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October 23, 2019

Elder Hieronymos of Simonopetra (1871-1957) - Part 2 of 3

Elder Hieronymos as Abbot of the Monastery (1920-1931)

In the proceedings for 2 January 1920, he was proposed as a candidate for the office of Abbot. In the same year, Metropolitan Irinaios of Kassandreia ordained him deacon on April 11 and priest on April 12, also raising him to the rank of archimandrite and spiritual father, by the laying on of hands. On 18 April, the Sunday of the Myrrhbearing Women, he was given the Abbot’s staff, by a unanimous decision of the brotherhood.

In the first months of his tenure as Abbot, he again had to leave the monastery to look after its affairs. Arriving by ship in Piraeus, instead of going to the Dependency of the Ascension as arranged, he took another ship, to Aegina. There he visited Saint Nektarios, who was ill by this time. They had known each other since the Saint’s first visit to the monastery in 1898. Thereafter they developed a spiritual bond, which was maintained through Elder Hieronymos’ visits to Athens.

It was the eve of the feast of the Holy Trinity, which the monastery in Aegina celebrated. The Saint lay ill in bed and was unable to preside at the vigil. The nuns asked him if they should ring the bells. He replied: "Ring the bells. The priest is coming." As they rang the bells, Elder Hieronymos entered the monastery. "Didn’t I tell you the priest was coming? And he’s the abbot of a monastery on Athos," the Saint said to them. After the vigil was over, the Saint asked Elder Hieronymos to visit all the cells of the nuns, in order to bless them. But he didn’t want to obey God’s bishop and slipped quietly away. When he told the story later, he wept, saying: "Who was I compared to a saint?" He always remembered the Saint’s request, however, and, three days before he departed this life, in 1957, he went and blessed the nuns’ cells.

A month before the repose of Saint Nektarios, Elder Hieronymos managed to get to see him in the hospital where he was. It was his nameday, 11 October, 1920.

In August, 1921, he was appointed by the Holy Community to the five-man committee tasked with drawing up a draft constitution for the Holy Mountain.

His administrative duties and his many other responsibilities didn’t prevent him from devoting many hours to the service of the brotherhood. He worked alongside them at their tasks. Morning would find him kneading bread in the bakery, in winter he would help with clearing the snow from the courtyards, in the afternoons he would be in the gardens and at night he would wash his clothes. In this way he provided an example of humility and hard work. His own Elder had taught him long before to be the first among servants.

But his great and secret struggles continued. He did not cease sleeping little, either on the chair or on the couch, with a pillow on his back. Simonopetrites of old narrate how the door of his abbacy was never found to be shut, he waited for you no matter what time you would visit, while he was studying or writing. He continued to be the same in simplicity, humility, receptiveness, nobility, asceticism, discernment, inconspicuous, and submissive as he was before. His abbacy was distinguished by spiritual fruitfulness, austerity, hospitality and charity, hard work, diligence and confidence in the providence of God.

In 1924 the calendar reform took place and at the feast of the Annunciation he liturgized for the first time with the New Calendar at the Dependency of the Ascension. This provoked a strong reaction in the monastery, to the point where when he returned, he was banned from entering the church by a group of monks for six months. He calmly endured this without retreating from his post.

His whole life was a constant martyric struggle. But at the same time his whole life, his genuine stance, his few responses, his dignified attitude towards his accusers, his silence and his devotion to the will of God after a time proved true the testimony that he walked along the path of the crucified Lord and stood in the footsteps of so many misunderstood and slandered saints.

The calendar issue on the one hand, which was due to the indiscriminate zeal of some, and the intense localism on the other hand, of those who in no way wanted monks from other places except their own region of Asia Minor, as well as the Elder's non-love of money and charity, together with the fathers being unable to comprehend his spiritual life, made him "grievous to behold" (Wis. of Sol. 2:14). This resulted, after an eleven year abbacy adventure, in him being slandered within the monastery for financial mismanagement, and by a decision of the Holy Community, at the end of June in 1931, he was exiled for six months to the Monastery of Koutloumousiou. The fathers of the monastery treated him with unlimited love and they considered him a saint. He confessed that he was suffering for his sins. His exile and then his mission to Athens became the cause of the salvation of many souls.

The Holy Community indirectly recognized his innocence and interrupted his exile after four months to send him to the Dependency of the Ascension in Athens. His unjust punishment led him to glorify God, to manifest and utilize his talents, and to unfold his virtues and his gifts. There he made his second great renunciation. For 26 whole years he lived there, from the age of 60 to 86, as an Hagiorite outside of the Holy Mountain, without ever returning there again. He made the place of his exile the place of his service and he carried with him the genuineness of the Holy Mountain to the hill of the Ascension, thus making this mountain holy to which others would come.

In 1937, after the resignation of the abbot Kaisarios, the managers of the monastery proposed for him to become the abbot. With respect, love, humility and dignity he refused to accept it considering his powers to be inadequate. In a letter he wrote: "And with my Sacred Repentance I shall in no way profit, for I shall cause harm in the utmost, not being able to cope with my duties and what my position and great ministry requires."

Dependency of the Ascension

Elder Hieronymos at the Dependency of the Ascension (1931-1957)

Athens in 1931 was a city with a low level spiritual life. The Fathers of the Church were virtually unknown. Monasticism was regarded as an old glory of the Church that was not needed today. The city was full of poor people. It was a poverty that was inherited - by orphans, through wars, and by refugees. At the settlement of Byron, where the Dependency of the Ascension was located, refugees from Asia Minor lived there, who continued to maintain their pure lay piety and who gladly accepted him as God's messenger.

Until the end of his life illnesses would not leave him - continuous fevers, headaches, weakness, fatigue, bronchitis and blood illnesses. When he reposed his entire body was full of cancer. He never said how much pain he was in. In his perseverance and by the love of doctors he took medicine. One day he refused to take his medicine, saying: "Not today, it is the feast of the Holy Unmercenaries and they are physicians." After his repose they found a lot of unused medicine in his cupboard. The pressure of the doctors did not allow him to admit the need for them and give the flesh what it needed. Voluntary and involuntary pain is an ascetic exercise, which is a means towards sanctification, a proof of submission to God.

Moreover, the various temptations never left him. He would say: "They are as necessary as breathing. Temptations are like the waves of the sea; without waves one cannot travel and without temptations one cannot be saved." His experience gave him the comfort to talk to his children about the great benefits of temptations, which only tire carnal people.

He patiently loved everyone. Instead of the Elder being annoyed when someone was bothering him, his spiritual children were greatly saddened, to whom he said: "Keep calm, despite all this he still loves me."

In 1949 his monastery, after slanderous complaints, considered recalling him. They mainly accused him of "wasting large amounts of money." The love of his children did not allow the recall to take place. In the many warm letters to his monastery, respect and love towards him is revealed.

The recall did not take place, but decisions were made binding for him a comfortable course for his spiritual work. He endured it all, with the humility that distinguished him, without discussion and objection, but not without pain. He had surrendered all to God, and he only looked towards Him. Neither did praises give him joy, nor did accusations give him sorrow.

His first visitors were mainly ordinary people in the surrounding area. His love made him famous, so that the bench outside his confessional was never empty of people, who had been waiting patiently for their turn for hours. Many people came to entrust to him their pain. As austere as he was towards himself, the more lenient he was towards others. Fr. Hieronymos was primarily the spiritual father of a large crowd wounded by sin. He stood as a tender physician, an excellent curator of souls, a friend who sympathized with the defeats and rejoiced with the victories, a discreet guide, a careful counselor, tireless, calm and sweet.

In the early years he would confess standing up. He would begin after liturgy and would end many times after midnight. Often, in order to gain time, he would eat or read letters and confess. Every time his answers showed how much he carefully listened. Even though many waited for him, he was never in a hurry. This was true even when he was sick. He would say: "Go on, let the others wait. I want to listen to you."

He saw souls as an open book. His knowledge of the human soul was amazing. Rarely did he ask questions from those who confessed. When he would be asked why he doesn't help with questions, he responded: "I don't want to put sins on you that you didn't think of yourself. Everyone knows well what they have and what burdens them." Before the confession he would always offer something, he would smile, he asked about your work, and then he would put on his priestly stole.

He would listen carefully to confessions then he gave a response. Sometimes he looked like he was sleeping or he would close his eyes either due to fatigue or to concentrate, to increase his attention and give comfort to the one confessing, so as not to look them in the eyes.

He utilized everything to help those who were hurting, not counting the time or effort. His greatest joy and reward was when he saw people who were truly repentant. Sometimes, if you did something wrong, he tried in various ways to bring you into such a state of repentance in order to manifest it, without offending you or hurting you in the slightest. He had an ancient nobility, one that all spiritual people are adorned with. His greatest sadness was seeing souls come out of the confession with yet another sin. A willful confession that wasn't pure.

In the end he warmly thanked you, because you trusted in him. If you went for the first time, he would keep your name, and pray for you daily. He did not allow you to feel hopeless. He knew how to comfort souls. "This is why I'm here, this is my job," he would say. He would talk about the infinite mercy of the All-Good God, the intercessions of the Saints and of the Theotokos.