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July 22, 2013

Elder Andreas Agiopavlites, the Theotokos, and the Zealots of Esphigmenou

In November of the year 1976, Father Andreas, who had withdrawn from being abbot of the Monastery of Saint Paul, and old enough by now, wanted to depart in silence, on a farm of the Monastery in the location of Monoxylitis, which is situated at the northwestern part of the peninsula of Mount Athos, and its chapel is dedicated to Saint Nicholas.

The sea in front of the glebe has many rocks, while three of them, very similar to each other, are named three siblings. The building of the glebe is not visible from the sea because it is built behind the hill. Father Andreas used to go down to the beach at times with the prayer rope in hand, and while praying he collected sticks for the fire, if he could find any.

One day a terrible storm blew up, with a torrential rain and rough sea, causing damage throughout the region. When the storm cooled down, Father Andrew decided to go down to the beach to gather wood that the sea would have washed ashore, useful wood for the fireplace. He was thinking that after such a rough sea, perhaps there was a need to help someone in trouble.

On the beach, just a bit further from where the Venerable Father gathered wood, he saw something that seemed like a human body. Immediately he thought that it might be a shipwrecker, who might need help. So, when he approached, he saw that it was a woman, dressed in black like a nun, who sat on a rock, holding on her knees a book and writing something. She also had next to her two more books.

Surprised, since entry to Mount Athos is prohibited to women, he asked her with the distinctive dialect of the inhabitants of the island of Kefallonia, where he was from, the following:

"Who are you, my lady? And what do you want here? Do you want any help?"

"No, Elder," she responded, "I do not want help. I am here and I am doing this work."

"And what are these three books that you have with you?"

And the lady replied: "In the first one I write the names of those who come to this Land, in the second I write the names of those who depart, and in the third one, which is the book of life, I write the names of those who remain here until the end."

Not wanting to bother her any more, since there was no need, and without understanding what he saw or heard, Father Andreas made his way back to the house. When it was time for the evening service he went to church to pray. So when he started saying Salutations from the Akathist in front of the icon of the Panagia, and started to chant "When the bodiless learned of the secret command..." (Τό προσταχθέν μυστικώς λαβών εν γνώσει...), the eyes of his soul opened and he realized that all that had preceded were not normal, and that the lady whom he had met was the same as the icon of the Virgin Mary, and then only he understood whom he had really met.

The good Elder went back to the shore as hastily as he could, although his age was advanced and the path was not at all easy, in order to meet the Mother whom he loved tenderly as a child, and to whom he always directed his prayers for his salvation, and also to whom he laid every hope. So he shouted with all his love: “My Panagia, my Panagia”. But an unearthly and sweet scent, which had permeated the region, was left behind when the Panagia Theotokos went away, since she seemingly was no longer there.

Father Andreas confessed the incident to his spiritual father Dionysios, from the Small Saint Anna Skete, as indeed all the monks have to do in order to avoid the deceptions of the invisible enemy, who transforms even into an angel of light, as the Apostle Paul quotes. The spiritual father knew the virtue of the Elder, and he reassured him, saying that it was the Panagia. Then Elder Andreas told him: “Alright, my spiritual father. Only, please do not say this to anyone, I don't want them to think I am some kind of a saint." Indeed the spiritual father respected the desire of the Elder. Since then, at times when the Elder said the Salutations of our Panagia, her vigil-lamp moved, so as to remind him of that meeting.

This incident was not just a coincidence. The Elder was what we call in the monastic life, a fighter. This means that he dealt with spiritual matters assiduously, while he had the gift of sleeping for a little while, getting up early and praying continuously. Therefore, it wasn't at all strange that our Panagia honored him with her presence. And not only the Panagia...

During his stay in the glebe the Elder had visits from monks of the Monastery of Esphigmenou, who urged him to join the brotherhood of the Monastery which had already been cut off from the rest of Mount Athos. By posing the arguments for ecumenical compromises of certain church leaders, they urged him to agree to "zealotism" for the accuracy of the faith. The naïve Elder began to have doubts in his thoughts and therefore he considered it necessary to intensify his prayers and the supplications to God for such a decision. The dilemma was great. How could he leave his place of Repentance and his brothers and be cut away from them? On the other side the monks showed that the Faith was at risk and could easily be betrayed and so, according to them, he should disown all the previous in order to keep the Faith.

In this struggle with his thoughts, a priest paid him a visit. He had a serene presence and a mirthful face, a true "image of goodness".

"Elder," he said to him, "may God's peace be with you. Which road should I follow for Karyes?"

The naive Elder offered to guide him. "What is your name, father?" he asked him.

"Father Nicholas," replied the passer-by.

"Where are you from?"

"I came from Cyprus."

He waved goodbye after he had shown the path, and made his return of the glebe. But immediately he thought: "I didn't ask the man if he was hungry, if he was in need of something. He has a long way to go." He turned around and called out to him "Father Nicholas, Father Nicholas, Father, Father." The priest had disappeared while normally he wouldn't have walked not even ten meters.

Along with the passer-by who disappeared into thin air, the troubling thoughts of the Elder also disappeared, bringing peace to his mind because, despite the sensitivity that he had on matters of faith, the urging of those monks who advised him would have taken him out of the Church. So Father Nicholas, who obviously was Saint Nicholas, showed him the path to go for the rest of his life, meaning not to draw away from the Church.

Let us note that according to a tradition, Saint Nicholas "launched" his episcopal career from the Monastery of Priests which is located near Paphos in Cyprus.

When the Elder grew heavy due to his age, he returned to the Monastery of Saint Paul in order to spend there his last years. At this Monastery was a worker, who worked there for many years, and was very honest and devout, but he came down with a heavy disease and he was confined to bed. Shortly before he died, the Abbot proposed to make him a monk, since because of the monastic schema, which is a second baptism, all sins of life are forgiven. The worker wept when he heard the proposal of the Abbot and accepted with joy.

Thus he died as a monk, and specifically on the 2nd of February, when the Monastery of Saint Paul has the great celebration of the Presentation of Christ. It was that worker whom Father Andreas brought up over and over again as an example, saying: "Just how much did our Panagia love this man? Such an honor, to take him along on Her feast!"

It was the dawn of the 2nd of February 1987. The Monastery of Saint Paul was celebrating the feast of the Presentation of our Lord. Suddenly some news spread by word of mouth, and it left mixed feelings. Normally it had to be sorrowful news, but by hearing it the fathers were full of resurrectional euphoria. Father Andreas made peace with God in the course of the vigil. A sacred end. The next day during the Funeral service, his spiritual father revealed to the public all those events which sealed the great virtue of that man. Father Andreas was buried at the cemetery of the Monastery of Saint Paul, and was added among his fathers. May we have his prayers.

Source: Edited by John Sanidopoulos.