various snares of the devil, to understand what was happening in their souls and to work for their salvation.
In 1940, he was appointed to be priest-in-charge at the Polykliniki Hospital in Athens, in Socrates Street, near Omonia Square. He held this position for 33 years in all, confessing patients and others, praying, advising and often, through prayer and God’s grace, curing patients who asked for his help.
In 1950, he rented the abandoned monastery of Saint Nicholas Kallision in Pendeli, and, until 1978 cultivated the area. In 1979, he settled in Milesi, Attica, close to Oropos, where, once he had all the required permits, he began to build the Monastery of the Transformation of the Savior. While there he received visitors from all walks of life, as well as telephone calls from all over the world. He listened to problems, advised, prayed, confessed and cured people’s souls- and sometimes their bodies, too. In June, 1991, feeling that his end was nigh and not wishing to be buried with honors, he left for the house of Saint George in Kavsokalyvia on the Holy Mountain, where he had been tonsured some 70 years earlier. On 2 December, he gave up his spirit to the Lord.
His teachingreaming a valuable repository for people in our troubled times. With his deep love and the discrimination which was a feature of his wordsare truly a safety raft in our days. His penetrating insight and great love for others bring another dimension to modern pastoral care.
- Elder Amvrosios, spiritual father of the Monastery of Dadi
He was born in the village of Lazarata on Lefkada, in 1914, and his name ‘in the world’ was Spyridon Lazaris. His father was a teacher and Spyridon had a large number of siblings. From childhood he was distinguished for his calm nature and his love for the Church. He had no education, because his father was away in the war and so the boy had to help his mother with agricultural and household chores.
After he’d completed his military service, he wanted to go to the Holy Mountain, but didn’t know how to manage it. However, a young man helped him to get to the Holy Monastery of Koutloumousiou. Once there, his companion told him: ‘You stay here, Spyro. You’ll become a monk, you be patient and show obedience to the Elder’. Then he simply disappeared, and Spyros realized that it had been an angel of the Lord. He remained at the monastery, and, at the age of 25, became a monk, with the name Hariton.
One evening, the Abbot told Monk Hariton to read the Ninth Hour. He was illiterate, but tried to do so, with great difficulty. The Abbot became cross and sent him away, sending him to his cell as a punishment. The very same evening, as he was praying, Our Lady appeared and helped him learn the Psalter by heart.
One summer, he was working in the garden of the monastery. He saw a fig tree and, since he was hungry, he climbed the tree to eat some of the fruit. On the Holy Mountain, monks aren’t allowed to eat except in the refectory, because it’s considered a kind of gluttony. He had a few figs, but slipped and fell from the tree. Although it was in the morning that he fell, the other monks didn’t find him until the afternoon, even though they’d been looking everywhere. He was lying in the garden and was in a great deal of pain. They lifted him onto a door and four people- he was a large man- carried him to his cell. As he himself explained: ‘I was lying in bed and in great pain. Opposite I could see the chapel of the Holy Unmercenary Doctors and I asked them to help me. Two doctors then appeared, in white smocks, and tried to straighten out my leg. “Pull, Kosmas”, one of them said. “Hold him here, Damianos”, replied the other. In five minutes the pain had gone and I was completely well!’
At that time, there were five young monks and an aged Elder. Some of them thought it would be a good idea to change Elder. The Elder heard of this and asked to have them removed. With an escort of policemen, Monk Hariton was expelled and sent to the Monastery of Hilandar. He found life very difficult there and was frequently ill, and so was eventually forced to return to the outside world. He went to Elder (now Saint) Porfyrios, who advised him to go to the ruined Monastery of Dadi, in Fthiotida. All he found there were rats, snakes and wild animals. Elder Porfyrios told him: ‘Stay there, be patient and obedient and God will help you’.
He immediately set about restoring the monastery, which thereafter became a convent. The then Metropolitan of Fthiotida, Amvrosios, had a high opinion of the elder and made him a hieromonk, giving him his own name, in fact.
One time he hurt his leg and he went to hospital, where they put a plate in his hip. He was still in considerable pain, however. The then Metropolitan of Switzerland, Damaskinos, took him to Switzerland for the doctors there to have a look at him. They realized that, in the first operation, the plate that had been inserted was a centimeter too big, and a new operation would be required, to reduce it. After this and before he was discharged, they did some more tests, in the course of which a stone the size of an orange was found in his left kidney, and so he had to stay in for another operation.
The Elder related: ‘I was alone in the room when suddenly a monk appeared. We went out onto the balcony together and sat and chatted for about 15 minutes. I told him about the operations and the kidney stone. The monk then told me: “I’m Saint Nektarios and I’ve come to see you. I used to be sickly as well, and I gave up my soul in the Aretaieio Hospital. By being patient I endured slander and sickness. God granted me great Grace to be patient and I managed”. Then he touched me and left. After Saint Nektarios had left, I felt the need to urinate. I did so into a small bowl and with the urine emerged a stone the size of a small orange. I picked it up in a paper handkerchief and put it in a drawer in the cabinet.
The operation was set for the next day. The Swiss doctor came and said: “Get ready for the operation”. I told him I didn’t need an operation. I opened the drawer and showed him the stone. When he saw it, the doctor said: “You Orthodox have living faith; we’ve watered down ours”. There was no operation and the stone remained in the Swiss doctor’s office for many years’.
He enjoyed peace and obscurity, which is why he never gatheredcollected a large group of nuns. Even in the village, in Dadi, he wasn’t particularly well known, because he went there only rarely. He stayed in the monastery, did practical tasks, was the monastery priest and spent much time in prayer. But he had great Grace. He used to say: ‘I’m illiterate and so many well-educated people come here, university professors, and my mind opens and I tell them so many things I don’t even know what I’ve said’.
He fell asleep in the Lord exactly 15 years to the day after Saint Porfyrios, on 2 December 2006, at the age of 92.
- Elder Cleopa Ilie
He was born in the village of Suliţa, in the province of Botoşani, Romania, on April 10 1912, and was baptized Constantin. As he himself said, his parents were living examples of the Christian life and their house was a home church. Five of the ten children of the family followed him into the monastic life.
When he was newly-born, he became seriously ill. Since two other siblings had died in infancy, his mother took him to the hermit Conon Georgescu, the spiritual father, at Cozancea, and with his help, Our Lady cured young Constantin.
In 1929, with another brother, he entered the Skete of Sihăstria, where an older brother of theirs was already a monk. Initially he was sent to tend the skete’s sheep, an obedience which filled him with great spiritual joy. After completing his military service (1935-7) he was tonsured in the same skete.
His enthusiasm in performing the duties of the skete convinced the elderly Abbot to appoint him as his deputy in 1942, and in 1945 he was elected Abbot. At the end of the same year he was ordained hierodeacon and then, at the beginning of the next year, priest. He immediately set about renovating the skete and as quickly as 1947 had managed to elevate it from the status of dependent skete to that of an independent monastery.
When the Communists came to power, he was arrested and interrogated for five days at Târgu Neamţ, but was soon released. In order to avoid problems with the authorities, he hid in a wooden hut, deep in the forest, six kilometers from the monastery. Six months later he returned to his post.
On August 30, 1949, at the behest of Patriarch Justinian, he and 30 monks were taken from the Monastery of Sihăstria to the Monastery of Slatina in Suceava, where he became Abbot, and quickly made it into the best organized monastery in Romania. Problems with the state were never far away, however. He was faced with continual investigations and arrests and was thus forced to live in harsh conditions in the Stânişoarei Mountains, together with another monk, Arsenie Papacioc. He finally returned to Sihăstria in 1956.
In 1959, a special order was passed whereby more than 4,000 monks and nuns were expelled from monasteries. Abbot Cleopa was under pressure at first to cast off the monastic habit and live under house arrest. Like many other monks, he refused and withdrew, for the third time, into the mountains of Moldavia.
In 1964, state policy towards the Church became more relaxed and he was able to return to the monastery. He stayed there for 34 years as spiritual father for the monks and a host of lay people who came from all over the country for guidance.
He departed this life on 2 December 1998. At the end of 2005, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Romania informed the faithful that it was in the process of gathering information for the official canonization of the late Elder Cleopa- who was already recognized as a saint in the conscience of many believers.
- Elder Elpidios Neoskitiotis
Born in 1913 in Lefkosia, his baptismal name was Alexandros. He was the twin brother of the Holy Martyr Filoumenos who was killed in Palestine in 1979.
The two brothers had learned to pray and study the Fathers at an early age. At one stage they were so impressed by the life of Saint Ioannis Kalyvitis that, at the age of only 14, they secretly left their parents and went to the Monastery of Stavrovouni. In the flourishing spiritual climate of the monastery, under the enlightened guidance of Father Kyprianos, they were introduced into the spirit of the Eastern monastic tradition.
The strict program of the monastery was too much for their health, however, and after five years, they went to Palestine and became regular members of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher. In 1937, Fr. Elpidios was ordained deacon and in 1940 priest, completing his secondary education at the same time. He served in many positions at the Patriarchate of Jerusalem (Abbot of the Monastery of the Forerunner, Tiberiada, Patriarchal Exarch in Nazareth, where he was raised to the office of Archimandrite).
In 1947, he entered the service of the Patriarchate of Alexandria and was sent to Mozambique for five years. Thereafter he lived in Athens, attended the Theological School of the university (1952-6), and gained his degree. From the next year he served as parish priest at the church of All Saints in London, at the same time attending lessons on New Testament Interpretation and Ecclesiastical History at the Royal College. In 1959, he was appointed Exarch of the Throne by the Patriarchate of Alexandria, serving first in Odessa and then Greece. At his most earnest request, he returned to Cyprus as a preacher of the Eparchy of Paphos and later served as Abbot of the Monastery of Mahaira.
He did not remain there long, however. He returned to Greece and became priest-in-charge of the Red Cross clinic for six years. His enthusiasm and service remained in the minds of both patients and staff for many years. His profound spiritual labors continued at the church of the Holy Trinity in Ambelokipi, to which he was transferred. In the meantime, he studied Law at the university.
When he finally withdrew from active service, he achieved what he had longed to do for decades: he entered the hesychastic life with its freedom from care. He lived as a hesychast in New Skete, on the Holy Mountain, having been instructed in his sleep to go there by Our Lady.
The truth is that throughout his life he never abandoned his monastic duties. Even as a schoolboy, he would withdraw and read the daily and nightly services. In fact, when he was at the clinic and his responsibilities had increased considerably, in his simplicity he would ask his sister and nephews to each read a bit of a service and he would get his spiritual children (especially the nurses) to do a few prostrations each, in order for his rule to be completed.
In his kelli on the Holy Mountain, he used to read canons of intercession for everyone, as well as exorcisms and prayers for all the monks of the Skete and of the Holy Mountain in general. Whenever he travelled anywhere, he preferred to be alone so that he could concentrate on saying the Jesus Prayer.
His fellow monks tell of how he knew the details of his brother Filoumenos’ martyrdom in Palestine, because he could hear him being beaten and shouting ‘Brother, they’re killing me!’ Another time he blessed the food of a poor family; it was only a small amount, yet they still had leftovers. There are also stories of miracles from his time at the Red Cross.
He preferred the life of obscurity and discretion and never provoked anyone. When he became seriously ill at the end of his earthly life, it was he who comforted the monks who came to offer him comfort. He departed this life on 2 December 1983.
May we have the blessing of all of them.