February 27, 2015

Blessed Elder Ephraim Katounakiotis (+ February 27, 1998)

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

On the night of the 26th to 27th of February [1998] according to the new calendar there reposed in the Lord at holy Mount Athos, the Holy Mountain, "that revered place, the dwelling place of virtue", as Saint Gregory Palamas calls it, a sanctified and fragrant flower from the Garden of the Panagia, and even from the garden of the wilderness of the Holy Mountain, Papa Ephraim of Katounakia.

It was slow for the repose of this blessed and holy Elder to become known, because Papa Ephraim belonged to the category of those monks who did not seek to be promoted, but he remained within the mystery of silence, which is the biggest boast for those who can understand the Spirit. Unfortunately, the modern science of communication is concerned with people who live within the system of informed public opinion, while it ignores heroic figures who live in the freedom of the spirit, since they became exempted from the law of corruption and createdness.

Papa Ephraim lived in Katounakia of the Holy Mountain for sixty-five years, being nourished in the mysteries of the spiritual life, and greedily sucking on the honey of silence. After almost fifty years of ascetic life on myrrh-scented Athos, in the wilderness of Katounakia, he came out for the first time in Thessaloniki due to illness. He was not much known to people, but so much known to God.

I was made worthy by God to meet him about twenty years ago while he was in a state of silence. He made a great impression on me by his personality. His form radiated with the divine Light, in which he bathed daily, and his eyes shined and exuded a special glow. As soon as someone saw him, they realized he was not a common man, but he had by Grace what God had by nature. All these things I write are not literary phrases, in order to embellish situations, but they are less than the reality of what was perceived when someone approached this holy figure. When I write about his person, form and eyes, I am not writing in accordance with a secular mentality, but through spiritual experience. These were literally the words I said to myself, which were divinely inspired and illumined words, as well they were from the devout and glorious atmosphere created during our conversation.

Papa Ephraim was a sanctified monk who lived in fruitful silence. He constantly prayed and lived the experience of the Light. Many times he received satanic appearances. For years he struggled to be purified of the passions through the virtue of obedience to his Elder. He was perfectly and indiscriminately obedient, such as that which amounts to martyrdom, and only few can understand it. This is precisely why he was loaded with all those dried, yet blessed fruits of the hesychastic and eremitic life. He had great love for the people who approached him, a love that exceeded even the greatest love of a mother for her children. When someone approached him with simplicity, they left in the sea of his manly love. This is because his love was of another origin and texture. He even spoke of obedience to one's spiritual father and indeed recommended indiscriminate obedience. And even though he recommended indiscriminate obedience, he was very discerning when he spiritually guided others. He had the grace of clairvoyance to a great degree, since he saw with his bright eyes, especially the clairvoyant eyes of his soul, everything that took place within the heart of those whom he spoke with. And with his love he intervened with discernment and wisdom.

I happened to come upon incidents that indicated the Elder loved very much those who sinned, but within them he felt a very deep pain. He understood such pain and would bathe them with his love. A person whom society was ready to throw in prison, due to them being dangerous, the Elder would enclose in the "prison" of his love, which at the same time was a place of spiritual freedom.

I had the great blessing from God to sometimes converse with him concerning issues of the spiritual life. He had read some of my books and wanted to reveal to me many things that were unseen by many, aspects from the lives of deified saints, so I can write about them for the benefit of the brethren. With nostalgia I remember an unforgettable day when Papa Ephraim opened his heart and spoke to me of the mysteries of the spiritual life. He spoke to me of the importance and effects of the tears of repentance, how tears purify the reasonable aspect of the soul, how tears have no connection with the vision of God since, when a person sees the uncreated Light, then tears cease. He spoke to me of his experience of the vision of God, when he saw three Lights, the Holy Trinity, and these Lights flooded the entire area of his cell and embraced him. He also spoke of the ordinary posture of the body during the coarse of the vision, and many other things.

I remember that I was speechless when I heard these experiences of the divine Light. And they were absolutely true, that is, there wasn't a trace of fantasy or a sick emotional state, because it was the result of a long process of a struggle for purification, since Papa Ephraim lived in obscurity and silence, avoiding to be seen and even communicate with many people, and he particularly had the gift of great love, a love that did not know conditions or limits.

Papa Ephraim did not only speak of such high spiritual states, but he particularly emphasized the means and path which we must follow to be saved. To pilgrims he emphasized the value of confession to a spiritual father, because this is the way the heart is purified of the passions. He would even tell me that people ought not enter a monastery to pray, but one becomes a monastic to be obedient, because this is the means by which they are healed. Thus obedience will certainly bring unceasing prayer, and prayer will bring theology.

In order to see the great personality of Elder Ephraim I wanted to give an example that he himself narrated to me. A young visitor with a very ugly past and without an inclination towards repentance came to visit him, and during the conversation with the Elder, while he spoke calmly and solemnly, the young man fell abruptly at the feet of the Elder and burst into sobs. The great Elder allowed him to do this for a long time, and then like the God-seer Moses he comforted, inspired and guided him. When the young man left, the Elder jumped for joy, an otherworldly not emotional joy flooded his sanctified existence, and he said: "This man is saved." When I asked him how he understood this, he said: "This paradoxical and inexpressible joy, which was a visitation of divine Grace, could not be explained otherwise."

I cannot write more about this sanctified figure. Those who knew him better I am sure will write more for the consolation of people, so that it could be understood that in our days, which has become so degraded from higher meanings and higher standards of life, saints exist, stars that shine in the firmament of our Church, that there are a multitude of inspired flowers of Paradise.

When I visit the Holy Mountain I feel deep devotion and contrition. I sense the Holy Mountain to be a mysterious place. I revere everything, even the smallest grass. This is because all of creation is sanctified by the existence of the deified saints who live there, and they analogously feel the Grace of God, either as purifying, illuminating or deifying. I have an unlimited reverence for the monasteries and the humble cells, I revere the dirt upon which I walk, because beneath it are buried the bodies of saints, such as Papa Ephraim. How many sanctified figures passed from the Holy Mountain, in over a thousand years, who reached the image and were according to the likeness of God, who saw God and shined with His divine Light!

Some say that while walking in the wilderness of Mount Athos, at times there exudes a strange scent, which has no relation with the created flowers. It is the fragrance that comes from the holy bodies of ascetics, which became dwelling places of the living God and temples of the All Holy Spirit.

Venerable Ephraim, glorious flower of the Garden of the Panagia, spiritual star of the noetic firmament, fellow citizen of the saints and dwelling place of God, earthly angel and heavenly man, beloved child of the Panagia and blessed member of the Body of Christ, bless the people you knew and loved, all of us, who despite our unworthiness, received your affection.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Ο παπα-Εφραίμ ο Κατουνακιώτης", April 1998. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.