December 18, 2013

The Venerable Old Man Panais (3 of 5)

Continued from part two...

Old Man Panais Hatzeionas As I Knew Him

By Archimandrite Gabriel,
Abbot of the Sacred Monastery of the Apostle Barnabas

I met him when I was fourteen years old. At that time I was informed by my mother that with his brother Vasili they would read and speak about the Gospels and various other stories of the Saints. They stopped going out to the association "Love of the People" where they were members, and they remained in their home reading Holy Scripture and the book of Saint Symeon of Thessaloniki which someone in our village had. They also studied the periodical "Zoe" and they had acquired all the volumes since 1935, in which they would indulge in the interpretation of the Gospels and Apostolic Epistles. Then, after I discovered in Larnaca the first religious bookstore in the area of Saint Lazarus founded by the Zoe Brotherhood, I brought them the Kyriakodromion of Theotokes and the Destination of Man by Eusebius Matthopoulos, which made them jump for joy when they saw them, and they began to indulge in those and become inflamed with zeal by them wanting to inform our people, men and women.

Together with study, Panais and Vasili had both individual prayer and prayer together. After dinner at night, together they would always go northwest of the village, west of our church, in the place known as "Panagia", and they prayed and interacted there regarding all the subjects they read about, and there they would do their Vespers and Compline which they had memorized. It is there that I heard they were visited by an unknown young man, who spoke with them as a foreign visitor and they loved him. Afterwards they brought him back to the village to give him hospitality, but he told them he was in the village with his mother and immediately afterwards they lost him. Of course this was nothing but a meeting of the Lord along Emmaus, and the flame of inspiration for their spiritual work that followed flared with the wisdom they were given by grace.

There was an occasion when there came to our village followers of the Protestant heresy, and they acquired a meeting place for meetings and classes. The meeting place would be full of people, especially men who thirsted for the word of God and sought teaching. Then some people shook things up when they discovered they were not Orthodox and they closed their meeting place, and there was confusion among the people who sought religious teaching. That is when Old Man Panais and his brother Vasili began gathering them, after the Sunday Liturgy, first doing readings and speaking with the women, followed by the men at night. These were people they knew sought the word of God and honored the religious life. In particular, after Vesper services and Liturgies, they would be held up for hours by people on the street, and especially Old Man Panais would speak to them and interpret the Gospels and other patristic teachings. It was during this time that I came to know them, when they were standing and speaking across from my house, and this peaked my interest. After this they began to have gatherings in their home on Sundays, in the evenings the women and at night the men, who came with great interest to listen, and at each gathering the numbers increased among those of every age - the old, the middle aged and the young.

They wanted to organize and establish a religious association, but the war in 1940 did not allow it, because the places for gathering were taken over by the British army. However, the zeal of Old Man Panais began at the association "Love of the People", where he knew people as well as youngsters who were catechized by him. Every Saturday night he would go and read an interpretation of the Gospel from the Kyriakodromion of Theotokes to the members of the Association who heard him with much love.

His words had a divine effect, as well as his presence, his love and his virtue. He had boldness with Holy Scripture, which was in his bosom under his jacket, and at night he would run to the coffee houses and approach someone he knew to offer the patrons of the coffee house through this person, if they wanted, a reading from Holy Scripture, and they did not refuse. They discussed religious issues and he resolved their queries, and he would gather souls into the church and led them towards salvation.

In 1944 he founded the religious association "Prophet Elias" with the initiative of Old Man Panais as its president, and he gathered a good amount of members. Every night he would read for an hour or so from Holy Scripture and other studies, such as the Kyriakodromion of Theotokes, the Gospels, the Epistles, and he interpreted the Divine Liturgy. It was indeed a blessing of God. He then became the lamp-lighter in the church and had the keys to it. He was never absent from Vespers and Matins, and he would do Supplication services and gather God-loving souls. Every Saturday into Sunday, on Despotic and Marian feasts as well as those of the great Saints, there were vigils until 4:00 AM to which the pious gathered. What can one write first about? Their tirelessness? The hours of prostrations? The tearful commemorations of Old Man Panais? For hours on his knees he commemorated all those in power, politicians, charitable institutions and physicians by name, which was followed by innumerable names of loved ones he knew as well as their problems and sufferings, and they saw his tears wetting the marble of the church against the icon of the Panagia. For a decade from 1963 to 1974 they did not cease every night to offer a Supplication service after Vespers from the Great Euchologion regarding the raid of foreigners.

They gathered for themselves many spiritual gifts: asceticism, fasting (they never ate meat, for they understood the piety of such a life), and always being violent with themselves during the toils and standings at services. At vigils they were enthusiastic and tireless in chanting, which they knew musically and melodically, with Old Man Panais having special devotion when he read the lives of the Saints, their martyrdoms, their asceticisms, and especially when he chanted prayers and supplications to the Panagia, from the Theotokarion which was never absent from him, as well as when he read the prayers for Holy Communion.

They had as their confessor the blessed Father Cyprian of Stavrovouni who inspired them with an ascetic mindset, love for virginity, dedication and the experience of asceticism in the world. Old Man Panais was a source of mercy, both spiritually and materially, regarding the needs of poor people, in accordance with the Gospel: "Do not allow your left hand to know what your right is doing." At night when he walked in the darkness, when there were not yet street lights, he would go to the houses and gather help for the poor of the village to give the pained consolation. Oftentimes he advised and reconciled people. He was always longsuffering, peaceful, advisory with experience. "Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is scandalized, and I do not inwardly burn?" Humility, simplicity and poverty belonged to him. He never accepted a fee for his service as a sexton; if they ever gave him money for sacraments like Baptisms, he ran and put it in the box of the Panagia as if he was holding fire in his hands. In all things he was obedient to the priests, without voicing his own will, and he did all that they dictated without discussing the matter, even in typical matters.

He prayed for hours on his knees alone and during vigils in his youth, and he had great love for all. He led hundreds of souls, men and women, to piety and repentance, and generally gave to his village the breath of piety by being an example of church attendance. He was always respectful to all as a spiritual guide, and indeed a bright lamp of virtue. His house he made an inn for the unfortunate and the poor. Whoever came to the village for help that was disabled, blind, poor, he brought them to his house to stay and received them with much love and they left having been given mercy both materially and psychologically. His teaching to the youth was to love God with all their souls and he never missed an opportunity to teach and to pray for all. He would say then to young women to learn to chant and to read the Apostle and all will be brought to light, and indeed they were led to Monasteries as nuns and they were grateful, and they say that he had the gift of foresight in this prompting. He would tell them to not hold on to their will and to have humility. As an example he said to them to be like a ball, which rolls wherever it is kicked, and by this he meant blind and absolute obedience, as it is written in the teachings of the Desert Fathers. Oftentimes I urged him to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land or to a shrine in our country, but he never wanted to. His answer was always the same: no matter where someone is, they can be noetically there with desire, and inwardly they can feel and see the Tomb of Christ and Golgotha, and the Jordan River. He would say: "Here now, I am there and I can see it", and his face would shine and he would leap for joy. Even though he did not try to encourage someone to go to a monastery, since he did not know of any except Stavrovouni, yet by his teachings and his ascetic example, many souls did go while others were led to the priesthood. These delighted him. He would say: "We are not worthy of the great honor to receive the blessed cassock."

When they encouraged him at a young age to be a priest in the village, he did not accept it, because the canons of the Church dictated marriage for priests in parishes, which for him and his brother Vasili was an undesirable condition. They wanted to live a simple ascetic life in the world, secretly led by a spiritual father, in order to help suffering souls find consolation and salvation. And indeed they helped in their village both before the invasion, as well as when they were refugees in Larnaca after the invasion. The radiance of their lives and their teachings led many people to the priesthood and monasteries, both on Mount Athos and in their homeland. Testimonies of the holiness of Old Man Panais can be given by many people that knew him, that heard him teach, that studied at their "school" at Holy Unmercenaries in Larnaca. He was an angel in the flesh in his life, which in its silence spoke, and his face inspired love towards God to the souls of people that approached him. I have no doubt in his saintliness, and that after his departure from this vain world he will have boldness in supplicating God for the whole world, as he prayed in this life.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.