How I Met Fr. Paisios and How the Hermitage of Souroti Was Established
By Fr. Polycarpos Matzaroglou
In the year 1965 I was vicar of the Holy Church of the Wisdom of God in Thessaloniki. It was Sunday, I was the Officiator, and at the beginning of Orthros I saw standing a little away from the Icon Screen two Monks. They were unknown to me. I told the sexton to bring them to the Altar so they would not be upset when the church filled with people, and during the Praises I sat near them and asked the younger one where he was from and if they had need of help, as I was happy to stand by them.
The young one was Fr. Vasilios Gontikakis and the older one was Fr. Paisios and they were living in asceticism at the Skete of Iveron. Fr. Paisios was sick. After the Divine Liturgy I entreated Dr. Papadimitrakopoulos to look at Fr. Paisios radiographically, and the next day we went to a known microbiologist who did a blood and sputum test. I collected the tests and took them from the hotel "Halkidiki" where they stayed to a known doctor friend who was a specialist in tuberculosis and was Director of Papanikolaou Hospital. The doctor recommended "hospital and surgery". Fr. Paisios suffered extensive bronchiectasis of the lower lobe of the left lung, tuberculous aetiology.
But Fr. Paisios did not accept either the hospital or the forty streptomycins as indicated by the tuberculosis specialist.
"Take two streptomycins and 3-4 cartons of milk so I can say that I did my therapy and let us return to the Mountain," he said.
The next day I took them to the agency and they left for Mount Athos.
After some time Fr. Paisios came alone to the offices of the Metropolis, where I was working, holding a small suitcase, and he told me: "I came for you to take me to the Hospital."
Indeed I asked my friend the tuberculosis specialist and he ordered a ticket of "temporary residence" at "Papanikolaou" the same day, where a surgeon Mr. Economopoulos and Chief Mrs. Haniotakis were in charge.
There was a delay, so then I fled to the father-in-law of the surgeon, the known Mr. Papapostolou, with the Medical Supplies Store, and he gave us the date of the surgery as well as ordered us to find ten vials of blood.
During this postponement there was a new occurrence of interference, due to the sensitivity of Fr. Paisios: A young child was hospitalized at that time. He had in his bronchus a holly leaf and this made him suffer. Fr. Paisios gave his turn to the sick child and his surgery was delayed again.
Here I will make a parenthesis necessary for the connection of my acquaintance with Father Paisios and the foundation of the Hermitage Souroti and the historical truth of the whole matter:
From the year 1961 I had under my spiritual guidance about twenty girls who had a passion and holy desire to establish a Hermitage.
The Metropolitan of Thessaloniki was the blessed Panteleimon, my spiritual father, with whose blessing was bought, at the expense of the same girls, a farm of thirteen acres near the village of Filiron in Thessaloniki. But when we began the preliminary work of the facility, the Metropolitan asked seven members of the "Spiritual Fellowship" and even the most educated to register and settle at the Monastery of Panoramatos in Thessaloniki. None of the girls wanted to separate from the others and their refusal was the reason the Metropolitan revoked the founding of the Monastery in his Metropolis region.
I will continue concerning the illness of Father Paisios:
The blood which he needed for his surgery and support during the illness of Fr. Paisios, was obtained through the good will of my spiritual children who even though did not live in a Monastery, and were not even nuns, they lived the monastic struggle and obedience.
At the same time I set a daily schedule again with my spiritual children to minister to the sick one.
At the hospital Fr. Paisios had to stay more than two months and because the sections were large the doctor suggested he stay in Thessaloniki one more month. I took him to the house of Mrs. Antonia Kalogeropoulou who would confess to me, and she gladly agreed to host and look after him.
Naturally the adventure of this illness of Fr. Paisios and this great communication with him, gave me the comfort of heart to place the great problem I was facing with the young girls and the establishment of the Hermitage. Indeed I gathered the Sisters in the presence of Fr. Paisios (he was still sick in the house of Mrs. Kalogeropoulou) and I told him of the denial response of the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki Panteleimon Papageorgiou.
Fr. Paisios suggested to talk to a Hieromonk known to him, Father Agathangelos Parlantza, and he would propose to the Metropolitan of Kassandra Synesios Visvini, in whose Metropolis he served, to establish the Hermitage there. Indeed in fifteen days a positive response came from the Metropolitan of Kassandra Synesios Visvini.
It was agreed that I remain in obscurity so that the holy one of Thessaloniki (Metropolitan Panteleimon Papageorgiou) would not be saddened and at the appropriate time I would ask for a certificate to be appointed to the Province of Kassandra, so I can be near the Hermitage to direct the Sisters.
Let it be noted that all these things were made known by my letters to the Metropolitan of Kassandra.
Father Agathangelos and the Hieromonk Theoklitos Bolka identified an eight acre parcel in Souroti, they came in contact with me, I saw the property and we decided on its purchase.
At this time, since Fr. Paisios had not yet left for Mount Athos, one day we went together to the Hermitage of Saint Magdalene in Polygyros where the Hieromonks were settled and it happened that we met the Metropolitan of Kassandra who asked to learn who we were, and he first asked Fr. Paisios:
- "Who are you?"
- "Monk Paisios of Sinai. I lived in Sinai under Metropolitan Porphyrios."
- "And you?" (he asked me).
- "Fr. Polycarpos Matzaroglou..."
- "A! Yes, I know you from the fathers and your letter. I have no objection to the establishment of the Hermitage."
After a few days I went back to Polygyros, to the Metropolis, where the Metropolitan had prepared the document authorizing the cells and a church and he delivered it into my hands.
Plans for the original wing of the Hermitage were done by a German architect named Sotiris, a protege of Fr. Theoklitos, and he always worked along with me. The plans for the Katholikon I requested to be done by the brother of Eldress Mariam Polychroniadou, whom I took into the world of the "Spiritual Fellowship", because she lived at her home in Edessa (she was the former abbess of the Holy Monastery of the Holy Trinity in Edessa).
Vasilis Polychroniadis was a skilled church builder of the Holy Metropolis of Edessa and Pelli.
The construction of both the church and the original wing of the cells was done by the contractor Matthew Eleftheriadis, son-in-law of Sister Mary Panteloglou.
We opened with the Sisters a joint bank account and we all contributed according to the economic strength of each. We empowered Maria Panteloglou to make the payments.
In October of 1967 ten Sisters settled in the Monastery.
In 1970 I took the responsibility of being an Parish Priest, Preacher, Spiritual Father and Representative of the Archbishop at the parish of Saint George Vasilikon, as well as Spiritual Father of the Holy Hermitage "Saint John the Theologian", subscription No 618/3-7-1970 of the Holy Metropolis of Kassandra.
In the interval since the establishment with the first Sisters until my appointment, I would go to the Hermitage and oversaw and surveyed all the needs of the Sisterhood both material and spiritual, even to the detail, and I guided the Sisterhood.
I will make a small report addressing the basic needs of the Hermitage for its good functioning.
There was only one well with sour water beneath the Monastery about 800 meters away, where we later made a collection tank and with a water pump moved it to the Monastery. It was unfit for drinking, but we used it for irrigation and other needs. Good water was acquired by the Monastery after obtaining electricity.
I knew Mr. George Kitsos, Regional Director in Macedonia-Thrace for the PPC, and with the help of Mr. Kitsos columns were placed from the village of Souroti to the Hermitage and we thus gained electricity.
When power came to the Monastery, we were also able to bring good water. From the central water mains of the Souroti Community, at the cost of the Monastery, and with the help of President Mr. Tzola, we conveyed water to the Monastery through piping.
There was only a small walking path from the road to the Hermitage and the difficulties were many. I remember the Metropolitan of Kassandra called me and asked me if the Monastery had any needs which the Army could help with, because it was proposed by the Commander of the 561st Order Mr. Gotsis, whose seat was in Sedes.
I mentioned the need for a road and he gave me the card of the General, saying:
- "Go by yourself to meet him...."
Which I did. Indeed ten days after my visit in Thermi, there landed in the area of the Monastery a helicopter, and special forces descended and mapped a "winding road" from the main road to the Monastery and in one month they gave us a road, of course it was a dirt road. Later in 1972 I knew the Minister of Public Works, Mr. Zarntinidis, and he laid down the existing asphalt road.
Father Paisios from time to time descended from Mount Athos and would live in the Monastery for a while. I myself would live in the Vasilika of Thessaloniki and I would meet him at the Hermitage. Fr. Paisios never got involved with the building of the Hermitage or its material needs. His offering was purely spiritual, but always with very good communication with me, never taking an initiative without first talking about the details of the issue with me.
After 1970 I could easily go the Monastery and we decided to add the other buildings - the Church of Zoodochos Pege, an Iconography Room, the Tank, and a Kalyva on the mountain where Fr. Paisios could stay when he visited. Because the number of Nuns greatly increased, we added a floor to the existing wing of cells and later a new wing along with the Church of the Archangels.
In 1972 I transferred permanently to the Monastery where I would confess many pilgrims.
In 1974 the Metropolitan of Kassandra through the document No 7/10-1-1974 instructed me to proceed with the tonsuring of Rassophores, Small Schemas and Great Schemas among the ascetics of the Hermitage of St. John the Theologian. In witness thereof is another document of the Monastery (02/01/1974) to the Metropolitan of Kassandra which was undersigned by the Abbess Philothei Samaras seeking the blessing of the Metropolitan to register the Hermitage in the Monastic Registry under one nun. The document says exactly: "The novice Sophia Akritidou was tonsured by the hand of our Spiritual Father Polycarpos Matzaroglou under No. 7/10-1-1974...."
There is a number of written evidence which exists to the authenticity of my establishment of the Hermitage of Saint John the Theologian in Sourotis and my spiritual paternity for 22 consecutive years to the Sisterhood of the Hermitage (from 1961 while still in the world, until 1983).
I will present only the testimony of Fr. Paisios himself, who writes in his book "Saint Arsenios of Cappadocia" from the 1975 edition of the Hermitage of Sourotis:
Page 8 says: "...my friend Fr. Polycarpos the Founder and Elder of this Monastery...."
Page 11 says: "...there appeared to a sister Fr. Arsenios, as well as another - of which I will present the details - and the Spiritual Father, when he found out, since he clouded the waters for the sisters so they would not be hurt, contacted me. I responded to him again that we should leave it to God, without making a fuss."
These of course are the same testimonies of Fr. Paisios which were altered in subsequent editions of this book and the name of Fr. Polycarpos is never mentioned.
I reside at the Holy Monastery of the "Panagia of Evros" for 28 years (1983-2010), I unleashed my silence, not that I may be justified by men, since it is the justice and mercy of God that we desire, but first for historical truth:
a) How I met Fr. Paisios and how I connected him with the Sisterhood of Souroti.
b) How I gathered the living material of the Hermitage and when.
c) Who founded the Hermitage from the beginning until 1983 and built it.
And secondly, to end the scandalization of thousands of believers, by the number of deliberate historical falsehoods circulating regarding the Hermitage of Souroti resulting in spiritual damage.
Archimandrite Polycarpos Matzaroglou
In the Holy Monastery of Panagia of Evros
Feast of the Honorable Cross 2010
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos