Metropolitan Neophytos of Morfou: “Elder Iacovos, as I experienced Him”

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Moving on to the third part of the Metropolitan Neofytos’ of Morfou trilogy, an outline of the sacred personality and life of Saint Iakovos Tsalikis, his Elder, as he experienced him.

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Elder Nektarios Marmarinos

Elder Nektarios Marmarinos

On the occasion of the demise of the late Elder Nektarios Marmarinos, Pemptousia is publishing an extract from the book by Fr. Dimitrios Kavvadias ‘Elders and Women’s Monasticism’, in which, among much else, he refers to the late Elder Nektarios, the founder of the Holy Monastery of Saint Patapios in Loutraki:

The sole exception in this book is the mention of the person of Elder Nektarios Marmarinos, who became the founder of the Monastery of Saint Patapios. We are not writing a eulogy of the man, but would address a few words related to his life and activities, with the aim of revealing how the Monastery of the wonder-working Saint came to be built. He is now in the twilight of his life and has tasted cups of many sorrows in his efforts to establish the Monastery and bring his work to a successful completion. He was never interested at all in personal promotion, and so we can do no spiritual harm to the Elder and his work, which is, indeed, a labour for God.

Elder Nektarios was born on 3 November 1921, on the island of Aegina, the place where so many saint have been born and bred. He was the son of poor, devout islanders, Fotios and Evangelia Marmarinos and the brother of Anastasios, Mihaïl, and Marina, who later died of tuberculosis as a twenty-year-old during the German Occupation. With this much-loved sister of his, he would visit the Monasteries on Aegina, where they would sip at the honey of the monastic state and imagine a life of dedication.

In those years, his spiritual father was Elder Ieronymos Apostolidis of blessed memory, the Hesychast of Aegina (†3/ 16 October 1966), from whom he learned the Jesus prayer, piety and love of the services. His monastic inclination and calling were strengthened. When he was still a child, in his home town, Kyriakos, as he then was, would go to the remote Monastery of Our Lady Chrysoleontissa in the hills on Aegina. Looking down on the Monastery of Saint Nektarios, he would beg the great saint of the 20th century: ‘Saint Nektarios, you built your little monastery here. Help me to build a monastery as well, where I can see the brides of Christ fighting the good fight of virtue’.

When he’d completed primary school and a year of middle school, he went to study at the Ecclesiastical School in Hania, where he surprised one and all with his integrity. After a short time, God’s providence had him studying at the Ecclesiastical School of Corinth, where he was fortunate to enjoy the attention and protection of Metropolitan Mihaïl (Konstantinidis) of Corinth. While he was at the School, he served as ecclesiarch in the church of Saint Foteini.

During the course of his studies, when he was chatting to his fellow-students, he would often speak of the personality and miracles of Nektarios, the saint of his place of birth. His fellow-students, however, spoke with equal enthusiasm about their own Saint Patapios, whose relics were discovered in his cave in Loutraki in 1904. From the courtyard of the School, they pointed out the cave, which looked like a little white speck on the Yeraneia Mountains.

When he later went up the mountain to venerate Saint Patapios, together with a fellow-student, he was overcome with religious awe and his soul felt a ‘divine attraction’ for the location. As he made his prostration, he actually prayed: ‘Saint Patapios, help me to build a monastery here, so I can see a monastic community ceaselessly giving glory to the Lord, with the incense rising as an acceptable sacrifice to the majesty of His throne’.

Thereafter, it was his custom to go up to the cave with a blanket under his arm and, after praying, to lie down to rest in the shade of a large pine tree.

The years passed and he kept alive his desire to build a monastery to the saint. But how? He prayed intensely to find a way to bring this about. Then Saint Patapios himself revealed his wishes in a vision. Kyriakos saw the saint, bathed in light, sitting on the coffin holding his relics. The saint looked at him with celestial serenity and, shining in the divine radiance which enveloped him, he repeated three times: ‘The monastery will be built. Yes, it will’.

So young Kyriakos was confirmed in his decision and began to work to bring to fruition his holy purpose. Somewhere, he found a pamphlet containing the Life of Saint Patapios and he had it published in book form, both for the spiritual benefit of pilgrims and to get work on the monastery started. At the same time, he performed spiritual tasks in Corinth, in a church dedicated to Our Lady, in a neighbourhood of refugees from Asia Minor. He attended church here and offered his services as catechist and preacher. He organized many pilgrimages to the saint’s cave, which demanded a great deal of effort, because the participants ascended on foot. This work, as well as his godly desire to make the monastery a reality, were the reasons why he didn’t attend university, even though he loved learning, was diligent and had a good brain.

Metropolitan Mihaïl ordained him to the diaconate on 21 February, 1941, giving him the name Nektarios. This pleased him greatly, because it had been the subject of a secret prayer which he hadn’t revealed to anyone. Then, on 8 November, he ordained him to the priesthood and thereafter made him an archimandrite and confessor. Between 1941-1945, he worked hard in the neighbourhood of his church, providing valuable services as priest, preacher, catechist, and charity worker. He organized a Sunday school for 80 girls, quite a number of whom became nuns under his guidance. He taught them the Jesus prayer, love for church attendance and the spiritual life. Young Evyenia, who is now the nun Patapia, remembers fondly the sermons the Elder preached over the course of a year and had as their subject: ‘Why are we Christians; why do we go to church; what should we do to be saved?’ She also remembers, with equal fondness, walking along to the cave with other girls, laden with clothes, water and food. She recalls: ‘We didn’t get tired because we felt we were borne upwards on the wings and love of Saint Patapios’…

On 15 October 1945, Metropolitan Mihaïl went up to the cave with the young Deacon Nektarios and venerated the relics of the saint. He was deeply moved at the sight of the relics and composed a dismissal hymn, ‘The glory of Yeraneia…’, and a magnificat, ‘The crown and honour of Loutraki…’. He also promised to contribute to the task of Elder Nektarios, who through privations and considerable personal effort, had managed to build small guest quarters in 1947, three small cells in 1948 and a refectory in 1949. These were built on different levels of the side of the hill, with material brought by mules hired in Loutraki. A great deal of work and heavy expenditure. And the whole of the effort took place while the Elder was being attacked verbally and slandered. This was a co-ordinated attack by the devil, who saw souls being won for God and work on the foundation of the monastery progressing. In this task, he used the people of Loutraki, who were jealous of the project and hounded the Elder. The new Metropolitan, Prokopios (Tzavaras) from Tripoli, was influenced by these tactics, but over time was enlightened by the saint and promised to recognize the monastery. In 1952, approval was given for the first novice to move in – Eirini Steryiou from the Holy Monastery of Our Lady Faneromeni, Hiliomodio, Corinthia, and she was soon followed by the nun Styliani Goussopoulou, from the same monastery, as Abbess. On 19 September, 1953, a royal decree signed by King Pavlos II was published, acknowledging the foundation of the monastery.

In 1977, Elder Nektarios founded Saint Paul’s men’s monastery in Yeraneia, and soon afterwards the men’s monasteries of Saint Nicholas the New of Vounena, in Perahora, Our Lady Myrtidiotissa, also in Perahora and Saint Nektarios in the Yeraneia Mountains.

After gathering a good number of nuns, and building and running workshops for church vestments, embroidery and icon-painting, he extended the social activities of the Monastery of Saint Patapios by founding ‘Saint Helen’s Old People’s Home’ which provides comfort to penniless elderly women.

He was awarded the keys to the Municipality of Corinth for missionary work. In 2006, the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, chaired by Archbishop Christodoulos, awarded him a gold medal for his services to the Church. Despite his advanced age he continued to tour the whole of the province of Corinth, preaching the word of God and guiding his countless spiritual children- clergy, monastics and lay people. His important contribution as Dean for 60 years, from 3 October 1951, was characterized by his unshakeable faith, his continuous prayer, his love of services, his many and varied acts of charity, his construction activities and his sacrifices for the least of his fellow human beings.

We shall now quote one of the texts of Elder Nektarios to the nuns in his community, recorded by the late Sister Sofronia as ‘Admonishments to Nuns’.

‘In your everyday life, never forget the salvation of your soul. Since you live in a coenobium, you’re duty bound to behave in a manner pleasing to God, doing violence to yourself.

Joking is inappropriate for monastics. “Those who talk repent frequently; those who don’t, never [need to]”, says Saint Efraim. You’re fortunate in that you’re free of all temptation and from the tempest of society. Don’t imagine you’ll find peace away from God and the haven of the monastery. Violence against your passions is held to be martyrdom by God. If you weep and are wounded over the fall of your sister, you gain a martyr’s crown. If one suffers, everyone else suffers and feeds with love the one in pain. If one sister falls, all the others share her pain and give her their love. Just as you’re careful to make sure that the divine pearl doesn’t fall when you’re taking Holy Communion, take the same care that your sister doesn’t fall, either, because she, too, is a member of the Lord. If you save a soul, you cover a multitude of sins. Like a lightning-conductor, humility attracts God’s love’.

The following nuns served as Abbess in the Monastery of Saint Patapios:

Styliani (formerly Sophia) Goussopoulou, from Constantinople, from 1952-1963.

Patapia (formerly Evyenia) Tsetsoni, from Corinth, from 1963-1968.

Isidora (formerly Kyriaki) Mentzafou, from Athens, from 1968-Ocober 2014.

It’s worth noting that the monastery continues the traditional order, with an internal Rule drawn up by Elder Nektarios and an hourly timetable that starts at 03.30 a.m. As part of its prayer life, the community has special prayers for each day: on Sundays ‘for the dissemination of the truth of the Gospel’; on Mondays, ‘for the sick’; on Tuesdays, ‘for those in prison’; on Wednesdays, ‘for the illumination of the slothful’; on Thursdays, ‘for those in despair’; on Fridays ‘for those who labour for the Gospel’; and on Saturdays ‘for the departed’.

 

Transl. from Δημητρίου Καββαδία (ιερομονάχου), Γέροντες και Γυνακείος Μοναχισμός, published by the Holy and Great Monastery of Vatopaidi, the Holy Mountain 2015.

Source: Pemptousia

Freedom from Suffering

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The moment we accept death, true life can begin.  (Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra)

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The secret to his freedom does not lie in the rejection of his suffering, but in his joyful acceptance of them. He will be truly free only when he lets go of wanting to be free of his sufferings, for all freedom and all life depend on our being in right relation to God. When he accepts his death; when he allows himself to hear the sound of his footsteps descending into the grave, he will find that death no longer has a hold on him, for now he is with God. The darkness will vanish and he will see only light.

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If he accepts to become an instrument of God’s will, he will emerge triumphant; but otherwise he will fail.

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If “l” exist God cannot exist, for there cannot be two gods, and so it is either God or the self. When someone sees only his own suffering, God cannot answer him, for it is precisely the mistaken, negative attitude toward suffering that constitutes the separation between him and God. But if “I” cease to exist, if my relation to my suffering changes, then I can be united to God. This union depends on the denial of my self, so that God can come into my life.

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I must learn to accept suffering with joy, to find joy within my suffering, to realize that even in my moments of glory, I am nothing but “dust and ashes” (Gen 18:27), a pelican in the wilderness (Ps 102:6), lost in a desert land, seeking shelter in a landscape of ruins. I must realize my sinfulness, my nakedness, my alienation from God; I must realize I am like a sparrow alone o a house top (Ps 102:7), not because I have some psychological problem, but because I have been separated from God. … In this cry, this calling out, there exists the hope that I will hear the sound of His footsteps, and these will overtake my own and lead me to salvation.

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Source: Psalms and the Life of Faith, by Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra, pp 104-10

From Hell to Paradise

 

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A unlit candle among the burning candles in the candle stand of Vatopaidi Monastery (Mount Athos). Blessed are the humble ones because they have the true light and ceaselessly give it to the others within a burning joy. They feel united with the others, even with the lesser and worst of all people, and for this humbleness God gives them His blessing, his peace.  The proud one prematurely feels the singularity and darkness of hell from this life. Source: The Ascetic Experience 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following is the story that Elder Aimilianos told of his own mystical experience, but he told it in the third person:

“Permit me to tell you [runs the story] about a certain monk I once knew. Just as all of us have moments of difficulty, he too was passing through a very critical period of his life. The devil had cast fire into his brain, and wanted to strip him of his monastic dignity, and make him a miserable seeker of alleged truth. His soul roared like breaking waves, and he sought deliverance from his distress. From time to time, he remembered the Prayer of the Heart, but it resounded only weakly within him, because he had no faith in it. His immediate surroundings were of no help. Every­thing was negative. His heart was about to break. How wretched man becomes when he is beset by problems! And who among us has not known such terrible days, such dark nights, and agonizing trials?

Our monk did not know what to do. Walks did nothing for him. The night stifled him. And one night, gasping for air, he threw open the window of his cell in order to take a deep breath. It was dark – about three o’clock in the morning. In his great weariness, he was about to close the window, hoping to get at least a few moments of rest. At that very moment, however, it was as if everything around him – even the darkness outside – had become light! He looked to see where such light might be coming from, but it was coming from nowhere. The darkness, which has no existence of its own, had become light, although his heart remained in the dark. And when he turned around, he saw that his cell had also be­come light!He examined the lamp to see if the light was coming from there, but that one, small oil lamp could not become light itself, neither could it make all things light.

Although his heart was not yet illumined, he did have a certain hope. Overcome with surprise and moved by this hope, but without being fully aware of what he was doing, he went out into the black courtyard of the monastery, which had often seemed to him like hell. He went out into the silence, into the night. Everything was clear as day. Nothing was hidden in the darkness. Everything was in the light: the wooden beams and the windows, the church, the ground he walked on, the sky, the spring of water which flowed continuously, the crickets, the fireflies, the birds of the night – everything was visible, everything! And the stars came down and the sky lowered itself, and it seemed to him that everything – earth and sky had become like heaven!And everything together was chanting the prayer [i.e. of the heart], everything was saying the prayer.And his heart strangely opened and began to dance; it began to beat and take part involuntarily in the same prayer; his feet barely touched the ground. He did not know how he opened the door and entered the church, or when he had vested; he did not know when the other monks arrived, or when the Liturgy began. What exactly happened he did not know. Gone was the ordinary connection of things, and he knew only that he was standing before the altar, before the invisibly present God, celebrating the Liturgy. And striking, as it were, the keys of both his heart and the altar, his voice resounded above, to the altar beyond the heavens. The Liturgy continued. The Gospel was read. The light was no longer all around him, but had built its nest within his heart. The Liturgy ended, but the song that had begun in his heart was endless. In his ecstasy, he saw that heaven and earth sing this prayer without ceasing, and that the monk truly lives only when he is animated by it. For this to happen, he needs only to cease living for himself.”

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An Antidoro from Elder Aimilianos’ many teachings available in print due to the tireless efforts of the Ormylia nuns for the last 23 years after Gerondas receded into silence. More would have survived had not Elder Aimilianos set fire on his own manuscripts decades ago in an act of self-effacing humility before the horrified eyes of his disciples

 

Welcome, illness, welcome, failure, welcome, suffering!

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Christ, Man of Sorrows, end of 15th century

“Unforeseen things turn up constantly in our way because we have our will and our desires. Those unforeseen things are contrary to our will and desires; this is why they appear unforeseen to us, although they really are not. Because the person who loves God expects whatever may come, saying always “your will be done!” Rain will come, a storm, hail, thunder? “Blessed be the name of the Lord!” These are unforeseen because they come in contact with our ‘fleshly’ way of being. Therefore, in order not to be unsettled every time and to be upset, not to fret and succumb to anxiety, you have to expect all, and bear whatever may come. You must always say: “Welcome, illness, welcome, failure, welcome, suffering!” This will bring about meekness, without which there cannot exist a spiritual life.” (Elder Aimilianos Simonopetra)

 

 

Elder Aimilianos and Christ Pantokrator

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Please have a look at the eyes of the Elder how much they resemble Christ’s ‘different’ eyes and left vs right features in that famous Sinai icon*. Isn’t this a striking similarity? I am completely mesmerised, if I may use such an expression, with this photograph of the Elder, and I have been spending really a lot of time simply looking at him, ever since his repose in Christ. Compassionate, Peaceful, yet Stern too. It feels like an icon to me, and not a photograph. Your thoughts?

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Many (1) agree that the icon represents the dual nature of Christ, illustrating traits of both man and god, perhaps influenced by the aftermath of the ecumenical councils of the previous century at Ephesus and Chalcedon. Christ’s features on his left side (the viewer’s right) are supposed to represent the qualities of his human nature, while his right side (the viewer’s left) represents his divinity.

(1) Cf. Manaphēs, Sinai: Treasures, 84; Robin Cormack, Oxford History of Art: Byzantine Art (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 66.

 

The Causes of Sorrows and Trials

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There are many causes which generate trials and sorrows in our life. Besides that, their combinations can be quite complex, so we are in a labyrinth of factors.

However we can distinguish four big categories of influence which will help us to avoid and protect ourselves from unwanted happenings in our life.

Sorrows Because of our Sins. When we sin, because the sin is an existential distortion, spiritual law will try to re-establish the equilibrium. If we will try by ourselves, through repentance, confession, and asking for forgiveness to fix our mistake, then sorrow will not come. Otherwise, it will happen after a certain time when it will be clear that we didn’t have an analogous repentance.

Blocking Trials. We make a plan and begin to follow it. However, we cannot see too much in advance. God, which knows everything, sees that in front of us is a deep tar pit, a trap which will harm us badly. That’s why He will allow a blocking trial to happen in order to close our path towards the trap. That’s why the Holy Fathers say, “When God closes a door, don’t break the doorknob”. You will repent of it after.

Advancing Sorrows. Someone can advance spiritually but (s)he cannot or (s)he doesn’t want and/or (s)he doesn’t know how to advance. In such cases, God gives us a trial, a sorrow, in which we will gain virtues like prayer, patience, humility, and other qualities upon which we will advance spiritually.

Trials for Example. Everyone is a sinner but there are times in which we don’t do such sins in order to trigger the spiritual law in a big degree. Even then, God might put us in a trial in order to be an example to follow, a light for others. We have here the classical example of Job in the Old Testament period. In the New Testament period, there is, firstly, the example of our Lord Jesus Christ and, after Him, a lot of saints.

Based on Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi, Saint Paisios the Athonite

Source: Ascetic Experience