April 9, 2012

Fr. Mitrophanes, Guardian of the Holy Sepulchre (1)

For 58 years the blessed monk Fr. Mitrophanes (+ 1997) was guardian of the All-Holy Tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is the first in a series of posts about this blessed Elder's counsels and experiences by one of his spiritual children.

Once a husband and wife from Tripoli went to the Elder. With the husband we had just returned from a pilgrimage to Mount Athos. This couple did not have children. The husband would carry oil from Tripoli to the various Monasteries of Mount Athos and pleaded for prayers so they might have a child. Returning from Mount Athos he picked up his wife whom he had left in Thessaloniki, and we went the three of us to Elder Mitrophane to get his blessing. There they told him:

"Elder, you know God, until now, has not given us children."

Then the Elder raised his voice high and said to them: "God does well - or better - God has done well by not giving you a child."

Upset, the couple asked him: "Why Elder?"

The Elder answered: "Because if God had given you children from the beginning, you would have thought that you were something, that you made the child and would not have gone from church to church and monastery to monastery. God didn't give you children so you can come to know Him first. Now that you have come to know Him, well, there is a God. So now do not lose hope."

After this the couple left very excited and happy.

Usually, as is well known, women are more God-fearing and make more sacrifices than men and they attend church more frequently than men. Naturally then, many more women would visit Elder Mitrophanes. So when they approached him, they would say that things weren't going well with their husbands, because they are easy to get angry, they are insolent and they scorn them. And the Elder responded to them:

"You women are to blame for everything."

"But how? Are we not humbled by these things the men do to us?"

"Why don't you kiss the feet of your men, to take pity on them?"

"Of course we haven't done that."

"If you do this to them, what I told you, it would be much better for you and you would be more understanding. Do it from now on and you will immediately believe it with their behavior."

Also, I went to the Elder with priests, fathers from Mount Athos, and many others to get the blessing of the Elder. Fr. Mitrophanes, whenever he saw a priest enter his Cell, would immediately ask him: "Do you have the priesthood?" And when they responded to him: "Yes, I am a priest", then he would not stop kissing his hand. And when the priest requested that he stop, the Elder would say to him: "No, leave me alone, don't bother me, these hands I want to embrace, I want to continually kiss them, because in these hands, with your prayers, the bread turns into the body of my Lord and the wine into the blood of my Lord. For this, leave me to embrace them."

Of course here I must say something, which a certain woman who attended to him, Miss Fevronia, believes. Every time he asked her to bring another spiritual father to him, according to her, the Elder wanted to choose his spiritual fathers, to see if they were alright with their spiritual obligations, if they were worthy of being spiritual fathers. In some way he wanted to test them for this, and every once in a while he would bring in another priest, who was a spiritual father, to see them "up close", as Fevronia put it.

Sometimes we would come with other believers to receive his blessing, of course without preparing to do so, that is, without bringing him anything, a certain gift, something to eat. We would arrive to the Elder and would tell him:

"Elder, we didn't bring you anything."

"What are these things you're telling me, that you didn't bring me anything? You brought me joy, you brought me satisfaction. I want you, whom God sent me, I don't want any of your things."

Once, one summer, I brought him an ice cream. "Constantine", he told me, "I don't want your ice cream, I want you." Slowly I convinced him and he took the ice cream. Smiling he said: "I will take it". When he tasted it, he said: "I'm a bit wicked. I acted as if I didn't want it, but deep down I wanted it." When he ate it, he told me: "I liked it very much. Of course, these things are also necessary, but we shouldn't give much importance to material things, as much as spiritual goods." Of these things the Elder constantly reminded us.

Again, one morning, I went with a colleague to see him, around 11:00 am. The Elder was sleeping at that time, and I told my colleague that we should wake him. Then my colleague got angry and told me: "Aren't you ashamed? The Elder is sleeping and we are going to wake him?" I gave in to my colleague's anger and we left. In the evening I went again by myself, around 5:00 pm, and told him: "Elder, we came in the morning around 11:00 am to see you with a colleague of mine and you were sleeping so we left." Then he got very angry and told me: "Why did you do that? I lost my treasure. What else do I do all day but eat, drink and sleep, and you both lost your treasure, because God would have enlightened me with something at that time to tell you." So we see that the Elder did not regret, but rejoiced to have lost his quiet constantly from sunrise to sundown. He always wanted to tell the world that he lived in the Holy Sepulchre.

Many times, again, the Elder would ask me: "Constantine, what does the word "Έντεύξεις" mean?" Then I would tell him: "The word "εντευξις", Elder, is a complex ancient Greek word which stems from the intention "εν" and the verb "τυγχάνω" and means "a meeting" "an interview" or "prayer". Further, the word "εντευξις" in our Ecclesiastical language means communication with God," which the Elder constantly had.

Once, the Elder decided, at 95 years old, to have surgery for his eyes. And I, teasing him, said: "Elder, isn't it enough what you have learned in your 95 years, all that you heard and seen? Do you still want to learn and read and other things?" "Yes", he responded, "because whatever I didn't read, when I could, I must read now." Surely he meant things for the repentance and salvation of his soul. What do we do, now that we have our sight and health? Let us learn from the example of the Elder, who until the last moments of his life, wanted to learn about the great things of God.

Another time, when we visited him and didn't bring him a gift, me and other visitors, he told us: "I want all of you, because you brought me to heaven. I want nothing else. Be aware of your body, my children, to keep them clean with regular Confession and frequent Communion."

When I asked him, at one time, "do you also pray for us, Elder?" he responded: "Yes, without ever stopping I pray for my visitors: Those who visited me from Chariseio Nursing Home protect, guard and keep, as well as me the sinner, the prodigal, the lice, who served you for 58 whole years, All-Holy Tomb of the Great King Christ."

He always put himself last in his prayers with quite humiliating epithets, which showed the true humility of the Elder.

He did the same thing when he submitted names for memorials. He would begin, first, with his enemies, then he would write those down whom he knew, then relatives, as well as friends and, lastly, he would write his own name with a number of humiliating epithets following his name.

He would often say to those who were sad or hopeless, who were not prepared: "Don't worry, because even after one sin, with devotion and heartfelt contrition, before our death, God can save us."

To every visitor, he would say the verbs "protect, guard and keep" and would make the sign of the cross over their heads. To his visitors he would often say, smiling: "Constantine, who brought you here, is the wickedest of all of you." And then, with a serious tone, he would say: "He does this because he loves God very much, which is why he carried you here." "Today", he would say, "we are, tomorrow who knows. May your mind always be on death and Paradise."

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos