July 1, 2010

The Relationship Between Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi and the Holy Unmercenary Saints

The Monastery of the Holy Unmercenaries; Gilou, Cyprus

As was told from prior sources, the Blessed Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi was especially devoted to and had as protectors the Holy Unmercenaries Sts. Cosmas and Damian. He was born and fell asleep on their feast day. From his birthday (July 1, 1921) they had him under their protection.

The mother of the Elder when she was seven months pregnant decided to visit a small monastery in the area of Giolou (Cyprus) dedicated to the Holy Unmercenaries, in order to venerate them and request their help. There, on the grounds of the monastery, she began to feel pain before her time and little Socrates was born (the worldly name of the Elder).

And when the Elder was a novice the Holy Unmercenaries continued to come to his aid. One day we asked him why he had a special reverence for St. Panteleimon, of whom he had an icon made. He said that this Saint was the protector of his family. His father who was named Panteleimon fell asleep on the feast of the Saint. He had gone to church that day, received communion and after went for a stroll in his garden, as if he were bidding it farewell. Returning home he sat in a chair and passed away.

Saint Panteleimon (Feast Day - July 27)

When he was a novice under Elder Joseph the Hesychast he lived under difficult and harsh conditions. Here is how he describes his life:

"Neither the austerity of the regime, nor the lack of basic necessities, nor the rugged and forlorn terrain, nor the necessity of carrying loads so as to maintain six or seven people could make our purpose falter, since by the mercy of God grace gave us full assurance through the prayers of the elders. But our nature of clay shrank back, and the Lord's saying was fulfilled, that 'the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak' (Mt. 26:41). I suffered increasingly from coughing up blood and stomach hemorrhages, but my ardent intent and the experience of grace which accompanies the good fight covered all these weaknesses, for we had as our prime model the Elder, who looked at everything through faith and not through reason. In this small experiment of our life under the care of the Elder, the repeated aid from divine goodness, the continuing mysterious protection of grace and the constant sense of security in all directions oblige us to believe and proclaim that success in monastic life depends for the most part on the support of a spiritual guide; and 'he who has ears to hear, let him hear' (Mt. 11:15). Certainly there is nothing novel in this opinion nor is it some new discovery, but simply a confirmation of the patristic tradition, and blessed is the disciple 'who will keep these things, and will discern the mercies of the Lord' (Hosea 14:9)."

Elder Joseph went on to explain that though he was accustomed to living a hard life, he felt much pain from his back, his stomach hemorrhages, and his constantly getting sick. Then the Brotherhood of Elder Joseph the Hesychast moved to New Skete where the climate was more mild and the burdens less. The Elder went to Thessaloniki to get some tests done because he had constant hemorrhages. He returned with the opinion of the doctor that surgery was needed. From then he lived with Elder Theophylactos in the cell of the Holy Unmercenaries. See now how things developed.

Elder Joseph writes: "When my stomach was in pain, Elder Theophylactos would supplicate much for me to St. Panteleimon and he saw him in his church, and he told him I would get well and to not get the surgery which my doctors had ordered. I had an ulcer progressing in its appearance and neither diet or medicine offered me anything. After a period of affliction of more than two years there was no way to get out of the surgery. Then the glorious great martyr of Christ descends, the compassionate Panteleimon, and told Elder Thephylactos to tell me to not get the surgery, but to leave all to the care of our Panagia. Immediately I was totally healed, and to confirm this I visited my doctors who recognized my sickness in all its stages in order to tell me in what state I was in. They gave me an endoscopy and they found absolutely nothing, except a small old scar of a healed wound."

These Holy Unmercenaries decided also his transfer from the transient to eternity, from "earth to the highest".

As we learned from the fathers of the Monastery, when the minister (the monk who took care of the Elder) went in at 10:00 AM on Tuesday (the eve of his falling asleep) to see how the Elder was doing, he said: "I am leaving today, because I feel death". And he said to him: "Good, Elder, whatever is God's will". At night around 8:00 PM the Elder said peacefully: "These demons that have come, what do they want?" At 9:00 PM he said again: " These Saints that have come will stay with us to help us". The brother responded: "Yes, they will stay to help us". Let us emphasize that the day which was breaking was the celebration of the Holy Unmercenaries. Do you think it was them who vistied him? After this incident the Elder was full of peace and tranquility. At 10:00 PM he raised himself on his bed and said: "What is the troparion below called...? Now where do I say the service?" The brother did not recognize what service he spoke of, so he didn't answer at all.

This is very significant because we were told that in the last month he was saying the services even though he was sleeping. And for all he was going through, we are told that in the afternoon (around 12 hours before his falling asleep) he read by himself the Vespers service.

The Elder due to low blood pressure felt a tremendous exhaustion and when his blood pressure totally dropped his liver swelled. The doctors said his death came by cardiac arrest.

The brothers who took care of the Elder until the last moment were by his side and became eye-witnesses of his falling asleep.

At 2:20 AM (the morning of July 1, 2009) he took three long breaths and in this way he quietly departed for eternity.

May we have his blessing.

Alekos Christodoulou, Theologian

(Translated by John Sanidopoulos)

Saints Cosmas and Damian (Feast Day - July 1)