July 8, 2014

Fr. George Kapsanis, Former Abbot of Gregoriou Monastery of Mount Athos (+ June 8, 2014) [2 of 3]

2. Abbot of an Athonite Monastery

Upon undertaking the abbacy of the Sacred Monastery of the Venerable Gregoriou, my late Elder Metropolitan Kallinikos of Edessa, Pella and Almopia contributed, and I also was an eye and ear witness of these events, as I described in my book Jewel of the Church, which refers to my Elder. I will quote one section of it:

"Kallinikos also contributed to a certain degree in the staffing of the Sacred Monastery of the Venerable Gregoriou. Once he was at the Sacred Monastery of Dionysiou where he was invited for the feast of the Sacred Monastery. The Abbot of the Sacred Monastery of the Venerable Gregoriou, Archimandrite Dionysios, was also there, who soon prior was elected Abbot. At one point Fr. Dionysios in front of others asked him what he knew about Fr. George Kapsanis and his brotherhood, because he thought of inviting them to the Sacred Monastery (to become Abbot and for him to resign). Kallinikos had heard something previously. To encourage Fr. Dionysios, and to expose him, so to speak, before others and not retreat, he stood up automatically and spontaneously, he hugged him, kissed him, and said: 'Congratulations on your consideration. You made the best choice. You will go to Paradise with what you will do.'

This was the final 'nail in the coffin'. Because after this Fr. Dionysios invited Fr. George together with his brotherhood to come to the Monastery. On subsequent visits to the Monastery he publically repeated his congratulations for his action so that he would not feel remorseful for what he did.

The Monastery of the Venerable Gregoriou, before Fr. George went, suffered from disputes of zealotry. For this reason it took around ten years for an Orthodox Bishop to go there and visit and celebrate a Liturgy. This burden was placed on it by certain monks. So the new brotherhood wanted a solution to this problem. At the first celebration of the Sacred Monastery they invited the Metropolitan of Edessa. Everyone enjoyed it, and he as well. To all he made an impression with his simplicity, his ascetic ethos and his kindness.

In the Dining area they would exchange words, as is customary. Those who spoke were Archimandrite Gabriel the Abbot of the Sacred Monastery of the Venerable Gregoriou, the new Governor of Mount Athos Demetrios Tsamis, a Professor of the Theological School of Thessaloniki, Kallinikos of Edessa, and lastly the Abbot of the Sacred Monastery of Gregoriou George."

I will never forget the vigil with the zeal of the young monks, the theological wisdom of the new Abbot, and the Athonite spirit of the elder monks of the Monastery. Also, the words of the new Abbot are unforgettable from that day. I will quote a part from the transcript of the speech:

"We have enjoyed the presence of His Eminence the Holy Metropolitan Kallinikos of Edessa and Pella, whose much love, from yesterday until now, gave our souls wings, gave rest to our hearts, because we are ill, we feel very much the need to have spiritual fathers, who will treat us with their love. And especially the abbot, because the abbot gives his love to the fathers, but often he has no one to rely on. But His Eminence supported us. He illumined us with his words, he gave us an example of his holy simplicity and humility, we heard apostolic words from his lips. And for this we are grateful to him and we beg him to come to visit us. And when he doesn't come and visit may he have us in his holy prayers.

Wish us, Your Eminence, those things that you said, which were so pastoral, so paternal, as if you heard our confession and knew our thoughts, because the Holy Spirit enlightened you, because you are a Bishop and have the grace of truth, that is why you spoke thus, and said those things we must hear. Perhaps a certain thought from a certain brother came to you, that I had told you from among our problems?"

- His Eminence: "No!"

- Abbot: "And not our own problems, but the problems of the monks?"

- His Eminence: "I testify to you, no, I testify to you. You did not say anything to me."

- Abbot: "But it is the illumination of God. The Lord enlightened you to say the things we needed to hear. I had need of them and all the fathers had need of them, because, as an Elder of old once said: 'Stay here on the Holy Mountain for ten years and you will come to know Satan.'

Then you will see who Satan is. We have one year, the younger ones who have come. But in one year we have seen the war with Satan. How will the next ten years go?

That is why the things you said to us are useful. May the Grace of God support us. May the Panagia support us. When thoughts with various excuses come to remove us from this blessed place let us remove them. Let us remain in our repentance, in the Monastery, with our Elder, where God put us, where our Panagia put us.

Your Eminence, we pray on behalf of all the brothers here, that your years will be many with health and Grace, because you are useful to the Church of Christ. And to us the humble ones may you come to support us."

It was observed in the 1970's the phenomenon of many monastic brotherhoods of the Church of Greece transplanting to the Holy Mountain. This created intense problems with many of the old monks of Mount Athos. However, Fr. Ephraim of Philotheou told me that he was not afraid of Fr. George, and that he would be full adaptable to Mount Athos, because he had a humble spirit and sought advice from the older monks and abbots.

Our acquaintance from Athens and then the renewal of our friendship due to my Elder Kallinikos led me many times to the Monastery of the Venerable Gregoriou to keep vigil, to pray, to find rest, to speak with him and the monks. Thus the Sacred Monastery of the Venerable Gregoriou became a familiar place, a spiritual replenishment. There remain in my memory mostly unique conversations I had with him, when he told me stories of the old men he had encountered, that he passed on to me with his wisdom and ecclesiastical experience. His great desire was the glory of the Church, and his strong pain was the spirit of secularization in the Church with its anti-patristic spirit and ecumenism.

So when I wrote A Night in the Desert of the Holy Mountain with the subtitle "Conversations With A Hermit on the Prayer", I gave it to him to tell me his opinion. He enthusiastically encouraged me to publish it after making a few remarks. It is characteristic that in the Foreword he wrote about "the resurgence nowadays of the desire for patristic and secret theology, for watchfulness, for asceticism and noetic prayer of the heart." About the desire of a "genuine life in Christ, perfection, union with God, the experience of our holy ecclesiastical patristic tradition of the God-man Christ." About how the "tradition of our Venerable Fathers is not a luxury, but the condition of a true and genuine Orthodox ethos and life." That "the Lord planted Paradise in the Garden of the Panagia, the Holy Mountain", in the Church, to enliven it "with the secret rays of the grace of God, which uplifts his old and new saints, in the sacred dwellings of His that are trodden by the Mother of God, His unceasing and living until today holy patristic tradition." About "the secret beating of the heart" of Mount Athos, "which is none other than the 'Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me the sinner'." That "as many pious Christians study books referring to the blessed prayer of Jesus, so much will it kindle the desire for its implementation."

I recorded these thoughts of his some four years after he was settled on Mount Athos, because they show how he felt in his first steps of Athonite life, how he considered the Holy Mountain, how he saw his presence in the Church and the world, and what his position was on the hesychast tradition of the Church.

3. Ecumenical Teacher