February 14, 2010

Elder Ephraim of Katounakia (+ February 27, 1998)

Elder Ephraim of Katounakia (+ February 27, 1998)

At the end of the month of February 1998, the tall cedar of the desert of Katounakia fell. He was the modern hesychast of Mt Athos, the embodiment of Orthodox Athonite Hesychasm, the embodiment of renunciation and departure, and of great obedience and ceaseless prayer.

The late spiritual father was one who approached the divine through the experience of personal struggle. He was a great teacher of our times and a faithful guide. He was the one who taught and practiced Hesychasm, departure, obedience, prayer.

He came from the region of Thebes, but he never visited his relatives, as far as I recall, after being tonsured a monk. He was a disciple of true departure.

He placed himself under the guidance of the elder Joseph, from whom he learnt the mysteries and spiritual ascent of inner labor and prayer, the monk who became his father and whom he served as a son.

He was always eager to fulfill the rigorous discipline which harsh and strict elders required.

Father Ephraim's specialty was to speak, teach and advise others about such obedience. This was his beloved topic. On an almost daily basis, he would refer one thing to all and relate to all - obedience. And with that expressive tone of his strong voice, with the persuasion and experience of an old Biblical figure, he would often come back to the topic so dear to him with a new surge of refreshing ascetic demeanor, to the sweetest lesson and the unique matter - obedience. This is the requirement of sacred humility and the coming of the Grace of the Holy Spirit, the cause of all fruitfulness, the pretext of pure prayer. "Do you have obedience? You have prayer. If you don't have obedience, you do not have prayer", he would say, without his words receiving any objection (and Father Ephraim insisted correctly). For, according to St John of Sinai, "obedience means that we place our own discernment into the care of the rich discernment of the spiritual father".
Countless souls traveled the pathway to the ascetic dwelling of the Holy Father Ephraim of Katounakia - laity, monks, priests and bishops - visitors and beggars of spiritual mercy. The sick came and left healed. The burdened came and left feeling lighter. They came weak and left strong.

I remember the late spiritual father even before his fine monastic community was formed, when he was alone. When he made the seals for the prosphora loaves in his humble hut. With a cassock that was mended a thousand times. With spiritual vision and practical virtues, precisely as developed by St Isaac the Syrian in his ascetical works.

May we have your blessing, Holy Father, and may your worthy community follow your hesychastic "model". Amen!
From Voice of Orthodoxy, 1998, v. 19/4, the official publication of the Greek Orthodox Archbiocese of Australia.
On Suffering

Everyone has a cross to carry. Why? Since the leader of our faith endured the cross, we will also endure it. On one hand, the cross is sweet and light, but, on the other, it can also be bitter and heavy. It depends on our will. If you bear Christ’s cross with love then it will be very light; like a sponge or a cork. But if you have a negative attitude, it becomes heavy; too heavy to lift.
On Prayer

The best prayer is the one you say with your own words. Reading a prayer is not enough. For example, before receiving Holy Communion we read the Service of Preparation for Holy Communion: ‘From lips tainted and defiled, from heart unclean and loathsome…’, sometimes without even understanding the words. You yourself should pray with your own words. Then you will understand what you are saying to God. This prayer has great power; great power indeed!
[To see pictures of his cell and listen to audio lecture about Elder Ephraim (in Greek), see here and here.]