May 9, 2019

Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra Has Reposed

The neptic father Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra was born Alexandros Vapheides in Piraeus, Greece, in October 1934 to pious parents who had roots in Asia Minor. His paternal grandmother Eudoxia had been from Constantinople, and his grandfather Alexandros was from Selyvria in Thrace and was a student at Halki Theological School. In 1906 they moved to Simantra in Cappadocia where they worked as teachers for the Greek students until the Asia Minor Catastrophe, when they went to Greece. Though they were married, they lived as monastics, often keeping vigils and living a life of prayer. His grandmother Eudoxia reposed as a nun with the name Eutaxia and his mother also reposed as a nun with the name Aimiliani. This is the type of family the future Elder was raised with, who taught him to love prayer, the reading of the lives of the saints and their writings, and living a life completely dedicated to God.

He attended primary school in Simantra, Halkidiki, where his grandmother had settled, and secondary school in Piraeus, where his parents had settled. His higher level education began with his studies at the University of Athens where he received, in 1959, a degree in theology. His intentions were to become a priest, and then become a foreign missionary. He consulted with his friend Anastasios Yannoulatos (now Archbishop of Albania), who supported his intention, but thought he should prepare for this work by spending time at a monastery. Yannoulatos had him contact Metropolitan Dionysios of Trikala, who he thought would initiate the young Alexandros into the monastic life.

Entering the monastic life, Alexandros was tonsured a monk and given the name Aimilianos on December 9, 1960 and two days later, December 11, he was ordained a deacon. On August 15, 1961, Deacon Aimilianos was ordained a hieromonk. His bishop then had him spend time at several monasteries before placing him at the Monastery of Saint Vissarion in the foothills of the Pindus Mountains. It was while at Saint Vissarion Monastery that Father Aimilianos seemed to have had a kind of spiritual crisis and profound experience that transformed him radically and influenced his subsequent work, a transformation that made the young twenty-seven year old hieromonk into a charismatic elder.

Emerging from the experience, Father Aimilianos was a different man, like the dramatic conversion of Saint Paul. He had become energized and single-mindedly dedicated to the revitalization of monastic life. He was soon appointed abbot of Meteora with the additional duties as diocesan preacher and confessor. As a preacher he soon took the Meteora region captive as his brilliant, mesmerizing speeches resonated especially with the young people who came in great numbers to hear him. Having heard Father Aimilianos, many were attracted to the monastic life under his guidance, so that soon he headed a large and dynamic community.

With his fame as well as the natural attraction of Meteora many tourists came, adding to the pressures on the community. As life at Meteora became increasing difficult under the pressures of tourism, an opportunity arose when the governing body of Mount Athos invited him and his community of monks and novices, in 1983, to repopulate the ancient Monastery of Simonopetra, that under the charismatic elder the organization and structure of life there was dramatically altered.

Elder Aimilianos also founded, in 1974, Panagia Philanthropini, a Center for Social Advancement and Medical Prevention and Research, that is located in northern Greece, near the town of Ormylia, Chalkidike. The center functions as an adjunct to the Sacred Convent of the Annunciation of the Theotokos, a large monastic community with over 120 nuns from various nations — the majority of whom hold university degrees. The convent is a dependency of the Monastery of Simonopetra on Mount Athos.

Elder Aimilianos retired as abbot in 2000 due to health reasons, and he settled in the Convent of Ormylia, where he reposed in peace on Thursday, 9 May 2019. His funeral will take place there as well.