Still in a discernment process. Again in lock down. Only now inside a monastery. Glory to God for all things. Counting the cost… whether I have enough to finish it … (Luke 14:28) It is this all that makes all the difference. “Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33)
PS1. Today, one of my obediences was gardening, and guess what it was: climbers!
The monastery of Archangel Michael is a precious and invaluable adornment of the whole region.
Its rich and long history, its national and religious offer, its imposing bearing and the frescoes of the interior of the temple, distinguished by the unique sweetness in the faces, as well as realism in its movement, its revival and its upward course tends to highlight it in one of the largest pilgrimages of Northern Greece, as its surrounded by rich flora and fauna.
Tradition wants the Monastery to be built on an ancient sanctuary dedicated to the Artemis hunting goddess due to the rich flora and fauna of the area.
Today it is proved, by documents that are saved in the Holy Monastery of the Greatest Lavra of Mount Athos, and by elements of the previous century, that it was dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. From various documents, such as the “Chrysoboulos Logos” of Alexios Komnenos, published in 1082, it seems to have existed since the 11th century as a glebe land of the Greatest Lavra of Athos.
Regardless of the above, it remains a fact, that one and a half centuries after the restoration of the Monastery, it is dedicated and has its protector and guide Archangel Michael. In fact, in 1858, the monastery was rebuilt with a charter of the Sultan, and was renamed this way, because the monastery was burned on September 6th, the day of theMiracle of Archangel Michael at Chonae, and as a sign of gratitude by many residents of the area, who survived harmless on the day of destruction by certain death. In 3/1182, the monastery of Greatest Lavra, founded a glebe in the form of a regular monastery in the village of Hostiani (today’s Archangelo).
The monastery of Ossiani until the 18th century has a lively presence in the area, to the point where it founded a subsidiary monastery at the foothills of Voras outside the village of Promachi. The monastery is Saint’s Hilarion, Bishop of Moglenoi. The monastery was besieged by the Turks in the 18th century. The Turks decimated the monks and burnt the monastery, while a one of them escaped alone, and gory beetled along to the Great Monastery.
The danger to the monastery was great. At the same time, the inhabitants of the current village of Notia adopted the religion of Muslim. At that time, took also place the tragic incident of the burning of the Monastery, by the neophyte Muslims, who also destroyed the surrounding building facilities. The homesteads, the fields and the forests, were destroyed and the pastures were granted to new owners, and the neighbors and the animals of the Monastery were dispersed.
Desolation lasts more than half a century, but already in 1858, with the permission of the sultan, the burnt monastery is reconstructed, and Valis of the Vitolioi returned the land that had been appropriated. From now on, an economic robustness began and the monastery provided dynamic assistance to the region’s poor. The monks undertook initiatives in the fields of education, moral support and national orientation of Karatzova.
The 19th century is one of the cruel times of Turkish slavery. Nevertheless, the Monastery of Archangel Michael is a robust presence in the northern Almopia. Inside this hive of the monks and ordinary people, the cells were transformed into hidden school rooms. The children were taught the ancestral wisdom and the ancient Greek letters. So, returning to their place, they became priests or teachers.
In the high mountains of Jena and Koziaka, a generation of young patriots was manned. The same period of time, was surrounded by violence and terror, and the propaganda of Bulgarians and Romanians contributed to this. In the Macedonian struggle the Holy Monastery was the center of Hellenism and the stronghold of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
As for its national offer, many brave chieftains were dressed as monks, led by Archangel Michael, to encourage and guide the Macedonian men and the frightened inhabitants of the region. A typical example, is the brave chieftain Captain Matapas who, with the nickname Papa Christos and based in the Monastery of the Archangel, organized rebelliously the region of Aridaia and Goumenissa of Kilkis.
Other brave chieftains used the Monastery as a base and hideout, such as George Kakoulidis, Nicholas Vlachos and Emmanuel Skountris, who won victories against the Bulgarians at Promachoi.
For some decades the monastery was a chapel of the parish of the village of Archangelos. Today the Monastery operates with a cenobitic rite. The rhythm of the temple is a three-aisled basilica and its walls are one meter thick. The katholikon of the temple is painted by frescoes of folk painters from Krousouvo.
Indeed, the most famous frescoes are scenes from the martyrdom of Saint Chrisi and the hagiography of Saint Hilarion, Bishop of Moglenoi, which is unique throughout Greece. Finally, the miraculous icon of Archangel Michael is preserved.
“God will centrifuge each one of us” (!) Those words by Gerondissa Philothei were repeated rather ‘ominously’ 3 to 4 times at the first (*) homily I attended at the Nativity of the Theotokos Monastery in Panorama. Doesn’t the centrifugal force cause an object to move out and away from the centre of its path? Is God through various afflictions centrifuging me away from the centre of my old self?
“How good it would have been if we did not let the pain go to waste! One way or another we will suffer. But our whole torture and struggle will go down the drain unless we make good use of pain unless we exploit it. …When we suffer, when a pain insists, let us think like that: “God wants something good to come out of this in me, and I act as if I do not get it. And all I do is moan and groan.” ….
“Know this: When pain will have completed the work it is supposed to do, God takes away. It is not difficult at all for God to remove whichever pain. … A Christian is capable of making such good use of every pain so that he can constantly be in paradise. …. Let there be no complaint, no rebellion, no kicking about.
If possible, whichever pain you have, deal with it by saying these words: “Let it be blessed, my God. Whatever You Want.” This way our pain won’t get wasted but will be exploited to the full. We will take advantage of it, and the great good which saves will come to our hearts. When God visits you with sorrows, say: “Thank you, my God. As I had absolutely no intention to embrace a few ugly things, a few pains, and truly follow your path, you caught up with me and gave me a few. How can I thank you enough?” (!) [+S.K]
(*) The first homily, that is after 35 or so years to be precise. Because Elder Symeon Kragiopoulos monastery was my starting point to the Church. The moment I stepped my foot into the narthex, it all came back to me. Literally that “taste” and “fragrance” of life and teachings which I understood so little back then, yet never forgot since. What an encouragement for my ‘new’ obediences! The second ‘word’ which I received soon after was a mission to make pilgrimages and establish contacts with all nearby Thessaloniki monasteries. All nearby monasteries?! Quite bold a list of obediences for such a timid little city hermit. But may it be blessed. Your prayers
“Love in Christ is a sacrificial Love, a self-sacrificing, self-denying Love, Agape. You sacrifice everything for the person you love, “your neighbour”. By “our neighbour”, we mean every person as God’s Image, even our enemy. By “love” we do not mean that we should do whatever the other person wants us to do, but to love him with Christ’s burning and flaming Heart, for his salvation” (+ Elder Gregorios Papasotiriou)
This is how we have always felt and feel his love. Blessed Paradise, Elder. At long last, you will be reunited with your beloved spiritual father, Saint Paisios. “Kai sta dika mas.” “And to our own!” May we be reunited with you in Heaven in God’s Kairos!
All the faithful present experienced an urge to pray to Elder, and not for him.
Elder Ephraim and Gerondissa Macrina. Elder Ephraim of Arizona wrote of blessed Macrina: “She was an extraordinarily virtuous person and was distinguished by her humility, meekness, attentiveness, and ceaseless prayer. She had a wondrous purity of mind. I have never seen such pure thoughts in any other person.
The blessed eldress [our holy mother among the saints, Abbess Makrina of Portaria] always taught her sisters and those who came to her for spiritual advice to give glory to God for all things: for the so-called good and the so-called bad. Here is a story she related regarding this:
In one of the villages near her monastery there lived a pious couple who had a ten-year-old son. Their next-door neighbour was an old woman with an intolerable personality. She was constantly berating everyone, angrily and unfairly scolding her neighbours, and when their son would return from school she would throw sticks and stones at him.
One day the father turned to God with fervent prayer and decided to ask Him how to deal with that old woman’s bad temper. The Lord answered him, “She will live another thirty years!” And what was the man’s response to this news? He unmurmuringly said, “Glory to God!” He shared God’s answer with his wife and she likewise said, “Glory to God!” When the son came home from school and heard the news about God’s answer to his father’s prayer he also said, “Glory to God!”
The next day, total silence reigned in the old woman’s house. She did not go outside to pour out her wrath upon her neighbours. The father went to see how she was doing and discovered that she had apparently died in her sleep. He began to pray to God in order to understand how this could happen, and the Lord said to him, “When you answered, ‘Glory to God!’ I shortened her life by ten years. When your wife gave the same reply I took away another ten years. And when your son said the same thing and also glorified Me, I took away the final ten years of her life.”
“Elder Aimilianos never told anyone what to do. Never gave orders. He told us many times when the community was all together: “I can’t really tell you what to do, all I can do is strive to be an example.” He used to say, “In the Christian life, there is no ‘must’. If you tell people they ‘must do this and must do that’, something in their spirit rebels. It’s unnatural for us to be enslaved in that way, to have orders and commands imposed upon us. …
… When a certain novice arrived at Simonopetra, the cells were under construction so he was put in a guest room. It all looked normal: shelf, books, bed. He was working in the library, and one of the monks got up and said, “Ooh my back, my back: it’s killing me. I have back troubles.” “Is your bed too soft?” the novice asked. “You sleep in a bed?” “Yeah: don’t you?” “No, nobody here sleeps in a bed,” and laughed with the other monks saying, “Hey, come here. He sleeps in a bed!” When the novice was with the Abbot a couple days later, the Abbot asked, “You have a bed in your room? At some point, we’ll have to get that out of there.” The novice was terrified: he had a long history of chronic lower back problems. He had the idea: “If they take my bed away, I’ll be a cripple the rest of my life!” Every time he heard a knock on the door, he feared they were coming for it. Yet no one ever came for the bed. One day the Novice saw the cell of the Abbot. The Abbot didn’t have a bed! “This man carries the weight of the whole monastery on his shoulders, works so hard for everybody here, deals with all our nonsense, our infantile behaviour prays for us, and he doesn’t sleep in a bed. And I’m going to have a bed? I can’t do that.” He went back to his room and got rid of the bed. Had they taken it, and he had back problems, he would have cursed them forever! The Abbot taught by example.”
Exactly like Fr Synesios at the monastery of St Arsenios. He is always most eager to help everybody in everything, is tireless in his ministry and never judges anybody. Indeed, even when things go really wrong, he always protects the “culprit” and prefers solutions to problems. Just a few hours together with him are life-changing. He teaches everybody by example.
Christ is Risen! May Angels accompany you dear Father to your reward.
The Monastery Diaries 5
A special commemoration diary and photo/video blog
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.
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.
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!
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 …
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.
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 more video footage and photos, go here and here
For some photos, see below
The Vigil and the Four Gospels
The Procession Around the Monastery Main Church (Katholikon)
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
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 Euphemios was the only hieromonk with a purely white epitrahelion and he was leading all the services.
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…
Fr Synesios was throwing bay leaves inside the church before Vespers started
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.
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.
Some of the kollyva prepared by the faithful and the monks.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Amazing gushing myrrh leaking everywhere from his reliquary!!! God is glorified in His Saints!
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.