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Sunday, August 16, 2020

Synaxarion of our Venerable Father Joseph the Hesychast


Poetry and Composition by Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi
Biography by Elder Ephraim of Vatopaidi
Translated and Edited by John Sanidopoulos

On this day [August 16th] we commemorate our Venerable and God-Bearing Father Joseph who is respected among the hesychasts, in that he showed martyric perseverance throughout his life, and he departed to the Lord on the 15th of this month. His service was changed to today due to the venerable Feast of the Theotokos.

Verses

You translocated in haste from earth to the vault of the heavens,
Having previously been there through theoria.

Throughout the thousand-year long history of saint-nurturing Mount Athos, countless holy figures have been distinguished. This fact constitutes the greatest benefit which the Holy Mountain has given to the Church and to the world. Many of those venerable monks have been marked out and widely recognized by the flock of the Church while still alive, some after their repose, while others wished to remain anonymous even after their death.

Democritus’ dictum “live in anonymity” constitutes the main attribute of Hagiorite monasticism. The monk from the Holy Mountain does not seek recognition in this life and diligently tries to hide his virtues. This is how Saint Siluan the Athonite lived. While still alive most people thought that he was an ordinary monk while in reality he was great in the eyes of the Lord. Only after his repose and especially after his biographer, the ever-memorable Elder Sophrony, preserved the saint’s scarce writings, that his pious life came to light.

Something similar has occurred with blessed Elder Joseph the Hesychast, this hagiorite monk who lived on the Holy Mountain for almost forty years in anonymity. Twenty years after his repose some of his letters and his biography were published and the world became aware of his teachings and his virtuous life in Christ.

Elder Joseph, known in the world as Francis Kottis, was born in Lefkes on the island of Paros on the 12th of February 1897. His parents, George and Maria, were ordinary but righteous people. He was destined even from his mother’s womb to follow in the footsteps of Christ and become His aide in the deliverance of men. When his mother gave birth to him, she had a vision where an angel was trying to take the baby away from her. When she protested, the angel showed her a note in which it was written that he must take the baby away.

His father died when he was a teenager and thus he had to leave for the port of Piraeus in order to work and help out his impoverished family with the many children, since he was the second oldest brother. He had six more siblings. Initially he worked at various jobs; later on he joined the Navy and afterwards he became a small-time merchant. Even though he did not consciously lead a spiritual life, he was nevertheless fair and conscientious in his dealings. He became engaged to a good girl and lived in chastity. He never touched her, scared in case he reached the point where he had to kiss her.

His fiancé, though, died from tuberculosis and he, having had a revealing dream, recognized the futility of the world and his heart started aching for monasticism. He was practicing that which he was reading in the Patristic books. He would fast every two days, sit up on the trees praying on the mountains of Penteli and would visit many places of worship to strengthen his faith and receive the blessing in order to leave the world. During one such visit to Kephallonia where he stayed one week in the Monastery of Saint Gerasimos, he witnessed with his very own eyes a miracle whereby the Saint healed a man. There he heard from the nuns that the Saint had reposed on the feast day of the Dormition of the Theotokos, and he was praying to him to intercede for the same thing to happen to him. Indeed this took place almost forty years later.

After marrying his sister off, he gave away a lot of money, dispersing his small fortune. Then during the early 1920’s, burning with “the immaterial fire” which is unheard of for the many, he went to the Holy Mountain to live the most perfect life. Initially he lived for a short time in Vigla near the Great Lavra Monastery, looking for spiritual guides to introduce him to the neptic work. Later on, he was receiving spiritual guidance from the discerning Elder Daniel of Katounakia for eight months. Elder Daniel, seeing the unstoppable and fierce zeal which young Francis was showing in favor of the ascetic life and foreseeing his future success, advised him to place himself under the obedience of a simple, elderly monk, named Ephraim, who lived at the Hut of the Annunciation of the Panagia at Katounakia. He asked him to take with him another one of his spiritual children, Father Arsenios, and after they receive the blessing of obedience from their elder to begin legitimately their great ascetic efforts. Indeed this is how it happened and Father Arsenios became Francis’ inseparable companion.

During their stay at Katounakia, Elder Ephraim tonsured Francis giving him the Great Schema with the name ‘Joseph’ in the Cave of Saint Athanasios. Father Euthemios who lived there, officiated at the ceremony. Just before Elder Ephraim reposed, they were all transferred to the ascetic and hesychastic areas of the Skete of Saint Basil, seeking a more peaceful environment. Then after Elder Ephraim died, the young Father Joseph began a most austere and beyond limits practice in fasting, poverty and hardship. He combined these with the practice of noetic prayer. During their stay at Saint Basil’s, he launched fierce battles against the flesh and the devil, but had also received an impressive visitation by divine Grace. There, he also created a small brotherhood. Even though many people wished to remain with him, because he had become famous as a great ascetic, they could not do it since he was very strict and demanding.

In 1938 they moved on to the caves of Little Saint Anna just underneath the cave of the renowned hesychast and spiritual father, Father Savvas. In the summer of 1947 our blessed Elder, Joseph of Vatopaidi, joined their brotherhood, which by now included Fathers Arsenios and Athanasios, who was the brother of the senior Elder Joseph. Everyone else had already abandoned the brotherhood. In the autumn of the same year, Father Ephraim - later Abbot of Philotheou - came to stay with them, while in the summer of 1950 they were joined by Father Haralambos, who later became Abbot of the Monastery of Dionysiou. As he had learnt from experience, the blessed Elder Joseph became a little more tolerant as to the level of ascetic effort exercised by his subordinates in contrast to the times he had stayed at Saint Basil’s. That didn’t mean of course that he ever gave up his austere ascetic rule which included fasting, obedience, silence, all night vigils and praying. Full of joy he saint to Father Arsenios: “Arsenios, I can now say to my Lord ‘Now, You may take Thy servant’. We have lived such tough lives together; we have shed our blood seeking the Lord inside us. But my constant complaint all these years was this: Many people joined us, benefited from us, but left us. They could not follow us in our spiritual efforts. I thought I would depart to my Lord with this unfulfilled wish. But, behold! Now in our old age He has brought us these last few young monks. The entire Holy Mountain will rest on them. Just remember that!”

In 1951 they moved to New Skete, where they were a little more comfortable since their three subordinates had started exhibiting some serious health problems because of the ascetic hardship and the rough environment. In the end, they were given the cells belonging to the Monastery of Saint Paul, situated above the tower. At this time, the ministry mission of Elder Joseph was revealed since many monks from the Holy Mountain and laity from outside visited him to receive his advice; they regarded him as a discerning guide without delusions. He departed to the Lord on the feast day of the Dormition of the Theotokos - as it was his wish and in accordance with the promise the Panagia gave to him - on Friday morning, the 15th of August 1959, after the Divine Liturgy, and having partaken of Holy Communion.

The former Abbot of the Great Monastery of Simonopetra, Elder Aimilianos, who espoused the teachings by Elder Joseph and passed them on to his innumerable spiritual children, writes about the Elder: “Blessed Elder Joseph, the Hesychast, has become the jewel in modern hagiorite history, since during difficult times he managed to revive the centuries-old hesychastic experience, as well as the experience of prayer on Mount Athos. Through the coordinated and unending practice and spiritual discipline and schooling of his spiritual children, he has prepared the new generation to practicing the ever-flowing Jesus Prayer, radiating beyond the borders of Greece.”

It is estimated that more than a thousand monks and nuns are direct spiritual descendants of Elder Joseph. Six monasteries, one Skete and many cells on the Holy Mountain, eighteen monasteries throughout Greece, six in Cyprus, twenty in the United States, two in Canada and one in Italy own their spiritual paternity to Blessed Elder Joseph the Hesychast. Since the Elder was able to foresee this happening, eight months before his repose in December 1958, he divided his disciples into four groups. This is unusual in the Holy Mountain, since the first to join the brotherhood routinely takes on the succession. However, he already knew that his disciples would later become Abbots and Elders in large coenobiums.

Many hagiorite monks and laity, who knew about his spiritual state visited him and would ask for advice on spiritual issues. The Elder wrote about this mission: “A lot of people come here from various monasteries and sketes of the Holy Mountain. With the Grace of the Lord, we tell them what the Lord provides.” His contribution did not just extend to the Holy Mountain or within Greece but it was ecumenical. He says. “All this time I am writing to all those who ask me. They visited me from Germany this year just to find out about noetic prayer. From the United States people write to me with such eagerness. In Paris, there are also so many people who ask questions so keenly.”

After his repose he would also appear to his spiritual children as well as to strangers, conveying divine Grace and revealing to them God’s will. Even today, he appears in front of young people, known to us, and incites them to follow the monastic life. He consoles many monks and nuns in their times of hardship. He told one monk that the way towards salvation is to practice sobriety and inner spiritual work. He carried out a long conversation with a hagiorite Abbot on spiritual issues. One night he showed up in front of a woman in Crete and was discussing the matter of the many heretics who had been surrounding her. The following day, that woman saw the picture of the Elder in a bookstore and learnt that the man who was talking to her had been dead for many years. In Texas, he showed up and blessed a Protestant worker at the Monastery of the Archangels. The worker later became a catechumen in the Orthodox Church. Lately, he appeared in front of a pregnant woman in Cyprus, who was worried sick about her pregnancy. He comforted her and blessed her. Afterwards everything went well and she had a natural childbirth.

In summing up, we may say that blessed Elder Joseph the Hesychast, the one who stayed away from the world and worldly worries, who was seeking seclusion in the most ascetic and isolated places of the Holy Mountain at the Skete of Saint Basil and the caves of Little Saint Anna, was able to influence his immediate circle of people and all those who were asking for his advice. During his last few years at the New Skete, his influence and authority as a spiritual bearer of divine Grace was more pronounced and obvious to monks and laity alike. However after his repose, the glowing crop of his ascetic struggles have become especially evident throughout the entire planet through his few published writings - which were, nevertheless, brimming with divine Grace - and through his successors and his spiritual descendants. His writings have already been translated into eight languages. In Elder Joseph, the words of the Scriptures “you shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16) has been fulfilled. That is, the quality of the tree is revealed through the fruit it produces. We believe that this particular tree will not stop supplying the Church with the succulent fruits, which are the bearers of the genuine and perfect spiritual life in Christ. Amen.


Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
The offshoot of Athos and the beauty of monastics, defender of ascesis and harbor of silence, were you shown to be our Father, and through your life you showed us, the ways of Grace, saving through your prayers those who faithfully entreat you; for whom do intercede to the Lord, our Venerable Father Joseph.

Another Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
By asceticism you first subdued the flesh, raising your mind from earthly things, our Venerable Father. Coming to know theoria, you saved the commoner, showing the beaten path to those who longed for salvation. Now do save those who honor your memory.

Kontakion in the Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Through the rivers of your tears Father were you washed, and through your vigilant prayers were you filled with radiance, adorning your soul Joseph for the Bridechamber, with the incorruptible raiment obtained on earth, with the venerables whose life you followed, wherefore intercede, on behalf of the salvation of those honoring you.

Oikos
You showed yourself to be a nursling of Athos and the boast of monastics, having shown forth in the latter years, in which faithlessness and carelessness have multiplied, while you in no way were swayed by delusion or laziness. Come, therefore, let us imitate his zeal and God-loving fervor, for he loved God with his whole being, and cleaved to Him alone throughout his life. But, our most-compassionate Father Joseph, we entreat you, together along with the Choir of Venerable Saints with whom you rejoice, intercede on behalf of the salvation of those honoring you.

Megalynarion
You are the boast of Athos O Joseph, wise man and pinnacle of the perfect hesychasts, rejoice initiate of the grace of Palamas, shine upon us all, the uncreated grace. 


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