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June 28, 2014

Father Moses the Athonite (+ June 1, 2014)

By His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos
of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

On June 1st, the beloved and respected Fr. Moses the Athonite, well known to us all, fell asleep in the Lord in Kastoria, where he received the generous love of His Eminence Metropolitan Seraphim of Kastoria and his self-sacrificing escorts, and as always the affection of his disciple Fr. Chrysostomos, who for many years was his guardian angel, with his kindness and authentic way of behavior. All those who served Elder Moses will receive their just praise and blessing from God, because they served a contemporary venerable ascetic, a witness for Christ, a confessor of the faith, a true missionary, an authentic teacher.

I have followed Fr. Moses for years and saw his struggling spirit and his Athonite conscience, distinguished by intense spiritual concerns and blessed cardiac shock.

I will write some simple thoughts about this wonderful personality.

1. An Athonite Monk

Fr. Moses was known to all of Mount Athos: the huts, the monasteries, the sketes, the cells, the desert of Mount Athos, and every category of monk, namely the hut-dwellers, the coenobites, the hermits and the kalyvites.

Fr. Moses the Athonite lived Mount Athos secretly, heartily and poetically. He tried to comprehend the secret voice of the Holy Mountain and then he captured it in speeches, books, writings and teachings, poetically. He had a sensitive artistic nature, a true poet, like Saint Porphyrios of Kavsokalyva wanted the Christian to be. He approached the monks with tenderness and reason, so that his tenderness was not the result of an uncompromising emotionality, and his rationality was not expressed as rationalism. He wonderfully brought together the secret life with the social life, the unspoken with the spoken, the devout with the triumphant. This is shown clearly in his literary and historical texts. Finally, Fr. Moses was a balanced monk who was touched deeply and soberly by the eros of God and the Garden of the Panagia.

My first acquaintance with him was at the Sacred Monastery of Simonopetra at the Holy Mountain, and even Fr. Paisios was present. Fr. Paisios had visited the Sacred Monastery of Simonopetra to see the monks, at the request of Abbot Fr. Aimilianos, and I who was looking for him met him with Fr. Isaac. One morning I heard Fr. Paisios explain his adventures that night with the devil. The late Fr. Isaac himself, who was present, narrates:

"In the year 1979 the Elder visited an Athonite monastery. At night he retired to his Cell to sleep. In his sleep he heard a knock at the door. He thought it was the ecclesiarch. He got up and went to church. It was closed. No one was there. He returned to his Cell. Again he heard knocks, heavy steps on the pathway and murmuring, without being able to understand what they were saying. Silence then prevailed. The same was repeated a third time. Then the Elder understood who it was that was knocking. It was the 'tagalaki', and he even explained why he did this." (Hieromonk Isaac, Life of Elder Paisios the Athonite, p. 580).

The next day I was walking with Fr. Paisios and Fr. Isaac from the Sacred Monastery of Simonopetra to his cell in Panagouda, a journey of about 3-4 hours - one of my most blessed memories of Mount Athos - and Fr. Paisios himself narrated to us this incident, and he even told us that the noise could be heard from inside the adjacent cell of Fr. Moses.

Throughout his life Fr. Moses had temptations, which did not shake him, but rather they empowered him and strengthened him; they did not discourage him, but they gave him more courage to speak and write about the Kingdom of God.

In Mount Athos Fr. Moses was an important personality who was received with respect and love by all, with all-night vigils in the monasteries, with his visits to the most humble cells to collect, like a honeybee, the life of the Athonite fathers who lived in all areas of the Holy Mountain, with imposing readings at the Dining Room of monasteries and cells that celebrated their feast, with conversations about monastic, theological and patristic themes with monks and pilgrims. Every day he received in his cell many visitors who were interested for one reason or another in finding rest for their souls.

2. A Patient in Hospitals

Many hospitals in Greece and America knew Fr. Moses, doctors, nurses and patients who were in the same ward, because illnesses tormented his body and he needed treatment. I can say that after his Athonite cell, the most familiar place to him was the hospital ward.

He underwent several surgeries, received numerous treatments, consumed tons of drugs, and was burdened with months and years in hospital wards.

Thus, he experienced in his existence human pain, but also in the existence of other patients. This means that he knew as few others the consequences of the fall of Adam, the corruption, the suffering and mortality in his own body. The angelic life he lived in the Holy Mountain, with prayer, with the secret wordless tears of the Holy Spirit in his heart, became for him a deep sense of corruption, suffering and mortality in his own body. This made him understand the lament of Adam. Thus the case of Adam was verified in his existence, who although he came to know the glory of God, he then came to know his corruptibility, his suffering and the mortality of his body, as well as the pain of the consequences of the fall.

It is important for one to acquire a theological sense of pain, which are the so-called leather tunics that came as a result of the fall, but are also a blessing from God, because this is what prepares and stabilizes the life in Christ. It is important for one to stand theologically opposite death, to converse with it, be familiar with it and to acquire experience of the memory of death as an event and a charismatic situation. It is important to feel the existence of the transitions between life and death, between death and resurrection, between corruption and incorruption in Christ.

From a young age Fr. Moses lived in pain, he "ate pain with a spoon" and was used to it; pain became his second nature. This is why he spoke about it with such conviction and authenticity, giving peace and comfort to many in pain. He did not simply speak about the tragedy of pain, but about the sweetness it causes. He was an Athonite, learned in asceticism, the charismatic memory of death, and he felt the sweet warmth of the Resurrection. He united in his existence the theology of the cross with the theology of glory.

I heard him speak about pain at a hospital in Athens, in a place of pain, 30 years ago, when my Elder Metropolitan Kallinikos of Edessa, Pella and Almopia was there, and I felt that a theologian of pain was speaking, which is how I then characterized him. He spoke as one crucified with a wonderful joyful-sorrow, that is, while he was narrating about his pain at the same time sweetness came out of his mouth, which made pain desirable and leads man not simply to bear with it, but to feel it as a friend and brother. It was words of experience and resurrection. So was the entire life of Fr. Moses the Athonite.

3. Missionary to the Inhabited World

All of Greece and the inhabited world knew Fr. Moses and his authentic Orthodox words - oral and written - through his presence at Conferences, Metropolises, Parishes and Monasteries. He was an eloquent theologian, poetic preacher, demure teacher, knowledgeable ascetic, and all desired such a speaker and he responded willingly.

Serious study of his books is needed for one to be presented with the features of the way he wrote and spoke. His words were not austerely dogmatic or emotionally lyrical, but they combined knowledge and patristic wisdom which he adapted to reality. He was indeed a skillful pilot of words, which is why many audiences sought after him.

He prepared a subject with care and personal experiential knowledge and then, like a genuine Father Kosmas Aitolos, he began his tours throughout the inhabited world, where he would give the same speech or a different one, depending on the requirements of the audience, but primarily he made the people worthy to see him, to be inspired by his presence, to discuss their problems, to be comforted by his words, because he was a bearer of the death and resurrection of Christ, and an Athonite witness. He did not put into practice smart tricks of logic to generate interest, but he said what he lived, what he was. He was a theology experienced and an authentic word, usually without reference to others, but only in reference to divine Grace, that worked on him to be an authentic man.

Large and small audiences came to know him, newspapers and periodicals, radio and television stations, monasteries and houses, worship gatherings in churches and halls, hospitals and hotels, Metropolises and hermitages. All found rest in his original words.

4. Wonderful Correspondent

Many people knew Fr. Moses through correspondence, a truly wonderful form of communication that is more authentic and expressive. I love to read the letters of the Fathers, such as Basil the Great, Saint Gregory the Theologian, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Gregory Palamas, and others. Letters express the authentic inner world of man, and one sees what is hidden in their existence.

Usually, when someone tastes the sweetness of the Grace of God in the inner man, they do not want to speak so as not to reveal their internal experience given by God, and they want to preserve it in secret, because that is the area where it increases best, but when they speak they try to hide it. His problem becomes not what he will say, but what he will hide! Thus, he states teachings of other experienced Fathers in order to hide his own internal experience. Yet, in their letters they are more open, demonstrative, direct, because they believe that what they are writing is not for publication, unless he does it typically.

Fr. Moses wrote personal hand-written letters, with wonderful handwriting, indicating his maturity and inner balance, judging from the letters he sent me at times. I do not know if he had the opportunity or if he was used to keeping copies in his files that may be found in his cell in Mount Athos, but if he didn't it would be good for all of the recipients of his letters to send copies to his disciple Fr. Chrysostomos, so that they may be published. This is because another face of Fr. Moses will appear, who tried to hide himself in his writings.

I will publish one of the last letters he sent to me, showing that he was occupied with contemporary theological currents, and that he was genuinely patristic. He loved Orthodox Tradition, Orthodox Theology, and grieved over its counterfeiting. He writes in his letter:

Your Eminence Holy One of Nafpaktos Mr. Hierotheos,

Your prayers!

I would like first of all to sincerely and wholeheartedly congratulate you on your articles concerning the heresy of post-patristic theology and the altering of the hesychastic character of our Orthodox tradition and our monasticism. With knowledge, completeness, clarity, inductance and documentation you successfully repelled modern ideas of a newly minted vague theology, that puzzles and scandalizes the faithful. I cannot figure out exactly where they aspire to with these newly crafted words, their anti-patristic and anti-traditional positions, that only create confusion.

As you said, Saint Gregory the Theologian characterizes them as well-dressed in their words, who admire godless chatter, knowledge possessed by pseudonymous and paradoxical sophistry. Unclean, confused, passionate and non-illumined, they cannot theologize correctly. They refuse asceticism and limit themselves to conjecture and their exchange in views is truly in vain. Truly purity is a prerequisite for theology. It is a fact that the dispute of the Holy Fathers is a cunning venture, which will sooner or later lead their insolent opinions to the curb of heresy. On Mount Athos they say that it is easy to fall into delusion, but difficult to escape delusion! May God enlighten and redeem.

Congratulations for your articles to compile against those who seek to harm the sacred texts. One wonders about the superficiality of some.

Pray for me.

With much respect and love in the Lord,

The least of monks,

Moses the Athonite

I have spoken in public about Fr. Moses at the Hall of the Parnassos Literary Society in Athens on February 7, 2012, for the presentation of his book Great Gerontikon of Virtuous Athonite Fathers of the 20th Century, and he himself was present. I will quote some concluding thoughts from the speech that shows what was then my opinion of Fr. Moses.

"Fr. Moses has many temptations and all of them he faces with courage, patience, silence, quiet and prayer. He speaks and writes with pain and joy, with poetry and reason, with serious arguments and apophatic, always, however, in the secret sound of the inner pulse of Mount Athos. He was made worthy to come to know the heartbeat of Mount Athos, its secret and confidential vigil, its strong wine. He does not remain in the outer shell, which can be like a hard nut, but he philanthropically enters the pith, the fruit, that is eaten with satisfaction, and it warms and invigorates. His words are poetic and revealing, pulled out from his own pain, his secret prayer, his wordless tears, the searching of his heart, the anguish and the quietness of the hospital, the touch of death and the experience of resurrection life, the second life that God gave him through the synergy of physicians, as well as the eternal beginning of the afterlife. It is a living and beneficial testimony. I admire his activity, his mobility, his words and his testimony, his maturity and balance, his masculinity and his motherliness. This explains the writing, that is received as a divine blessing."

"To speak about Mount Athos one must be a heart-seeker, soberly drunk and a good cupbearer, a pained lover and a sensitive poet, such as is Fr. Moses."

Fr. Moses loved Mount Athos and now we believe he is in the heavenly holy city, "whose craftsman and creator is God" (Heb. 11:11), and from there he prays for his most worthy disciple Fr. Chrysostomos, who stood near him as a guardian angel, for the laudable Metropolitan Seraphim of Kastoria and his escorts who wonderfully served him, for the couple Constantine and Helen Euthymiou, his hidden benefactors, and for all his friends, readers and listeners, and for all of us he will be another Moses, to go through the desert of this life, which is full of pain, to the land of eternal promise.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Ὁ π. Μωϋσῆς, ὁ ἁγιορείτης", June 2014. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.