The Retrieval of the Relics of Elder Iosif Vatopaidinos

25 October 2021

Apart from the conventional and social character which the retrieval of the bones of the departed at the time of exhumation has always had, it is also an act of care and enhancement, which, in the Church takes on an essentially loving and eschatological meaning. We don’t merely see to the cleaning and ordering of the bones of a person we love; we liturgically prepare the bones of a brother or sister who ‘awaits the resurrection of the dead’. Although there’s no evidence that retrieval of the bones is clearly deemed to be an obligatory action, it has come to be established now as the care on the part of the Church militant for the Church triumphant. In the Church, we celebrate the retrieval of the relics of saints, but every baptized Christian deserves the careful attention of the retrieval of their bones, because holiness of life is the fundamental aim for all of us who consider ourselves members of the Church. And on a good number of occasions, at the retrieval of the bones, God has revealed well-hidden sanctity on the part of people who lived their lives in an inconspicuous manner.

Following this tradition of the Church, on Wednesday 20 October 2021, the Brotherhood of the Holy and Great Monastery of Vatopaidi performed the retrieval of the relics of the late Elder Iosif Vatopaidinos, spiritual begetter and mentor of the community and the new builder* of the monastery. The ceremony took place in a moving and solemn atmosphere, 12 years after the Elder’s departure to the Lord.

The late Elder Iosif was born in Drousia in the Paphos region of Cyprus on 1 July 1921. Following a call from God, he entered the Holy Monastery of Stavrovounio in 1936, with his parents blessing. Here he was made a novice and given the name Sofronios. He remained in the monastery for 10 years before moving to the Holy Mountain, after a brief visit to the Holy Land. He did this with the encouragement and blessing of Elder Kyprianos, the spiritual father of Stavrovounio. At the beginning of 1947, he found himself at the Skete of Saint Ann, while in the summer of the same year he made the acquaintance of Saint Iosif the Hesychast, who, after receiving divine intelligence, welcomed the young man into his brotherhood. On Lazarus Saturday, 1948, in the house of the Honorable Forerunner in Little Saint Ann’s, he was tonsured a monk of the great habit and was given the name Iosif. In 1951, the brotherhood moved to the hesychast cells near the tower in New Skete. Saint Iosif the Hesychast went to his blessed rest in the Lord on the day of the Dormition of the Mother of God, 1959. The late Elder Iosif satisfied the deepest desire of his soul during his time with the great Saint Iosif, since he learned from a real hesychast, who was a God-bearing ascetic. After the demise of his Elder, the younger Iosif continued to live in accordance with the former’s tenets and example, and, as time passed, quite a number of other monks came to live with him. In 1989, following a resolution by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, his brotherhood took over the administration of the Holy and Great Monastery of Vatopaidi, of which Elder Iosif is the new builder and reformer. Elder Iosif was the spiritual father of the monastery and remained so until his demise, which occurred on 1 July 2009. His remains were buried in the courtyard of the monastery, next to the main church and his grave became a point of reference for the monks of Vatopaidi.

Present at the ceremony of the retrieval of the relics were Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol, a spiritual child of the late Elder, Metropolitan Ioustinos of Nea Krini and Kalamaria, Bishops Nikolaos of Famagusta and Epifanios of Lidra, Elder Georgios Vatopaidinos, the Protos (First Supervisor) of the Holy Mountain, Elder Elissaios, the Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Simonos Petras, Elder Christoforos, the Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Grigoriou, on the Holy Mountain, Abbots Archimandrite Païsios of the Holy Monastery of the Honorable Forerunner, Gennadios of the Holy Monastery of the Archangel Michael and Neilos of the Monastery of Christ’s Counsellor, all in the diocese of Limassol, Cyprus, Athonite Fathers, priests, hieromonks and deacons.

On the afternoon of 20 October 202, Vespers was celebrated and thereafter the Hierarchs, Abbots and the other fathers moved in procession to the grave of the late Elder, where the special service for the retrieval of relics was sung.

Then, while a hymn was sung to the slow setting by the monastery choir, the grave was uncovered and the bones laid bare. They were carefully raised from the grave and placed temporarily on a cloth before being washed in wine, in accordance with the custom.

Thereafter, the precious relics of the late Elder were taken in procession around the main church of the monastery, before being placed in a suitably adorned place for the fathers and visitors to venerate.

After the service, the customary refreshments were served in the Common Room of the monastery.

* A distinction is made, particularly on Athos, between a founder of a monastery and a builder. The latter is someone who rebuilds the monastery after a calamity or, in the case of Elder Iosif, after a drastic decline in the number of monks.

Click here to see more photos from the Retrieval of the relics of the late Elder Iosif Vatopaidinos