Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The American Ministry of Elder Joachim of St. Anne's Skete and the Miracle of His Beard


Elder Joachim, known as John Nicholaides in the world, was born in Kalamata, Greece in 1895 and raised by a pious Orthodox family. He had the blessing of having as his spiritual father the great ascetic of Kalamata, Elder Elias Panagoulakis.

Following high school, John travelled to America for studies. In America John encountered a materialistic spirit like he had never known, but thoughout his studies he became more and more firm in the faith of his fathers.

Being taught by his spiritual father in Kalamata to not seek the priesthood, since one must be called by either God or man for such an elevated office, he dared not consider such a ministry for his life. Bishop Panteleimon of the Metochion of the Holy Sepulchre pursuaded him and elevated him to the diaconate and priesthood amidst an enthousiastic Greek parish who proclaimed him "Axios!"

The Greek community of America found great inspiration by the imposing and saintly presence of Fr. Joachim (his monastic name), and found within his sermons a living faith. For his missionary zeal in America he was awarded the Medallion of the All-Holy Sepulchre by the Patriarch of Jerusalem.

Fr. Joachim greatly respected and loved the traditions of Orthodoxy and upheld them faithfully in America amidst all the temptations. This proved to be an aid in his mission in America rather than a hindrance. On at least one occasion he so impressed the non-Orthodox with his traditional Orthodox priestly dress and appearance, dressed in his rason (cassock) and with a full beard, that a crowd surrounded him in the city street and a discussion began. In English he proclaimed to the Americans that God and Orthodoxy are alive and that man can live in God. The crowd became so big that both pedestrians and traffic ceased moving, and this lasted for a considerable time.

Unfortunately Fr. Joachim's ministry in the United States, which was beginning to bear much fruit, was cut short due to his impaired health. He started to became weak before every celebration of the Divine Liturgy and had to take injections. His doctors advised that he return to Greece for some rest, to his disappointment and the grief of his flock. In 1930 he left for the Holy Mountain of Athos. Elder Joachim reposed on September 22, 1950.

HIS BEARD

(Taken from Archimandrite Cherubim's Contemporary Ascetics of Mount Athos)

We must not omit saying a few words about Fr. Joachim’s rare and exceptional beard.

When he lived in America, he observed with sorrow the modernist spirit which had begun to affect even ecclesiastical matters. He saw [Orthodox] priests who thought they could function better in society if they departed from Orthodox tradition. In that worldly atmosphere, Fr. Joachim behaved courageously. He couldn’t stand to see Orthodox priests taking off their precious rason or cutting their hair and beard. It is worth noting that before being tonsured, he made the following prayer to the Mother of God:

“Most Holy Theotokos, when I become a priest, please give me long hair and beard, so that I will look like the priests in my country.“

The Mother of God did not deny him his supplication, but fulfilled his desire abundantly. As we stated earlier, the Americans wondered at his imposing appearance and his long, full beard. When he finally journeyed to Mount Athos, an astonishing thing happened. His beard grew and lengthened all the way down to his legs – a phenomenon very rare even in his fatherland. We attributed this to the prayer he made (to look like a priest) to the Mother of God. In order to move freely and restrain the remarks of others, he was forced to carry his beard in a sack tied around his neck.

In his latter years, the fathers asked him to be photographed with his priestly vestments and beard. At first he wouldn’t do it, but after being asked a second time by the fathers, he gave in. The photograph was saved, and can be seen at the end of the text.



(Thanks to OrthodoxHistory.org, we have a clearer picture of who Archbishop Panteleimon was as well his ministry in America here and here. The latter link even gives us the clue that the Metochion of the Jerusalem Patriarchate was likely located in New York City.)

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