Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Elder Elpidios of New Skete, Brother of St. Philoumenos the Hieromartyr


By Elder Joseph the Vatopaidi

The ever memorable Elder Elpidios († 1983) was the twin brother of the Holy Hieromartyr Philoumenos († 1979), who was recently slaughtered in Palestine by Jews. His holy relics are preserved imperishable in Jerusalem, exhibiting obvious signs of piety: a supernatural fragrance and the performance of miracles.

Blessed divine longing was blazing in the hearts of the devout twins from an early age. They preferred reading patristic books rather than anything else. At fourteen they read the biography of Father John Kavsokalyvitis. His heroic life was so attractive to them that they immediately left in secrecy for the Holy Monastery of Stavrovouni.

The Monastery was at the time thriving spiritually as a coenobium in line with the tradition at the Holy Mountain. Father Kyprianos towered among other great spiritual figures who adorned and brightened the spiritual horizon of the Church of Cyprus. The genuine way of the holy Fathers moved them and left a mark of the patristic tradition in the souls of the young twins, which is difficult to erase.

They struggled for six years at this holy arena and then left for Palestine, since their health had suffered because of the austere conditions at the Monastery. Thus they were ranked among the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre. Fr. Elpidios was ordained a deacon in 1937 and a priest three years later. He was also given the opportunity to finish high school. From there he served at several posts in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. First he was ordained Abbot of the Monastery of the Forerunner and then he was sent to Tiberius and became a Exarch of the Patriarchate in Nazareth. Personally we met him in Palestine in 1946 when he had already risen to the office of the Archimandrite. We will never forget his amicability and the affection he showered us with while showing us around. On Mount Tabor he chanted various troparia with his melodious voice. Our emotion was deepened when he started chanting ‘Behold, we go up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man shall be delivered, as it is written of Him…’ (from the Lenten Triodion of the Great and Holy Monday).

In 1947, he was employed by the Patriarchate of Alexandria and was sent on a mission to Mozambique. He remained there until 1952. Then he came to Athens and attended the Theological School at Athens University. A year after his graduation in 1956 he was sent to London where he served at the Church of All Saints. At the same time he was attending lessons on the Explanation of the Holy Scriptures and Ecclesiastical History at the Royal College. In 1959, he was assigned the post of Exarch in Odessa in Russia and later in Greece. Afterwards he was invited to take up the post of a preacher in Paphos, Cyprus and then was ordained Abbot of the Monastery of Machairas.

After these strenuous assignments he returned to Greece and started serving at the hospital of the Red Cross. He served for six years with tireless divine zeal the patients, the personnel as well as the visitors. This is graciously remembered to this day. Afterwards he was transferred to the Church of the Holy Trinity in Ampelokipoi where he continued his valuable service. This was his last post. Afterwards, he withdrew from active service and was looking for a remote place to live for the rest of his life. I remember when I met him in Nazareth in 1946; he had confessed that he was keen to live as a simple monk in a quiet place without worldly concerns! Even later, whenever he was in our country, he would steal some time to visit his much cherished Mount Athos, looking for an appropriate place for his future retirement. He had stayed outside to serve the Church and not because he was seeking honor like others; he had to discharge the unwanted family responsibilities he was saddled with before withdrawing to the Holy Mountain.

Elder Elpidios (far left) with his brother St. Philoumenos (far right) at the Holy Sepulchre

Once, when he visited me in New Skete at the Cell of the Holy Unmercenaries, he pleaded to be officially registered through the monastery to my brotherhood, so that he would have a place to retire as a monk immediately upon the discharge of his worldly duties. I had assured him that I would not deny him a place, when the time came. Eventually he did join the brotherhood under different circumstances and at another cell, which we had built almost from scratch.

Honorary titles and the worldly offices were not able to dampen the initial zeal and desire which divine grace had planted in the innocent souls of the two brothers, who not only looked identical but also had similar personalities, thoughts and intentions. Our holy Fathers were correct in saying that ‘the initial red color does not fade.' The initial ‘color’ of the monastic desire, which was sown as divine love and zeal in their young souls at the Cypriot monastery, produced ‘thirty, sixty and hundredfold,' according to the words of our Lord. No factor or excuse on this earth was able to divert them away from their initial purpose. This is the reason why we insist that people must be taught devoutness and virtue from an early age, in order to lay down firm foundations for their adult life. Let me give here one more example in favor of this reality.

When they were at the high school they did not abandon their monastic duties. Even when they met with opposition, they would isolate themselves in their room studying or reading from the daily services, as they used to do at the monastery. When younger monks or even their classmates would come to disturb them, something usual for the young, they would pretend that they had to read the ninth hour or the vespers and would start praying. The unwelcome visitors would take the hint and leave and thus the prudent pursuers of progress and salvation would escape from the futile and worthless meetings. The two brothers never abandoned their regime even at their old age. We were able to verify this from our acquaintance with them and from what we have heard from others.

Fr. Elpidios also studied law. Thus apart from his responsibilities as a clergyman he also had to study. Sometimes this would make it difficult for him to discharge his duties as a monk, but he never abandoned them. In all simplicity, he would ask either his sister or his nephews to read a small part of the service - a small passage from the Book of Psalms or the Canon of Parakletiki or the Menaion - or his spiritual children, especially the nurses, to do some of his own prostrations to fulfill his monastic duties.

He would never go without any of his duties at the Holy Mountain either. On the contrary he would do additional work by reading the Paraklesis for the whole world, or exorcisms or supplications in favor of the monks at the Skete or the entire Holy Mountain. If he was traveling to Daphne and learnt that another monk was going to join him, he would get distressed. When asked ‘why?’ he would reply: ‘This blessed man will join me on the trip and does not shut his mouth to let me say even a single prayer.’ This devout old man would always try to be free from external responsibilities in order to live in quietude as a genuine monk, as was his initial choice.

The Elders Eustathios and Elpidios

He was also concerned about God’s consent in choosing a place to retire. The Holy Mountain was of course his first choice and the place for which he felt nostalgia, but also wished to receive the acquiescence of grace. Therefore, he was praying to our Panagia the Mother of God, whom he especially venerated, to guide him. Once, he was sick and was taken to the hospital. While being anxious about his condition, he saw our Panagia in a dream who told him: ‘Do not be afraid. You will get well and you will come to my garden.’ Later on, when he was again concerned on how this issue was going to be settled, he told the fathers that God’s grace showed him a glowing ray, like a rainbow, descending from the summit of the Holy Mountain to the top of the Cell of the Annunciation, which was behind the tower of our Skete. This is where he eventually settled.

After his repose, his spiritual brothers told us that he knew precisely how his twin brother, Philoumenos, was slaughtered in Palestine. He heard the assassins slaying him and him crying: ‘My brother, they are killing me!’ Once he was sitting at the dinner table of a very poor family and the food was not enough. He blessed what was on the table and encouraged them to have faith. After they had all eaten well there was food left over for their dinner. While he was at the Red Cross hospital, Fr. Elpidios blessed the eye of a doctor, a friend of his, who was going to have an operation for glaucoma. His eye was healed and no operation was necessary. Several people told us that when he was officiating at the Altar during the Divine Liturgy, he was standing in the air. At other times they saw a halo encircling his head.

Once in Athens, he was accompanied by a devout woman to venerate the holy relics of the New Martyr Polydoros, the Cypriot, in Plaka. The driver who was taking them happened to curse. Then the elder, without knowing him, said: ‘Kosta from Corfu, why do you blaspheme the divine?’ The driver became baffled on how the elder knew his name and asked for forgiveness. However, the woman asked him: ‘How do you know his name, elder?’ and he replied ‘It was nothing, dear. I just mentioned a name and it happened to be the one!’

He was humble and always careful not to reveal anything of his spiritual state, which would make him known. He only had love and sympathy for those around him. While here at the Skete, none of the fathers ever complained that the elder did anything wrong, cause a scandal or trouble for anyone. As for his duties towards God, he was very devout and virtuous and showed zeal for the genuine faith and especially for the fine details of patristic tradition.

We only lived with him for a short time and yet we have felt the warmth of his fatherly affection and kindness. We tried as much as we could to assist him during his many illnesses which burdened him in his old age, but since he knew the purpose of his afflictions, he was the one helping us. However, it has become a sore point that we have only had the chance to live with him for a short time and assist him even less.

Our Lady, the Theotokos, the warden of this sacred place, has taken him early in order to give him rest among the righteous, in the same place where his twin brother, the Saint and Priest and Martyr had gone earlier and was expecting him: ‘Come, my brother, let us become monks together and enjoy the trophies inseparable and united. Amen.’

Source: Γέροντος Ιωσήφ Βατοπαιδινού, Οσίων Μορφών Αναμνήσεις, Ψυχοφελή Βατοπαιδινά 4, Έκσοση Ιερά Μεγίστη Μονή Βατοπαιδίου, Β’ Έκδοση, Άγιον όρος 2003.


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