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August 12, 2019

The Russian Monk Who Drank Tea and Vodka Daily with Saint Silouan the Athonite

In a recorded talk (see video below), Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol spoke about his first trip to Mount Athos with other young people, fellow students, when he went to visit with the great holy elders of the Holy Mountain at that time, especially Elder Ephraim of Katounakia and Elder Paisios. Those who were with him spoke about how they were miracle workers, shining with light, who had the ability to prophecy, read your thoughts and expose your sins. He thought he was going to see some larger than life figures, awesome to behold. But when he met them and saw they were simple people like himself, he was somewhat scandalized for a moment. He said: "This is the great Paisios? Who has only one blanket to sleep with? Who walks in a crooked manner, due to his asceticism? He jokes around, he gives us food to eat. We ask him one question and he responds with a different topic. This is the great saint that is spoken about. Strange indeed."

Another time the Metropolitan was on Mount Athos, at the Russian Monastery of Saint Panteleimon, before Saint Silouan the Athonite was canonized. He had read about Staretz Silouan in the writings of Elder Sophrony, and considered Staretz Silouan to be a great saint. This was even before the time that much about Staretz Silouan was translated into Russian. While at the monastery, he met an old monk who knew Staretz Silouan and they had lived together at the monastery. The Metropolitan asked the old monk: "Where are the relics of Staretz Silouan?" This made the old monk mad, saying: "Oh you Greeks, you are all dumb! What is all this talk about 'Staretz' Silouan? We would drink tea and vodka every evening, and now Silouan has become a saint?"

With these examples, the Metropolitan drove home the point that simple people often see the saints of the Church as otherworldly, perhaps even as beings who neither ate nor drank nor slept nor relaxed nor smiled nor laughed nor cried nor sorrowed, who never were cold, hungry, hot, anxious or in pain. Basically, they are often seen as people unlike us. The saints however are just like us, the only difference being that they are not this way as sinners ruled by their passions. They sanctified their very human lives through daily prayer, patience, repentance, and the great mystery of humility, which is crucial for sainthood. But being human, they also made mistakes and had weaknesses and character flaws. God does not destroy our humanity, He transforms it. St. Epiphanios of Salamis is an example of a saint like this, who had a rivalry with St. John Chrysostom. They opposed each other due to a theological disagreement. But such things should not be strange. They were only human.