December 2, 2009

Elder Ambrose Lazaris of Dadiou Monastery

By Archimandrite Ephraim, 
Abbot of Vatopaidi Monastery on Mount Athos

(+ December 2/13, 2006)

Hieromonk Ambrose (Spyridon Lazaris in the world) fell asleep in the Lord on December 2, 2006 (New Calendar) at the age of 92. He was the spiritual father of the Holy Monastery of Panagia Gavriotissa in Dadiou, as well as that of thousands of Christians from throughout all of Greece. Fr. Ambrose was an Athonite well-spring of Christ's fragrance in the world and is considered one of the contemporary saintly personalities adorned by the Church. He is a fruit of the incarnation of Christ. The Church throughout the ages is a factory which produces saints, and till this day continues to give its merchandise.

The Blessed Fr. Ambrose was born in the village of Lazarata in Lefkada of pious parents, the teacher Panagiotis Lazaris and Louiza. He was the fourth child of many in his family. From childhood young Spyridon was characterized for his calm personality and his love toward the Church. His ethos was fashioned by his pious mother, who, due to her absent spouse away at war, bore the entire burden of raising the children. Spyridon completed only two grades of Elementary School, due to the necessity of helping his mother in agricultural duties. When the time came for him to fulfill his military duties, he served three years as an evzona since he was a tall, upright, handsome young man.

The blessed elder told me in a conversation that after his military duty was completed (he was a Tsolia for the Palace Guard), he wanted to go to the Holy Mountain. However, he did not know where nor how to go. Suddenly there appeared to him a young man around 25 years of age and said to him: "I know those lands. Come with me." And this is how it happened.

They embarked together, went to the sea and boarded the ship. "He also gave me," he said, "bread which we ate together all the days we were together. His name however he did not tell me, though I also never asked him. This is how we arrived in Daphne and from there we walked into the Holy Mountain.

"As long as he was with me, I felt greatly protected. Moving on he showed me the Monastery of Xeropotamou where the Holy Forty Martyrs are honored. He asked me if I wanted us to go venerate and I approved. We entered the church (the katholikon of the Monastery) and as I was venerating the icon, forty young men encircled us. Then the young man told me that 'it is the Forty Holy Martyrs and they are rejoicing because you are becoming a monk'.

"From there we continued along the road and arrived at Karyes and from their the Holy Monastery of Koutloumousiou. Here the young man stopped, he showed me the Holy Monastery, and said: 'Here you will live Spyro. You will become a monk, you will be patient and be obedient to the elder' ... and he disappeared."

It appears that this was an angel of the Lord, his guardian angel. The Novice Spyridon stayed in this monastery and at 25 years of age he became a monk with the name Chariton.

One night the abbot told the monk Chariton to read the Ninth Hour in the narthex. He, although he was illiterate, tried to read it, but had great difficulty. The abbot sent him away with indignation and told him insultingly to go to his cell. That same night, while he was praying, the Panagia appeared to him and by her grace in just one night he memorized the entire psalter. He was God-taught and reminds us all of Saint Gregory Palamas, who had great difficulty learning when he was a child. His parents had been brought to some monastery, prayed to the Panagia, and showed him that every night he should do three prostrations to the Panagia and to plead with her to make him a good student. In this way he became the top student. Whenever, though, he forgot to do his prostrations, he received a bad grade.

Here is another incident that happened in the life of Monk Chariton, the man of God, on the Holy Mountain. It was the summer and Fr. Chariton was found in the garden working. He saw a fig and since he was hungry he climbed the tree to eat it. On the Holy Mountain the monks are not allowed to eat anything outside of the trapeza [place where food is served in monasteries], because it is considered secret-eating and thus a severe sin. He ate a few figs, but he slipped and fell from the tree. He remained there fallen and groaned from the pain, because he had broken his leg. Though he fell in the morning, the other monks were looking for him and found him only in the evening in the garden fallen and in much pain. They placed him on top of a door and four people together - for he was stout - transferred him to his cell. As Elder Ambrose himself recalls: "Though I was bedridden and and in pain, across I saw the chapel of the Holy Unmercenaries and pleaded with them to help me. There then appeared two doctors with white shirts and they tried to put my leg in its place. 'Pull Cosma', said one. 'Hold over here Damian', said the other. And in five minutes the pain left me and I became well." When his fellow monks saw him totally healthy, they glorified God and the Holy Unmercenaries.

At the Holy Monastery of Koutloumousiou there were five young monks and one older elder. Some of those thought that it may be good to change the elder. The elder learned of this and decided to separate himself from the five monks. Accompanying police evicted the monk Ambrose, then Chariton, to the Monastery of Chilandari. He had many difficulties there and endured sicknesses, to the point where they urged him to go into the world. He went, therefore, to Elder Porphyrios [in Athens], who advised him to go to the Monastery of Dadiou in Fthiotida which was in ruins. In the ruins of the Monastery of Dadiou he found as residents only snakes and wild animals. Elder Porphyrios advised him: "Stay here, be patient and obedient, and God will help you."

He renovated the ruined Holy Monastery, which in turn became a convent. The then Metropolitan of Fthiotida Ambrose honored the elder and made him a hieromonk, giving him at the same time his own name.

One time he hurt his leg and went to the hospital, where they gave him a platinum hip. He hurt though very much. The then Metropolitan of Switzerland Damaskinos brought him to Switzerland for doctors there to see him. They took him to the hospital. There he entrusted his first intervention, they gave him one one-hundredth of a bigger platinum with the result that he needed a new operation to fashion the platinum. When this was done and he was preparing for his departure, they asked him to do some basic tests, which he did. They then found in his left kidney a stone as big as an orange and thus waited for a new surgery.

The Elder said: "Though I was alone in the room, a monk appeared. We went out to the balcony together and sat down to talk. For fifteen minutes we spoke and I told him about my operation and the stone in my kidney. The monk then told me: 'I am Saint Nektarios and I came to see you. I also was sick and gave up my soul in Aretaieion hospital. I endured slanders and sickness with patience. God has given me great grace for the patience I had.' He then touched me and left. When Saint Nektarios left the urge came for me to urinate, so I urinated in a small basin. With the urine a small stone the size of a small orange also exited. With a papertowel I took it and put it in the bedside drawer.

"The next day the surgery was to take place. The Swiss doctor came and told me: 'Prepare for the operation'. I responded that the operation was not needed. I opened the drawer and showed him the stone. When the doctor saw this, he said: 'You Orthodox have a living faith, we have felt it.' The operation did not take place and the stone remained in the office of the Swiss doctor for many years."

That which I saw in the Elder, besides his visions of saints that he had, which are themselves very rare to find in people these days, was that he was a man who lived in much obscurity there in Dadiou. He didn't like to reveal himself, he didn't like to show himself, he didn't like to make an appearance. And this is the reason that he did not gather up a large sisterhood of nuns. Once when we spoke he told me: "I stayed here, I lived in insignificance and labored in prayer, with the Liturgy etc." He did not want to show himself.

Even in the village of Dadiou they hardly knew him. He would not go down there often. He was in the Monastery doing practical work, and as the priest of the Monastery he labored much with the prayer, as he told me. I also saw him how that once I told him something, immediately he entered within himself and prayed. And he gave very good advice. He told me also how much the grace of God helps him: "I am an illiterate man and so many educated people come here, teachers of universities, and my mind is opened and I say such things where I wonder how I say it."

A child who went to the Elder asked him: "What should I do?" The Elder told him: "You will become a monk." And he, though he never thought about it, felt within him a fire and became a monk. That is, you approached this man in the district of Athens and saw that he was not of this world. He was a hermit. He kept the program of a monk. He would awake at night and pray....

He very much loved the Panagia. Then he had requested we bring the Holy Zoni (belt) of our Panagia. He was very much relieved that he had the Holy Zoni in Dadiou and with great reverence and contrition received it.

The first time I saw him, he told me all about those things with Saint Nektarios, that is how he had visited him in Geneva and told him: "Let's go sit outside, where there is a breeze", etc. And for the stone to exit that was in his kidney? These are amazing things and not drama. These are not simple, but great signs.

Elder Ambrose fell asleep on the same day, exactly fifteen years later, on which Elder Porphyrios also fell asleep (12/02/1991). He was a man of God. The Church is a mystical body of Christ.

We, when we would come to Athens, would go and see him.

May we have his prayers. After his falling asleep, I also named a monk Ambrose in his memory.

His life was a presence and witness of Christ, his life empowers our faith.

May we have his prayers!

Elder Ephraim of Vatopaidi with Elder Ambrose

Elder Ambrose with Elder Porphyrios

A copy of Panagia Paramythia, the miraculous icon of Vatopaidi. This icon was in the cell of Elder Ambrose and among his most beloved.