January 20, 2014

The Last Days of Elder Anastasios of Koudoumas (4 of 5)

I approached him and told him that once when I went to the intensive care unit of the hospital to visit Fr. John Romanides, who had suffered a stroke, and I asked him to tell me what the doctors were saying about the state of his health, he said that he was not interested in the opinion of doctors for his health, but he cared how the ecclesiastical situation in Greece was going. And he began to talk to me about theological issues, even though he was facing the danger of death. I asked Elder Anastasios how he could explain this. He replied:

"The pain from breaking the legs is stronger than the stroke episode." He then continued saying: "In here everyone theologizes."

Obviously he meant that they were in pain and they speak in various ways with God, that is, they are wrestling with Him.

Fr. Antonios Fragakis, referring to some experiences the Elder had a few days prior, said: "The woman clothed with the sun", making reference to the Apocalypse of John. Then I received word to challenge him and said:

"Elder, when I read the Apocalypse of John, I see essentially what is described is the uncreated Divine Liturgy in the uncreated Temple of Paradise. This Divine Liturgy we feel on earth. I think that for the hesychast the nous in the heart unceasingly liturgizes throughout the night and in the morning he goes to the Divine Liturgy in the sacred temple, even though a Divine Liturgy is taking place in his heart. But despite the parallel liturgy in the heart and in the temple, the nous in the heart waits for the Body and Blood of Christ to come in Divine Communion. Namely, is there a relationship between the two liturgies, the one in the heart and the one in the temple?"

The Elder "revved up" and began to say:

"It is exactly like this, Your Eminence. However, this is not lived by many. Indeed, in the Apocalypse of John there is described the uncreated Divine Liturgy in the temple created without hands. There the liturgist is Christ personally. Here, in the created temple, it is officiated through the Priesthood and they officiate His Body and Blood. It truly exists in the created temple, but it does not rest in the place it is officiated, as in the hearts for which it was intended. This is also the meaning of the scripture: 'My son, give me your heart.' There is the noetic liturgy and the reasonable liturgy. The first precedes and waits for the other. With Divine Communion Christ sits on the noetic altar of the heart and becomes a source of all good."

At some point I told him Elder Sophrony writes somewhere that at the beginning of his turn towards the living Christ, after his experience in Eastern philosophy, he felt surrounding the inner world of his heart a lead wall and something like a spear passed through his thickness, which created a capillary slit, from which a ray of light penetrated.

Elder Anastasios, hearing this, said: "This happened to me also." Let it be noted that he loved Elder Sophrony very much, about whom he said in amazement: "Sophrony the Great!" He also loved very much Fr. Paisios and Fr. Ephraim of Philotheou who is in America.

He went on to say:

"In the heart is created a hair-like crevice. I lived this once. From there the nous enters deep into the heart and detects everything. This crack remains, the nous does not depart from there, but the crevice changes. It is not always the same experience. Reason says the prayer, and when it is satiated it gives also to the heart. Christ descends there with the nous. Reason is the place of the nous. Afterwards, reason describes whatever it can express from this experience of the heart. This is the narrow gate of which Lord spoke and it is the gateway to the heart. Through the heart the nous enters the paradise of God. When you arrive at theosis you have everything. The path terminates. Saint Gregory the Theologian said: 'Bend into your heart and you will see heaven.' For there is one gateway to Heaven, and that is the gateway which opens in the heart."

I was amazed by all that I was hearing in the hospital on a bed of pain from an operated man, who hurt, but his theological words were running like a river.

Then we were silent for a time. I did not want to disturb him and tire him even if it appeared he wanted to speak theologically. Regarding these words I spoke to the monks who were standing nearby at the bottom of the bed. I saw that the Elder was looking at me probing with his striking expressive eyes.

Although he hurt, he did not express any dissatisfaction with a certain bodily movement or a facial grimace. He was not bothered with the presence of many people next to his bed.

Eventually he said: "Narrow is the gateway by which one enters the other life. And this alleyway, I traverse already."

I leaned over and embraced him, and stroked his head affectionately. I went behind him and held the pillows upright so he could sit a little on the bed. He was pensive, neither laughing nor expressing his pain. He had a great kindness of soul. He looked like a mature theologian as well as like a little child, and this unity is created by the Grace of God with dispassion in Christ.

In his hand there was serum, but both of his hands were injured and blackened from the needle jabs. Fr. Antonios at one point caressed his hand and he looked without showing that he was bothered. One of the bystanders said that he was in pain at that point from the needle jabs. Then Fr. Antonios told the Elder: "I did not know, Elder. Why didn't you tell me?" And the Elder replied smiling:

"I only have two hands and they couldn't find a third to leave intact."

Some lay people present asked the Elder permission to photograph him and be photographed with him. He replied neither positively nor negatively and remained calm and peaceful.

I told him that it is the heart which feels God. The Elder agreed, but full of wisdom he replied:

"At the same time the heart can be mislead." This occurs when the heart isn't purified of the passions. He went on to say:

"Christ is patience. Christ is everything. He said: 'I will strike, and I will heal.' Sometimes He expresses Himself with austerity, sometimes with sweetness, but with both ways He manifests His love. Relentless is the wrestling with God. This wrestling is not known except by God and the athletes of Christ. It is an unrelenting wrestle, because God is all-powerful. But He is also all-love. And when He shows His 'hardness', essentially He is depicting His love."

Beside the Elder was a patient who was breathing heavily and groaning. I asked him if he was annoyed by the groaning and if he wanted me to ask to transfer him to another room so he could be alone and have quiet. He told me:

"No, thank you, they don't bother me, but they help me. All of these theologize their pain. They also complete my theology."

It's amazing to feel the pain of others as theology. This shows a sensitive heart that has been transformed by the Grace of God.

Most of the time I was near him, I did not speak so as not to weary him. The monks told me that the Elder does not grow weary, but he is glad to speak theology. Indeed, when he was in another room, all night he said the prayer with his mouth and all the sick could hear him.

I sat close to him for about a half hour. I felt calm in my soul and heart, a certain peace and joy. After I received his blessing to leave. He asked me to pray for him. I told him that I am doing it, but I asked for his prayers. He responded: "You say that out of humility." I kissed his hand, he asked to kiss mine, I kissed his forehead, and he told me:

"I wish you eternal glory."

I left with an intense sweetness in my heart. At noon I met with some beloved people, continuing the theological discussion we had with Elder Anastasios. I then went to the airport, where other beloved Christians came to meet me. I boarded the plane, and at 5:50 departed from Heraklion for Athens. At around 10:00 I arrived in Nafpaktos. For fourteen hours that day I was filled with intense emotions. It was a lightning journey, impressed with the lightning of empirical theology of an empirical Elder in a hospital where pain is in excess.

After two days Fr. Antonios sent me two messages which is characteristic of our meeting:

"Elder Anastasios said yesterday: 'The visit of the Metropolitan of Nafpaktos revived me a lot. He came out of love on such an arduous journey. How can I reciprocate? Only with heartfelt thanks.' The Elder then revived a bit, but he did not theologize. He was deep in the mystery of silence."

"Today, Fr. Timothy, a brother from Koudoumas Monastery: 'When the beloved Metropolitan of Nafpaktos came to the Elder, he notably regained communication and waited for him with longing. Then was given the last theological quote from the Elder. He did a concise summary of all of his theology. It was his swan song. After this meeting he passed definitively into silence. To the language of the future life."

The blessed Elder awaited entry into the eternal Divine Liturgy, which he longed for throughout his life, since the time he lived in the caves and the Sacred Monastery.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos.