Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Elder Daniel Gouvalis Interviewed About His Elder Porphyrios

Elder Porphyrios

ELDER PORPHYRIOS
Testimonies and Experiences


Archimandrite Daniel Gouvalis
Theologian, writer.

K.I.: Fr. Daniel, you had God's great blessing to have known Elder Porphyrios very well for many years. I would like to ask you first to give us an outline of his personality, and then we shall see manifestations of God's grace within his person.

Fr.D.G.: Elder Porphyrios was a gift from God towards the Church. He sent us great light within the darkness in which we live, through Elder Porphyrios. We thank the Lord for giving us such a great gift in our times, indeed, keeping him in life for eighty-six whole years.

You felt comfortable next to Elder Porphyrios. He pressured no-one. He wanted whoever came to him to do it out of their own free will. He always told confessors that when we as spiritual fathers guide the life-journey of those who confess to us, we must always respect their freedom. He always stressed that Christianity is freedom.

He often referred to the event according to which Christ once said something that scandalized many people. The result was they all started to leave until only the disciples remained. In which case the Lord told them that if they too would like to leave, they were free to do so. He quoted the Gospel of St. John, word for word , "From that time many of his disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, 'Do you also want to go away?"'( Jn.6:66- 7)

Elder Porphyrios had a highly cultivated ecclesiastical awareness. He respected Church people and the Church hierarchy. He said "If I fall out with the bishop, if the bishop is angry with me, my prayer won't rise up to heaven."

He loved hymnography very much. He studied and paid attention to the Canons for the great feasts, both of the Master and of the Mother of God. He carefully studied the meaning of each and every word of the Canon.

He frequently liked to talk about love. He said, characteristically, that hate soils the soul. He also said that when our brother has a problem we should gather many of us together and say a common prayer about it.

He constantly spoke about love towards Christ. "When we love Christ" he said, "our soul is freed from fear." He frequently used the words of St. John the Divine "Love casts out fear."

Elder Porphyrios never allowed himself to be occupied with negative things; he wanted everything to be bright and positive. He typically told us, "You find yourself in a dark room and you wave your arms, trying, in that way, to drive away the darkness. The darkness doesn't leave like that though. Open the window so that the light can come in, and the darkness will leave by itself. The light will drive away the darkness. We should study Holy Scripture, the lives of the saints, the Fathers; that's the light that'll drive away the darkness." He used the image very often.

K.I.: Is there something Fr. Daniel that has moved you particularly?

Fr.D.G.: One day, during the German Occupation, Elder Porphyrios was walking towards the vicinity of Lykavittos. As he was walking along he came across an unpleasant scene. A German soldier had intentionally driven a young girl into a corner, by the basement of some house, and wanted to dishonor her. She looked like a little bird that had fallen into the claws of a hawk. You could see the horror etched on her face. She let off some weak cries of struggle and pain from her mouth. The German tried to calm her down with sweet words. The entire neighbourhood had heard the commotion, and were now looking out of their windows and doorways to see what would happen. They saw a priest walking towards the scene.

When Elder Porphyrios found himself facing this scene he felt great internal anguish. He had to find a way of saving the girl. Ignoring the danger he was in from the brutal German, the Elder directed his footsteps towards him. He prayed silently and intensely for divine strength to manifest itself. As soon as he got close enough he raised his hands up high. It looked like he was either appealing to the German or that he was asking God to show His mercy.

The sight of a priest with his hands raised high, the bright countenance of his face, and what's more the divine strength that he had hidden within him, worked its miracle.

The German softened, abandoned his intentions and let the girl free. As Fr. Porphyrios continued on his way the people who had followed events from their houses demonstrated their applause for him. They cheered as much as they could for as long as they could in those difficult times.

K.I.: What do you have to tell us about his gifts of discernment and foresight?

Fr.D.G.: Both of these gifts of his would always leave us speechless. There are countless incidences. We'll talk about just a few examples.

At the time when Elder Porphyrios was at the Polyclinic, he asked someone, who had gone there for confession, where he came from. He told him he was from a village in Eleia . He then asked him if he had a house out in the fields. When the man said yes, Elder Porphyrios told him that a river flowed underneath the property, where that house could be found. The man was lost for words, he never suspected anything of the like.

Many years afterwards a foreign company went to that area with the aim of drilling to find oil. When the drilling had reached four hundred meters deep, a huge river of water shot up. If they hadn't caught it in time, the whole area would have been flooded.

K.I.: So much

Fr.D.G.: Yes

I'll also tell you this story. A student who did his military service at a base near here where I live, asked me to take him to see the Elder.

As soon as we got there the Elder asked him where he came from. The student replied that he came from a village in the Western Peloponnese. Then the Elder said to him "What strong winds blow in those mountains by your village!" And the student said "Do you know what the villagers call those mountains? They call them the Wind Mountains."

K.I.: That's wonderful

Fr.D.G.: Once I went to his cell. It was the 19th of October, late in the afternoon, I interrupted him without wanting to, because at that hour he could be "found" in Cephallonia, at vespers for the feast of St. Gerasimos. He saw, as he told me, the priests, the bishops, countless people and heard the chanting. He described to me in exact detail what was taking place at that hour at St. Gerasimos on Cephallonia.

Once he telephoned Brussels where a spiritual child was serving in the navy there on a NATO submarine. He told him that there was a shoal-reef there where the submarine was circulating under the sea, and that they ought to be careful. The officer checked the spot that the Elder had pointed out, located the reef, and gave orders for the submarine to avoid that spot.

K.I.: The gifts of Elder Porphyrios are really so many and so surprising that one doesn't know what to mention first and which are the most wonderful!

Fr.D.G.: On the 15th July 1974 he was traveling with some spiritual children of his to Macedonia, Northern Greece. On the car radio they heard that a coup d'etat had taken place in Cyprus and that Archbishop Makarios had been murdered. He turned around and said to his spiritual children "That is a mistake. Archbishop Makarios has not been murdered." And in truth, with the next newscast they learnt that Archbishop Makarios was still alive.

K.I.: That's astonishing.

Fr.D.G.: The incidents that demonstrate his gifts of foresight and discernment could fill whole volumes, alone.

When I first met him on Mt. Athos he told me that in my village of Panourgia in the Phokhidos Parnassian mountains near Amfissa there are some caves where people lived during the Turkish Occupation. He also told me that in my village there are three country churches. He saw my village in its past, present, and future phases, because when he spoke to me there were only two churches; today there are three. On the other hand, he saw that in the past, during the the Turkish Occupation, men-of-arms and klephts had lived in the caves near my village.

He often happened to tell me something which at the time appeared puzzling and 1 couldn't understand it or interpret it. One day, as we were walking, he said, "Many people will listen to you." I thought that we would have some kind of festival, we would put up some loudspeakers, and lots of people would hear me. When, however, years later, two church radio stations went on the air with a large audience, only then, having taken on some of the programs, did I understand what the Elder meant.

Personally, I had the feeling that I had a prophet before me, like the prophets in the Old Testament, and that he had the Holy Spirit within him.

Whatever he heard, whatever was said to him, he was always completely calm. Just like the calmness of St. Anthony.

When people who were facing difficult problems came to me, I took them to the Elder and he gave them perfect advice. His advice was always faultless and perfect. I'll give you one such example.

A gentleman once visited us who came from a village in Corinth. He had a large property and was in a dilemma as to whether to plant olive trees or lemon trees. He didn't know which was best and he couldn't arrive at a decision. We took him to the Elder; note that this took place at the end of the 1970's.

The Elder told him about the needs the countries of the EEC would have regarding such produce in the future: that a method would be found for the quick harvesting of olives and so there would be an overproduction of olives. He advised him to plant lemon trees; lemons would always be in demand in those countries and in the countries of the north. That, as events proved, is what actually happened.

K.I.: The impressive thing is that Elder Porphyrios was interested in everything, in all kind of problems that concerned people.

Fr.D.G.: Very true.

K.I.: How did he himself deal with those gifts of his?

Fr. D.G.: First, we must mention that he acquired his gift of discernment at Kavsokalyvia when he was only seventeen years old. It is a surprising case because these gifts
as a rule are only acquired after many decades of ascetic practice.

Elder Porphyrios, speaking about the gifts that God had given him, said that for the Church to function, God gives different gifts to some people at times for the good of the Church. He felt that his gifts were an ecclesiastical function.

He kept these gifts until the end of his life. Others have also at times been given various gifts. Afterwards however, they were found unworthy and deprived of them.

Figures like Elder Porphyrios appear within the Church once every hundred or two hundred years. The things that we read about in the lives of the saints that amaze us, happened next to us because the Elder was a living saint. And now we're informed about miracles that he performed after death.

K.I.: Fr. Daniel, from what I know, you have many direct experiences of Elder Porphyrios' healing gift. Could you give us a few indicative examples?

Fr.D.G.: Personally, I knew different people that had cancer and were cured after a prayer and blessing from the Elder.

One high-school teacher had a breast tumor and was scheduled for surgery. She went to the Elder, who blessed her, and the tumor disappeared without needing an operation.

One other young girl in the Athenian district of St. Paraskevi had decided to commit suicide because she was severely reprimanded at home. She had bought some strong weed-killer and was going to drink it. Suddenly, Elder Porphyrios appeared before her, took the weed-killer from her hands, and said to her, "Don't be afraid. Everything will be all right. You'll marry, you'll have children and you'll be fine." That's just what happened.
K.I.: "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see
God."

Fr.D.G.: Occasionally the Elder used to visit stores where business was not going too well. He gave a blessing and customers started to arrive immediately, one after the other, and indeed, to shop for things in bulk.

K.I.: What did he say about politics?

Fr.D.G.: I'll tell you this one characteristic thing, as we shouldn't get into details. He said, "When a country is in a lot of sin, then its political life, instead of being straightforwafd, will be crooked."

K.I.: Elder Porphyrios, from what I understand, had a concern for married couples, Fr. Daniel?

Fr.D.G.: Very much so. He helped countless couples whose problems were so great that their marriages had started to dissolve. He helped them with his gifts and he restored their relationship.

I remember one moving incident when he was traveling in a taxi. He had the following conversation with the driver:
"Do you have a wife?" "Yes, I do."
"How many years have you lived apart?" "Five."

The conversation continued and the ending was a happy one. The taxi-driver was so impressed with what this unknown priest had said to him that he immediately went and found his wife and re-established their marriage.

With his gifts the Elder knew what each situation required. For example, he said to one married lady, "When your husband finds himself in a difficult situation, do not say a word. Pray and ask others to pray. Because otherwise you'll make things unpleasant for him. He won't find warmth and happiness near you, and he'll start looking around." He would, each time make recommendations according to the situation which contributed to the peace of that particular family.

He talked about "mixed-up" children; children who have psychological problems because their parents have a bad relationship with one another so there isn't a good atmosphere in the home.

He talked about "mixed-up" children of "mixed-up" parents. Indeed, it happened that I myself took some of these parents of children with problems to see the Elder. He said that these children already had problems, this "mix-up", from the womb. When the child's mother was pregnant she didn't try to put her life in order, to be calm, peaceful, to pray and to partake of the Sacraments of the Church.

I remember that he once advised a mother of five children to stay away from her house for a month. Her behavior was such that her children would fight amongst themselves every day. They couldn't reason with their mother so they would take their anger out on one another.

Because of his great discernment he would treat each situation accordingly. He didn't deal with people uniformly; the Elder knew what advice each person could bear. Ten people could ask him about the same matter, and he would give them ten different answers. This is called pastoral individualization.

K.I.: He carried out his pastoral work with discernment because he had exactly that manner about him.

Fr.D.G.: Elder Porphyrios used the word "mixed-up" which I mentioned earlier, a lot, when he wanted to say that someone had internal problems. Indeed, he used that word when the subject of heresies was brought up. He said that all the "mixed-up" people join heresies.

K.I.: How did he deal with people’s external appearance, the way they dressed?

Fr.D.G.: Elder Porphyrios didn't concern himself with people's external appearances. This was confirmed by all the people who went to see him without, let us say, the proper attire. He would look to the deeper cause within the soul. He knew that if man is sorted out on the inside then the outside will sort itself out automatically.

K.I.: What other features of his personality would you like to tell us about Fr. Daniel?

Fr.D.G.: Something fundamental, that characterized Elder Porphyrios is that whatever passed through his hands he wanted it to be perfect. Just to give you one example, when he was about to build the convent at Milesi. He was concerned about the passage of the sun, so that in winter those who lived there would not have sunless rooms. He also looked into the matter of dampness, wind direction etc., so that everything would be perfect. He wanted, as much as possible, completeness and perfection.

He spoke about the work of St. Gregory of Nyssa, "Whatever St. Gregory has written is very well constructed; his words, his concepts, his paragraphs." He added, "Just like a builder who puts down strong foundations, he lays the bricks evenly, he builds the ground floor first and then goes on to the second floor. St. Gregory of Nyssa, having taken care of those things that belong to the first paragraph , then goes on to the second paragraph and then the following one."

K.I.: Personally, I have a passion for studying the works of that great Father of our Church, who, in the words of that distinguished poet of Byzantium, George Pisidis, was the "the most mystical."

Fr.D.G.: Elder Porphyrios advised me to study St. Gregory of Nyssa's works a great deal.

K.I.: Your words have filled me with enthusiasm Fr.
Daniel.

Fr.D.G.: Something especially impressive about Elder Porphyrios was that he admired and exploited technological inventions. He was amazed by the fact that God had given Man the ability to make such discoveries, and he advised his spiritual children to make use of technology. "Should it be allowed," he asked "for God to help Man make so many discoveries, then for the devil to use them and us Christians not to use them?"

K.I.: That's very good.

Fr.D.G.: He made use of the telephone a lot. He spoke to his spiritual children and others by phone on a twenty-four hour basis. Not only in Greece, but also abroad, on all the continents. He helped untold numbers of people through the telephone.

K.I.: The telephone, in the hands of Elder Porphyrios, really was a gift for all those who needed it.

Fr.D.G.: He loved the Church radio. He said that through it the wish and prophecy of St. John Chrysostomos was fulfilled, "I will rise up high to speak about Christ and all the world will hear me."

K.I.: Truth will be shouted from the rooftops.

Fr.D.G: Elder Porphyrios was very hard-working. He loved hard work and always spoke out against indolence. He characteristically said, "He can't even pick his feet up off the ground, and he comes to me for advice on how to be lifted to the heights of spiritual life." He always stressed that when we pray we ought to also pray with our body making full prostrations .

Studying both the Old and the New Testament we see that each time the Lord called a prophet or an apostle, he called them while they were working. One was called while he was shepherding sheep, another while plowing, another while threshing, yet another while mending nets etc.

He wanted people to be busy, to be constantly using all the limbs of their body, not to be idle. He would in no way accept indolence and laziness.

K.I.: We would like you to tell us, Fr. Daniel, about the Elder as priest?
Fr.D.G.: He liked his work at the Polyclinic. He comforted the sick. He heard their confessions. He gave them communion. He did serve as a consoling, guardian angel.

The liturgical life of the St. Gerasimos' Church also developed beautifully. The church had a choir, and the voice of the priest had to correspond with the singing of the choir and to avoid being musically offensive. This is why he went to a school of music where he made notable progress. He completed a course of studies. He also learnt to play the piano. However, as a musical instrument, he loved the organ the most.

Later, the place of the choir was taken in the church by the official cantor, Spyridon Peristeris, who was destined to become the chief cantor in Athens as First Cantor at the Metropolitan Church. Their harmony was excellent. If on occasion somebody at the lectern made a mistake, or said something irregular, the Elder didn't speak and didn't ruin the atmosphere of the Divine Liturgy. Once when a visiting priest took his place a great confusion was created. He started to say to the cantors "Not that apolytikion , the other one. Look for the other one." They looked for it and couldn't find it. What a commotion! This unfortunate incident made that the cantor and his helpers appreciate the politeness and tact of Elder Porphyrios.

The Alevizatos brothers were university professors. There were many university people in their circle. All of them went to church at St. Gerasimos'. Professors from the Theological School also went there, like that great religious expert Leonidas Philippides, who revered the Elder immensely. A whole University congregated in the church of St. Gerasimos. The Liturgy was truly uplifting. The Elder delivered the Gospel reading with special grace and life. Indeed, during Holy Week, at the Service of the Passion, the reading of the Twelve Gospels had that special something that remains unparalleled. Fr. Porphyrios, with the grace that he had, saw Christ suffering and was shaken. Filled with emotion, his voice would often break and he had difficulty in continuing the reading. Once he couldn't bear anymore, and he stopped reading. Then he wiped his face that was washed in tears, sought forgiveness from the congregation and making a great effort, he continued. It is needless to say what moving emotions were conveyed to the Christians present. It was like they found themselves at Gethsemane, at the Praetorium, at Golgotha, they followed the divine drama with bated breath. One certain time, he had a priest of his own with him at the Service of the Passion. He was a spiritual child of his and he had told him to be ready. If he was forced to stop reading the Gospel, then the other priest should take over.

When the time came for St. John Chrysostom's Catechetical Homily, during the Paschal Liturgy, unprecedented emotion and pious enthusiasm were created.

He recited the text from memory, slowly, solemnly, and most beautifully. He loved all of St. John Chrysostom's sermons, but he especially loved this one. He said it quietly, elegantly, little by little, without holding a book, holding only the paschal candle. The height of this grandeur was when he said, "Hades was embittered when below he met You face to face. He was embittered, for he was set at naught..." and the people repeated, "He was embittered." Unrepeatable spiritual emotions.

He adored every Church prayer, every reading from a sacred text. They had to be said in the most suitable way. Throughout his life he helped countless priests, monks, cantors and lectors to chant and to read in the best possible way, in a way worthy of God.

K.I.: One could talk with you, Fr. Daniel, for hours on end about Elder Porphyrios. Unfortunately, a radio program, as you well know, has its time limit. Of the great number of stories and examples that you didn't manage to tell us, which one would you like to end with?

Fr.D.G: At the end of his life, he asked me to bring him Holy Communion after the Divine Liturgy. During the time when he was preparing to receive the divine gifts a heavenly state prevailed; such was his love and his longing for the Immaculate Mysteries. Once he spoke to me about the aroma of Holy Communion; I understood it to mean that he sensed a fragrance in the Holy Communion.

He always urged Christians to participate actively in the sacraments of the Church.

He said that with the sacrament of Confession, whatever has fallen down is raised up again. He told us the moving story of a monk who had gone to the Holy Mountain in his youth. He had so many gifts that he felt like he lived in Paradise. One day he was disobedient to his elder. All that gracious state left him. When his elder returned, he heard his confession and read the prayer of forgiveness. The gracious state that he had iost returned to him immediately.

Elder Porphyrios always stressed that when we are within the Church, when we participate in the sacraments of the Church, then we are in Paradise. Also, as much as we participate in the sacraments, we are that much more in eternal life. That is why he always reminded us of the Lord's saying, "He who believes in the Son has life eternal."

K.I.: What did he say about our departed brethren who can now be found in the Church Triumphant?

Fr.D.G.: He said that we are all one and we should pray as much for the living as we do for the departed. He stressed that we shouldn't say, "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on so-and-so" or "have mercy on us," but that we should say "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me." As he explained, since the Christ's Church is one bodv, within the "have mercy on me" are included all the living and the dead. And if prayer is not extended to all people, then it is not ecclesial.

He told us that whenever he went to holy places, to Mount Sinai, to the Cave of the Apocalypse on the isle of Patmos or to Jerusalem he had indescribable life experiences. He always stressed the sanctity of the places, that the places can sanctify, that they are saturated with God's grace.

He characteristically told us that when he struggled at a certain place in order to reach a certain spiritual state through prayer, he needed a quarter to a half of an hour of struggle. But when this happened at a sanctified place things were different. "I enter, for example, a holy cave," he said, "like the caves of St. Niphon or St. Neilos on the Holy Mountain, or the Cave of the Apocalypse, and I don't even begin to pray and immediately that sanctified place lifts me up."

He said again and again that, "God is everything" and he stressed that without praying to God nothing is accomplished. "Prayer," he said "is the mother of all good things, provided that it is always done with humility, without any egotism, and with love towards Christ."

K.I.: We thank you very much, Fr., Daniel, for all the manna from heaven, that, you've had the goodness to share with us.

Fr.D.G.: May we have the blessing of Elder Porphyrios and let us give thanks to God, Who sent us such a gift in the twentieth century.

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