July 29, 2009

Papoulakis: Saint Joachim of Vatopaidi (6)

The village of Vathy in Ithaki (Ithaka)

...continued from Part 5

It is feasible for a person to know things and facts about the world through scientific research and comparison; but to penetrate into the heart of a spiritual person is not only unfeasible, it is impossible. Only if he himself wants it to be revealed will it become known. This mystery of the interior world of every human being is what the Lord was referring to when he said, “two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left” (Matt. 24:40). Divine Providence was now calling blessed Elder Joachim Papoulakis to enlighten and purify others as well, since he had arrived at perfection by means of the strict practical life he had lived, becoming “taught by God” (Jn. 6:45), “bringing out of his treasure things new and old” (Matt. 13:52). ”Experiencing, he was taught,” according to the patristic maxim, “having learned, he taught” whatever he had acquired through his blessed discernment and insight. Illuminating and sanctifying Divine Grace filled him to overflowing, particularly with the divine qualities of clairvoyance and foreknowledge, which were precisely what the circumstances required during that grievous period. One might say that he was an answer on the part of the Divine Benevolence to the supplication of the Christian people. Every supernatural intervention of Divine Grace is certainly an encouragement to the faithful, because it is a consolation in their tribulations. The prophetic characteristic, however, is even more so, because it anticipates misfortunes and increases faith, upon which the entire spiritual edifice is built. If, according to the Scriptural maxim, “each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that” (1 Cor. 7:7), then rightly the charisma of prophecy was found in abundance in this blessed luminary, which he exercised with deep humility, hidden from curious eyes, for the building of the Church and the Christian people.

As mentioned in the notes of his biographer, Papoulakis - as the people now always called him after he became publicly known - most often stayed at Vathy on Ithaki. With contributions from the faithful, he was able to marry off the two daughters of a widowed woman who most frequently gave him hospitality. He traversed Vathy and, when possible, those needy precincts in the surrounding area, teaching, consoling, and upholding the faith and Christian morals, trying never to be a burden to anyone. Whatever alms and items of assistance the faithful furnished him with, he distributed among the poor and destitute, keeping nothing for himself, by virtue of the great frugality that was his lifelong practice. The greater part of the year, he dwelt outdoors. Only during the four months of winter did he live indoors; he slept very little, keeping vigil and struggling through various methods to “discipline the body” (see 1 Cor. 9:27). As an ascetic practice, he carried about a lead plate in order to weary the flesh. During this period, God allowed him to receive criticism and ridicule from negligent men who sometimes turned against him with viciousness. These people struck him and spat upon him; the children especially joined them in hurling stones at the Saint, who patiently suffered everything, never complaining or bearing resentment towards anyone.

During his time, the Ionian Islands, including his homeland of Ithaki, were not under the Turkish yoke like the rest of our country, but were instead under English domination, supposedly being protected by the British. In reality, however, they imposed another kind of yoke, often more severe than that of the Turks. The faithful people, aware of the cunningness of this “civilized fox” that had assumed leadership, sought their liberation and their union with Greece. This irritated the would-be guardians, who also had on their side the local opportunistic betrayers of the homeland. At this time, Papoulakis played a very important role among his struggling compatriots, continually rousing their zeal for union. To those who had become fainthearted, he gave much courage, and foretold that soon Britain would depart and, moreover, without a war. This prophecy of the Saint was soon realized; the areas that had been severed from the fatherland for so many centuries were once again united with it. The counsel of Papoulakis, who tirelessly motivated the people toward the aspirations of the nation, was crowned with success.

After his stay at Gouva and Afentikos Longos, his biography mentions that Papoulakis lived in the cells of Saint Nicholas of Mavronas. So that he could have constant contact with his listeners, a certain thoughtful gentleman ceded him a small house in Rachi Kioniou, where the Saint resided for quite some time. This little community at that time did not have its own church, so its residents went to the services at the privately owned church of Saint Nicholas in Mavronas.

Blessed Papoulakis motivated the residents of Rachi to build their own church, and he himself undertook the supervision of this project. The program called for the church to be dedicated to the Annunciation of the Lady Theotokos. Using every means, untiringly and with patience, he brought to completion this great work, which to this day bears witness to his fatherly affection and his industry. With his pious yearning and zeal to rouse the withered religious sentiment of the people, he even made provision for the devotional aspect of our Faith. The churches, whether large or small, were fashioned with the necessary materials, according to the circumstances and the number of people. He went about from place to place, wherever Divine Providence led him, and when he ascertained a particular need of the people, he took care to do whatever was possible, as was within his power.

While staying in the community of Stavros, he saw that there was no parish church and, consequently, that this would likely serve as a justification for the residents to neglect their duty of attending the services. Once again, he zealously took the initiative to see that a church be built there as well in order to serve the people. On the northern slopes of Mount Niritos, in the community of Stavros, there had been a little church many years ago, but only its ruins remained. According to tradition, it had been dedicated to Saint Barbara. During the many years that the chapel was deserted, a carob tree sprouted in the sanctuary and eventually took on such dimensions that there remained no visible sign of what had once been there. Following the decision to reestablish the church on this site, Papoulakis undertook the uprooting of the huge tree, as well as the preparation of the needed materials for the construction — no easy task at that time of poverty and when such means and resources were hard to acquire. With the ready support of the residents, he at first built a small church in the name of the Holy Great-Martyr Barbara. It proved, however, to be insufficient for the needs of the community; consequently, he began planning a larger church on the same spot, around the smaller church, which was demolished after the completion of the larger.

As we describe it here in writing, the project seems easy and simple; but in practice, it was arduous and laborious, particularly in the effort to acquire funds in those difficult times. Clearly, the successful completion of this great work can only be explained if you perceive the divine intervention that came about through the prayers of this holy man. He prayed day and night for this, beseeching the great-martyr and bride of Christ Barbara to palpably demonstrate her solidarity with the project, something that could hardly be doubted by anyone who saw the completion of such a great work.

The blessed founder Papoulakis was not satisfied simply with the construction of the church; he also built cells for monks, which later served as accommodations for devout pilgrims. The indefatigable Elder extended the same care to the furnishing and embellishment of the church, as well as to the rest of the necessities, which he provided for from the generous offerings of the emigrant Ithacans. He had written to all of them in order to urge them to support this cause, since it had already become the parish church of the community of Stavros.

During approximately the same period of time, a deadly plague broke out on Ithaki, and in the community of Anogi especially, there were many fatalities. The people ran to the “volunteer doctor” Papoulakis, beseeching him to pray to God to bring an end to this great fury. This prompted the blessed one to build a church in their community dedicated to Saint Athanasius the Great. He himself prayed to Saint Athanasius, and indeed this terrible scourge abated. Everyone confessed that this miracle happened through his prayers, particularly since the little church had been built in one day.

Every friend of God throughout the Church’s three eras — of the Oral Tradition (before Moses, that is), of the Law, and of Grace — believes and moves about under the influence and the spirit of chiefly two commandments: love of God and love of neighbor. Rightly then it is said that “on these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:40). The way, however, of putting them into practice varies according to the persons involved, what is taking place, and the overall context. In the practical demonstration of love of neighbor, pious persons do not all use the same means, even though the aim is the same. The servants of God, either individually or in groups, attempt to make their own the Scripture saying, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21); consequently, “they are no longer their own” (see 1 Cor. 1:6). In their multi-faceted spiritual readiness to struggle, whether within the world, “those who only use this world” (see1 Cor. 7:31), or outside the flesh and the world, those “wandering in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth” (Heb. 11:38), they have one goal — “to please God” (1 Thes. 4:1); indeed, “they do not weary of following Him, nor do they desire the day of man” (see Jer. 17:16 LXX).

The various forms of their outward life are not an end in themselves, but rather express their yearning and their God-instilled eros, for which they are willing to sacrifice everything, even “their own life” (Lk. 14:26). They completely turn all their inclinations toward God, their heart’s desire, “with all their heart, with all their soul, with all their mind, and with all their strength” (see Mark 12:30) and readily offer every honorable and noble thing that is useful for the struggle toward pleasing God. In the various oppositions to their desire for God, when a general evil incites resistance by means of its diverse devices, they neither bend nor become fainthearted, so “that the ministry may not be blamed” (2 Cor. 6:3). If the opposition, as unrestrained evil, calls even for the sacrifice of their life, it finds them willing and fearless in the face of “those who kill the body” (Matt. 10:28), and they are given “in that very hour what they ought to say” (Lk. 12:12) or do. This vehemence of the consummate love of the righteous towards God then turns back like a reflection and embraces their fellow man, their “neighbor.” Truly the first commandment, “you shall love the Lord your God” (Mk. 12:30), is a beam of light that shines back with the consequence and result being “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk. 12:31). The love of the saints for their fellow man is unbroken throughout the whole of history, and in their lives there are innumerable examples of their self-sacrifice “for the life of the world” (Jn. 6:51) and its salvation. They lived out and experienced in depth the Scriptural saying, “let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being” (1 Cor. 10:24), and greater still, “we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 Jn. 3:16). Blessed Papoulakis made this rule of love for our neighbor his own; this is why he “went about doing good and healing all” (Acts 10:28), according to the measure of their own faith.

In order to conceal his miracle-working grace, this blessed man of God instructed those who approached him for help ostensibly to take some holy water, to make a votive offering, or to do some other good work; thus he covered over his own supernatural intervention, just as so many of our Fathers have done.

To be continued…Part 7