A hundred years ago there was a novice who on the day of his tonsure was named Savvas and who, because of his disobedience and paying attention to his own thoughts only, was misled by the devil, as the following account demonstrates.
Savvas had heard from many about the summit of Athos, as well as the retelling of pleasant memories from the hike and the pilgrimage there on the day of the Feast of Transfiguration, and he desired to make the pilgrimage himself. He kept hearing the phrase "Old Man Athos,"* and he truly thought that this referred to an actual reverend elder who lived on the peak.
So despite his own elder's opposition, he started climbing the mountain. When he had reached the point of Chairi, he did indeed meet a venerable but sickly-looking white- haired elder, who escorted him and said, "Where are you going my son? You look tired and sad. What's the matter?"
"I would like to venerate Old Man Athos," the greatly disturbed Savvas managed to utter.
"I, my son, am Old Man Athos. Where do you come from? Where do you live?"
"I am from St. Anna's in Kerasia."
"Are you from St. Anna's? I know everyone there."
"Why do I not know you? That is very strange."
"Do not worry," said the supposed elder. "I am a spiritual advisor, and all the monks in obedience who are courageous and want to think for themselves come and prostrate in front of me. There is no need for you to tire yourself and go any farther. I have come to you myself. I have seen your intentions. It is not necessary for you to reach the summit. Make a prostration and return to your home and I will take care of you."
Monk Savvas was blinded by both his own disobedience and the hordes of Satan, and indeed Satan looked just he had imagined "Old Man Athos" would look; so he made a prostration to him. Then in horror he saw that the hand he kissed had horrible long nails, and he realized the deception.
"Now you are mine," said this devil who looked like Athos, "and I will one day come to take you away with me."
At that very moment, Savvas fainted. Many hours later some passers-by found him and brought him back to St. Anna's. Three days later he came to himself and told what had happened, and with tears in his eyes he asked forgiveness from his elder and his brother monks. He stayed eight years in the skete without ever finding rest. Then for fifteen years he begged the Theotokos for help in front of Portaitissa icon in the monastery of Iveron.
His end came one day when he was fishing at sea with the other brothers. It happened at the very same hour in which he had once prostrated before Satan: a whirlwind picked him right up out of the boat, in the presence of all the others. Thus did the poor, pitiable monk Savvas disappear forever.
There was an ascetic called Pachomios who lived in Karoulia and who was greatly misled by the evil one. He was convinced that there was no priest worthy of communing him. He was waiting for an angel to come down from heaven and bring him the Holy Mysteries. His life ended tragically. He fell down a ravine and drowned in the sea. They found him on the opposite coast of Sykia, half eaten by the large fish there.
Many years ago on the southern tip of Katounakia there lived a very pious elder. He had a subordinate monk whose name was Spyridon. This Spyridon at the beginning was obedient and exact in everything. As time went by, however, the invisible bug of vanity started gradually gnawing away at his monastic state. He went beyond his limitations in ascetic labors. He increased his prostrations and the number of prayer ropes he did. He did longer vigils without his elder's blessing. He put himself above all the other monks and gradually, by having his own will, he reached the point of being completely controlled by the spirit of arrogance.
One night he heard a knock at the door, and saying "through the prayers," he opened it. Before him stood what appeared to be an angel, although this was just an appearance, not the reality. "I am sent by Almighty God Himself to tell you that He is pleased with all your good works and virtues," he said, "and God wants to reward you and wants you to come today up to the summit of Athos where with all the angels and saints he will come for you so that you can bow before Him."
This pseudo-angel said these things and Spyridon, deep in the darkness of his own arrogance, and without prayer and without God's grace, followed him. It was winter.
The weather was bad and there was snow falling everywhere. After a hike of many hours he reached the peak of Athos. Pleased with him, the false angel said:
"Look over there. Can you see Christ coming?" Spyridon saw a red sphere, and it appeared that Christ was sitting in its centre on a throne, dressed in a hierarch's vestments. At the same time there appeared scores of angels, the holy apostles, saints, hierarchs, and righteous men and women. St. Spyridon was leading the chorus of hierarchs, and his face was studied closely by Monk Spyridon.
Meanwhile the pseudo-angel was pressuring him: "What are you looking at? Why do you waste time? Don't you see that Christ is coming? Go quickly and bow in front of him."
Spyridon stepped forward hesitantly. Someone must have been praying for him at that moment, for he observed with amazement that the supposed St. Spyridon wore a huge skoufi, a meter high, and he knew from the icons that this Saint's skoufi was small. He crossed himself saying, "Lord have mercy, I have never seen such a huge skoufi."
Instantly all the illusions disappeared, and Spyridon found himself alone at the very edge of a chasm in a steep ravine, with one leg in deep snow and the other ready to step forward into the abyss.
It took him twelve hours to return to his hut where he found his elder in tearful prayer. He repented and confessed telling everything that had happened. His elder gave him the penance of not receiving communion for three years and he sent him to stay in St. Dionysios' Cenobium where he was to wash dishes. In this way he was indeed humbled, as he told all the fathers, and especially the novices, of his affliction and of the horrible death he had almost died, and how he was saved through the prayers of his elder.
A former abbot named Neophytos, a Docheiaritan (of Docheiriou Monastery), was in the year 1880 in his cell of the Archangels at Small St. Anna's. It seems that he had a dream in which he had venerated and kissed the toe of the great St. Basil. This dream was enough to create pride and arrogance in his soul, since he figured that he must be seeing and venerating saints. He constantly thought about this dream with the result that his prayer time and his daily rule suffered.
A long time passed and the Almighty God illumined him to visit the well-known confessor Father Gregory, an ascetic who lived in total poverty in a little hut farther away in the same skete. He said, "My brother, you have venerated a big devil and not Basil the Great. I beg you from now on not to pay any attention to dreams, which the conniving devil uses to deceive people."
* "Old Man Athos" is a traditional reference to the mountain itself, and not a person.
From Αn Athonite Geronitkon.