Annual Memorial Service of Father Symeon Kragiopoulos
Last month in Greece, I had the blessing to attend Church services at both the women’s Monastery of the Nativity of the Theotokos and at its twin ‘brother’, the men’s Monastery of the Holy Trinity, at Panorama, the suburbs of my hometown, Thessaloniki. Elder Symeon Kragiopoulos was their spiritual father and abbot. He passed away last year, at 6:00 a.m. on September 30, 2015, but even after a year, his presence is still felt everywhere in both monasteries.
He was known throughout as a true elder and teacher. I would like to acknowledge here his zeal, patience, kindness and loving example. He has been in so many ways a spiritual signpost of the faith for my own journey through the desert. What an authentic, uncompromising, and yet gentle, loving, kind, compassionate contemporary Elder, what a heaven-endowed, grace-filled rock of Faith and consolation, a true voice in the wilderness in our times of apostasy! Oh I have been so blessed to hear him preach in my youth, probe into the Niptic Fathers and the Bible, and have attended for years his church services, especially ‘his’ vigils, and his famous silent assemblies, dedicated to the Jesus Prayer, when I was not studying or working abroad. I even had the blessing to spend invaluable, private time with him as a spiritual father, helping me prepare for my postgraduate studies, work and life at the U.S.A.
In recent years he largely kept silence due to his failing health but he was known throughout as a God-bearing elder and teacher of the true faith. Throughout his life-long ministry, culminating in the prayerful silence of his final, ‘hermit’ years, Elder Symeon has been a rare gift of God, especially for us Thessalonians. In so many respects, Thessaloniki will never be the same after his humble, God-fearing ministry, and we can never thank enough God for the blessing of walking along the Way with such a venerable Elder by our side. His tomb is already a pilgrimage site, and his spiritual children kneel and pray there for hours for his guidance, fully aware that now he is closer to us in the Holy Spirit. Whenever I read his books, or listen to his recorded homilies, the joy and jubilation of Resurrection warms my heart and tears are streaming from my eyes, for the Venerable Elder who was our staff, for the Man of God whom we knew and loved and in whom we placed, after God, so many of our hopes. We felt so loved and so safe in his presence!
The elder leaves behind many soul-profiting words, and the faithful invariably testify to a presence in Holy Spirit of the Elder, even while ‘simply’ reading or listening to his homilies:
Like the deep sea…
Spiritual work happens secretly in the heart. Externally, let everything else threaten us, like the sea: the wind blows, waves rise. But deep down it’s all quiet, peaceful, serene.
This is how a man who trusts in God lives. There might be a wild rage out there, but deep down nothing hinders the soul from having mystical communion with God, mystical love for God. Quietly and mystically, in a special way that the heart perceives, the Lord is whispering: “Don’t be afraid. I am here. Keep walking this path. Keep loving Me, keep believing in Me, keep following Me.”
It’s not enough to suffer myriad things in life. When, though, you believe in God and accept all these—whatever it is that happens to you—accept all these gladly, for the love of God, God will make a saint out of you.
Man will find all, but after he has lost all, after he has deprived himself of all. It matters greatly for a man to deprive himself of the most beautiful, the best, the most innocent, the purest things, which the Lord Himself has deprived himself of.
It matters greatly for man to deprive himself of things because he loves God.
We run to the Lord with pain …
However, we know that we have a Saviour, we know that Christ came to earth. Then we start to understand what it means that he came to save us, and we run to the Saviour. We run to the Lord with pain, with prayer, with a cry, with faith, with hope and a firm conviction that the Lord will accept us and will save us. The Lord wants us to approach things exactly like this. This is not our own daring or our own boldness. He wants us to act just like that, to entrust ourselves in this way, and for this reason he gave us promises. So someone does this work, and little by little the decay of his soul, that lies in the subconscious and the unconscious, emerges.
* * *
Self-worship lives and reigns …
For us to have right communion with Christ, it is necessary that our entire soul becomes conscious, that it comes into the light, into the grace of God, and that nothing remains in darkness. However, no matter how much someone believes, no matter how much he, every day, makes a new start in the true life and struggles to give himself and devote himself to God, he must realize this vital point: that within him, the ego, pride, and selfishness, live and rule. This self-love, this self-worship, lives and reigns. Therefore, man must become humble: every day, he must increase in humility. We have many things, many realities from our everyday life that help us with this work.
He who truly loves humility, and desires to become humble, begs God for this. In this way, in the beginning, and imperceptibly –later perhaps more truly—he starts, little by little, to feel this, the emptying of the soul from the ego, from selfishness, from the idol which we have installed within us. And so if one is completely humbled, he surrenders himself to God and is devoted to him—meaning that every day he makes a new beginning, from which the whole object of his soul will finally come into the light of God—in truth, man will arrive at this state which the Lord promises to us.
But what is this state?
The Lord didn’t come simply to die Himself. Rather, He said that we will also die with Him. And in the same way that He Himself resurrected, we will also be resurrected. Whatever Christ is after the resurrection, this man also becomes when he is united to Christ. He is not simply a good man who thought up some good things. Christian means little Christ. In the end, Christ will make each one of us whatever He is himself. He does not simply advise us from the outside, but enters into us and takes us into Himself. We are united and become like unto Him. Even from this life we become like unto Christ, but this will become complete in the next life.
I pray this for all of us.
Christians of comfort
We are Christians of comfort. That’s why the Lord will let us struggle a lot.
Don’t expect salvation with certainty, unless all comforts are abolished in you.
Our whole Christian mentality functions wrongly. On the one hand, we want to avoid suffering. On the other, we take great care not to lose or deprive ourselves of anything. And we “walk” in the wrong manner.
In the long run, whether we like it or not, we will have suffering. And indeed, when we have a fake impression that we are enjoying the goods of this world, our life is often like hell.
These words, and many more can be found here.
Memory Eternal, dearest pappouli! May we meet you in Heaven!
* * *
In the following days, I am going to present a tribute to Father Symeon, together with excerpts from his homilies and a few recordings, for those of you who are hearing about this venerable elder here for the first time. Even if the recordings are in Greek, I trust the spirit of this man of God can be felt through and richly bless us all.