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June 17, 2014

The Recent Repose of Three Scholarly Athonite Elders

By John Sanidopoulos

Within one week three renowned scholarly Athonite Elders, noted for their important writings and social work, reposed in the Lord. The first to pass away was the prolific Elder Moses the Athonite. A few days later Elder Nikodemos Bilalis, founder of the Pan-Hellenic Union of Friends of Those Who Have Many Children, fell from the roof of his cell in Kapsala while on a ladder. And on the day of Pentecost the well-known Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Gregoriou, Archimandrite George Kapsanis, gave up his spirit.

Elder Moses lived in a skete of Koutloumousiou Monastery, near Karyes. He wrote many important books and articles, some of which have been translated into English, and he is considered the most prolific writer of contemporary Mount Athos. His primary contribution was that he brought Orthodox Athonite life and spirituality to the masses through his writings and lectures.

On June 1st, the day the Church celebrated the 318 Fathers of the First Ecumenical Synod, Elder Moses reposed in peace in Kastoria at the age of 62, where he went a few months ago since he wanted to pass away near his good friend, His Eminence Metropolitan Seraphim of Kastoria, who helped take care of him following his stroke a few years ago. He suffered with pain from the age of 19, and he would say that his life of pain would be the ladder that would bring him to Paradise. 18 years ago he underwent liver transplant surgery in the USA, a trip he documented and published in a book. When he entered the operating room, he crossed his arms and said: "Now I leave myself in the hands of God." And God did not leave him after surgery, helping him to recover quickly and return to Greece. According to Metropolitan Seraphim of Kastoria, he "received communion prior to his repose and he saw three saints." His Eminence went on to say: "He told me personally that he saw Saint Sophia of Kleisoura, who strengthened him between corruption and incorruption, Saint Ieronymos of Simonopetra and the venerable George Karslides [he wrote books about these two saints], who told him that he was a very good biographer of theirs."

Elder Nikodemos Bilalis first became well-known as a layman when he was a theologian and philologist. At that time he wrote excellent textbooks on religion (under the name Vasilios Bilalis). His primary work in life was two things: providing clothing and food for needy families and republishing all the writings of St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite. His cell in Kapsala, where the roof collapsed, was near the cell of St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, who lived there as an ascetic in the 18th century.

He passed away on June 4th at the age of 82 and was buried at Pantokratoros Monastery on June 5th.

Archimandrite George Kapsalis was a first-rate scholar who preferred the life of a monastic rather than an academic. In the early 1970's he and his brotherhood moved to the Holy Monastery of Gregoriou and contributed greatly to the rebirth of the Athonite Monastic State. Some of his writings have been translated into English, and his views on crucial ecclesiastical matters were taken into serious consideration by both clergy and laity.

For the past few years Elder George suffered serious health problems, which caused him to retire as Abbot of Gregoriou this past March. He reposed on Pentecost Sunday, June 8th, and his body lay in state at the Metochion of the the Dormition of the Theotokos of Gregoriou Monastery in Stavroupolis of Thessaloniki, where many people came to offer their last farewell. On June 9th he was buried at Gregoriou Monastery, where he served as Abbot for over 35 years.

May the Lord grant rest to the souls of His beloved servants, and may He replenish His Church with other similar diligent workers of the Orthodox Gospel Tradition.

More will be posted on these important contemporary Orthodox figures in the coming days.