January 7, 2011

Two Wondrous Miracles of St. John the Forerunner in the Life of Elder Isaac of Dionysiou

1. The Miraculous Deliverance

To strugglers who are purified and sanctified by monastic asceticism, God gives wonderful gifts, great signs of His love.

Fr. Isaac (+ 1932) of Dionysiou Monastery was not lacking in these gifts of the living presence of God, as is revealed to us by many marvellous incidents from his life.

When he was still a young man, he served as cellarer (keeper of the food supplies) in the Monastery's house in Karyes. He lived together with the representative of the of the Monastery, Elder Gelasios, who came from Lakonia. One winter day - it was the month of February - some urgent matter came up, and it was absolutely necessary for Fr. Gelasios to contact the Monastery. In those days there were no telephones or other means of communication. Therefore it was necessary for someone to travel to the Monastery on foot, in spite of the hazardous weather. Elder Gelasios called his disciple, Fr. Isaac, and sent him to the Monastery with some letters. Fr. Isaac made a prostration, took his staff and mailbag and set out on the journey.

The road over the mountain from Karyes to Dionysiou is a panoramic wonder. The footpath passes through wild vegetation and dense, high chestnut forests. As a rule, the journey takes five hours.

The good disciple willingly set out on his obedience, even though the sky was darkening, and he could see a snowstorm was threatening - one of those that often scourges Mount Athos. In about fifteen minutes he had reached the "Cross", the summit of the mountain. Quickly he took the footpath, which from the mountain-ridge leads to the road of the Monastery. Then he encountered his enemy, the snow. He had set out from Karyes at about 1:00 p.m. (7:00 p.m. Byzantine time*). At 3:00 p.m. he had reached the boundary of Simonopetra at the cold spring called "Bousdoum". Up to this point, he could still make out the path. Now, however, everything had become covered with snow. He strove by every means to make out his direction. Calling on the sweet name of Jesus, he continued walking until he could no longer move his feet in the snow.

The storm had broken out with force, and the swirling snow beat on him from every side. Unable to go forward, he stood still. He tried to take a few steps, but it was in vain - he only worked himself further into the snow-drifts. The road was lost, the cold severe, the thick-falling snow continued to mount around him. He could not hope for human help or of any kind of shelter. Time was passing, and the dark was closing in. There was no salvation anywhere. Little by little, the snow would completely cover hm, and this night would be his last.

When all hope seemed lost, Fr. Isaac raised his hands and eyes, and with warm, undoubting faith cried: "O Lord Jesus Christ, O God, by the prayers of my Elder save me in this hour! O Holy Forerunner, grant me to reach the Monastery in good health!"

And lo! The words of the Prophet Isaiah came to pass: "Yet I am near thee when thou speakest." At that instant, some invisible force seized him and, in a twinkling of an eye, deposited him outside the Monastery, in front of the shrine by the gate!

It was about 4:30 p.m. (10:30 p.m. Byzantine time). The fathers had just risen from the table. The gatekeeper was preparing to close the Monastery gate when he was startled by seeing Fr. Isaac before him.

"Where did you come from, Abba? How did you manage to get through such a storm?" he asked.

The gatekeeper's perplexity increased as he looked for footsteps on the path from Karyes, and saw absolutely none. His surprise was shared by the other fathers. They all asked what had happened. Fr. Isaac, not wanting to reveal the miracle, only gave them a few token explanations. "With the help of the Holy Forerunner," he said, pointing to his icon, "I completed my obedience safely."

Some time passed, and the miraculous incident of the aerial transport of Fr. Isaac was revealed for the glory of God by his spiritual father, to whom the Abba had told everything exactly.

We encounter similar miracles of instantaneous transportation from place to place in various Lives of Saints. It is one manifestation among many others of a grace-filled life and the Lord's special favor.

* According to the Byzantine time reckoning which prevails on the Holy Mountain, the day begins at sunset. When the sun goes behind the peak of Athos, the clocks are set to 12:00.

From Contemporary Ascetics of Mount Athos (vol. 1) by Archimandrite Cherubim, pp. 353-355.

2. The Short Supply of Flour

Among all his other obediences, Elder Isaac also passed through the prosphora bakery. There too Elder Isaac left legends, not only about his willingness and hard work, but also about an exceptional miracle.

Customarily, forty to fifty prosphora are baked at the Monastery every week, using about seventy-five pounds of flour. Fifteen prosphora are used by the Monastery and its house in Karyes. The remaining ones are given as a "blessing" to the ascetics, from New Skete to as far as Kavsokalyvia. That year, however, the flour was in short supply. The Monastery counsel measured the amount of wheat left in February, and figured that it would only barely last until the next harvest. Therefore they summoned Fr. Isaac and told him:

"Fr. Isaac, our flour supply is low. If we're very economical, it will last. Keep in mind that we have only one vessel left. There's not enough to give any of the ascetics. Plan your course of action carefully."

This fell like a thunderbolt on the blessed soul of Elder Isaac. He said nothing, but he was greatly distressed. He thought: "What am I to do now? Surely the council is right - there's only one vessel of flour left. But how can we deprive the ascetics of the blessing of the Holy Forerunner in order to serve Liturgies for the glory of God and the remission of sins? My soul is not at peace."

Prayer was his only recourse. He went to the icon of the Baptist which was next to the prosphora bakery, and made three prostrations, devoutly kissing the Saint's feet and begging him with his whole heart to enlighten him as to what he should do. Elder Isaac loved St. John very much, and when he prayed to him he spoke with great simplicity and faith, like a small child talking to his older brother. After this prayer he arose with his heart strengthened in its resolve. He addressed the Saint with great faith: "Holy Forerunner, I am not going to stop giving the blessing to the ascetics. In your holiness perform a miracle so that the flour will last until the new harvest."

And the miracle happened. The four in the vessel did not diminish. The bread was baked as it had always been, until June 22, two days before the Monastery's feast day.* On that day a ship sailed into the harbor, loaded with wheat from the Metochion at Kalamaria!

One can imagine Elder Isaac's joy and gratitude to the Holy Forerunner, who had showed him his help in such a difficult situation.

* June 24 - the Feast of the Birth of St. John the Forerunner and Baptist.

From Contemporary Ascetics of Mount Athos (vol. 1) by Archimandrite Cherubim, pp. 358-359.