|Old Man Panais at Stavrovouni Monastery in Cyprus|
By Fr. Andrew Agathokleous
They would tell us about and then we would read about saints. We marveled at their great accomplishments, their diverse spiritual gifts, their superhuman struggles. And we said that these things are not for us, they do not fit our own time. Sanctity seemed impossible and the saints as if they were non-existent.
Until we came to meet saints, not as apparitions and "invisible ascetics", but as ordinary everyday people, we felt close to them and they seemed to be just like us. Then we realized the beauty of holiness, the physical and physiological characteristic for humans as the image of God.
My meeting with Elder Sophrony in Essex, Elder Porphyrios in Oropos, Elder Paisios in Mount Athos, Elder Ephraim in Katounakia, Elder Joseph in Cyprus and Mount Athos, Elder Epiphanios Theodoropoulos in Athens, as well as with Cypriot Elders who are alive or have reposed, was the beginning of my awareness that today there are people who do not simply talk about God but they live God.
But my ten year apprenticeship, almost daily, with the venerable Elder of Lysi, the grandfather Panais, gave me the surety and the blessing for me to be able to say to my brothers, the following words: "That ... which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched" (1 John 1:1) regarding this man of God, whom the Holy Spirit lived within. And furthermore, to be able to assure - since I have been assured - that it is not something of a bygone era nor only for certain people. For the Church of Christ is in the world to sanctify the people to become signs that show the great love of our Great God to all people "near and far".
Certainly the Church is a nurturing mother, helping afflicted people in all their needs. But it does people an injustice when it results in covering only their material needs, and ignores or underestimates the spiritual ones. Just as it results in heresy when it is indifferent to material needs and focuses only on the spiritual.
What the Orthodox Church offers contemporary man as her primary and essential work, is holiness as an experience of the life of God. Then she offers what is asked from the depths of our existence. And man becomes an "image of the living God', that is, he finds his nature, his joy and his fulfillment. He rejoices in life!
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.