The Abbot of Vatopaidi Monastery, Archimandrite Ephraim, spoke on the radio programme “Η Γκίζα κάπου αλλού” (Giza somewhere else) of ΣΚΑΪ (Sky) 100,3 FM on Saturday 14th August 2010, on the eve of the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos. Elder Ephraim was celebrating the feast at the Vatopedi Metohi of Porto Lagos.
Here is the full text of the interview:
Giza: Geronta you are in Porto Lagos to celebrate the feast of the Dormition and I was wondering why women could not attend?
Elder Ephraim: Excuse me. This is the monastery’s metohi and women can visit as well.
Giza: Up to there, but what about further up?
Elder Ephraim: The Holy Mount Athos as you know is inaccessible to women and this is the tradition spanning hundreds of years. The reason why it is inaccessible is not because the monks hate or scorn or wish to degrade women. But it is because The Holy Mount Athos is a man’s Parthenon.
Giza: Anyway, where you are now all of us can meet.
Elder Ephraim: Absolutely.
Giza: And it is a blessed place.
Elder Ephraim: Yes, of course. It is a place where our Panagia's grace dominates. There is a chapel devoted to her and another one devoted to Saint Nicholas.
Giza: Are there a lot of people up there now?
Elder Ephraim: Quite a lot. We have three spiritual fathers who are continuously taking confessions from people who are getting ready to take Holy Communion during the feast.
Giza: Geronda (Elder), how is confession helping people?
Elder Ephraim: Confession is a very helpful means because through this Mystery a person starts to condemn himself, blame himself and hold himself responsible. Not only does he hold himself responsible in a non verbal way in front of the icon, as they say, in front of Christ, but also in front of the priest who is also another human being. He comes to confess his sins. However, this meeting is not just a meeting which has man in its epicenter, but it is a meeting with Christ, because it is a Mystery of the Church. A person will then definitely feel the forgiveness for his sins, through the grace of the Holy Spirit. This is a very important issue.
Giza: Geronta, what is the message which the feast of the Dormition offers to modern man? We are living through very difficult times down here…
Elder Ephraim: We are living through difficult times but I think this feast of the Most Holy Panagia is one which offers a spiritual message, a message of purity and cleanliness and devotion to the Lord. Our Panagia was the first after The One, who devoted herself entirely to God. She stayed in the Holy of Holies since she was three years old. She is the person who experienced the grace of the Holy Spirit more than anyone else in the world. This alone bestows such a huge honor to our Panagia. That’s the reason we are calling her «Most Blessed», «Most Honored», «Most Gracious» and this is the model which we must present to the world. She is the one most honored by everybody, especially the monks, and also in the Holy Mountain.
Sometimes, you know, people say that no women are allowed in the Holy Mountain and that monks do away with women. On the contrary, they honor our Panagia more than anywhere else in the world. They offer her this comprehensive tribute and all this devotion because she is the one who loved Christ completely.
Giza: She becomes a great sanctuary for man even these days, doesn’t she?
Elder Ephraim: Absolutely. The Most Holy Panagia is a great sanctuary for all of us. People flock here with such pain, with so much suffering, with illnesses and toil and troubles and three hundred meters away we see them kneel and come to venerate her icon, to fulfill the promise they have made for their troubles. Then we see them again when they leave. They have been comforted and consoled and have such sweetness in their faces.
Giza: This is funny, Geronda. Faith is not diminished with the passing of time but it is as if it becomes stronger sometimes. How can this be? Is there an explanation?
Elder Ephraim: Faith is a strong spiritual weapon which is given to man because he is created in the image and likeness of God. Sometimes faith can be ridiculed and scorned by some, but it is a strong weapon not used by many, but which remains hidden inside them until the time of trouble comes, when one is really tested. Then he takes out this bag full of treasure, this great power called “faith” and uses it. And faith bears fruit.
Giza: Since no one has ever taught us about this spiritual work, how do we find such resilience and at the time of trouble we call out to our Panagia?
Elder Ephraim: We may have never been systematically taught, but do not forget that we live in Greece, where the environment and the tradition have always been helping man to turn to the Church in times of trouble. I think the person to whom man looks up to for help in times of trouble is our Panagia.
Giza: Geronda, do miracles happen today?
Elder Ephraim: Of course! Look here at our metohi at the Visthonida pond. So many miracles take place. So many people have found cure, there are so many offerings, so many letters! One is in awe when one witnesses all these miracles performed by our Panagia with her icon, which is a copy of the Panagia Pantanassa icon, which is found in Vatopaidi. As you may very well know the Vatopaidi Monastery is the only one in the world which is adorned with seven miraculous icons of our Panagia and also by her Holy Girdle.
Giza: Are we never going to see these since we are women?
Elder Ephraim: You will see these when we are occasionally asked to take them out of the Holy Mountain. But especially we agree to take them out every now and then so that women can see them.
Giza: What is the liturgical program at the garden of our Panagia, where you are now?
Elder Ephraim: As you know, today is not the feast of our Panagia according to the Old Calendar we use at the Holy Mountain. But here at the metohi we celebrate the feast with the New Calendar. We have an all night vigil this evening which will last up to five hours. The fathers from the monastery arrived here so that they can chant in the way it is done in the Holy Mountain. We are expecting a lot of people. We also hold a second liturgy at a different chapel for those who have children and cannot attend the all night vigil.
Giza: Do you think that the world will change at some point for the better?
Elder Ephraim: We are only left with the hope which as Saint Paul says “it does not embarrass us”. I think that hope must never leave a man’s heart.
Giza: Is hope stronger than faith?
Elder Ephraim: Hope is derived from faith and it is a prerequisite.
Giza: What would you say to someone who does not believe in God?
Elder Ephraim: I would say to him to try to live in the way we do. I think that if he experiments in this way he will experience something. Since even one who does not believe has an immortal soul inside of him.
Giza: If one does not live a Church life does it mean that he does not possess the Lord’s grace?
Elder Ephraim: He may not live the life of the Church now, but we do not know what will happen at the end. As this great modern Saint, Father Paisios the Athonite said, we will be met with a lot of surprises during the Second Coming of Christ. We do not know how each man will end his life.
Giza: One last question, Geronda. All this furor surrounding your name, which reminds us a little of the Christian persecutions of past times, did it leave you shaken at all?
Elder Ephraim: With God’s grace, I have not been shaken, since as I have told you faith is a great force. We are devoted to our duties; we are not expecting to hear praises from people. As you know, our holy forefathers, whom we read and imitate, have always been controversial figures. First it was Christ himself. A monk does not concern himself whether he will acquire good fame; he is only interested in diligently fullfilling his absolute duty: his complete devotion to God.
Giza: Aren’t you afraid that people’s faith will be shaken?
Elder Ephraim: I do not think so. A person who is struggling spiritually will recognize the methods and the descriptions and the reasons behind this furor. I think that common sense recognizes that it is something not worth mentioning.
Giza: You are saying that the truth will be revealed to someone sometime but in a way which may not be easily comprehensible these days.
Elder Ephraim: Many times a person does not recognize the truth because of the way he lives. On our part, we pray for the whole world, the whole universe and we always maintain a loving attitude for everybody. This is our position and our mission”.
Giza: It is very important to say that your mission is this. What would you ask for those who hear you today and those who don’t?
Elder Ephraim: I humbly pray that people will recognize than man is a spiritual creature and to start caring for the salvation of his immortal soul. As Saint Basil the Great, this grand Saint, said: "we must take care of our souls which are immortal". Only once someone starts taking care of his immortal soul will he come to comprehend that our Panagia is present, the saints are present and that faith is a great force for the Orthodox people and especially for our Greece.
Giza: Geronda, I thank you with all my heart.
Elder Ephraim: I wish you well and may our Panagia be with you.
Giza: You too. Give us your blessing!
Elder Ephraim: May you have our Lord’s blessing.
Translated from Greek by: Olga Konnari–Kokkinou, Journalist
Edited by John Sanidopoulos