December 10, 2021

The Elements of Foolishness for Christ in the Sinaite Monk Fr. Ioannis Aleiferis

 By John Fourtounas,
Professor of the University of Cairo

On November 29th, 40 days have passed since the death of Fr. Ioannis Aleiferis, a monk of the Sacred Monastery of Saint Katherine of Mount Sinai.

Originally from Vatika of Laconia, Fr. Ioannis Aleiferis became a monk in the Monastery of Sinai and served the brotherhood there as an ecclesiarch for many years.

The most important gift he acquired was foolishness for Christ, which he preserved as the apple of his eye appearing to people as insane.

He was dressed in worn-out clothes, had an old small heater to supposedly keep warm in freezing Sinai, and his shoes had sand and dirt stuck to his socks.

Once, using Ariel laundry detergent in the wash, he burned his hands where they had open wounds and when they brought him to the doctor by force, he avoided treatment with various pretexts.

He pretended to be crazy going back and forth, saying nonsense, while in formal meetings he would suddenly utter an irrelevant word, causing grief.

One of his "victims" was the late Fr. Aaron who, because he was his right hand man, sometimes sang guerrilla songs or "Mamy Blue" causing him a nervous breakdown.

Serving as a clergyman for 16 years he had a peculiar way of extinguishing the candles by blowing loudly, while to extinguish the candles of the sanctuary he used a mighty blow!

Often in the main hall of the monastery after the service, when a serious discussion started, he would intervene by asking something irrelevant, like once if a hierarch of the New Lands died. After 10 minutes he asked again to get the answer from a monk, who replied: "Yes Father, he passed away on November 11th last year", so every 10 minutes he asked again until everyone disappeared.

He used to come and go every day between the entrance of the church and the cypress tree outside the gate of the Monastery, with fast big steps praying. But, while he was talking to God or reciting the Psalm he knew by heart, when you approached him he was saying nonsense so that it would not be seen that he was really praying.

To show that he was not involved in spiritual matters, he had three constant questions for the curious, about the weather, the Greek newspapers, and the house rentals.

According to someone who knew him, when he once read the readings in a nice way and saw that he was being recorded, he stopped reading and asked: "Did it rain today?"

And once when they made him a treasurer, he ordered 2,000 eggs in the first days because he found them at a good price, so they immediately sent him back to his favorite ministry!

Once, when officials were gathered outside the main hall, Fr. Ioannis appeared with his sleeves rolled up, disguised and not at all presentable. Then a monk asked the Archbishop - who was present - to remove Fr. Ioannis, but he, knowing what Fr. Ioannis was doing, told him with his finger, "Shhhh".

A hierarch who once came to the festival asked to wear an old beautiful hierarchical vestment of the Monastery, and the fathers did him the favor to wear it. Fr. Ioannis, seeing the passion of pomposity, went under him, looked at him until he distracted his attention and then left laughing: "Ha, ha, ha, ha!"

In a hierarchical service on the feast of Saint Katherine, one year a hierarch sat on the throne with arrogance, with elaborate vestments and a disposition of pomposity. Seeing this, Fr. Ioannis went below him, leaned to the side and looked at him, turning his head upwards from this position, and then left, giggling.

Being a philanthropist he helped the poor, but in a way that he did not seem to be a rational man and philanthropist, but as if it were being done by some idiot. When he received the monthly allowance, he exchanged it for one-dollar bills and scattered it in the air, giving it to everyone, without distinction, thought or preference.

As an ecclesiarch, he "lost" the bottles of oil, they sought to find them, they found some, but the "lost" ones the people of the church discovered that he gave them to the poor villagers.

He also hid his knowledge, while before leaving the world he was ready to pursue a career, he was an English learner and had a library of books.

We learned from his classmates that he was an intellectual, for example one day in New Testament class the professor of Theology at the University of Athens asked for references on a topic. Then everyone turned to Anastasios Aleiferis (as he was called then) who enumerated piles of passages that left the professor speechless, who then suggested that he make him his assistant!

As a rule, he was silent, answered in one word and never participated in discussions of any content, but very rarely he spoke to the surprise of those present. Once the fathers were discussing a text whether or not it was from the Gospel, and after a long time someone said, "Should we ask Fr. Ioannis?" who was silent. So he said to him: "Father Ioannis, where is so-and-so village in the Bible?" And then he immediately said three words to them: the name of the Evangelist, the chapter and the verse!

One day, Fr. Ioannis, a novice, two monks and a European convert were traveling by car from the Monastery, descending from the Monastery to the capital. When the convert asked what in English exactly was a rare word from the Psalter, and while the holder of proficiency was still searching, Fr. Ioannis said it in English. Those present who had no suspicion of the Elder's foolishness for Christ considered that he had given the correct answer by chance, all by coincidence.

It sometimes happened that he was asked what a particular word from the Psalter means, and he always gave the exact interpretation, such as, for example, this word is found only in Homer in such-and-such verse!

Finally, as a spiritual guide and having clairvoyance, he advised in such a way that the questioner would not realize that he was dealing with someone who was deified. For example, as it was written, he went to a pilgrim and said the phrase, "A hundred suspicions do not make a proof," freeing him from the demon of jealousy.

A nun had a big problem, without saying anything to anyone and was in the Monastery inside the katholikon during evening service. Then she saw Fr. Ioannis approach her and tell her something that relieved her of the problem: "He took all my burden," she confessed, surprised and relieved.

A monk wanted to go to Greece and believing in his foresight he said in simple words as in a conversation: “Fr. Ioannis, I am thinking of going to Greece." And he replied, "Ah! To go to Greece? Go, go, go, go." With the repeated "go" keeping the gift of foresight hidden.

And then the monk said to him, "I am thinking of going to such-and-such place in Greece as well," and Fr. Ioannis said to him in a naive style: "Ah! There? No, no, no, no." This monk found out afterwards that it was indeed good for him to go to Greece, but also it was good to avoid the other part, and thus he was saved.

Another monk had an insurmountable problem and asked Fr. Ioannis, and he said "I do not know, maybe such-and-such is it?" and indeed that was the solution!

Another time a hieromonk who stayed for the feast of the Cross, knowing that there would not be a car to go down to the city for many days, was anxious. At night during Vespers, Fr. Ioannis approached him and said to him: "Father, tomorrow at 2pm you will leave!" And indeed the jeep of the Monastery came and at 2 o'clock it left.

The Bedouins believed in him as a saint and often asked him about the future, but he did not answer, though sometimes, under pressure, he gave in and told them the information. As with the young man who wondered if he would go to the Egyptian army: "You will not go," he told him, "but he (pointing to another young man) will go," and so it happened!

A hieromonk who visited the Monastery for a pilgrimage, seeing Fr. Ioannis, asked the Sinaite monks "Hey! You have such a man [a saint] over here?!" Apparently this Elder, being in high spiritual stages, saw the divine light shining in the face of the ragged Fr. Ioannis, he saw him visually deified.

Once Mount Athos fathers came to the Monastery, and when they saw the light that surrounded him began to ask him for advice, but he said nothing and got up and left.

Fr. Ioannis always smiled with that kind smile with which he disarmed anyone who thought about his holiness.

But for the last two years, Fr. Ioannis had stopped smiling. He had information about his end and yet he knew about the coming troubles that now plague humanity.

Such was Fr. Ioannis of Sinai, the fragrant flower of the Sinaite desert, who remained to the end a fool for many, but a wise worker of virtue for God!

May his memory be eternal!

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.