In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
I am much troubled by my conscience for not having kept detailed notes about the virtuous fathers who lived in these latter days, and about whom I was told by devout elders1 when I was a mere beginner as a monk. As I am also troubled at my great negligence for not retaining, even in my memory, all the divine events which these holy elders experienced and told me about in their simplicity, to help me spiritually.
The fathers of those days had great Faith and simplicity. Although most of them were basically illiterate, they, nevertheless, received constant divine enlightenment because of their humility and zeal for spiritual combat. While, in our own days, knowledge has increased, unfortunately, logic has shaken people’s Faith from the foundations and filled their souls with questions and doubts. So, it is only natural that we should be deprived of miracles, because miracles are experienced and cannot be explained by logic.
This terribly secular spirit which prevails in modern man, who has turned his entire attention towards living better, with greater ease and less effort, has, unfortunately, affected most spiritual people; they, too, are also attempting to become saints with less effort – but it can never happen, because “the saints gave blood and received spirit.” While we rejoice now at the great shift towards the holy fathers and monasticism, and admire the worthy young people who dedicate themselves with high ideals, at the same time, we hurt because we see all this good material not finding the appropriate spiritual leaven; hence, this spiritual dough does not rise and ends up like unleavened bread.
In the old days, even only twenty years ago, simplicity still abounded in the “Garden of the Mother of God”2. The fragrance of simplicity of the fathers drew God-fearing people like bees and nourished them, while, they, in turn, transmitted this spiritual blessing to others for their benefit. Wherever you went, very simple stories of miracles and heavenly events were heard, because the fathers considered them perfectly natural.
Living in this spiritual atmosphere of grace, it never occurred to you to doubt what you heard, because you were living part of it yourself. Neither would it ever occur to you to make notes of these heavenly events, nor retain them in your memory for coming generations, because you thought that this patristic way of living would continue. How could anyone have known that in a few years most people would become deformed by too much education — since they are being taught in the spirit of atheism and not in that of God, which can sanctify external education, too — and faithlessness will reach such a point that miracles will be considered fairy-stories from bygone days? Naturally, when the doctor is an atheist, however many tests he performs on a saint with his scientific equipment (X-rays and so on), he will not be able to discern the grace of God. Whereas if he, too, has holiness in him, he will see divine grace radiating.
To give a more vivid picture of grace so that readers can better understand the patristic spirit that reigned a few years ago, I felt it would be a good thing to refer to cases of simple elders of that time as living examples.
When I was a beginner at the Monastery of Esphigmenou, I was told by the God-fearing Elder Dorotheos that an elder of great simplicity used to come to help at the monastery infirmary. He thought that the Ascension, the feast which the monastery celebrates, was a great saint, like Saint Barbara, and when he prayed with his komboskini3 he used to say “Saint of God, intercede for us!” One day, a sickly brother had arrived at the infirmary and since there wasn’t any nutritious food there, the elder hurried down the steps leading to the cellar, stretched his hand out of a window overlooking the sea and said, “Saint Ascension, please give me a little fish for the brother.” What a miracle! A large fish leapt out into his hand. He took it quite naturally, as if nothing had happened, and happily went off to prepare it so as to strengthened the brother.
The same elder told me of another father (Pachomios, I think), who had gone to Kapsala* to live in stricter ascesis and had reached great spiritual heights. One day, one of the fathers of the monastery put aside two fish which he cleaned, in order to go and see him and offer them to him as a blessing4. As he was cleaning them, however, a raven suddenly snatched up one of the fish and took it to Father Pachomios in Kapsala (a distance of five and a half hours on foot). Father Pachomios had received information from God about the brother’s visit and just as he was wondering what to treat him to, the raven dropped the fish. Later, when the brother came and heard about this, he also glorified God, Who, in our own times, also feeds His people through a raven, as He did the Prophet Elijah.
A few years ago, there lived an elder, Fr. Charalambos, at the Monastery of Koutloumousiou. He was very simple but also a man of “great violence”, not only in his spiritual duties, but also in his monastic tasks. A most willing man in all things, Father Charalambos would have done most jobs, because in his day only a few old fathers remained in the monastery. He was also assigned at the Library, but was removed from this task because he would never lock the door. He used to say: “Let people read the books.” It never even occurred to him that there are also people who steal books. He was of great purity and simplicity. Apart from his many monastic tasks, he even planted trees as well for future generations, because he believed that the Monastery of Koutloumousiou would once again be filled with monks. While his hands were forever at work for others, his mind and heart were working at his spiritual duties, through the unceasing prayer Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me. He was always first for the services. He actually directed one of the choirs which are on either side of the church. And when the canonarch5 was going across to the other choir to intone to them, Father Charalambos would say the Jesus Prayer very rapidly, so as not to interrupt his unceasing prayer.
And so he lived, very hard-working and very spiritual, without ever letting up. Unfortunately, a terrible dose of flu knocked him off his feet, and the doctor told the fathers not to leave his side, because his life would soon end. Father Charalambos heard him from under the bedclothes and answered:
“What are you talking about? I am not dying till Pascha6 comes so I can say Christ is risen.
Indeed, about two months went by and Pascha came. He said Christ is risen, received Communion and then rested in peace. The simple elder, so full of philotimo7 had really become a child of God and together with God had arranged the date of his death.
In the Skete8 of Iveron*, Elder Nicholas of the Markiani Brotherhood told me about a father who also had childlike simplicity; once, when their well had dried up, he let down an icon of Saint Nicholas into the dry shaft with the rope tied to the ring and said:
“Saint Nicholas, you come up together with the water, if you want me to light the icon lamp for you; you can do it. You see, so many people come and we don’t even have some cold water to give them.”
What a miracle! The water gradually began to rise and the icon of the saint floated on the top until he was able to hold it in his hands, kiss it reverently and take it into the church. (This happened some fifty years ago.)
In the same skete, a little higher up from this hut9, there is the Cell10 of the Holy Apostles, where two natural brothers now live. Elder Pachomios also belonged to this brotherhood; one could clearly detect the holiness radiating on his face. The elder was very simple and completely illiterate but full of grace. When he came to the central church of the skete for the service on feast days, he never sat on a stasidi11, but always remained standing, saying the Jesus Prayer, even during all-night vigils. Whenever anyone asked him what point had been reached in the service, he would reply:
“The Psalters, the fathers are reading the Psalters.”
He called everything Psalters. He knew absolutely nothing about chanting, apart from Christ is risen, which he chanted at Pascha. He was always willing to do the will of others, without having any will of his own.
No matter how many worries you had, you needed only to look at Father Pachomios and they would go away. Everyone loved him, even the snakes, which trusted him and didn’t slither off when they saw him. There were a lot of snakes in the area around the hut, because there was water there. The other two fathers were very afraid of the snakes, but Father Pachomios would go near them with a smile, pick them up and put them outside the fence.
One day, when he was hurrying to the hut of the Markiani Brotherhood, he came across a large snake in his path. He wrapped it round his waist like a belt, so that he could finish what he had to do first and then put it outside their grounds. Father James took fright at the very sight of it, which made Father Pachomios wonder.
He later told me:
“I don’t know why they are afraid of snakes. There is our own Father Andrew, who is even afraid of scorpions! I just scoop them up in the palms of my hands from the walls and throw them outside the hut. Now that my hands tremble so much with Parkinson’s disease I just drag the big snakes outside.”
I asked the elder:
“Why don’t the snakes bite you, Father Pachomios?”
“Christ writes on a piece of paper somewhere that if you have (the) Faith, you can pick up snakes and scorpions and they will not harm you12.”
This saintly elder had rested in the Lord on October 22, 1967, one year before Elder Tychon passed away. I shall write later about him, as well as about other righteous fathers who strove with philotimo in the Garden of Our Most Holy Lady and were purified with the aid of the Good Mother, the Pure Virgin. They became soldiers of Christ, conquered their passions, and exterminated the enemy, the devil. These “Commandos” of our Church have been crowned by Christ with an incorruptible crown.
I knew many of them at first hand, but unfortunately have not imitated them, which is why I am now so far behind them. I wish with all my heart that those who read about their godly exploits will imitate them and also beg them to pray for me, wretched Paisios. Amen.
—St. Paisios of Mount Athos. Excerpt from Athonite Fathers and Athonite Matters
- An elder is a monk distinguished for his saintliness, long experience in the spiritual life, and special gift for guiding the souls of others.
- According to tradition, the Mother of God and St. John the Evangelist while travelling, were both forced to take refuge on the Holy Mountain due to a storm. The inhabitants there were still idolaters and so the Mother of God asked Christ to endow the Holy Mountain to Her as a gift. A heavenly voice replied: “This place is Your inheritance and Your garden and paradise; it is also a harbour of salvation for those who wish to be saved.” Since then, the Holy Mountain is considered a spiritual garden under the protection of the Mother of God.
- Komboskini (pi. Komboskinia): prayer rope; the black, woollen chaplet used by Orthodox people to count the number of repetitions of the Jesus Prayer.
- As used in monastic life it has different meanings. Here it means a gift, some monetary amount, or anything given for consolation.
- The monk who assigns to the chanters the hymns chanted during the services.
- Pascha, (in Hebrew Peshah =Passover). Historically, it refers to the passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea to the Promised Land (see Exodus in the Old Testament). Spiritually, it refers to the passage of man from death into life, and from earth to heaven, which came about by the sacrificial Crucifixion and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Philotimo is the reverend distillation of goodness, the love shown by humble people, from which every trace of Self has been filtered out. Their hearts are full of gratitude towards God and to their fellowmen, and out of spiritual delicacy (sensitivity) they try to repay the slightest good which others do them. (Note by Elder Paisios.)
- A skete is a monastic settlement, a dependency of one of the sovereign monasteries, which comprises of huts where monks live with their elder.
- A hut (kalyvi in Greek) is a simple monastic dwelling for a limited number of monks under an elder, with a little property around it and an attached chapel. Several huts together form a skete which functions as a small monastery.
- A Cell (Kelli in Greek) is a self-sufficient isolated monastic dwelling consisting of a building with a chapel and the land surrounding it. It is usually situated near a monastery and is dependent on it, does not belong to a skete and is bigger than a hut. (When the word “cell” is written with a small c in the book, it refers to the private room of the monks where they pray and rest.)
- Church seat.
12. Lk. 10:19.