December 2, 2013

The Theological Criteria for the Canonization of Saint Porphyrios

By His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos 
of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

It was recently announced by the Ecumenical Patriarchate that Elder Porphyrios of Kavsokalyva has been canonized, and is now officially a Saint of our Church.

This gives me special joy, because ten years ago I proposed the process for his canonization. Possibly others did this as well, but I did it officially and I followed the path through the Sacred Synod of the Church of Greece.

Specifically in 2004 I sent to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, through the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, a letter by which I requested the canonization of Elder Porphyrios together with other blessed and sanctified Elders.

The Patriarch then sent me through the Sacred Synod of the Church of Greece a very important letter, which I keep in my file as a presumption of the highest honor and in which he thanked me for the "informed decision" of my suggestion, and expressed his joy about it, putting forward his belief that they are "potentially" saints of the Church and he would consider it a great honor for their canonization to take place during his Patriarchate. However, as he wrote, we would have to wait a little while longer in time, something which began to manifest itself.

My suggestion for their canonization was based on theological criteria.

Of course the venerable Porphyrios had caused a great impression on the people who approached him with his purity of heart and nous, which as a result he was given the gift of foresight and clairvoyance, as well as to heal thoughts and diverse human diseases, which manifested in various ways his pure love for everyone. Numerous articles and books have been written on this subject.

However, what particularly impressed me were his words, that were distinguished for their spiritual clarity, the hesychast tradition, and his pure eros for Christ, the Church and mankind, as well as the assembly of Holy Fathers. Of course, the venerable Porphyrios never completed a Theological School, but he was a charismatic-empirical theologian and his words were the culmination of his pure heart.

The venerable Porphyrios was a living spiritual organism, because the Grace of the Holy Spirit lived within him and constantly guided him, and as such a living organism he constantly engendered theological words and regenerated people.

I had contact with him occasionally. Two or three times I met him personally and we talked about various topics, but mostly he would call me at times to thank me for some text that I had written which he had read.

I do not want to reveal here exactly what he said, but I mainly want to reveal the opinion he had about Elder Sophrony Sakharov. He said that it is a great blessing from God for someone to meet Elder Sophrony, at least one time in their life, because his words are fire that regenerate, that results in a deep repentance and experience. And he considered me favored by the Grace of God that I was considered worthy to have constant communication with him.

This shows the spiritual sensitivity by which he could understand the inner state of a sanctified person and, especially, the deep repentance and the fiery prayer which is a theological voice.

Reading the words of the venerable Porphyrios, especially in the book Life and Counsels (published by the Sacred Monastery of Chrysopigi in Chania, known in English as Wounded By Love), I payed more attention to his theological words and this impressed me. They are living words that link noetic prayer, apostolic theology, pure eros for Christ, a combination of asceticism and the Mysteries, complete abandonment of one's self to God, a deep sense of the inner life of the Church and many other things.

Personally I believe that the entire life of the venerable Porphyrios the Kavsokalyvite can be interpreted by two events from the beginning of his monastic life.

The first event is the vision of Old Demas, an ascetic of Kavsokalyva whom he saw praying before the Service of Matins began in the narthex of the Main Church, while he was not visible and praying. Seeing Old Demas praying, he saw him shining in light, and noetic prayer entered his heart, that is, his nous came down to his heart and he began to pray. He himself recounts:

One morning, around 3:30, I went to the Katholikon, at Holy Trinity, for the service. It was still early. The semandron had not hit yet. No one was in the church. I sat in the narthex, beneath some stairs. I was not visible and praying. 
At one point the door to the church opened and a tall older monk entered. It was Old Demas. As soon as he entered he looked to the left and the right; he didn't see anyone. So then, holding a large prayer rope, he began to do smooth prostrations, many and fast, and would continuously say: "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me" and "Most-Holy Theotokos, save us". Soon he fell into a trance. I cannot find the words to describe his behavior toward God, movements of love and worship, movements of divine eros, divine love and devotion. 
I saw him standing there, opening his arms up in the shape of a cross, like Moses at the sea, and he did one thing: "Οuοuοuοuοu! What was that?"
He was in grace. He shined in the light. This was it! Immediately he transferred to me the Prayer. Immediately I entered into his atmosphere. He didn't see me. Listen to me. I was moved and began to cry. The grace of God came to me, the lowly and unworthy one. How can I tell you this? He transferred grace to me. That is, the grace this saint had radiated to my soul. He imparted to me his spiritual gifts.

Then he writes:

After the service I left for the forest alone, full of joy and jubilation. Madness! Noetically I said my thanks going to the hut. With passion I ran into the woods, and jumped for joy, opening my hands in ecstasy with enthusiasm, loudly yelling: "Glory to You Gooood! Glory to You Gooood!" Yes, my arms remained stiff, they became like bone, wood, and opened straight my body formed a cross. That is, if you could see me from behind you would see a cross.
My head was lifted towards heaven, my sternum straightened with my arms to go to heaven. The area where the heart is was going to take off. What I tell you is the truth, it happened to me. I don't know how long I was in this state. When I recovered, the way I was, I put down my arms and proceeded again silently with tears wetting my eyes.

Of course, I cannot doubt the Old Demas, but I think that the then young Porphyrios was in such a spiritual state to be able to see Old Demas praying in the light. This is related to the passage: "In Your light we shall see light" (Ps. 35:10). And this created in him a divine madness.

The second event takes place again from the beginning of his monastic life on the Holy Mountain where he did perfect obedience, and had purity of the nous and noetic prayer after his encounter with Old Demas.

Then in the wilderness of Mount Athos he heard the singing of a nightingale hidden in the foliage of trees, and he realized it was singing in the quiet glorifying God. His narration of this incident in his later years is amazing:

One morning I was walking alone in the virgin forest. Everything, freshened by the morning dew, was shining in the sunlight. I found myself in a gorge. I walked through it and sat on a rock. Cold water was running peacefully beside me and I was saying the Prayer. Complete peace. Nothing could be heard. After a while the silence was broken by a sweet, intoxicating voice singing and praising the Creator. I looked. I couldn't discern anything. Eventually, on a branch opposite me I saw a tiny bird. It was a nightingale. I listened as the nightingale trilled unstintingly, its throat puffed out to bursting in sustained song. The microscopic little bird was stretching back its wings in order to find power to emit those sweetest of tones, and puffing out its throat to produce that exquisite voice. If only I had a cup of water to give it to drink and quench its thirst!
Tears came to my eyes — the same tears of grace that flowed so effortlessly and that I had acquired from Old Demas. It was the second time I had experienced them.
I cannot convey to you what I felt, what I sensed. However, I revealed to you the mystery. And I thought to myself: "Why does this nightingale give off these yodels? Why do these trills? Why chant this beautiful song? Why? Why? Why?... Why is it shouting itself hoarse? Why? Why? For what purpose? Perhaps it is waiting to be praised? No, of course, there no one will do it." I philosophized in this way by myself. I gained this after the event with Old Demas. Before that I didn't.
How many things the nightingale didn't tell me! And how much I told him in silence: "My nightingale, who told you that I would be passing through here? No one comes through here? It is such an inaccessible place. How beautifully you do your duty uninterrupted, your prayer to God! How much you tell me, my nightingale, how much you teach me! My God, I am moved. My nightingale, you teach me by your singing how to praise God. You tell me a thousand ways, many, very many...."
I am not well in health to say it as I feel it. I could write an entire prose. I loved the nightingale very much. I loved it and it inspired me. I thought: "Why this and not me? Why should this hide and not me?" And it entered into my mind that I must go, I must perish, I must not exist. I said: "Why? Did it have a person in front of it? Did it know it was me and that I was listening?
Who was hearing it shout itself hoarse? Why did it go to such hidden places? Even those nightingales in the bush, in the ravine where they are found night and day, evening and morning, who was listening to them shout themselves hoarse? And why did they do such things? And why would they go to such hidden places? Why were they bursting their throats? The purpose was worship, to sing to their Creator, to worship God. That’s how I explained it."

I believe that this incident was not just an emotional moment and an aesthetic situation, but it was the vision of the logoi of being in his own purity and prayer. He lived within the Grace of God. This explains how he was able to live in Omonia and had continuous communion with God, harboring love for all of creation and people, and wherever he went he was found to be in the Light of Grace, just like around the earth there is an atmosphere that moves together with the earth.

This also explains how in his spiritual testament he prayed for his spiritual children and all those made worthy by God "that we may enter into His earthly uncreated Church", which is to share in the glory of God in this life.

This explains why upon seeing his departure from this life approaching he retired to live on the Holy Mountain and repose hesychastically, and he even asked that his body be buried in an unknown place.

I think that the vision of the light of Old Demas and the vision of the logoi of being in the singing of the nightingale, which were related to his inner life, were that which guided him to repose in a remote place away from the gaze of people, chanting like the hidden nightingale to God and praying like Old Demas.

I think that the venerable Porphyrios the Kavsokalyvite should be interpreted within theological criteria, within the mixing of the purifying, illuminating and deifying energy of God, in accordance with the entire Tradition of the Church, which is the basic precondition for the theosis of man.

Whoever views the venerable Porphyrios through sentimentality and a love for all, outside of the ascetic precondition for true love, is mistaken. So in the case of the venerable Porphyrios we can identify the actual preconditions for sanctity, which is the essence of Orthodox Theology and Orthodox Tradition.

The venerable Porphyrios the Kavsokalyvite is a living "theological event". Within this perspective I read his words, I saw his face and then I recommended his canonization to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

May we have his prayers and interecessions.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.