Christ is Risen

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+ 8/12/2019

Father Efraim of Arizona (1928-2019) has left this world to join his fellowship (Saint Efraim Katounakiotis, Saint Joseph the Caveman, Father Joseph from Vatopedi, Father Haralampos, Father Arsenios). He is home now in eternal rest with his spiritual father and his Heavenly Father in heaven. Glory to the God who gave us Geronda Ephraim!

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Like Elder Gregorios Papasotiriou

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γεροντασ γρηγοριοσ παπασωτηριου

Like Elder Aimilianos Simonopetra

υστατο χαιρε γεροντα αιμιλιανου

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So many “losses” in just a few months! May we, their orphans, meet them through their prayers in Heavens! Memory Eternal!

 

End of an era

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Christ is Risen! May Angels accompany you dear Father to your reward.

Gerondas Gregorios Tomb

The Monastery Diaries 5

A special commemoration diary and photo/video blog

GERONTAS-GRIGORIOS (1)

Dear brothers and sisters, Christ is in our midst.

This is going to be the most difficult post I have ever attempted as it is about the repose of my spiritual father, + Elder Gregorios Papasotiriou, a spiritual child of Saint Paisios, Elder and Founder of the women’s monastery of St. John the Forerunner in Metamorphosis, Chalkidiki.

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Gerondissa Euphemia of St John the Forerunner Monastery, St Paisios in the middle, Elder Gregorios on the right. She was absent at the funeral, other than very briefly to pay her last respects to the Elder, as she is about 90 years old and very frail in her health

+Wednesday 20/11. The funeral service took place in the morning of the following day, after the vigil of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, such an appropriate day for our spiritual father’s departure from this life and entrance into the Heavenly sanctuary.

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St. Porphyrios, when Elder Gregorios once told him that he is well, told him “no, you are not”. “Indeed, I am”, Gerondas Gregorios insisted, but it was St Porphyrios who was right. Later, when St. Porphyrios visited him at his cell in Metamorphosis, his cell exuded a sweet fragrance for six days!

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In God’s kairos, I may write more about my memories with him. His orphans and why it feels this is an end of an era for us. I really ought to start from my University years, when I would take the bus through Polygyros [ie. etymology: lots of curves] notorious curves to the  Metamorfosi village, then walk all the way uphill through olive groves to the monastery of Saint John the Forerunner, meet Gerondas Gregorios for Confession and make absolutely no plans about my stay or who we were going to spend the day and the night together. Quite an adventure back in those days …

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On Thursday morning, the village and the hill were packed with more people than I have ever seen in my life. People from all over the world, clergy, monastics and lay people who had come to pay their last respects to a father they owned more than their lives. And yet all this crowd were my spiritual brothers and sisters, with whom we had travelled in the past a mile or two in our pilgrimage, and we all had so many memories to share. Many of his spiritual children, when he became gravely ill, were “sent” to Gerondas Theoklitos, the Elder and founder of the monastery of St Arsenios, another spiritual child of Saint Paisios. God’s Love unites us all.

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Such a crowd! The police were regulating the parking and the traffic, as only the priests’ and monastics’ cars were allowed all the way up to the monastery. All nearby hotels opened their rooms for free, and local people with minibuses helped people drive up and down the monastery.

The warmth of faith full of the Holy Spirit. Gerondas Gregorios was remembered in the following days at the proskomede and at the great entrance in churches and monasteries all over the world. Memory eternal.

“Christ is Risen!” What bright sorrow, χαρμολύπη! At the end of the Memorial, the nuns and monks present chanted the whole Paschal, Resurrectional Canon of St. Saint John of Damascus. 

“And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.” (John 17:11)

For a video of the funeral, go here

For more video footage and photos, go here and  here  

For some photos, see below

The Vigil and the Four Gospels

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The Procession Around the Monastery Main Church (Katholikon)

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Second on the left is Gerondas Theoklitos, who prayed the traditional 100-knot rope for the departed: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on your servant Hieromonk Gregorios”

The Grave and the Burial

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Elder Euphemius, the spiritual son of Blessed Gerondas Isaac Atallah. He is now the current Abbot of the Skete that Blessed Atallah founded on Mount Athos and the spiritual father of the nuns at St John the Forerunner Monastery.  As a dear Father pointed out to me, “I see him contemplating this holy mystery of Gerondas repose in his eyes and “being with ” Gerondas spirit and not separated from him.”

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Elder Euphemios was the only hieromonk with a purely white epitrahelion and he was leading all the services.

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For more photos, go here and here

 

The Monastery Diaries 2

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Dear brothers and sisters,

Christ is in our midst.

26 — 30 October

A retreat at the monastery of Saint John the Forerunner with Gerondas Gregorios, 45 monastics and about 5 guests. This is one of the most introvert, silent, strict, otherworldly monasteries I have ever been, where the emphasis is on the lesson of repentance. Yet, Gerondas Theoklitos’ word for me upon my return was to go there, only there and not anywhere else, and that as often as I can and as long as I can.

26-28/10

A chain of feasts! St Demetrius, Resurrection Sunday and +The Holy Protection of the Theotokos (28 Oct — Greek, not Slavic calendar) 

This is the third time I am celebrating this feast this year: once at Walsingham (1st October), the second in Holy Land (old calendar) and the third here at the Monastery of St John the Forerunner.

These are all major feasts and day of rest and all monastics have disappeared to their cells for more intensive study and prayer. An atmosphere of utter stillness, silence and quiet. One could hear only the birds and the bees basking in the sunshine. Such quietness and stillness of the day proved essential for my mind. Therapeutic and healing.

29/10

Today was a regular day and after Matins and Holy Liturgy and our meal, we all engaged in various obediences. Mine was to clean both churches and after the second meal, help wash and cut lettuce.  Every day we take the blessing of Elder Gregorios who lives in a separate, remote cell in the monastery. Everything is so orderly and quiet compared to our lives! The blessings of obedience! 

This time, for the first-ever time, I am allowed access to the most ”private” wings and wards of the monastery. I am sure Gerondas Theoklitos’ request must have made a difference. I found this “privilege” very strange and became even more silent. I also felt a bit “scrutinised” by the otherworldly monastics, but maybe, I was too self-conscious. 

My biggest surprise though came after Little Compline when a monastic, Brother Philotheos asked my help in a translation matter! Our discussion soon expanded and lasted long for those very silent monastics. I think he wanted to become friends with me. I also think that I might end up with a new obedience very soon: help with the whole translation of a very long, 300-page book … This American Cypriot monastic ended up here 25 or so years ago… 

I was told that he was the nurse to another monastic I knew intimately for the last months of his life: + Brother Paisios. He spent a lot of time with him and this late brother spoke a lot about me, especially during his last months while I was away in the UK. He told Brother Philotheos that he loved me very much, suffered for my Cross, eagerly awaited my returns and prayed a lot for me, as he keeps praying now for me in Heaven. “Please pray for him as he is doing for you in Heaven.”

What a surprise! I mean I have been praying for him too and indeed was providentially present at his death and funeral (with Gerondas Gregorios by his side) at one of my very brief visits to Greece, but I knew nothing of all this! I had worked with this late brother Paisios on various publication/ translation projects but he was always so silent and immersed in prayer. He never told me anything about himself or asked me anything about myself. How very strange! How did he know things about my life?

Brother Paisios was an Oxford graduate who turned down their job offer to become a monk, a scholarly monk. How moving all this is! Our last project was + Brother Porphyrios’ 3 volume composition: monastic rule for a men’s monastery!

My stay at the monastery is becoming more «interesting » day after day … I am in tears, deeply moved by this message from the “other” side …

30/10

I am leaving early in the morning, spiritually refreshed, stronger, with a long list of errands for the monastery from Thessaloniki. It seems that I have unofficially become their “αποκρισάριος”, a Byzantine term for monasteries’ messengers, go-between, ambassadors, laypeople who undertook errands for them in the world and represented them, but I have not yet found its equivalent in English. Do you know how they call this “title” in English?

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15/11 A reader of this blog told me that the closest word to what I am looking for “αποκρισάριος” is “envoy

 

The Monastery Diaries 1

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Dear brothers and sisters,
Christ is in our midst!
My life back in Greece is still quite chaotic and hard, but Our Lord is showering me with His blessings. I got the blessing from my English little spiritual father, whose idea that blog was, to begin with, to share with you my life back in Greece, especially my monastery stays. So many of you wanted to know more about my life here. He told me “Yes, may it be a blessing for others”. Please forgive my unpolished style and my language errors but here is what happened on my first Sunday after our pilgrimage to Holy Land:

My new « parish » and my new « home » — Sunday diary 19/10/2019
So much and heavy housework and office work in-between!!!!
A humble antidoron to your many heart-warming emails:
“St. Arsenios’ monastery is currently 9 monks and one novice since they keep on recruiting new monasteries all over Europe. All the Fathers are very kind, most humble and hospitable. When I arrived at 5am the stillness and beauty of the night outside their katholikon was so full of holiness that it was spellbinding! One of the fathers, Fr. Nicodemus was leaving the monastery to serve a neighbouring village, and when he saw me like this, he gave me his blessing and told me to “put” all this nature doxology and beauty as the basis, the “ison” for the church services that were unfolding inside! On my way from Thessaloniki, I was saying the supplication to St. Arsenios and all the time in the monastery, I never stopped thanking him and St. Paisios for their hospitality. Both Saints are so alive and present here. Many faithful have literally seen them during vigils praying and St. Paisios is always kneeling before St. Arsenios, his spiritual father!
The services were of ineffable beauty and when they finished at about 9:15 am we all went inside the arhondariki for the homily of Gerondas Theoklitos, who thank God looked noticeably stronger now back at the monastery because I was really concerned with how frail and exhausted he looked during our pilgrimage. We must have been about 70 who stayed for the homily, although certainly a lot more for the services. Of course, when it is summer, the number doubles, triples…Then, at 11:00 Gerondas met some for Confession, and we were waiting for him together with a few more faithful, most of whom looked monastic oriented as if they were monks in the world or some in search of a monastery. While waiting, I met so many of the faithful we used to go on pilgrimages together 15-20 years ago, and our reunion was so moving! Again, more tears! They were asking me what had happened to my life, where had I disappeared?… As if I knew how to answer their questions! At some point, at about 12:30 Gerondas Theoklitos emerged out of the Confession chapel and made arrangements for our trapeza together. All the other monks had already had they Sunday meal while their Gerondas was doing Confessions. At first, this meal was very embarrassing as Fr Synesios was serving all 5 of us, a most humbling experience I can assure you, although I am sure a joy for him! The meal, a proper Sunday festive one, was in complete silence and at its end, Gerondas offered more words of spiritual guidance to us, and then the monastery fathers asked us to do a little Diakonia for them, so we all cleaned green beans together with Gerondas Theoklitos while reciting in turns the Jesus prayer! 2 big baskets of runner beans for the monks although father Synesios insisted we take all we want and just leave for them whatever remains!! What a beautiful holy Sunday! I feel so undeserving for such blessings!!! We left at about 3pm to allow some time to the Fathers to rest although they were so keen to offer us more hospitality and would not let us go … In the end, Gerondas Theoklitos asked each one of us 4 if we wanted to see him in private and one went inside the Confession chapel with him, but I told him that I did not need to because I had seen him yesterday. But what an opportunity to seek more guidance this way, every week! Oh, how much am I looking forward to all this for the coming Sunday! I cannot stop asking myself this question: why are we, me especially, offered so much love, why is God showering us/me with so many blessings, me the most undeserving one? I feel so humbled by all this experience! All that was prepared for me by God before setting my foot back here. Some pilgrims I met during this last pilgrimage in Holy Land told me about the possibility of sharing Sunday agape meal with Gerondas Theoklitos at his monastery. I have known Gerondas Theoklitos for over 20 years and have been together on a number of pilgrimages, but I was not aware of this possibility. Amazing divine providence!
My love and poor prayers in Christ
* Names and certain details have been changed for obvious reasons for all involved . All photos are from The Ascetic Experience blog… Please forgive me for this little “deception” and pray for me

Back to Greece

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What wonderful words for my Saturday night in an “empty” house! And what a perfect focus and starting point for the re-ordering of my life back in Greece, after one more re-location … I hope our Lord has kept you all these weeks in the palm of His Hand!

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Slowing Down for the Necessary Thing

” … Fr. Roman Braga, who learned to pray, he said, while spending two years in solitary confinement in Ceausescu’s torture prison, urged people to slow down. “God wants to speak to us,” he said. Over the years, my experience has been that the primary reason for failing to take an hour or two to “listen” or pray have to do with my own willful avoidance rather than the demands of daily routine. Somehow, the appointment with God is all too easily bumped for something “more pressing” (or some such excuse). As things wind down, my excuses keep diminishing. I sit. I listen. I hear, “Slow down. It’s ok.”

It has always struck me as interesting that the life of a hermit is generally restricted to older, more experienced monks: young ones are not allowed to venture into that territory. St. John of the Ladder said, “Solitude ruins the inexperienced” (Book 27 in The Ladder). St. Ignatius Brianchininov, in his The Arena, gives an entire chapter over to warnings about solitude. It is, nevertheless, the case that nature conspires to press us into solitude as often as not. It is little wonder that we fall into depression and worse. An involuntary ascesis can become torture.

For myself, I am working to make voluntary what will eventually happen anyway. Learning to bear my own company and seeking to bear the company of God are proper to this time. I am noticing some changes. For example, I can barely stand to have the radio or music playing in the car when I’m driving – they’re distractions. I’d rather pray. Nevertheless, the noise of my ADD-addled brain provides ample distraction by itself most of the time. What to do with that noise is a matter of constant learning.

Attention-deficit. Those words, strangely, describe much of our lives, even when our brains are fine. The world lives in a permanent state of distraction, summoning our passions with an incessant call for its own attention. Our lives will be lived in “just a minute,” while such a minute never seems to arrive. Despite the best efforts of all, history fails to conform to our demands, creating ever more distraction that says we must try harder.

In the Orthodox tradition, there is what is termed “the one thing necessary.” It harkens back to Christ’s word to distracted Martha’s complaints regarding her sister. Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, listening, ignoring the housework. Christ says to Martha, “Only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen that good part and it will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:42). It is in prayer that we sit at the feet of Christ. It is communion with Him that constitutes the one necessary thing. This is true life, the fount of all blessings. It takes a little time.

 

Read here the whole post.

Return to the Holy Land

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The past days were hectic. The little city hermit had been packing, distributing his property here, sending a few boxes back to Greece and trying to pick up the pieces of his broken heart. Now, all is done. A search of a home and a family again begins. “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” I now have only my Gerondas and my spiritual family in His Uncreated Church. “For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” What remains to be done in my last week here is a pilgrimage to Walsingham to take leave of Our Lady. Then, I am praying for a Baptism in the Uncreated Fire of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Finally, I am craving for a long retreat into silence. “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” I am asking for your prayers and will pray for all of you. May we meet again in God’s kairos.

Midbar, Arabah, Chorbah, Yeshimon—In the wilderness

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Midbar. Arabah. Chorbah. Yeshimon. A mystical incantation in Hebrew. Eremos, Eremia. I am wandering in those places. After the crossing of my Red Sea. Back then, I thought that I had left all my past life behind. But no, there was more. There is always more… Now, the Elder’s “word” is that I must go back to Greece. After 5 years here! What for? Again, I am clueless. Completely. How can life change so drastically, so dramatically, so fast? What will my future be there? I have absolutely no clue, other than I must learn to cling to God and surrender to His Will, as no one has now been left for me, other than Him and my Elder.

Abba Allois said: “Unless a man say in his heart, Only I and God are in the world, he shall not find rest.”

Asking for your prayers…

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Words translated as “wilderness” occur nearly 300 times in the Bible. A formative Hebrew memory is the years of “wandering in the wilderness,” mixing experiences of wild landscape, of searching for a promised land, and of encounters with God. The Pentateuch wandering takes place in the midbar, uninhabited land where humans are nomads. This common Hebrew word refers often to a wild field where domestic animals may be grazed and wild animals live, in contrast to cultivated land, hence, sometimes “the pastures of the wilderness” (Joel 1:19–20). Another word is arabah, steppe (Genesis 36:24), also translated as desert: “The land that was desolate [midbar] and impassable shall be glad, and the wilderness [arabah] shall rejoice” (Isaiah 35:1). Land that lies waste is chorbah; land without water is yeshimon.

The wilderness is a locale for intense experiences—of stark need for food and water (manna and quails), of isolation (Elijah and the still small voice), of danger and divine deliverance (Hagar and Ishmael), of renewal, of encounters with God (Moses, the burning bush, the revelation of the divine name, Mount Sinai). There is a psychology as well as a geography of wilderness, a theology gained in the wilderness.

Linguists will make the point that the Hebrews did not have an exact equivalent of the contemporary English word “wilderness.” Nevertheless, the Hebrews evidently knew the experience of confronting the wild.

Turning to the New Testament, which was written in Greek, not Hebrew, the word most often translated as “wilderness” is eremos (or eremia), an isolated place. The wilderness figures at critical junctures in the life of Jesus. Jesus is baptised by John and then is driven by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days. The Devil is there, but so is the Spirit. “A great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1.35). This records a search for solitude, for self-discovery, for divine presence, but this process, crucially, seems to require the ambience of the natural environment.

Source: Environment and Society Portal