End of an era

gerondas Gregorios down the grave

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.

IMG_2180

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.

ΓΕΡΟΝΤΑΣ ΓΡΗΓΟΡΙΟΣ 3

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!

DF741702-4367-4408-A9BC-07929B918430-5475-00000B61A79B0D9F

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 …

geronta-Grigorios-Gerondas Agathaggelos.jpg

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.

IMG_30C7A706873B-1

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

IMG_2437680ACE52-1IMG_106369FE0194-1IMG_6D0756F8413E-1

The Procession Around the Monastery Main Church (Katholikon)

IMG_940D7A666A46-1

 

IMG_BCB2BB624A4D-1IMG_AFCF8058DE8E-1IMG_065F475397F3-1IMG_2D86A567F1F7-1

IMG_89B298C90490-1

IMG_E01B0243AA39-1

IMG_6E3288CF30C3-1

IMG_B1B1B4B74444-1

IMG_ABCCCDF37D05-1
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

IMG_8FBDC657BE47-1

IMG_AA555C435EC7-1

IMG_FAAB74AAFC8B-1IMG_64291251FF1B-1

IMG_7AD797517667-1IMG_E6C744FF2EB2-1

IMG_710B90A340F2-1IMG_4EBEE2B6EE06-1

IMG_BCB251772948-1

IMG_E43EDE22CD3A-1

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.”

Elder Euphemios5

Elder Euthemios 3

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

IMG_D85E93213643-1IMG_68BE57F7F00C-1

IMG_47B40FC3BF79-1IMG_C706CE7CBA1C-1IMG_DF70E303F694-1

IMG_4775B5F50692-1IMG_7EBE0ECD0116-1IMG_080DCC6201B7-1IMG_74016289089C-1IMG_F08778564231-1IMG_DD716F9AA2D4-1IMG_5272688FBE75-1IMG_68929EEDCE4F-1

IMG_F072D95470D5-1IMG_0F1E549C0ED7-1IMG_237072286ED5-1

For more photos, go here and here

 

The Monastery Diaries 4

88681
A photo journal 
*
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Christ is in our midst!
What a beautiful vigil at St Arsenios’ annual Feast (+St Arsenios of Cappadocia, Nov. 10)! I do not think any of my photos can convey the holiness conveyed through the monks’ exquisite, prayerful chanting,  the Fathers’ prayers, the censing, the tears of the faithful, the dancing chandeliers at Polyelaios…
IMG_FDFF402D104E-1
IMG_6E304B4371E5-1

Fr Synesios was throwing bay leaves inside the church before Vespers started

IMG_0653IMG_2871IMG_2101

IMG_1558IMG_8919IMG_5297IMG_5587

There were lots of hieromonks, laymen and chanters invited to help with the chanting and the hospitality, and several priests and bishops all over the world since Saint Arsenios monastery is a very missionary-minded monastery and Gerondas Theoklitos has quietly and very discreetly founded together with several of his monks lots of monasteries all over the world.

IMG_2751

IMG_BC1C2BD18149-1

The Bishop Innokentios of Burundi and Rwanda

The Vigil was in two parts because the Feast was this year on a Sunday: on Saturday evening we had the Vespers and Matins, and on Sunday morning the Hours and the Holy Liturgy. Nonetheless, it was still too long, so long that the faithful were often seen collapsing in their stasidia and seats, and yet at the end, nobody wanted to leave. The monks though were so vigilant, like candles lit, not sitting down even for a minute during all these long hours.

IMG_68115BCA7559-1IMG_8A659EA92CA5-1IMG_300F0861531C-1IMG_173F043CC851-1IMG_1C1DF79131B7-1IMG_8C4C4A9EA4C8-1
IMG_5991

IMG_2784

Some of the kollyva prepared by the faithful and the monks.
IMG_B6DB764D2AE5-1
IMG_A4CF0C7796F4-1
At the end of the Holy Liturgy, the kollyva of the Saint were prayed in front of his icon. These kollyva were such perfect icons “written” on the boiled wheat that we did not want to eat them! Then, all the faithful were given in the monastery yard a bit of this kollyva, artoklasia and special treats for the Feast, the Fathers briefly disappeared in the arhondarikion, and when we thought that we were done with eating and feasting, we were all invited into the monastery’s trapeza for yet for food.
IMG_5306C6226D50-1
IMG_41EAF004D336-1

During the agape meal, lots of chanters and two monks censing with a a katzion (special censer for feasts) and carrying a piece of holy bread,  a part of the proskomide’s holy bread, moved around all of us and we each picked up a very small piece. In that sense, the agape meal felt like yet one more Holy Liturgy after the Holy Liturgy in the church. Prayer seems to be seamlessly woven in all monastic activities, even in the washing-up that followed.

IMG_DBF8F7F2B930-1IMG_BB01370CCF4D-1IMG_AC8456CD3FFA-1

IMG_17CA7D9CC49B-1

Gerondas Theoklitos is on the left, Bishop Nikodemus of Kassandreia in the middle and the monk on the right , deeply bowing his head on the right is Father Arsenios. He was shining at his Saint’s Feast throughout the Vigil and the festivities that followed. He was honoured to read the Akathist before the Saint’s icon and the Synaxarion in the church and in the agape meal that followed at the end of the Holy Liturgy where all the faithful were invited to participate in a fellowship of Love and Holiness. Father Arsenios was the first to receive Holy Communion and the last to eat anything in the agape meal. In fact, I am not sure if he ate anything at all this day as he was so full of Joy and his Saint was feeding him with Heavenly food.

IMG_CFB336D2FD6E-1

IMG_B1369987B28D-1

IMG_BDD7A63DBDCD-1

This is Father Nikodemus who greeted me the first dawn here, on his way to a village parish, and we both admired the starlit sky, the “ison” for the worship unfolding in the monastery katholikon.

IMG_194C4CDD62A4-1IMG_D0BF64E15485-1IMG_15DC9D04966E-1

Love and poor prayers,
LCH

The Monastery Diaries 3

prayer rope.jpg
3/11

This Sunday at St Arsenios monastery, after the church services, Homily, Trapeza with Gerondas Theoklitos and a few obediences together with other pilgrims, Fr Synesios gave us a guest room to rest. At 4:00 we had Vespers, Supplication and …  and eventually, we left together with Gerondas Theoklitos: we drove him to the airport. That was a most interesting drive as we spent all the time taking turns in the Jesus Prayer and its variations. We started with “Glory to God” a hundred times, then “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us”, “Most Holy Theotokos save us”, and some variations like “Holy, Life-Giving Cross protect us”, “Baptist of Christ help us” (for repentance), “St. John the Evangelist help us” (for love), the Saints of the day, our Saints, all a 100 times repetitions each, first for the living, then for the departed . Very soon though we started praying using the following St. Paisios’ variation (*) to the Jesus prayer:

 

Our Lord Jesus Christ:

Do not abandon your servants who live far away from the Church. May your love convict them and bring them back to you.

Lord have mercy on your servants who are suffering from cancer.

On your servants who suffer either from small or serious ailments.

On your servants who suffer from physical infirmities.

On your servants who suffer from spiritual infirmities.

Lord have mercy on our leaders and inspire them to govern with Christian love.

Lord have mercy on children who come from troubled homes.

On troubled families and those who have been divorced.

Lord have mercy on all the orphans of the world, on all those who are suffering pain and injustices since losing their spouses.

Lord have mercy on all those in jail, on all anarchists, on all drug abusers, on all murderers, on all abusers of people, and on all thieves. Enlighten these people and help them to straighten out their lives.

Lord have mercy on all those who have been forced to emigrate.

On all those who travel on the seas, on land, in the air, and protect them.

Lord have mercy on our Church, the bishops, the priests and the faithful of the Church.

Lord have mercy on all the monastic communities, male and female, the elders and eldresses and all the brotherhoods of Mt. Athos.

Lord have mercy on your servants who find themselves in the midst of war.

On your servants who are being pursued in the mountains and on the plains.

On your servants who are being hunted like birds of prey.

Lord have mercy on your servants who were forced to abandon their homes and their jobs and feel afflicted.

Lord have mercy on the poor, the homeless and the exiled.

Lord have mercy on the nations of the world. Keep them in your embrace and envelope them with your holy protection. Keep them safe from every evil and war. Keep our beloved Greece (the Elder’s home country; we could substitute the USA) in your protective embrace day and night. Embrace her with your holy protection defending her from all evil and war.

Lord have mercy on those who have been abandoned and have suffered injustice. Have mercy on families that are going through trying times. Pour your abundant love upon them.

Lord have mercy on your servants who suffer from spiritual and bodily problems of all kinds.

Lord have mercy on those who are despairing. Help them and grant them peace.

Lord have mercy on those that have requested that we pray for them.

Lord grant eternal rest to all those who have passed on to eternal life throughout the ages.

Then, back to Thessaloniki centre and straight to St Demetrios for the Myron Service. Gerondas Theoklitos was the catalyst for a most bountiful “harvest” of 15 cotton balls and an extra Myron cotton roll equivalent to 50 more! Everybody present is normally given only one piece of cotton, but we were collecting for the faithful in the UK and other countries.

75282300_677359056123308_7719495289769295872_n74828484_958058424569184_1475105942285582336_n

Amazing gushing myrrh leaking everywhere from his reliquary!!! God is glorified in His Saints!

myron2

myron1

Lots of love and poor prayers

 

* The following prayer of his was given to Souroti convent which had asked the Elder for a prayer rule that could be used by the nuns in their evening vigils. This directive was given to the nuns during the final years of his life. The main emphasis of this prayer is his profound love for all of humanity.

This prayer can be used by every Christian believer since it takes in all the issues of life that need our prayers. Even the children can understand it easily since it is expressed in simple words. It can be used by families during their evening prayers.

 

The Monastery Diaries 2

monk 2.jpg

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?

*

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

monk.jpg

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

park-bench.jpg

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!

*

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.

The Crossing of My Red Sea

shoe nest

About four months have passed since my Elder’s last ‘words’ about my future and my life circumstances have completely changed. Indeed, problems do not merely call forth our courage and our wisdom; they create our courage and wisdom. (I have a long way to go …) How can my Elder (and God) swipe away, with just one move, all my past and present, my job, my possessions, my ‘family’, my ‘home’, my … (you name it!)?

But they can, as I was about to find out the hard way. “No buts — just do as I tell you! God has revealed all that to me (!)” The past four months I learnt first hand the blessings of an Elder’s prayers as he ‘photographed’ and ‘micromanaged’ my single step thousands of miles away.

The sea was parted; I walked on the dry ground and crossed it. And left all my past life behind. What will my future be on this ‘other’ side? 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…