by Fr. Epiphanios Theodoropoulos
He was born in Kalamata on July 14, 1873. He never learned letters. He could just barely read and write. Until he was 30 years old he was a band instrument player, and maintained a small tavern next to the Church of St. Nicholas. All the town rascals gathered there; he was their leader and he was an imposing figure over them all. He was easily able to threaten and beat up someone for the slightest reason.
In 1902 one of his closest friends died. Panagoulakis went to the funeral and attentively observed it. The saying of the Gospel "he has passed over from death to life" (John 5:24; 1 John 3:14) shook him completely. Full of anxiety, he asked the Board Members "if another life exists" and they, being pious people, instructed him accordingly. He was already a captive of Divine Grace. Shuddering at his previous debaucheries, he went to Holy Confession (to Hieromonk Glymanos of Velanidia Monastery), confessed his sins with contrition and promised that he would thenceforth live an exemplary Christian life. Then he sold all the belongings of the tavern and covered his whole room with black curtains. He visited everyone whom he had previously treated unjustly and sought forgiveness on his knees. Then he decided to live as an ascetic.
After a short stay in Mani, he returned to Kalamata and there dwelt first in a cell next to the chapel of Saint Anne, and shortly thereafter in another cell next to the cemetery of Kalamata, where the Old Calendarist "Hermitage of Panagoulaki" is today. There, without being tonsured a Monk, he led a life of prayer and very harsh asceticism for 15 years. He ate olive oil only on Saturdays and Sundays, while he never ate meat, fish or milk. Every Wednesday and Friday he fasted completely, eating nothing at all. He had no bed. He slept very few hours on a board on the ground. Because certain other young men decided to live with him, with the financial aid of some pious people he built a few more cells, which were very small. Their door was so narrow, to remind them of the "narrow gate" of the Gospel, that one could only enter sideways. He preached the word of the Lord to the crowds of people who flocked from the city, every Sunday and Feastday. In the plain dwelling where he preached there hung a human skeleton, as a continual reminder of the vanity of worldy things. The preaching of Panagoulakis, simple and unadorned, but coming from a heart that lived in Christ, gave rebirth to a multitude of people. The sanctity of the man drew many towards him. Today's laborers of the Gospel, like Archimandrite Joel Yiannakopoulos, Archimandrite Chrysostomos Papasarantopoulos and many others, learned as children at the feet of this unlearned ascetic. The attractive power of Panagoulakis' simple words was so great that the Colonel of Kalamata forbade his soldiers to visit his Hermitage, because going there in groups and being influenced by his sermons, they refused to accept food containing olive oil during fasting days.
Having come down with a severe form of tuberculosis, Panagoulakis was forced towards the end of his life to take juices from meats, yielding to the supplications of his disciples. He fell asleep in the Lord on January 17, 1917, and was buried with the whole city accompanying him to the grave. His relics are in the aforementioned Hermitage. He left behind the reputation of a holy man. Witnesses who saw and heard for themselves, and are very trustworthy, relate circumstances which convince us that he was granted the gift of foreknowledge.
From Religious and Ethical Encyclopedia, (vol. 9, column 1117).
Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
An angel in the flesh, the joy of the ascetics, thou didst ever preserve the memory of death, O Righteous Elias; in poverty and fasting didst thou shine forth remarkably, proclaiming repentance by thy holy life; wherefore entreat Christ our God to save our souls.
See also: A Tour of Panagoulakis Hermitage in Kalamata