June 16, 2015

Athonite Neo-Hesychast Fathers (3 of 3)

Elder Daniel the Katounakiotis from Smyrna (+ 1929) had as beloved saints John Climacus and Isaac the Ascetic, as well as the Kollyvades. After living as a monastic in the Monasteries of Saint Panteleimon and Vatopaidi, he went to the very pleasant Katounakia, where he gave himself over to asceticism, study and the prayer. Poverty became his wealth and quietness his friend and the occasion for spiritual gladness. The external silence became internal and he cultivated the garden of a good heart with the prayer of Jesus, which filled him with joy. His correspondence with holy figures and writers indisputably reveal his divine illumination and grace, his discernment and wisdom, such as his letter to a monk about noetic prayer, where he demonstrates his patristic knowledge, the acquisition of the prayer, discernment and insight.

The Athenian Kallinikos the Hesychast of Katounakia (+ 1930) particularly loved the Philokalia of the Sacred Neptic Fathers. He also very much loved quietude, isolation, asceticism, silence and the prayer, as did also all the hesychasts. Fasting, chastity, vigils, labor and tears were not words and ideas, but actions and experiences, as Abba Thallasios says: "Chaste nous, temple of the Holy Spirit." Simplicity, humility and goodness adorned him. His voluntary and great asceticism culminated in perfect seclusion in his cell for more than four decades. There was no other reason for his self-imprisonment than greater cultivation of the prayer of Jesus. Lack of cares, lack of curiosities, lack of sleep and lack of talking or silence, accompanied him in his ardent prayer. Divinely illumined, discerning, brotherly loving and grace-filled Elder Kallinikos was made worthy of the vision of the Taboric Light, and sometimes his subservients saw him shining. He battled against the heretical Name Worshipers and became a true teacher of noetic prayer. His last day on earth was August 6th, the brilliant feast of the Transfiguration, the Pascha of the hesychasts.

Elder Gabriel the Dionysiatis (+ 1983) would say about the monk Isaac (+ 1932) who had previously resided in his monastery: "He was a type of simplicity, austerity and reverence, silent and undisturbed in everything ... an example to all the fathers." The most-revered monk Lazarus (+ 1974), also of Dionysiou Monastery, wrote about Elder Isaac when they were together in the Kathisma of the Holy Apostles: "When we celebrated the Service of Matins the two of us did the prayer rope for two and a half hours, and after one or two prayer ropes he would say in a silent voice the prayer for every knot: 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.' On the third prayer rope his heart became more fervent with divine eros and zeal and he could not contain himself to say it quietly. Therefore, he would cry out every word with ardent zeal and love, as if he had Christ before him and was begging Him, on his face before His feet." He would pass his nights weeping for his sins as well as the sins of the world. He was always eager in his duties, the services, his rule, proving that hesychasts are also in the cenobiums, secretly and bravely fighting.

Elder Gabriel the Karouliotis (+ 1968) was a strict ascetic of Karoulia, a man of deep repentance, violence and struggle. He was a fervent lover of the study of the ascetic fathers, an enemy of sloth, a soaring eagle (according to Ephraim the Syrian), landless, a lover of silence, a jubilant hesychast, gloriously inglorious (according to Gregory the Theologian). He was strict with himself, a faster, and avoided people like a sparrow. When walking on rugged paths, it was as if he was flying, lean from hunger, praying, always bent towards himself, without curiosity, careful of his internal calmness and purity in the beautiful silence of the saint-bearing and saint-nourishing wilderness. He was a hermit of the rocks, between heaven and earth, as he would say. Instead of speaking to visitors, he would read them something from the Philokalia. He joyously waited for death. After partaking of communion he reposed in peace. This was a heroic monk.

Just below the ascetic arena of Elder Gabriel lived another brave athlete of Christ, the Constantinopolitan and former head of Stavronikita Elder Philaretos (+ 1962), who was also a fool for Christ in order to become humble. His poor hermitage he considered a palace. His cell resembled more of a grave. He completely left everything in God's hands, not caring for anything of the earth. Contempt he considered as praise. He only cared about the purity of his nous. He was, in accord with his name, a true "lover of virtue." The Theotokos he also loved very much. Chanting made him weep, and he considered chanters to be angels. His entire life was a prayer. The prayer became united with his breathing. He happily reposed, after hearing the Danielites chant "Axion Estin".

Elder Paisios (+ 1994) reports on several hesychast figures in his beautiful book Athonite Fathers and Athonite Matters, such as Papa Tychon (+ 1968), who had as his "handiwork" repentance and the prayer, as "roomates" he had angels and saints and perpetual doxology, until his blessed end. Elder Evlogios (+ 1948), disciple of Hatzi-George, followed a strict typikon and kept continuous fasting and perpetual prayer, also had frequent demonic attacks. Elder Kosmas the Pantokratorinos (+ 1970), always combined work with the prayer, and with tears he watered the garden of the monastery of his soul. Elder Peter (+ 1958), stood out for his simplicity and reverence, the unceasing prayer operated on its own, and he frequently heard the sweet chants of angels and was bathed in the uncreated Light. Elder Augustine (+ 1965), late in life was flooded with divine visions, prayers and perpetual tears, and at his passing his face shined. There are many others.

The same Elder Paisios lived and rejoiced in the continuous blessing of the prayer, practicing it humbly and praying for many hours daily for the needs of those who were hurting with great love. He would say: "When a person is spiritually healthy and distances themselves from others, to help people more through prayer, then such a person considers all people to be saints and only themselves do they consider sinners." Another time he said: "If you want to catch God's frequency, so that He could hear your prayers, turn the dial of humility, because God always works in this frequency, and humbly ask for His mercy."

Elder Joseph the Hesychast (+ 1959) struggled and achieved a high measure of theoria, after long and arduous asceticism. His valuable letters have been preserved as tasty honey in its spiritual beehive. "The beginning of the journey towards pure prayer is the battle with the passions. It is impossible to make progress on earth as long as the passions are active. Nevertheless do not prevent the presence of the grace of prayer, provided there is no negligence or vainglory." Elsewhere he wrote: "All night I pray and cry out: Lord, save all the brothers, and erase me. I don't want Paradise alone!" This is the true love of the monks and the greatest mission, social service and act of philanthropy.

Elder Sophrony (+ 1993) was a theologian of prayer and a prayerful theologian, a neptic father, an extraordinary man. He says that prayer is communion with God, a dialogue with God, a confession of our weakness, a visitation from God. The abandonment of God matures us, the silence of God causes us to endure and persist, and it teaches us to pray. Meeting God is knowledge of God, true repentance. In his famous book On Prayer he writes about the invocation of the Name of Jesus Christ: "At that time I struggle to interrupt the invocation of the Name: the energy itself is exceedingly strong. The soul is without words, without thoughts, after all this there is trembling at the proximity of God. Then the mystery of divine service partly opens up to me."

Wherever Elder Porphyrios the Kavsokalyvitis (+ 1991) went, no matter where, he had a prayer rope. His many words were from prayer and about prayer. "When we are in the Grace of God, then our prayer becomes pure." Once he said to his spiritual child: "Do you know how great a gift it is from God that He has given us the right to speak with Him at every hour and every moment, in whatever position we have? He always hears us. This is the greatest honor we have." See here, how sometimes we even encounter hesychasts in Athens. But this is extremely rare.

Elder Ephraim the Katounakiotis (+ 1998) is the last of the known reposed neo-hesychast Athonite fathers. We certainly have not exhausted all on that sacred list with this article. May God help us revive it. Papa Ephraim, as a biblical figure, taught without wanting to reveal his secret work, his great love in the perpetual invocation of Jesus. The subjects he loved most were primarily about obedience and prayer. He would say that the greatest form of love for God and people comes through prayer. He struggled a lot to become worthy of great gifts. May his blessing accompany us, as well as all the above-mentioned.

Today we have need to study hesychasm deeply, with trends of secularization and social hyperactivity, unrestrained and unprepared missions and an abundance of quick interventions in the world, which not only affect the body of our holy mother the Orthodox Church, but Eastern Orthodox Monasticism and indeed Mount Athos. The internal tradition of Mount Athos we believe remains, we hope and pray, and it is intact in the cenobiums and wilderness. We are called at all costs and many sacrifices to preserve the hesychastic character of the Holy Mountain, which is particularly needed by modern people, and more than everything else, we think it will be strongly needed in the next century which will soon come about.

Source: From the periodical O Osios Gregorios, Issue 24, Mount Athos, 1999, pp. 57-71. Translation by John Sanidopoulos.