Thursday, August 5, 2021

The Life of the Holy Protopresbyter, Elder John Kalaides (+ 2009)


By Protopresbyter George Trapezanlides

Childhood and Youthful Years

Father John Kalaides was born in Kamaroto, Serres, to pious parents Chrysostomos and Theodora on May 8, 1925, the feast day of St. John the Theologian. He thus took the name of the evangelist and beloved disciple of our Lord, John - an act that reveals the fear of God but also the love that his parents had for the Church and her Saints.

An important role in triggering his good spiritual path was the person of his mother, who was a woman with faith and love for God and His Church. Theodora wanted her children to have God in them and so she guided them in prayer and regular church attendance. This God-fearing woman was originally from Asia Minor, from Mount Olympus in Bithynia. On this mountain in the Byzantine years was born and flourished an entire monastic state similar to the spiritual height of Thebes in Egypt and the monastic state of Mount Athos, which gave the Church many saints, ascetics and martyrs. In the heyday of Iconoclasm, monasteries there were a beacon and stronghold of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. This spirituality influenced the people of the area and reached the time of his mother Theodora. Thus, when during the catastrophe in Asia Minor and they experienced the uprooting from their homeland and lost their material wealth, they managed to keep within themselves the spiritual property they knew.

The Elder's childhood was different from the lives of other children who prioritized play, something very natural for their lives. He was serious and loved the church and staying in it. He admired the life of the liturgist and wanted to serve God with the same sacred work. He had a desire to become a clergyman, to belong to the Lord's clergy, and to shepherd the rational sheep, the flock for which Christ offered His blood and His life as a sacrifice to His Heavenly Father. He used to say: "As I remember myself, I used to go to church regularly and help the priest in the sacred bema, and I said that may the good God find me worthy to become a priest and serve Him, and the good God who hears everything listened to my childhood prayer."

The Elder has experienced many wonderful events in his life and the narration of his life is reminiscent of the synaxaria of the saints which are full of similar narratives and surprise people who do not have similar experiences of such spiritual revelations - while at the same time strengthening the faith of pious Christians in the Lord of glory. The beginning of these revelations began very early. At the age of ten, he experienced a miraculous event, not in a dream but live and in person. He saw three bishops dressed in holy vestments, entering the house of his family and censing the twins of the family, George and Anastasia, and he spontaneously said to his mother: "Do you see the three hierarchs?" His mother then whispered with admiration and fear of God: "What does this child see?" That same night his little sister Anastasia left the temporary world and passed into the heavenly world of God.

The elder served in the Greek army from October 28, 1947 until March 20, 1950. A very difficult period for our country, as these years coincided with the period that tore our tested nation from the sufferings of the civil war (1946-1949). Fr. John loved his homeland very much and suffered a lot from the violent pain experienced by the Greek nation. He used to say: "For a brother to betray his brother to death, it is a terrible thing." Seeing fear and death prevail everywhere, he was in great pain and could not bear to see people suffer. He himself was endangered many times and was saved from certain death. The dominion of death over men and the absence of love deeply shocked the Elder, so he resorted to prayer to stop these afflictions, to stop people committing violence, to keep people and themselves from death, and for peace to reign in our nation. Once while praying, Fr. John was found worthy of a miraculous revelation: he saw the Lord live and in person at the time of his heartfelt prayer in the area of the church set apart as the military chamber, and He appeared as depicted in our churches, in the image of the Pantocrator, and he heard the voice of the Lord reassuring him. Indeed, divine providence protected him many times and as he himself said: "I thank the good God who encouraged me and saved me from the fire of war." In August 1949 the civil war ended and he himself, after being released from duty, returned safe and sound to his village to be close to his parents.

He was a pious man, faithful to God, simple, quiet, kind to all, hardworking and shy. The return to his village was not only a return to his paternal home, close to his parents, whom he respected and honored, but it was also a return to the church, which he missed during his tenure and this time apart made him very sad. While working in the fields, he did not fail to attend church on Sundays, to study Holy Scripture, and to read the Christian publications of his day.

In 1955, at the age of thirty, spotless of carnal sin, he entered into a legal marriage with Polyxeni, and had with her his first three children, Theodora, Christos, and Sophia. The difficulties of family life did not prevent him from his spiritual duties. After all, he could not live outside the church and the divine services and showed great zeal to be in the temple, to stand before God and to pray for his salvation and the salvation of all. But it was not long before the temptation came: many villagers who saw him go to church with such diligence, despite the daily fatigue from his work in the fields, began to tease him to such an extent that they forced him to go secretly and have thoughts of lessening his church attendance. 

While at work at that time and conversing with those thoughts, he accepted a divine instruction not to abandon his sacred habit, but to go to church. He heard this voice three times in his life and wept bitterly because he felt that he saddened the Lord and betrayed him like the apostle Peter. Since then he never restored those thoughts within himself, and he was very careful not to grieve his Lord, not only through words and deeds, but also through his thoughts. He knew very well that the evil spirit first tries to distract people from the divine life by submitting to thoughts and then to distract them physically as well. Thus began the work of sacred watchfulness and he did not fail to attend church. He failed to attend service only twice, when due to his military service he was unable to perform his beloved task. In fact, he had then made strong complaints to his superiors, asking them not to distract him from his blessed habit, which is so pleasing to God, and warned them that next time he would not follow the set schedule. Until 1970 he served in the church as a sexton, churchwarden and chanter, maintaining the feeling that he had offered absolutely nothing to the Church. He had humility in his heart and not in words and this humility accompanied him throughout the years of his life. So with such a life, little by little came the fullness of time for his Priesthood.


Priest of the Highest

In the early 1970s, on January 3, he had a strange dream, as he often said, especially as a clergyman, to emphasize that the priesthood was a gift from the Lord: "In my sleep I saw His Eminence our Metropolitan John inviting me to the Metropolis to give me the Gospel, telling me to read the verses 'Go and teach all nations' (Matt. 28:19). I read them, then he said 'Very well, before Saint John's I will make you a priest.'" This dream came true a few months later, when Fr. Gervasios invited him to the Metropolis and the rest went as planned. He was ordained on July 3 by the blessed Metropolitan of Sidirokastro, John. His joy was indescribable and lasted throughout the rest of his life.

His speech was adorned with various examples and advice to show the greatness of the divinely ordained priesthood, but also of the unrepeatable grace that God offers to his clergy. He believed that priests should glorify God day and night, who found them worthy of such a gift, because there is no one worthy to adorn it. He also said that if God did not want it, someone who had this desire would not become a clergyman, because the Lord calls, the Lord is the door. He knew very well how much God respects freedom in man and does not abolish human free will. His favorite narrative was from the book of Genesis, about Adam and Eve, about the image and the likeness: he had the view that all the theology of our Church is hidden there. He used examples from the holy Gospel, which show the providence of God. He said: "God has counted the hairs of our head and without His will not a single hair of ours falls to the ground. God wanted it, so you became his priests." That is, since He shows interest in such a small matter, how could He then neglect such an important event, about who would become the shepherd of His rational sheep, about who would teach His word and perform the sacred mysteries of His Church, with which he will be sanctified and sanctify others. He also attached to this that the priesthood is superior to the royal power and told the clergy that it is incomparable to any other secular position on earth, emphasizing that it it cannot be exchanged for anything: "If God told me to choose between becoming a king or a priest, I would say priest a thousand times!"

He taught that the Liturgists of the Most High should live with great care, through prayer to be in constant communication with the Lord, fight against sin, be clean from it, to give rest to people, to officiate, to study the word of God: "Have a little Bible on you constantly, so that you can read it at all times and have your mind on God." He instructed the priests to catechize the People of God, to urge them with great love to follow Christ and to keep His commandments, so that in the end they do not seem unworthy of the priesthood in the eyes of God. He did not cease exhorting about humility, on which God and people rest, and about the disgusting abhorrence of pride, which is the beginning of all evil: "Humility makes men angels and pride makes angels demons." He said of the wives of the priests that they should be peaceful and hospitable, that they should take care of their priest with love. In a conversation at the Elder's house, a priest told us that the presbytera makes half a priest, and then Fr. John said: "Not half the priest, the presbytera makes the whole priest." Thus the love of a presbytera for the Church gives wings to the priest standing next to her.

Fr. John served in various parishes in the province of the Metropolis of Sidirokastro and wherever he passed, the people loved him. While serving in Sidirochori, in the Church of Saint Kyriaki, he had his fourth child. It was there that one of his first trials began, as the youngest and newest member of his family fell ill with acute leukemia, and AHEPA doctors gave the child three months to live. Thus began the first black clouds to cover the life of his family. But he, with full confidence, raised his hands to heaven, asking God to extend the life of little Philip. Indeed, to the great surprise of the doctors, the child continued to live and finally departed his life at the age of seven in the new parish of the elder, Kato Poria.

In Kato Poria he served in the Church of the Forerunner, where he built and completed the Church of the Great Martyr Saint Irene. He also served in Livadia, in the Church of Saint Demetrios and in Neochori, in the Church of Saint George, where he built with the help of many pious people the Church of Saints Raphael, Nicholas and Irene, whom he called with praise the doctors of our time. Today this church is a shrine of our Metropolis and here the Metropolitan of Sidirokastro Makarios, recognizing his zeal and the love of the people in the person of the Elder, on the day of the consecration of the holy temple of the New Martyrs, awarded him the title of spiritual father and protopresbyter. With his faith and humility he won the hearts of the people. People who knew him speak with great admiration about his personality, but he never had such claims for himself. He attributed everything to the grace of God, he did not want to be called a saint, nor others to proclaim his virtues - but as much as he longed for obscurity, so much divine grace glorified him.

Fr. John with his presbytera Polyxeni

His Great Love for Prayer

He devoted a lot of time to prayer; after all, prayer is a virtue and a mother of virtues, and as a mother it initiates union with God, according to Mark the Hermit. The Elder himself became an unceasing prayer, with the unification that prayer offers to man within himself and with God. He did the services of the day and night on a daily basis, the midnight, the matins, the supplicatory canons and he mentioned countless names, in the evening he did vespers and compline, he kept vigil and said the prayer to the Lord, to the Theotokos and to various Saints of the Church. Many times he prayed like this for hours, if he liturgized he read the service of divine communion and after liturgy the service of thanksgiving. In the church until his old age during the services and the divine liturgy he prayed standing or kneeling.

He fasted all year round, eating a soup of rice, carrots and potatoes. Even during his illnesses he did not change his habit, no matter how much his children and doctors insisted. He then referred to the martyrdom of Christ, who suffered for us, to the insults and humiliations, to the whipping and crucifixion, in order to understand the great love of the Lord for us, but also to be an example of patience and humility in our various trials, and to lead our lives with doxology, aiming at the crown of eternal life on the day of His second coming. It is this great love of the Lord for us that attracted and led him to such ascetic measures.

Fr. Sotirios Vrampakis, who in the old age of Fr. John came with the order of our Metropolis to help him in the services, after he once liturgized with the Elder and me in Saint George of Neochoriou, suggested that we go for a coffee. I insisted on waiting for the Elder and he answered me knowing the habits of the Elder: “Papa John? He will leave the church at noon!" Later I asked his presbytera Polyxeni if he used to stay praying in the temple after the Divine Liturgy and she revealed to me that he would come home at one or two in the afternoon. Her answer surprised me because in addition to being old, he was also very ill. 

Immersed one night in the sea of such a prayer to the Mother of God, which started in the evening and ended seven hours later, saying "Most Holy Theotokos, save us" and alternating it with the Salutations to our Panagia, Elder John suddenly saw the Lady Theotokos appear alive in front of him in light between two choirs of holy women, who chanted various hymns to the Mother of God, from the right the chorus of the women martyrs who suffered a violent death for Christ and from the left the holy women who shone with their athletic contest having left behind all worldly things. Then the Mother of God in her glory greeted him and told him to advise everyone and especially the clergy to resort to her intercessions and they will receive great grace in her name. Immediately everything vanished and from the great joy he fainted.


The Magnitude of his Love and Patience

One admired his asceticism, which came from the love of God and the love of his neighbor. Even more surprising was his patience and the joy he experienced during his illnesses. He never showed the slightest annoyance, continuously with his lips whispering "Glory to You O God, a thousand times glory to You O God". To the question how it is possible to deal with things like this, he gave the answer: "If we do not suffer, how will we understand? How will we feel our brother's pain and how will we pray with our hearts in pain for him?" It is for this reason, paradoxically for us, that he considered the trials of disease a blessing. He felt through his pain the people inside him and during his prayer he shed tears for everyone, he hurt for everyone. It seemed very strange to everyone how he could and did love so much. As we mentioned before, his fourth child left our world at the age of 7; in another circumstance he was about to lose his grandson and - O the miracle!, as he said - the child survived; once he broke his hip, he had big problems with his blood pressure, his breathing and many other things and he stood in front of the icon of the Panagia and the pieces of the relics of his beloved Saints Raphael, Nicholas and Irene and he prayed with pain for everyone, mentioning their names.

How did he hurt on behalf of others like that, since he did not know most of them? If one delves into the theology of our Church, one will see that all this arises from the union of man with God: in the love of God one finds oneself but also the whole world in an ontological union. This is achieved through the path taught by our Holy Church, with the stages of purification and of illumination and of deification. When man wants to cooperate with God, he emerges as a true being. Those who stayed close to Fr. John and knew him, saw people frightened, in pain from the sufferings of life, frustrated and confused, coming to him and leaving full of joy. They experienced their own personal miracle, they were surprised when he foresaw the causes of their problems, their names, but also found the solution to their problems. He wanted everyone to activate the great gift of Faith in Christ, he advised people to confess, to partake in holy unction with fasting and prayer and having the permission of their spiritual father to commune with faith in the holy mysteries. He himself communed with the fear of God and tears always flowed from his eyes before the divine communion, he never became accustomed with the holy gifts, and he advised us to receive communion with tears, and if we could not, he said, let us offer at least one sigh to feel our sinfulness and the infinite gift of the love of our Christ. He also said: “My children, always greet the holy icons when you enter the church; do you think that someone should come to your house and not greet you? You will not like his behavior, you will be upset." The way he entered the church was indescribable - the people who saw him know: he took close to ten minutes or more to reach the sanctuary, stood in front of the icons and spoke to them as if they were alive.

There were many things that impressed me about Fr. John. Once I went with a hieromonk friend to see him, after he spoke to us and we got up to leave, he wanted to thank the hieromonk. He took some fruits and gave them to him, which he politely and shamefully refused to take them and said that he did not need them. Then the Elder stunned us by saying "I need them and for this I give them": he knew well that by giving rest to people, you give rest to God and that our salvation depends on love of neighbor. He had a special way of teaching, he taught with his life. He even said and meant it from his soul, from his being, that he is the last priest of Greece, he called himself pitiful and "worm dirt", he kissed with great joy the hand of the bishops of our Church, but also of the younger priests. After the Divine Liturgy he would kiss us on the forehead, I would complain and say "No Elder, I am sweaty" and he would say "My child this is not sweat, it is sanctified water."


Divine Experiences

The vision of uncreated Light, according to the holy neptic fathers of our Church, is the highest state that one can reach and refers to the perfect. I often wanted to ask him if he had such an experience of seeing the uncreated Light. I could not believe that such a man with such faith in God and such humility was not found worthy of the revelation of the glory of God. I had faith that the Elder must have seen the Holy Light, as all the people who knew him were talking about the glow of light on his face.

So one day I visited him with a child from our parish (after we venerated the holy relics, he chanted troparia to the saints, anointed us with the holy oil that burned in front of the icons and the relics, reading prayers for health, illumination and salvation - this took place all day to whoever was entering his house - then we went to the living room where he offered orange juice to everyone), I asked him if he had seen the Holy Light. He immediately lowered his head, I asked the question again, and then he nodded negatively. So I told him: "They say it has a blueish light" and he replied: "Yes my child". I was encouraged, I said I would find out, and he would tell me. So he revealed to us that he had seen the Holy Light several times but the most shocking was in the Church of the Honorable Forerunner in Kato Poria. "On April 24, 1976, Holy Saturday, at the time of the Divine Liturgy when I was throwing the laurels in the holy temple and chanting "Let God arise", when I reached the right side of the holy table, light shone from above like lightning and enveloped me. I felt like I was leaving this whole world, my whole soul was flooded with joy and gladness. Many people inside the temple confessed that light shone on my head and lasted for several minutes. This happened when I was a pastor there at the Honorable Forerunner, where I served from 1973 to 1989."

I later learned that since then he has lived with his presbytera as if they were brother and sister and that he has since acquired the gift of clairvoyance and healing. In the same year he visited the former secretary of the community of Kamarotos, who was hospitalized in critical condition at the Galinos clinic. He read him prayers for health and crossed him with a wooden Cross that he always carried with him. The patient was immediately cured and sent a letter of thanks, which was read on Sunday at the church of Kamarotos.

Fr. John with Metropolitan Antonios of Siatista

Pastoral Teaching

He nurtured special love for children and young people. He did not want us to criticize anyone, especially those about whom Christ spoke so tenderly. He wanted young people to come to church and let them come as they please. He did not want us to hurt any child with our strict behavior. One day a young girl came to the parish to be read by the Elder and next to him was a woman dedicated to God, who rebuked the young woman because she had come in trousers. The Elder did not say anything, read a prayer over the young girl and said to her with great love after the nun left: "My child, do not be upset, you had your pain and you wanted a cure, that's why you came like this." He knew that the nun, out of excessive zeal, reacted in this way and out of politeness did not say anything to her. He used to say: "Do not criticize children, it is the fault of many things that they are so reactionary, television, foods that are full of various substances and selfishness from parents, which keeps them away from children." He also said: "Do not look at me, the grace of God visited me from a young age; if this did not happen who knows what I would have become."

He loved the church very much, he loved the bishops, who came to see him and he never said anything, because he believed that he was not worthy to be visited by bishops. He wanted the Church to be high in the consciousness of the people, to hold the primacy in the hearts of the people. One of the bishops who came to Fr. John very often was the late Antonios of Siatista. He visited Fr. John very often and they had a great love for each other that did not escape the attention of the people.

He did not want people to criticize the Church: "Whoever criticizes the Church, criticizes Christ", he reminded the faithful. As an example he mentioned the incident from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 9:4-5) where Saul/Paul before his conversion to Christianity persecuted the Church and the Lord was revealed on the way to Damascus and said to Saul, "Saul, what are you persecuting me for?" He said that the Christ who loves us so much can only be found in the Church, here we must find Him, he stressed, and if we find Him, we will enjoy eternal life from now on. In the Church is the Theotokos, in the Church are the Saints, here you see eternal life. He cited as an example Saints Raphael, Nicholas and Irene, who lived so many years ago, how they listen to us, how they come and help us, how they perform such miracles all over the world, how they revealed to us their lives and their martyrdom for Christ. "Behold, this is eternal life, since they died for Christ and are alive, what else do we want? Our faith is alive and unique." He also told those who asked about the calendars that "it is not the calendars that save us but our faith and our works." On the subject of identity cards, he wished that the confession "Christian Orthodox" be written on the identity cards.


A Christian End

His repose occurred on August 4, 2009 in Neochori, which was the last station of his priestly ministry. In bed now, weakened for a long time, he waited to be called by the Lord who loved him so much and that he served with such zeal, observing His law, which is summarized in the two commandments, to love your God, and your neighbor as yourself. We went for many months and shared with him the Immaculate Mysteries. He always waited reverently and as long as his legs held him he stood up alone. Then he tried to stand up with the help of his children, or some people who happened to be at his home. When his strength abandoned him, he waited in bed, where he experienced the last pains with vivacious patience and we could not bear to see him being tested.

Once my presbytera Penelope and I went to get his blessing, realizing that the Elder was preparing to leave the earthly. After kissing him for the last time alive, we left his house. Next to him was his presbytera Polyxeni who obeyed him very much all these years, with his children, Theodora, Christos and his bride Anastasia. Less than an hour later, his children informed us about his repose, which they experienced as a metastasis. In a short time, priests of our Metropolis arrived to prepare his relic, to dress him in the holy vestments, according to the tradition of our Church. His Cross, paradoxically, we noticed to be fragrant. Many people who knew him and learned about his repose, started coming very early to get his last blessing. His body remained warm until the time of his burial. The next day, His Eminence Metropolitan Makarios arrived, officiated and delivered the funeral speech for the Elder. We all chanted the funeral service for a priest, the priests lifted his revered body and the procession went to the last residence of his relic. He was buried behind the Church of Saints Raphael, Nicholas and Irene, in the place he suggested and prepared two years earlier. He asked to share the book "Testimony Statement" written by himself and arranged for it to be published at his own expense, a blessing on the day of his funeral to the glory of the Triune God.

On a sunny day, August 4, twelve o'clock at noon, very hot, but along with the emotion and grief of all of us, nature came to grieve, as we read in the lives of the Saints. Immediately clouds gathered and began to drizzle for a while, with distinction the sky cried for a while, nature appeared mourning, and then for the reason that we delivered righteousness to the earth, the sunlight came so as not to spoil the last service of the world with the Elder of Love.

The Elder ascended to heaven close to Christ and his beloved saints. He had said "I will leave but I will see you." Fr. Eusebios Vittis said to his spiritual child: "My child, if you saw Papa John of Neochori, you saw a Saint."

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.


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