April 25, 2013

Spiritual Dialogue With Elder Michael the Hermit of Karoulia

Fr. Michael, the zealous monk who lives in a desert between Katounakia and Karoulia, is a man surprisingly dissimilar to the other monks. Not so much because this one monk, with the purity of his heart, simplicity and goodness is distinguished because he manages to touch everyone who passes through, asking them to rest for a while in his humble hut, but because Fr. Michael, although a zealous and real ascetic, shows that there is no significance to the great problems that have access to our life.

Question: Elder, what is your name?

Answer: Fr. Michael, the sinner, the despicable, the miserable, the dirty.

Q.: How many years have you been here?

A.: It doesn't matter, my beloved. What matters is for one to have what one needs, that is, to look to consistently perform ones duties.

Q.: And what are they?

A.: Fasting, vigils, prayer, receiving heavenly gifts, as the Bible says. Who keeps them consistently?

Q.: You do not keep them? Let's look at them one by one. Don't you fast? Monday, Wednesday and Friday you don't eat.

A.: Who told you this? And if I eat double on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, then where is the fasting of Wednesday? An orange equals an egg. What does it mean to me if I don't eat an egg and I eat two oranges? But let us not forget, fasting is not only the abstaining from foods. Fasting is primarily to deaden the passions; the immobilization of the senses rather than abstinence from meat, cheese and milk.

Q.: Are you alone here or does someone else live here?

A.: I'm alone. All alone. Of course, this means that I have companionship with God. No one can live alone. Without God, life becomes hell.

Q.: With what do you occupy yourself?

A.: I do handiwork. I make pressed crosses. I have a press.

Q.: In this way you make your wages?

A.: I do not simply make, but exceed. I wish there was someone else to eat. Materials, glory to God, are there. That which is missing is virtue. I'm not just speaking words and exaggerations, but the truth.

Q.: But in the world sin has greatly increased. Do you know this?

A.: What, as if on Mount Athos the same is not happening? If, as you say, in the world sin has greatly increased, then grace has greatly increased. Can you perhaps tell me a place where virtue has greatly increased? Tell me so I can say bravo.

Q.: Are there people here at the Mountain who possess virtue?

A.: Everyone is good and holy. I am the least of the monks. Behold the monks who live in the front lines of the fire, in the monasteries, who are forced to do obedience. Is this a small thing? Whoever has obedience has love, humility and patience.

Q.: And us laypeople? Where should we do obedience?

A.: In your families, with your wife and children. For example, the man in the family should also be obedient to his wife and children. A married man should never impose upon his family his opinion in a brutal and hard way, but he should also be subject to the name of love. Obedience is not only the obligation of monks, but every Christian. Think of a spiritual father, a confessor, who always wants to impose his opinion on the one confessing, in the name, supposedly, of virtue. What do you say, is he a proper spiritual father? I think that the confessor has the same duty, to be obedient to his spiritual children if only out of concern for maintaining unity within the church, and for man out of desire to freely, not oppressively, accept the commandments of God.

Q.: So we laypeople who are not monks can also be saved?

A.: What are you saying? People in the world are not in a lower position than monks, and I think it is a great sin for anyone to make divisions within the Church by dealing with childish issues, such as which path is better. The monastic or the worldly path? You know, all the streets and avenues and paths and alleyways serve the same basic needs of life. All roads lead to God. Whomever God calls to become a monk surely will. Alas if everyone left their towns and villages to enter a monastery. Then will come a day when the race of monks will disappear from the earth.

Q.: Do you regret that you came here?

A.: In the name of God, everything but. Certainly not. Certainly not. Besides, do you think we understand how we got here and if we are sitting alone?

Q.: But with whom?

A.: With God. Not even for a moment could someone remain here alone.

Q.: Have you ever seen God?

A.: What can I tell you now? This question, forgive me, is a bit...

Q.: Stupid? Say it.

A.: Not stupid, but it resembles that of Thomas who said that unless I see it with my eyes I will not believe.

Q.: But you know, I am of little faith.

A.: I am worse.

Q.: Have you seen some miracle?

A.: We see miracles every day. But you know, the evil man, even if he sees a thousand miracles he will not believe. Even if a dead man rises, he still will not believe.

Q.: What miracle have you seen?

A.: Is there a greater miracle than this here? Me, the humble and pitiful, to live as a monk here in the desert. Do me a favor. I want you to conceive this. Is there a greater miracle than this? I absolutely believe this is a miracle. Or see something else. The fact that so many young people today come from the four corners of the earth, from all over the world, one from America, another from Asia, another from Europe, and today you can find them here at Mount Athos. Is this not a miracle?

Q.: Now many who are educated have come to Mount Athos. Is this not important?

A.: What will you do with learning? It is good, but the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. If you don't have God within you, then learning is worthless.

Q.: Lastly, it is reported in the press some information on clergy scandals. What impression does this have on you?

A.: For each of us it is very easy to fall and slide down. This danger exists in people even into old age. Only the gravestone will remove him from this danger. But it's a joke to say that the greatest scandal within the Church are human falls. This is not the greatest scandal, but rather it is the fact that the Church is silent before the challenges of the times. The Church, while holding truth, keeps it hidden and does not bring it to light. The guilty silence of the Church is today the greatest scandal.

Source: ΑΘΩΣ: ΟΡΟΣ ΑΓΙΟ ΠΟΛΙΤΕΙΑ ΑΝΘΡΩΠΙΝΗ, ΤΑΣΟΣ ΜΙΧΑΛΑΣ, 1981. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.