Orthodox Thought for the Day


Saturday, November 30, 2013

December 1--St. Philaret the Almsgiver

Read his beautiful life entry from the writings of St. Dimitri of Rostov.  Here is an example of a truly merciful and generous man to the glory of God!

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy," said the Lord; therefore, the blessed Philaret the Almsgiver, who was most merciful to the poor, was deemed worthy by God of abundant mercy. He obtained a rich reward both in this life and that beyond the grave, as we shall learn from the present account. 

Saint Philaret lived in the village of Amneia in Paphlagonia. He was born in Galatia to noble parents named George and Anna. Instructed by them from childhood in piety and the fear of the Lord, as a youth Philaret was chaste and adorned with every virtue. Reaching manhood, he married an honorable, well-born, and rich woman named Theoseva, who brought with her a considerable dowry. The couple had three children: a son, John, their firstborn, and two daughters, Hypatia and Evanthia. God blessed the righteous Philaret, as He once did Job, multiplying his wealth. Philaret was the owner of large flocks, villages, and fruitful vineyards, and had an abundance of all things. His treasure chests were full, and he had in his house a multitude of servants. Philaret was regarded as one of the greatest nobles of that land. Yet, while the blessed one enjoyed prosperity, he saw that many others lived in the utmost poverty. Moved by compassion, he said to himself with contrition of heart, "Can it be that I have received such blessings from the Lord, only that I may eat and be satisfied, pleasing my belly? Should I not share the great riches God has bestowed upon me, dividing them among the poor, widows, orphans, strangers, and beggars whom the Lord will not be ashamed before angels and men to call His brothers at the dread judgment, saying, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me? Of what benefit shall my belongings be to me on the day of recompense if I greedily refuse to share them? On that day He shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy. Shall my wealth provide me with everlasting food and drink in the age to come? Shall my soft garments serve to clothe me for eternity? No, it cannot be, for the Apostle says, We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. Therefore, if we can take none of our earthly possessions with us, it is better to loan them to God, entrusting them into the hands of the poor. God will never forsake me, my wife, or my children. Of this the prophet David assures me, saying, I have been young, and now indeed am old, and I have not seen the righteous man forsaken, nor his seed begging bread. 

Reasoning thus, the blessed Philaret began to show mercy to the poor, treating them as a father would his children. He fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, and accepted strangers into his home, offering them warm hospitality. This righteous man became like Abraham of old, who was always ready to entertain strangers, and Lot, who loved the poor. Such a light, which burned brightly with the oil of compassion, could not be hid beneath a bushel, and his fame spread throughout the land. Philaret became known to all, like a city set on a hill. Those in poverty made haste to flee to him as to a city of refuge; and whoever requested oxen, horses, asses, clothing, food, or anything else found him ready to show compassion. Then God, Who loves mankind, permitted temptation to befall this righteous man, as He once tried His favorite, Job. Philaret’s patience was proven, and the saint was purified like gold in a furnace and found worthy of eternal blessings. The Lord caused Philaret’s wealth to dwindle, but he did not cease to feel compassion for the poor and to show mercy on them, always giving whatever he could to those who asked of him. 

At that time God allowed the Ishmaelites to ravage the country where Philaret lived. Like a whirlwind sweeping through a grove of trees or a fire burning upon a mountain, they passed through the land, laying it waste and taking captive its inhabitants, to whom they did much evil. They took nearly all the animals and slaves belonging to the blessed Philaret, leaving him only a single pair of oxen, a cow, a horse, one manservant, and one maidservant. Furthermore, the wealthy landowners who lived nearby gained possession of his villages, orchards, and fields, in some instances by force, and in others, by appealing to his liberality. Again, only a single field and the house in which he lived were left to the blessed one, but even as he endured poverty and injustice, this good man never complained or became downcast. Like a second Job, He sinned not, neither charged God foolishly. He rejoiced in penury as another man would in great wealth, because he understood that it is easier for one who is poor to enter the kingdom than for a rich man, according to the word of the Lord: A rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. 

One day, the blessed Philaret took his oxen out to plow the field that remained. As he labored, he praised God and joyfully gave thanks to the Lord for permitting him to live by the sweat of his brow, in accordance with the divine and holy commandment, in this way escaping idleness and sloth, those teachers of every evil. He recalled the words of the Apostle, who declared, If any would not work, neither should he eat. At the same time a peasant was plowing nearby. Suddenly one of his oxen began to tremble violently, then fell to the ground and died. The man was cast into sorrow and wept bitterly, because the ox was not his, but was borrowed from a neighbor. Then he remembered the blessed Philaret and said, "If only that merciful man had not fallen into poverty, I would go to him, and he would not give me a single ox, but a pair. Now, however, he has nothing to give those who ask; nevertheless, I will share my sorrow with him. Perhaps he will say something to console me, and ease my burden." 

Taking up his staff, the peasant went to Philaret’s house. Finding the saint toiling in his field, the villager fell down before him and related with tears in his eyes how the ox had died unexpectedly. The blessed Philaret saw how deeply the man was grieved, and straightway unyoking one of his oxen, said, "Brother, take my ox, plow your field, and give thanks to God." 

The peasant bowed down before the blessed one and thanked him for the gift, saying, "Truly, your decision is wondrous and noble, my lord, and your kindness pleasing to God! However, it is not good for the ox to be separated from its companion, since they are accustomed to work together. Each will find it difficult to be alone." 

"Take the ox, brother, and go in peace. I have another at home," said the righteous one. 

The peasant bowed again before the blessed one and departed, praising God and his merciful benefactor. Taking the yoke upon his shoulders, the honorable Philaret returned with the remaining ox to his house. As he approached, his wife caught sight of him and asked, "Where is the other ox, my lord?" 

Philaret replied, "While I was resting from my labors, I loosed the oxen, to allow them to graze. One of them wandered off and became lost, or perhaps someone took it." 

Hearing this, Philaret’s wife became very upset and immediately sent her son out to search for the ox. The young man walked until he finally came upon it, yoked with that of the peasant, to whom he cried angrily, "Wicked man! How dare you yoke this ox with yours? Where did you find it? Is this not my father’s beast? Like a wolf, you snatched him away and made him your own. If you do not return him to me, I will have you punished as a thief by the authorities!" 

"Do not be angry with me, child," answered the peasant in a meek voice. "You are the son of a holy man; do not stretch forth your hand against me, for I have done you no evil. Your father had compassion on me, seeing my poverty and misfortune, and willingly gave me his ox, because one of my oxen perished unexpectedly while it was working." 

Philaret’s son was filled with shame because he had reproached an innocent man. He hurried back home and told his mother what he had learned. She cried out with tears, "Woe is me! Woe is me, the wife of a heartless man!" Then, tearing her hair, she ran to her husband, shrieking and wailing, "You inhuman, hard-hearted man! Why do you wish to destroy us with hunger? We have lost almost all our possessions because of our sins, and it was only by God’s mercy that two oxen were left us, so that we could feed our children. You are accustomed to wealth and have never labored with your hands, and now, indolent as you are, you intend to remain lying about the house. It was not for God’s sake that you gave away the ox, but for your own, in the hope that you might escape the labor of plowing and instead pass the remainder of your days in idleness. What answer shall you give to the Lord when your children and I perish because of your laziness?" 

The blessed Philaret looked at her and said meekly, "Hear what God, Who is rich in mercy, commands us: Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Shall He not then feed us, who are much better than fowl? He promises to reward a hundredfold those who give their possessions to the poor for His sake and the Gospel’s. Consider, woman: if for one ox we shall be given a hundred, why should we grieve for the ox I gave away for the Lord’s sake?" The compassionate man said this not because he hoped to be rewarded a hundredfold in this life, but to quiet his fainthearted wife. And indeed, when the woman heard these wise words, she fell silent. 

Not five days had passed when the ox that the blessed Philaret had given the peasant ate a deadly plant called hellebore and perished. Not knowing what else to do, the peasant returned to Philaret, fell down before him, and said, "My lord, I have sinned before you and your children by separating your oxen. For this reason the righteous God has prevented me from gaining any benefit from the use of your ox, which ate a poisonous plant and perished." 

The blessed Philaret made no reply, but instead brought his remaining ox. Giving it to the villager, he said, "Take this ox, brother. I intend to travel to a faraway country and do not wish that my ox, which is accustomed to work, should stand idle." 

The blessed one said this so that the man would accept his gift. As he led the beast away, the peasant marveled at the saint’s great compassion; but when these things became known at Philaret’s house, his children wailed with their mother, "Our father has no love or mercy for us and has squandered everything we own. God left us a single pair of oxen to save us from starvation, and even this he gave away!" 

Philaret replied, "Why, my children, do you lament? Do you wish to break my heart? Why do you call me merciless and think that I intend to see you die of hunger? In a place unknown to you I have such a treasure that even if you should live in idleness to the age of a hundred, it would provide for all your needs. I myself am unable to set a value on the things I have stored up for you." Saying this, the righteous man did not deceive his children, because he foresaw with spiritual vision what would come to pass. 

Shortly afterwards an imperial decree was published in the land ordering all troops to assemble in their regiments to meet the godless pagans attacking the Greek Empire. Every soldier was commanded to appear fully armed, with two horses. Among those summoned to battle was a man named Mousoulius. He had fallen into poverty and had only one horse, which stumbled into a chasm and perished just a day before he was due to depart with his regiment. Having no money with which to purchase another horse, the soldier went to the blessed Philaret and pleaded, "Have mercy, my lord Philaret! I know that hard times have befallen you and you have been left with only a single horse, but for the Lord’s sake give him to me. Otherwise, my commander will have me flogged!" 

"Take the horse, brother," said Philaret, "and go in peace. I give him to you for God’s sake." 

The soldier departed with the saint’s horse, glorifying God. By now there remained to Philaret only a cow and its calf, an ass, and a few beehives. Then a poor man who had heard of the merciful one came to him from afar, and entreated him, "My lord! Give me as a blessing a calf from your herds. I have been told that whoever receives a gift from you becomes wealthy." 

The holy Philaret gladly brought the calf and gave it to the man, saying, "May God bless you abundantly, brother, and grant you everything you need." 

The man bowed down before Philaret and departed. Meanwhile, the cow began to look about for the calf. Unable to find it, she bellowed loudly in sorrow, moving Philaret’s entire household to pity. His wife was especially grieved, and lamented, "Who can endure this insanity? Who would not laugh at your foolishness? I see clearly today that you do not love me in the least and that you wish your children to die of hunger. You do not even feel pity for a dumb beast and have taken the calf from our cow when she was still feeding it. Whom do you think you have helped by doing such a thing? You have impoverished us still further and done nothing for the man to whom you gave the calf. Without its mother it will die, and the cow will continue to grieve and bellow. No one will benefit from what you have done." 

The honorable Philaret answered his wife in a mild voice, "What you say is true, woman. It was cruel of me to separate the calf from its mother. I shall find a way to undo the wrong." Thereupon he hurried to overtake the man to whom he had given the calf, and catching sight of him, cried, "Come back with the calf, man, for its mother gives us no peace and stands bellowing at our door!" 

Hearing this, the poor man was certain that Philaret wished to take back the calf, and said to himself sorrowfully, "Woe is me! I am unworthy to receive as a blessing from this righteous man even a little calf!" 

As the man was returning, the calf caught sight of its mother and ran toward her. The cow also saw her calf and hurried toward it, calling loudly. When the calf reached its mother, it straightway began to take her milk, remaining for a long time sucking at her teats. Theoseva, Philaret’s wife, saw the calf return home, and this made her very pleased. Meanwhile, Philaret, seeing the poor man grieving, said to him, "Brother, my wife says that I have sinned by parting the calf from its mother, and this is true, so take the mother with the calf and go with the Lord’s blessing. May He multiply your herds, as He once did mine." The man took the cow and its calf and departed, rejoicing. God indeed blessed his house for the sake of His favorite, Philaret, and he came to possess two large herds of cattle. 

Shortly thereafter, famine struck the land. Reduced to the utmost poverty, Philaret had no money left to buy food for his wife and children. Saddling his one remaining ass, he traveled to another part of the country, where a friend of his lived. Philaret borrowed six measures of wheat, which he loaded on the donkey. Then he set off happily on his homeward journey. 

As Philaret was resting after his return, a poor man came to the door begging a basket of wheat. The worthy emulator of Abraham went to his wife, who at that moment was sowing some of the wheat, and said to her, "Woman, I would like to give this poor brother a measure of wheat." 

"Let me, your children, and the servants each take a measure of wheat first, that we may eat our fill. Then you may give what remains to whomever you wish," she replied. 

Philaret laughed at her and asked, "Do I not also need a portion?" 

"You are an angel, not a man," said Theoseva, "and have no need of food. If you required food, you would not be so anxious to give away what you have." 

The saint nevertheless took two measures of wheat and gave them to the poor man. Seeing this, his wife was unable to restrain herself and cried out angrily, "Give him a third measure! You have enough and to spare!" The blessed Philaret took a third measure, gave it to the poor man, and sent him on his way. His grieving wife took the remaining wheat and divided it with her children. Soon, however, the wheat was gone and they were hungry. Theoseva then went to one of her neighbors and begged half a loaf of bread. She also gathered some goosefoot, which she boiled and served her children with the bread. She shared in the children’s meal, but did not call her husband to the table. 

A rich man who had long been a friend of the blessed Philaret heard of the terrible poverty into which the saint had fallen and sent him four cartloads of wheat. Each consisted of ten measures of grain. He also sent Philaret this message: "Beloved brother, I have sent forty measures of wheat for you and your household. When it has been consumed, I will send the same quantity to you again. Pray to the Lord for me!" 

The blessed one fell to the ground, lifted up his hands and eyes unto heaven, and praised God, saying, "I thank Thee, O Lord my God, for Thou hast not forsaken Thy servant, nor hast Thou disdained him who hopeth in Thee!" 

Seeing that God had shown mercy on them, Philaret’s wife ceased to lament, and said to her husband, "My lord, give me and the children our portion of the wheat, and pay back our neighbors what we have taken from them. As for your portion, do with it as you wish." 

Philaret did as his wife said and divided the grain, taking as his portion five measures, which he divided within two days among the poor. Again his wife became angry, and not wishing to sit at table with him, ate instead with her children when he was not present. Once it happened that the blessed Philaret came upon them as they were eating, and said, "Children, permit me to share your table, if not as your father, then at least as a guest or stranger." 

They laughed at him, but allowed him to sit down. As they were eating, Theoseva asked, "My lord Philaret, when will you show us the treasure which you told us you have hidden? Did you say this to mock us, teasing us like foolish little children with false promises? If what you said is true, show us the treasure. We shall take it, buy food, and eat together as before." 

"Wait a little," said the blessed one, "and a rich treasure will indeed be revealed to you." 

Philaret was finally reduced to such poverty that he possessed nothing but his hives. If a beggar came to him and he had neither bread nor anything else to give him, the saint would go to his hives and bring the poor man honey. The family continued to eat the honey, but soon it became apparent to the servants that they would be left even without this, so they secretly went to the beehives to collect what remained. They found only a single comb, which they took for themselves. The next morning a pauper came begging alms of the godly one. Philaret went to the last hive, but found it empty. Having nothing else to give the man, he removed his outer robe and put it on him. When he returned home, clad in a single garment, his wife demanded, "Where is your robe? Did you give it to that beggar?" 

"I went to the beehives and left it there," Philaret replied. 

His son then went to the hives and searched for the robe. He told his mother that he did not find it. Unable to bear the sight of her husband clothed only in an undergarment, she draped her own robe over him so that the folds fell in a way befitting a man. 

At that time the scepter of the Greek Empire was in the hands of the Christ-loving Empress Irene and her son Constantine. Since Constantine had reached a marriageable age, wise noblemen were sent to every province of the realm to search for a fair, highborn maiden of honorable demeanor who would make a worthy bride for him. Zealous to fulfill the imperial command, the men entrusted with this task tirelessly passed through town and country, stopping even in mean hamlets. As they were approaching Amneia in Paphlagonia, they caught sight of Philaret’s house, for it was the most eminent structure in the village and obviously the home of a nobleman. They ordered their servants to go ahead to prepare for them a meal and a place to sleep at the saint’s house, but one of the soldiers accompanying them said, "Do not go to that house, my lords. Although it is large and beautiful, it is empty. We shall find nothing to eat there, because the old man who lives in it is more generous to the poor than any man alive and has been reduced to poverty." 

The nobles did not believe the soldier, and repeated their command. The blessed Philaret, the true lover of strangers, saw the servants as they approached, and taking his staff, went out to meet them. Bowing to the ground before them, he said joyfully, "My lords, it is good that God has brought you to me, your servant. I count it a great blessing to receive men such as you in my humble home." Then he hurried back to his wife and said to her, "Theoseva, my lady, prepare a fine supper. I am happy to tell you that noble guests have come to us from afar." 

"With what am I to prepare a fine supper?" she grumbled. "There is not a lamb in our wretched house, nor even a hen. I can only boil some of the goosefoot that we ourselves eat, and that without oil. I can hardly remember when we last had oil, or wine!" 

"Do no more than prepare the fire, my lady," Philaret said. "Make ready the upper chamber, and wash down and polish our old ivory table. God, Who giveth food to all flesh, will provide the supper." 

Theoseva did as her husband told her. Meanwhile, Philaret’s wealthier neighbors learned that noblemen sent by the Emperor had come to his house, and they brought the righteous one sheep, lambs, hens, doves, wine, bread, and other foodstuffs befitting such guests. Theoseva took these things and prepared a rich banquet. Entering the upper room, the guests were amazed to see a beautiful round ivory table, adorned with silver, standing in the middle of a magnificent room; but they especially marveled at the abundant hospitality of their host, who in appearance and manner was like a second Abraham. While sitting at table, they saw that John, the blessed elder’s son, closely resembled his father. They also noticed that Philaret’s grandchildren, who brought food and carried away plates, conducted themselves in a proper manner. They asked the blessed one, "Tell us, O honorable man, do you have a wife?" 

"I do, my lords," he replied, "and this is my son and these my grandsons who stand before you." 

"Bid your wife come here to meet us," said the Emperor’s men. When Theoseva appeared, they saw that although not young, she was still a handsome woman, and asked, "Do you have any daughters?" 

Philaret answered, "I have two, and the elder has three daughters herself." 

The men said, "Bring them here. We have been commissioned to travel throughout the Empire to find a beautiful maiden worthy to marry the Emperor." 

"You will not find such a maiden here, my lords," said Philaret, "for we are your slaves, poor, insignificant people. Nevertheless, eat now and drink what God has provided; make merry, rest from your journey, and sleep, and in the morning we shall see what the will of the Lord brings." 

The nobles awoke at dawn and called for the blessed Philaret. They said to him, "Sir, bring your granddaughters to us. We wish to see them." 

The saint answered, "Let it be as you wish, my lords; but agree, if you will, to enter the inner quarters of my home, because the maidens never leave them." 

The men followed Philaret into the rooms where the family lived. There they found the maidens, who greeted them with respectful bows. Seeing that they were more beautiful than any of the young women they had met elsewhere in the Empire, they were delighted and exclaimed, "We thank God for having brought us to the end of our search! Surely one of these virgins will become the bride of the Emperor, for nowhere on earth can there be a maiden fairer than these." 

Because the Emperor was tall, their choice as his bride fell upon Mary, the blessed Philaret’s eldest granddaughter, who was the tallest of the sisters. The Emperor’s men joyfully set off for the Imperial City, accompanied by the maiden, her father and mother, grandfather, and his entire household, thirty persons in all. They also had with them ten other virgins they had chosen, among whom was the comely daughter of the great nobleman Gerontius. While the party was traveling, the chaste and virtuous Mary said to the other maidens, "Sisters, hearken to my counsel! Since we are all being taken to the Emperor for the same purpose, let us make a covenant between us. Only one can be chosen as the Emperor’s consort, so may she whom the King of heaven deems worthy of this lofty rank remember the others upon assuming the imperial dignity, and bestow on them her favor and protection." 

"Let it be known to all of you," announced Gerontius’ daughter, "that it is I who shall be selected as the Emperor’s bride. I surpass all of you in nobility, wealth, beauty, and intelligence. You have no hope of being chosen. Your pretty faces will not win you a place in the Emperor’s bed, for you are poor, baseborn, ignorant wenches." Placing her hope in God and the prayers of her holy grandfather, Mary remained silent while the foolish maiden spat out these proud words. 

When they arrived at the imperial palace, the noblemen and their charges were announced, and Gerontius’ daughter was taken first before the imperial favorite Stauricius, who was responsible for the administration of the palace. Stauricius questioned her, and quickly perceiving that she was a haughty girl, declared, "You are handsome enough, but not suited to be the Emperor’s wife." He gave her gifts and sent her home. Thus the words of the Scriptures were fulfilled: Every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. Then Mary was taken before the Emperor, together with her mother, grandfather, and the rest of the household. The Emperor, his mother the Empress, and Stauricius were all impressed with the dignity and noble demeanor of the entire family. They were also enchanted by the beauty of Mary’s face, which bespoke of meekness, humility, and the fear of God. Such was Mary’s modesty that as she stood before them, she blushed red as an apple, and her eyes remained fixed downward, looking at the floor; therefore the Emperor was smitten with love for her and took her as his betrothed. The middle sister was pledged to an eminent patrician named Constanticius, and the youngest was sent with numerous gifts to become the bride of the ruler of the Lombards, so that peace might be established with that tribe. The wedding of Constantine to Mary was celebrated with much delight by the Emperor himself, his nobles, all the people, and the family of the blessed Philaret. During the festivities the Emperor took the elder by the hand and kissed his honorable head. He praised Philaret, his wife, and the members of his household for their piety, and bestowed numerous gifts and honors upon them all. Among the presents were gold and silver, precious stones, costly garments, and great mansions. After the merrymaking was concluded, the Emperor demonstrated his esteem for the blessed one by kissing him again. Then he permitted Philaret to depart to the magnificent home he had given him. 

Seeing the rich gifts they had received, Philaret’s family and servants remembered that the blessed one said a treasure had been hidden for them. Falling at his feet, they cried, "Forgive us, O lord and master, for having sinned against you, foolishly reproaching you for the generosity you always showed the poor. We now understand the words of Scripture, Blessed is the man that hath understanding for the poor man and the pauper, for everything that he gives to the poor, he gives to God Who rewards him a hundredfold in the present age and grants him life everlasting in that to come. It is because of your compassion for the poor that God has shown mercy on you, and on us as well." 

The elder lifted up his hands to heaven and exclaimed, Blessed be the name of the Lord from henceforth and for evermore! Then he said to his family, "Hearken to my counsel: prepare a fine supper, and I shall request our King and Master to come with all His nobles to dine with us." 

"May it be as you wish," they answered. 

As the supper was being prepared, the blessed one went out into the streets of the city and brought back to his home all the paupers, lepers, blind, lame, aged, and maimed folk he could find. In all, they numbered two hundred. Leaving them at the gates of the house, he entered alone and said to his family, "Children, the King has come with His nobles. Is everything ready?" 

"Everything is prepared," they replied. 

The blessed one signaled to those standing outside to enter. Some took their seat at the table; others he commanded to recline on the floor. It was among the latter that Philaret took his place. His family understood that in speaking of the King, he meant Christ our God Himself, Who had entered their house with the poor. By the King’s nobles he meant all the poor brethren, whose prayers find great favor with God. They marveled at his humility and were amazed that the grandfather of the Empress had not forgotten his former generosity and did not disdain to recline among paupers, whom he served like a slave. They said to him, "Verily, you are a man of God, a true disciple of Christ, Who enjoined us: Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart." The blessed one also requested his son John, who had been appointed a member of the imperial bodyguard, and his grandchildren to stand near the table and serve the brethren. Shortly afterwards, Saint Philaret said, "Lo children, you have received from God such riches as you never expected, despite the promise I made to you, hoping in God. Tell me, therefore: what else do you consider that I owe you?" 

Recalling his promise, they began to weep, and lamented with one voice, "Truly, our lord, you are God’s favorite and foresaw everything that has come to pass! How foolish we were to have caused you such trouble in your old age! We beg you not to remember the sins we committed in ignorance." 

The blessed one answered, "Children, merciful and compassionate is the Lord, Who rewards us a hundredfold for the paltry alms we give to the poor in His name. Now I say, let each one of you set aside ten gold coins for our poor brethren, if you wish to inherit life eternal. The Lord will accept them as He did the two mites from the widow." They gladly did as the saint had instructed. Meanwhile, he continued feeding the poor, each of whom was given a gold piece and sent on his way. 

Not many days later, the blessed Philaret called for his wife and children and said to them, "Our Lord commanded us, Occupy till I come. I want you to purchase everything the Emperor has given me, thus enabling me to obey Christ. If you refuse, I will give everything I own directly to my brethren, the poor. I wish no more for myself than to be called the Emperor’s grandfather." 

The saint’s family decided that his possessions were worth sixty pounds of gold, which was the amount they gave him for them. The blessed one distributed what he received to the poor. The Emperor and his nobles learned of this and were very pleased by Philaret’s compassion and generosity to all who asked of him, and thenceforth they began to entrust much gold to him so that he could pass it on to the needy. 

The blessed one set out three sacks, identical in appearance. One he filled with gold coins, another with silver, the third with bronze coins. He once left all three with his servant Callistus. A beggar came asking alms, and the saint told Callistus to give him money from one of the sacks. When the servant asked him how he was to know from which sack, the saint replied, "From whichever God commands. He knows the needs of all, rich and poor, and fills every living thing with His favor. It is the Lord Who guides the hand of the giver." 

So saying, the righteous one wished to point out that not all beggars are alike. Some were once wealthy, and through adversity have lost their possessions and come to lack even daily bread. Nevertheless, there still remain to them some of their fine clothes, which they continue to wear to hide their shame at begging. Others wear rags, but have a great deal of money concealed. These have learned that a fortune can be made by begging, and are nothing but extortioners and idolaters. When the blessed one himself gave alms, he would thrust his hand into one of the sacks without looking to see which it was. Whatever he happened to draw out, copper, silver, or gold, he gave to the beggar. "Many times," the honorable man swore, calling upon God as his witness, "someone clothed in fine garments would come to me, requesting alms, and I stretched out my hand to draw copper coins, thinking that because he was well clothed, he was not really poor; but it involuntarily took silver or gold, which I gave him. At other times I was approached by a beggar in old, tattered clothing, and I intended to give him a large sum of gold, but my hand was directed into one of the other bags, and he received little. These things were ordained by Providence, for God knows perfectly our needs." 

After four years had passed, the blessed Philaret returned to the palace to visit his granddaughter. He wore neither a robe of purple nor a golden belt. Others had urged him to dress in these, but he answered, "Leave me in peace. I thank my God and glorify His great and wondrous name, because He has raised me up from the dunghill of poverty and honored me with my present lofty estate, making me the grandfather of an empress. This suffices for me." 

Such was the blessed one’s humility that he had no desire for rank or title, and wished only to be called Philaret of Amneia. Finally, having spent his last years humbly distributing alms, Philaret sensed the approach of his blessed end. Apprised by God of his coming decease while still in good health, he secretly called for one of his faithful servants and went with him to the convent called "Rodolfia," which was inhabited by virgin nuns of pure and honorable life. He gave to the abbess a large quantity of gold for the convent, saying, "I will depart this life in a few days and go to another world, where a different King reigns. Say nothing of this to anyone, but bury my body in a new grave." He also forbade his servant to speak of his coming death to anyone for the moment. After distributing to the poor whatever he had in his possession, he returned to the convent, where he fell ill and was given a bed. Nine days later he called for his wife, children, and household, and addressed them in a sweet, quiet voice, "Know children, that our holy King has called for me this day. I am about to leave you and go to Him." 

They did not understand, and thinking that he was speaking of the earthly Emperor, protested, "You cannot visit the Emperor today, you are ill!" 

"My escorts are here already," Philaret answered. 

Then they understood that he was speaking of the King of heaven, and lamented bitterly, as once did Joseph and his brothers for Jacob, but Philaret motioned them to silence. He began to instruct and console them, saying, "My children, you know how I have lived since my youth. God is my witness that I have not exploited another’s labors, nor boasted because of the wealth God has given me, but have driven pride far away and loved humility, heeding the Apostle, who charged them that are rich in this life not to be high-minded. When I fell into poverty, I neither grieved, nor did I curse God, but like Job thanked Him for having looked upon my patience. I continued to be grateful to Him in adversity, and He delivered me and made me the friend and kinsman of the Emperor and his princes. Yet even when I was raised to an exalted rank, my heart remained humble, and I heeded the prophet, who said, My heart is not exalted, nor are mine eyes become lofty, nor have I walked in things too great or too marvelous for me. I have not hidden the riches given me by the earthly Emperor, but have sent them to the King of heaven, borne in the arms of the poor; therefore, I implore you to emulate me, beloved, and do whatever you have seen me do. The greater the good you accomplish, the greater the blessedness you will inherit. Place no value on corruptible riches, but send them on to the world unto which I now depart. Leave not your possessions here, lest they fall into the hands of your enemies. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, intercede for widows, come to the aid of orphans, visit the sick and imprisoned, and shun not the services of the Church. Do not take what is another’s, do not slander or offend anyone, and do not rejoice at another’s misfortune, even your enemy’s. Give burial to the dead and have them commemorated in the holy churches. Remember me, the unworthy one, in your prayers as well, until the day of your death and departure unto life eternal." Then the saint said to his son John, "Tell my grandsons to draw nearer," and began to foretell what would happen in their lives. To John’s eldest son he said, "You will take a wife in a distant land and live piously with her," and to the second son, "You will take upon yourself the yoke of Christ, living virtuously as a monk for twenty-four years, and then depart unto the Lord"; and he also foretold everything that was to befall the third son. Being a prophet, like the patriarch Jacob in times of old, this blessed man knew with certainty everything that would take place in his grandsons’ lives. 

John’s two virgin daughters approached him as well, saying, "Bless us, grandfather!" 

"The Lord bless you," he answered. "You will remain virgins, unsullied by this sin-loving world and the passions of the flesh. After serving the Lord in chastity for a short time, you will be vouchsafed great blessings from Him." Everything the saint predicted came to pass. His granddaughters entered a convent dedicated to the most pure Theotokos in Constantinople, and after struggling in the monastic labors of fasting and vigil for twelve years, reposed in purity almost at the same time, departing peacefully unto the Lord. 

The blessed Philaret prayed for his wife, children, his entire household, and the whole world; then suddenly his face could be seen shining like the sun. He chanted the psalm of David, Of mercy and judgment will I sing to Thee, O Lord, and when it was completed, a sweet odor filled the room, as if someone had poured out a bottle of fragrant perfume. After this he began the prayer, "Our Father, which art in the heavens." Reaching the words, "Thy will be done," he lifted up his arms and surrendered his soul unto the Lord. Philaret was ninety years old when he died; nonetheless, his face was not wizened by age. He remained pleasant to behold, and his cheeks were ruddy as ripe apples. 

When he learned of Philaret’s death, the Emperor, accompanied by the Empress and his nobles, hastened to the convent. Kissing the blessed one’s face and hands, everyone wept copiously. The Emperor immediately issued a command that abundant alms be given to the poor. 

As the saint’s body was being taken for burial, a strange thing occurred which moved all to tears and contrition of heart. An innumerable multitude of poor folk and beggars descended upon his grave from the cities and villages nearby. Like ants they swarmed around his coffin, hobbling and crawling and trampling one another underfoot. Their cries and lamentations rose up to heaven, and they shouted, "O Lord God, why hast Thou taken from us our father, who ever nurtured us? Who now will feed the hungry? Who will give burial to the bodies of our brethren lying in the streets? It would have been better if we had died before our benefactor!" 

Among those who thronged the saint’s casket was a pauper named Kavokokus, who often received alms from Philaret. He was possessed from birth by an evil spirit, which frequently cast him into fire or water at the appearance of the new moon, when the demon would torment him most cruelly. Learning that the blessed Philaret had reposed and that his sacred remains lay already in the casket and were being carried to the grave, he set out in pursuit of them. Kavokokus caught up with the coffin, but the demon, enraged by his ardent love for the saint, did not remain idle. It began to torment the man, forcing him to utter blasphemies against Philaret, to bark like a dog at the coffin, and to grab hold of the bier so firmly that it was impossible to pry loose his hands. As soon as the coffin reached the grave, the demon threw the sufferer to the ground and took flight. Kavokokus arose unharmed, praising God; and the people who witnessed the miracle also marveled and extolled the Lord, Who had given such abundant grace to His servant. The saint’s honorable body was then laid to rest. Thus did God glorify His merciful servant in the present age! Now we shall tell how the Lord exalted him in the life beyond the grave. 

A relative of Philaret, a wise, pious man who feared God, told this story concerning the saint, vowing the truth of the tale and calling upon God Himself as his witness: 

"One night, after the blessed Philaret departed unto God, I beheld an awesome vision and saw myself being taken to a place surpassing all description. A radiant man showed me a dreadful river of fire, which roared as it flowed by. On the far side of the river I saw a marvelous, beautiful garden, a place of ineffable delight, from which came forth a wondrous fragrance. The garden was full of lofty trees, heavy with fruit, which swayed as a gentle breeze blew through them, making a most pleasant sound. No human tongue can tell of the good things there, which God hath prepared for them that love Him. I saw in the garden a multitude of people rejoicing, clad in white garments and enjoying the fruits of that place, and as I looked more closely, I noticed a man clothed in a bright robe, sitting on a golden throne. It was Philaret, but I did not recognize him. On one side of him stood newly baptized children holding candles; on the other, a crowd of poor folk clothed in white. The latter were pressing against one another, hoping to gain a place closer to the blessed one. Suddenly a young man appeared, his face brilliant with light. His gaze was terrifying, and he held in his hand a staff of gold. Trembling with fear, I somehow found the courage to ask him, ’My lord, who is the man sitting on the throne? Is it Abraham?’ 

"The shining youth replied, ’It is Philaret of Amneia, who is counted as a second Abraham because of his great love for the poor and his generous almsgiving. He has been assigned a place here because of his pure and honorable life.’ 

"Then the new Abraham, the holy, righteous Philaret, his face radiant with light, looked upon me and said softly, ’Come here, child. I wish to share these good things with you.’ 

"’I cannot go to you, father,’ said I. ’I am afraid of the river of fire. The bridge over it is narrow and difficult to cross. Many people are burning in the river, and I fear that I may fall into it.’ 

"The saint replied, ’Take courage and come; do not fear. There is no way here except by the bridge. Do not be afraid, child; I will help you.’ 

"As he called me, he stretched out his hand. I took courage and began to cross, but as soon as I touched his hand, the sweet vision suddenly came to an end, and I awoke. Weeping bitterly, I repeated to myself, ’How shall I ever cross that dread river and reach the heavenly mansions?’" 

After burying the precious body of her husband, the blessed Theoseva, Saint Philaret’s wife, returned to Paphlagonia. She used much of the wealth given her by the Emperor and Empress to rebuild the churches of that land destroyed by the godless Persians. She gave to the restored churches sacred vessels and vestments, and adorned them richly, and also founded monasteries and guesthouses for travelers, where the poor and infirm could find shelter. After some time she returned to Constantinople, where she lived out the rest of her days in virtue and piety. She reposed peacefully in the Lord and was laid in a grave next to her husband. By their prayers, may we also be granted the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ on the day of judgment. Unto Him is due honor and glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Always remember Him

My children, always remember Jesus so that in all your weaknesses you may find the appropriate medicine.  Are you in pain?  By calling on Jesus you will find relief and enlightenment.  Are you in affliction?  Call on Jesus and behold, consolation will dawn in the realm of your heart.  Are you overcome by discouragement?  Do not neglect to set your hopes on Jesus, and your soul will be filled with courage and strength.  Are you bothered by carnal thoughts that allure you to sensual pleasure?  Take the consuming fire of the name of Jesus and set fire to the tares.  Are you oppressed by some worldly affair?  Say, "Enlighten me, my Jesus, how to deal with the matter which lies before me. Work it out in accordance with Thy holy will."  And behold, you will be at peace and will walk with hope. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Church has enrolled two newly canonized Saints

Elder Porphyrios (through whom many of us have been blessed through the reading of his guidance), is now known as St. Porphyrios (feast day: Dec 2).  He was officially canonized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate on Wednesday, Nov 27, 2013.  He and St. Meletios of Lardos were canonized together.   

Wondrous is God in His Saints!
Pres. Candace

Canonization of Two New Saints by the Ecumenical Patriarchate


November 27, 2013

On Tuesday, November 27, 2013, the Sacred and Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate decided the formal inclusion in the List of Saints of the Orthodox Church of elder Porphyrios of Kafsokalivia and of venerable Meletios of Lardos.

 Feast Day of Saint Porphyrios of Kafsokalivia: December 2nd.

Feast Day of Saint Meletios of Lardos: February 12th. 

Saint Porphyrios of Kafsokalivia

Saint Meletios of Lardos

Saint Porphyrios of Kafsokalivia

Photo of Saint Porphyrios of Kafsokalivia 

His family
Elder Porphyrios was born on the 7th of February 1906, in the village of St. John Karystia, near Aliveri, in the province of Evia. His parents were poor but pious farmers. His father’s name was Leonidas Bairaktaris and his mother’s was Eleni, the daughter of Antonios Lambrou.

At baptism he was given the name Evangelos. He was the fourth of five children, and the third child of the four that survived. His oldest sister, Vassiliki, passed away when she was a year old. Today, only his youngest sister, who is a nun is still alive.

His father had a monastic calling but obviously did not become a monk. He was, however, the village cantor, and St. Nectarios called upon his services during his journeys through the area, but poverty forced him to emigrate to America to work on the construction of the Panama canal.

His childhood years
The Elder attended the school in his village for only two years. The teacher was sick most of the time and the children didn’t learn much. Seeing the way things were, Evangelos left school, worked on the family farm and tended the few animals that they owned. He started working from the age of eight. Even though he was still very young, in order to make more money, he went to work in a coal mine. He later worked in a grocer’s store in Halkhida and in Piraeus.

His father had taught him the Supplicatory Canon (Paraklisis) to the Mother of God (Panagia), and whatever else of our faith he could. As a child he developed quickly. He himself told us that he was eight years old when he first started shaving. He looked much older than he actually was. From his childhood he was very serious, industrious and diligent.

Monastic calling
While he was looking after the sheep, and even when working in the grocer’s store, he slowly read the life story of St. John the Hut-dweller. He wanted to follow the example of the saint. So he set off for Mt. Athos many times, but for various reasons he never made it and returned home. Finally, when he was about fourteen or fifteen years of age, he again left for Mt. Athos. This time he was determined to make it and this time he did.

The Lord, who watches over the destinies of us all, brought about things in such a way that Evangelos met his future spiritual father, the hieromonk Panteleimon, while he was on the ferry boat between Thessaloniki and the Holy Mountain [Mt. Athos] Father Panteleimon immediately took the young boy under his wing. Evangelos was not yet an adult, and so should not have been allowed on the Holy mountain. Fr. Panteleimon said he was his nephew and his entrance was assured.

The monastic life
His elder, Fr. Panteleimon, took him to Kavsokalyvia to the Hut of St. George. Fr. Panteleimon lived there with his brother Fr. Ioannikios. The well-known monk, the blessed Hatzigeorgios had once lived there too.

In this way, Elder Porphyrios acquired two spiritual fathers at the same time. He gladly gave absolute obedience to both of them. He embraced the monastic life with great zeal. His only complaint was that his elders didn’t demand enough of him. He told us very little about his ascetic struggles and we have few details. From what he very rarely said to his spiritual children about it, we can conclude that he happily and continuously struggled hard. He would walk barefoot among the rocky and snowy paths of the Holy Mountain. He slept very little, and then with only one blanket and on the floor of the hut, even keeping the window open when it was snowing. During the night he would make many prostrations, stripping himself to the waist so that sleep would not overcome him. He worked; wood-carving or outside cutting down trees, gathering snails or carrying sacks of earth on his back for long distances, so that a garden could be created on the rocky terrain near the Hut of St. George.

He also immersed himself in the prayers, services and hymns of the Church, learning them by heart while working with his hands. Eventually from the continual repetition of the Gospel and from learning it by heart the same way, he was unable to have thoughts that were not good or that were idle. He characterized himself, in those years, as being “forever on the move.”

However, the distinguishing mark of his ascetic struggle was not the physical effort he made, but rather, his total obedience to his elder. He was completely dependent upon him. His will disappeared into his elder’s will. He had total love faith and devotion for his elder. He identified himself completely with him, making his elder’s conduct in life his own conduct. It is here that we find the essence of it all. It is here, in his obedience, that we discover the secret, the key to his life.

This uneducated boy from the second grade, using the Holy Scriptures as his dictionary, was able to educate himself. By reading about his beloved Christ he managed in only a few years to learn as much as, if not more than, we ever did with all our comforts. We had schools and universities, teachers and books, but we did not have the fiery enthusiasm of this young novice.

We do not know exactly when but certainly not long after reaching the Holy Mountain, he was tonsured as a monk and given the name Nikitas.

The visitation of divine grace
We should not find it strange that divine grace should rest upon this young monk who was filled with fire for Christ and gave everything for His love. He never once considered all his labors and struggles.

It was still dawn, and the main church of Kavsokalyvia was locked. Nikitas, however, was standing in the corner of the church entrance waiting for the bells to ring and the doors to be opened.

He was followed by the old monk Dimas, a former Russian officer, over ninety years old, an ascetic and a secret saint. Fr. Dimas looked around and made sure that nobody was there. He didn’t notice young Nikitas waiting in the entrance. He started making full prostrations and praying before the closed church doors.

Divine grace spilled over from holy Fr. Dimas and cascaded down upon the young monk Nikitas who was then ready to receive it. His feelings were indescribable. On his way back to the hut, after receiving Holy Communion in the Divine Liturgy that morning, his feelings were so intense that he stopped, stretched out his hands and shouted loudly “Glory to You, O God! Glory to You, O God! Glory to You, O God!”

The change wrought by the Holy Spirit.

Following the visitation of the Holy Spirit, a fundamental change took place in the psychosomatic makeup of young Monk Nikitas. It was the change that comes directly from the right hand of God. He acquired supernatural gifts and was vested with power from on high.

The first sign of these gifts was when his elders were returning from a far-away journey, he was able to “see” them at a great distance. He “saw” them there, where they were, even though they were not within human sight. He confessed this to Fr. Panteleimon who advised him to be very cautious about his gift and to tell no-one. Advice which he followed very carefully until he was told to do otherwise.

More followed. His sensitivity to things around him became very acute and his human capacities developed to their fullest. He listened to and recognized bird and animal voices to the extent that he knew not just where they came from, but what they were saying. His sense of smell was developed to such a degree that he could recognize fragrances at a great distance. He knew the different types of aroma and their makeup. After humble prayer he was able to “see” the depths of the earth and the far reaches of space. He could see through water and through rock formations. He could see petroleum deposits, radioactivity, ancient and buried monuments, hidden graves, crevices in the depths of the earth, subterranean springs, lost icons, scenes of events that had taken place centuries before, prayers that had been lifted up in the past, good and evil spirits, the human soul itself, just about everything. He tasted the quality of water in the depths of the earth. He would question the rocks and they would tell him about the spiritual struggles of ascetics who went before him. He looked at people and was able to heal. He touched people and he made them well. He prayed and his prayer became reality. However, he never knowingly tried to use these gifts from God to benefit himself. He never asked for his own ailments to be healed. He never tried to get personal gain from the knowledge extended to him by divine grace.

Every time he used his gift of discernment, (diakrisis) the hidden thoughts of the human mind were revealed to him. He was able, through the grace of God, to see the past, the present and the future all at the same time. He confirmed that God is all-knowing and all-powerful. He was able to observe and touch all creation, from the edges of the Universe to the depth of the human soul and history. St. Paul’s phrase “One and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills” (1.Cor.12:11) certainly held true for Elder Porphyrios. Naturally, he was a human being, and received divine grace, which comes from God. This God who for reasons of His own sometimes did not reveal everything. Life lived in grace is an unknown mystery for us. Any more talk on the matter would be a rude invasion into matters we don’t understand. The Elder always pointed this out to all those who attributed his abilities to something other than grace. He underlined this fact, again and again, saying “It’s not something that’s learnt. It’s not a skill. It is GRACE.”

Return to the world
Even after being overshadowed by divine grace, this young disciple of the Lord continued in his ascetic struggles as before, with humility, godly zeal and unprecedented love of learning. The Lord now wanted to make him a teacher and shepherd of His rational sheep. He tried him out, measured him up, and found him adequate.

Monk Nikitas never but never thought of leaving the Holy Mountain and returning to the world. His divine all-consuming love for our Savior drove him to wish and to dream of finding himself in the open desert and, except for his sweet Jesus, completely alone.

However, severe pleurisy, finding him worn down from his superhuman ascetic struggles, caught hold of him while he was gathering snails on the rocky cliffs. This forced his elders to order him to take up residence in a monastery in the world, so that he could become well again. He obeyed and returned to the world, but as soon as he recovered he went back to the place of his repentance. He again fell ill; this time his elders, with a great deal of sadness, sent him back into the world for good.

Thus, at nineteen years of age, we find him living as a monk at the Monastery Lefkon of St. Charalambos, close to his birthplace. Nevertheless he continued with the regime he had learnt on the Holy Mountain, his psalms and the like. He was, however, forced to scale down his fasting until his health got better.

Ordination to the Priesthood
It was in this monastery that he met the Archbishop of Sinai, Porphyrios III, a visiting guest there. From his conversation with Nikitas he noticed the virtue and the divine gifts that he possessed. He was so impressed that on the 26th of July 1927, the feast of St. Paraskevi, he ordained him a deacon. The very next day, the feast of St. Panteleimon, he promoted him to the priesthood as a member of the Sinaite Monastery. He was given the name Porphyrios. The ordination took place in the Chapel of the Holy Metropolis of Karystia, in the Diocese of Kymi. The Metropolitan of Karystia, Panteleimon Phostini also took part in the service. Elder Porphyrios was only twenty-one years old.

The Spiritual Father
After this the resident Metropolitan of Karystia, Panteleimon appointed him with an official letter of warrant to be a father confessor. He carried out this new “talent” that was given him with humanity and hard work. He studied the “Confessor’s Handbook.” However, when he tried to follow to the letter what it said regarding penance, he was troubled. He realized that he had to handle each of the faithful individually. He found the answer in the writings of St. Basil, who advised, “We write all these things so that you can taste the fruits of repentance. We do not consider the time it takes, but we take note of the manner of repentance.” (Ep.217no.84.) He took this advice to heart and put it into practice. Even in his ripe old age he reminded young father confessors of this advice.

Having matured in this way the young hieromonk Porphyrios, by God’s grace, applied himself successfully to the work of spiritual father in Evia until 1940. He would receive large numbers of the faithful for confession every day. On many occasions he would hear confession for hours without a break. His reputation as a spiritual father, knower of souls, and sure guide, quickly spread throughout the neighboring area. This meant that many people flocked to his confessional at the Holy Monastery of Lefkon close to Avlona, Evia. Sometimes whole days and nights would pass by with no let-up and no rest, as he fulfilled this godly work, this sacrament. He would help those who came to him with his gift of discernment, guiding them to self-knowledge, truthful confession and the life in Christ. With this same gift he uncovered snares of the devil, saving souls from his evil traps and devices.

In 1938 he was awarded the office of Archimandrite from the Metropolitan of Karystia, “in honor of the service that you have given to the Church as a Spiritual Father until now, and for the virtuous hopes our Holy Church cherishes for you” (protocol no. 92/10-2-1938) as written by the Metropolitan. The hopes of whom, by the grace of God, were realized.

Priest, for a short time at the parish of Tsakayi, Evia and to the Monastery of St. Nicholas of Ano Vathia.

He was assigned by the resident Metropolitan as a priest to the village of Tsakayi, Evia. Some of the older villagers cherish fond memories of his presence there to this day. He had left the Holy Monastery of St. Charalambos because it had been turned into a convent. So, around 1938 we find him living in the ruined and abandoned Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas, Ano Vathias, Evia, in the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan of Halkhida.

In the desert of the city
When the turmoil of the Second World War approached Greece, the Lord enlisted His obedient servant, Porphyrios, assigning him to a new post, closer to his embattled people. On the 12th of October 1940 he was given the duty of temporary priest to the Chapel of St. Gerasimos in the Athens Polyclinic, which can be found on the corner of Socrates and Pireaus Street, close to Omonia Square. He himself requested the position out of the compassionate love he had for his fellows who were suffering. He wanted to be near them during the most difficult times in their lives, when illness, pain and the shadow of death showed the hopelessness of all other hope except for hope in Christ.

There were other applicants with excellent credentials who were also interested in the post, but the Lord enlightened the director of the Polyclinic. Humble and charming, Porphyrios, who was uneducated according to the standards of the world but wise according to God, was chosen. The person who made this choice later expressed his amazement and joy in finding a true priest saying, “I found a perfect father, just like Christ wants.”

He served the Polyclinic as its employed chaplain, for thirty whole years and then in order to be of service to his spiritual children who sought him there, voluntarily, for a further three years

Here as well as the role of chaplain, which he carried out with complete love and devotion, celebrating the services with wonderful devotion; confessing, admonishing, healing souls and many times bodily ailments too, he also acted as spiritual father to as many of those that came to him.

“Yes, you yourselves know that these hands were provided for my necessities and for those who were with me.” (Acts 20:34)

Elder Porphyrios, with his lack of academic qualifications, agreed to be chaplain of the Polyclinic for a salary of next to nothing. It was not enough to support himself, his parents and the few other close relatives who relied on him. He had to work for a living. He organized in succession, a poultry farm and then a weaving-shop. In his zeal for services to be celebrated in the most uplifting manner, he applied himself to the composition of aromatic substances which could then be used in the preparation of the incense used in divine worship. In fact in the 1970’s he made an original discovery. He combined charcoal with aromatic essences, now censing the church with his own slow-burning charcoal that gave off a sweet fragrance of spirituality. He never, it seems, revealed the details of this discovery.

From 1955 he leased the small monastery of St. Nicholas, Kallisia, which belongs to the Holy Monastery of Pendeli. He systematically cultivated the land around it, putting in a lot of hard work. It was here that wanted to establish the convent which he eventually built elsewhere. He improved the wells, built an irrigation system, planted trees, and tilled the soil with a digging machine that he worked himself. All this together with duty, twenty-four hours a day, as chaplain and confessor.

He valued work highly and would allow himself no rest. He learnt from experience the words of abba Isaac the Syrian, “God and his angels find joy in necessity; the devil and his workers find joy in idleness.”

Departure from the Polyclinic
On the 16th February 1970, having completed thirty-five years of service as a priest, he received a small pension from the Hellenic Clerical Insurance Fund and left his duties at the Polyclinic. In essence, however, he remained until his replacement arrived. Even after that he continued to visit the Polyclinic to meet his great number of spiritual children. Finally, around 1973, he minimized his visits to the Polyclinic and instead received his spiritual children at St. Nicholas’ in Kallisia, Pendeli, where he celebrated the liturgy and heard confession.

My strength is made perfect in weakness
Elder Porphyrios, in addition to the illness that forced him to leave Mt. Athos, and that kept his left side especially sensitive, suffered with many other ailments, at various times.

Towards the end of his service at the Polyclinic he became ill with kidney trouble. However, he was operated on only when his sickness was in its advanced stages. This was because he worked tirelessly despite his illness. He had become used to being obedient “unto death.” He was obedient even to the director of the Polyclinic, who told him to put off the operation, so that he could celebrate the services for Holy Week. This delay resulted in him slipping into a coma. The doctors told his relatives to prepare for his funeral. However, by divine will, and despite all medical expectations, the Elder returned to earthly life to continue his service to the members of the Church.

Some time before that, he had fractured his leg. Related to which is a miraculous instance of St. Gerasimos’ (whose Polyclinic chapel he served) concern for him,.

In addition to this his hernia, from which he suffered until his death, worsened., because of the heavy loads he used to carry to his home, in Turkovounia, where he lived for many years,

On the 20th August 1978, while at St. Nicholas, Kallisia, he had a heart attack (myocardial stroke). He was rushed to the “Hygeia” hospital, where he remained for twenty days. When he left the infirmary he continued his convalescence in Athens in the homes of some of his spiritual children. This was for three reasons. Firstly, he couldn’t go to St. Nicholas, Kallisia, as there was no road and he would have to walk a long way on foot. Furthermore, his house in Turkovounia did not even have the most basic comforts. Finally, he had to be near to doctors.

Later, when he had settled into a temporary shelter in Milesi, the site of the convent he founded, he had an operation on his left eye. The doctor made a mistake, destroying the sight in that eye. After a few years the Elder became completely blind. During the operation, without Elder Porphyrios’ permission, the doctor gave him a strong dose of cortisone. The Elder was particularly sensitive to medication, and especially to cortisone. The result of this injection was continuous stomach-haemorraghing which returned every three months or so. Because of his constantly bleeding stomach he couldn’t eat regular food. He sustained himself with a few spoonfuls of milk and water each day. This resulted in him becoming so physically exhausted that he reached the point where he could not even sit up straight. He received twelve blood transfusions, all of them in his accommodation at Milesi. In the end, although he was again at Death’s door, by the grace of God he survived

From that time on, his physical health was terribly compromised. However, he continued, his ministry as a spiritual father as much as he could, all the time confessing for shorter periods and often suffering from various other health problems and in the most frightful pain. Indeed, he steadily lost his sight until in 1987 he became completely blind. He steadily decreased the words of advice he gave to people, and increased the prayers he said to God for them. He silently prayed with great love and humility for all those who sought his prayer and help from God. With spiritual joy he saw divine grace acting upon them. Thus, Elder Porphyrios became a clear example of St. Paul the Apostle words, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

He builds a new convent
It was a long held desire of the Elder’s to found a holy convent of his own, to build a monastic foundation in which certain devout women, who were spiritual daughters of his, could live. He had vowed to God that he would not abandon these women when he left the world because they had been faithful helpers of his for many years. As time went on it would be possible for other women who wanted to devote themselves to the Lord to settle down there.

His first thought was to build the Convent at the place in Kallisia, Pendeli, which he had leased in 1955 from the Holy Monastery of Pendeli. He tried to persuade the owners many times either to donate or sell him the land required. It was to no avail. It now seemed that the Lord, the wise regulator and provider of all, destined another place for this particular undertaking. So the Elder turned his sights to another area in his search for real estate.

In the meantime, however, with the co-operation of his spiritual children, he put together the legal charter for the foundation of the Convent and submitted it to the proper church authorities. Since he had not yet chosen the specific place where his convent would be built, he identified Turkovounia in Athens as the place where it would be founded. Here he had a humble little stone house, which, without even the basic comforts, had been his impoverished abode since 1948.

Elder Porphyrios did not do anything without the blessing of the Church. Thus, in this instance he sought and received the canonical approval both of His Eminence the Archbishop of Athens and of the Holy Synod. Although the relevant procedures had started in 1978, it was only in 1981, after overcoming much procedural bureaucracy and other difficulties, that he was privileged enough to see the “Holy Convent of the Transfiguration of the Savior” recognized by a Presidential decree and published in the governmental gazette.

The search for a suitable site to establish the Convent had been started by the Elder long before his stroke, when he was more than certain that it wouldn’t be at Kallisia. With extreme care and great zeal, he searched tirelessly for a site which would have the most advantages. When his strength had moderately recovered after the stroke and when he felt he could, he continued the intense search for the place he wanted. He spared no effort. He traveled around the whole of Attica, Evia and Viotia in the cars of various spiritual children of his. He looked into the possibility of building his convent on Crete or some other island. He worked unbelievably hard. He inquired about hundreds of properties and visited most of them. He consulted many people. He traveled for thousands of kilometers. He made countless calculations. He weighed up all the factors; and finally he selected and purchased some property on the site of Hagia Sotira, Milesi by Malakasa, Attica, near Oropos.

Early in 1980 he took up residence on this property at Milesi, which had been bought for the construction of a convent. For more than a year at the start, he lived in a mobile home under very difficult conditions, especially in winter. Afterwards he settled into a small and shabby house in which he suffered all the hardship of three-months of continuous stomach-haemorraghing and where he also received numerous blood transfusions. The blood was donated with much love by his spiritual children.

The construction work, which the Elder followed closely, also began in 1980. He paid for the work from savings that he, his friends and his relatives had made over the years with this aim in mind. He was also helped by various spiritual children.

The building of the Church of the Transfiguration
His great love for his fellow man was centered upon guiding them to the joy of transfiguration according to Christ. Together with St. Paul the Apostle, he implored us, his brothers and sisters, through God’s compassion “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Rom.12:2). He wanted to guide us to the state in which he lived, according to which, “We all with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor.3:18)

This is why he also called his Convent the “Transfiguration” and why he wanted the church to be dedicated to the Transfiguration. Finally, through his prayers, he influenced his fellow workers in this venture and succeeded in his aim. After much consultation and hard work on the part of the Elder, a simple, pleasing and perfect design was arrived at.

In the meantime, through the canonical intervention of His Eminence the Archbishop of Athens, the local Metropolitan (whose seat falls within the Athenian Archdiocese), gave permission for the church to be built within his jurisdiction, at Milesi.

The laying of the foundations took place at midnight between the 25th and the 26th February, 1990 during an all night vigil in honor of St. Porphyrios, Bishop of Gaza, the Wonderworker. Elder Porphyrios, sick and unable to climb the eleven meters down to the ground where the cornerstone was to be laid, with great emotion, offered his cross for the cornerstone. From his bed he prayed, using these words: “O Cross of Christ, make firm this house. O Cross of Christ, save us by Your strength. Remember, O Lord, Your humble servant Porphyrios and his companions…” Having prayed for all those who worked with him, he directed that their names to be placed in a special position in the church, for their eternal commemoration.

The work of building the Church (out of re-enforced concrete) began immediately. Accompanied by the Elder’s prayers, it progressed without interruption. He was able to see with his spiritual eyes – for he had lost his natural sight many years before -, the church reaching the final stages of that phase of its construction. That is to say, at the base of the central dome. It actually reached this point on the day of the Elder’s final departure.

He prepares his return to the Holy Mountain
Elder Porphyrios had never emotionally left Mt. Athos. There was no other subject that interested him more than the Holy Mountain, and especially Kavsokalyvia. For many years he had a hut there, in the name of a disciple of his who he visited on occasion. When he heard in 1984 that the last resident of St. George’s hut had left for good and taken up residence in another monastery, he hastened to the Holy Great Lavra of St. Athanasios, to whom it belonged and asked that it be given to him. It was at St. George’s that he had first taken his monastic vows. He had always wanted to return, to keep the vow made at his tonsure some sixty years earlier, to remain in his monastery until his last breath. He was now getting ready for his final journey.

The hut was given to him according to the customs of Mt. Athos, with the monastery’s sealed pledge, dated 21st September 1984. Elder Porphyrios settled different disciples of his there in succession. In the summer of 1991 there were five. This is the number, that he had mentioned to a spiritual child of his some three years before as the total that indicated the year of his death.

Return to his repentance
During the last two years of his earthly life he would frequently talk about his preparation for his defense before the dread judgment seat of God. He gave strict orders that if he should die here, his body should be transported without fanfare and buried at Kavsokalyvia. In the end, he decided to go there whilst he was still alive. He spoke about a certain story in the Sayings of the Fathers:

A certain elder, who had prepared his grave when he felt his end was near, said to his disciple, “My son, the rocks are slippery and steep and you will endanger your life if you alone take me to my grave. Come, let us go now that I am alive.” And surely his disciple took him by the hand and the elder lay down in the grave and gave up his soul in peace.

On the eve of the Feast of the Holy Trinity, 1991, having gone to Athens to confess to his very old and sickly spiritual father, he received absolution and left for his hut on Mt. Athos. He settled in and waited for the end, prepared to give a good defense before God.

Then, when they had dug a deep grave for him according to his instructions, he dictated a farewell letter of advice and forgiveness to all his spiritual children through a spiritual child of his. This letter, dated June 4 (Old Calendar) and June 17 (New Calendar), was found amongst the monastic clothes that were laid out for his funeral on the day of his death. It is published in full on pages 57-58 of this book and is just one more proof of his boundless humility.

“Through my coming to you again”
Elder Porphyrios left Attica for Mt. Athos with the hidden intention of never returning here again. He had spoken to enough of his spiritual children in such a way that they knew they were seeing him for the last time. To others he just hinted. It was only after his death that they realized what he meant. Naturally, to those who would not be able to stand the news of his departure, he told them that he would be coming back. He said so many things about his death, either clearly or in a cryptic way, so much so, that only the certainty of those around him that he would survive like all the other times (a hope born of desire), can possibly explain the suddenness of the announcement of his death.

Maybe he himself hesitated like St. Paul the Apostle, who wrote to the Phillipians, “For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to part and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless, to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.” (Phil.1:23-24) Maybe…

His spiritual children in Athens were constantly calling upon him and he was twice forced to return to the Convent against his will. Here, he gave consolation to all those who needed it. On each occasion he stayed only for a few days, “that our rejoicing for him would be more abundant in Jesus Christ by his coming to us.” (Paraphrasing the words of the Apostle, Phil. 1:26.) He would then hurry back to Mt. Athos as quickly as possible. He ardently desired to die there and to be quietly buried in the midst of prayer and repentance.

Towards the end of his physical life he became uneasy over the possibility of his spiritual children’s love affecting his wish to die alone. He was used to being obedient and submitting to others. Therefore he told one of his monks. “If I tell you to take me back to Athens, prevent me, it will be from temptation.” Indeed, many friends of his had made different plans to bring him back to Athens, since winter was approaching and his health was getting worse.

He sleeps in the Lord
God, who is all-good, and who fulfills the desires of those who feared him, fulfilled Elder Porphyrios’ wish. He made him worthy of having a blessed end in extreme humbleness and obscurity. He was surrounded only by his disciples on Mt. Athos who prayed with him. On the last night of his earthly life he went to confession and prayed noetically. His disciples read the Fiftieth and other psalms and the service for the dying. They said the short prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me,” until they had completed the rule of a great schema monk.

With great love his disciples offered him what he needed, a little bodily and lot of spiritual comfort. For a long time they could hear his holy lips whispering the last words that came from his venerable mouth. These were the same words Christ prayed on the eve of his crucifixion “that we may be one.”

After this they heard him repeat only one word. The word that is found at the end of the New Testament, at the conclusion of the Divine Apocalypse (Revelation) of St. John, “Come” (“Yes, come, Lord Jesus”)

The Lord, his sweet Jesus came. The saintly soul of Elder Porphyrios left his body at 4:31 on the morning of the 2nd of December, 1991 and journeyed towards heaven.

His venerable body, dressed in the monastic manner, was placed in the main church of Kavsokalyvia. According to custom, the fathers there read the Gospel all day, and during the night they held an all-night vigil. Everything was done in agreement with the detailed verbal instructions of Elder Porphyrios. They had been written down to avoid any mistake.

At dawn, on the 3rd of December 1991, the earth covered the venerable remains of the holy Elder in the presence of the few monks of the holy skete of Kavsokalyvia. It was only then, in accordance with his wishes, that his repose was announced.

It was that time of day when the sky becomes rose-colored, reflecting the brightness of the new day that is approaching. A symbol for many souls of the Elder’s transition from death to light and life.

A brief sketch
The chief characteristic of Elder Porphyrios throughout his whole life was his complete humbleness. This was accompanied by his absolute obedience, his warm love and his unmurmuring patience with unbearable pain. He was noted for his wise discretion, his inconceivable discernment, his boundless love of learning, his extraordinary knowledge (a gift very much from God and not form his non-existent schooling in the world), his inexhaustible love of hard work, and his continuous, humble, (and for that reason successful) prayer. In addition to this, his pure Orthodox convictions, without any kind of fanaticism, his lively but for the most part unseen and unknown, interest in the affairs of our Holy Church, his effective advice, the many sides of his teaching his long-suffering spirit, his profound devotion, and the seemly manner of the holy services that he celebrated and the lengthy offering which he kept carefully hidden unto the end.

As an epilogue
a) “The one who comes to me I will by no means cast out.” (Jn. 3:37)

Elder Porphyrios throughout his whole life received all those who came to him; becoming, like St. Paul, “All things to all people in order to save them.”

All kinds passed by his humble cell; both holy ascetics and sinful thieves, Orthodox Christians and people of other denominations and religions, insignificant people and famous personalities, rich and poor, illiterate and literate, lay people and clergy of all ranks. To each one he offered the love of Christ for their salvation.

This does not mean that all those who went to the Elder or who knew him, for however long, adopted his message or acquired his virtue, and thus were as worthy of our complete trust as he was. A great deal of care, vigilance and good sense is required, because as the Elder becomes well known, the temptation will come to some people to claim some type of attachment or connection with him. They will want to boast or to create the false impression that they are speaking for him. Apart from pure devotion and true love, apart from humble approach and honest learning, there is also conceit and personal gain. Naivety exists, but so does guile. Ignorance exists but so does error and deception.

In his final years Elder Porphyrios grieved about this a lot. That is to say, many people passed themselves off as his spiritual children and let it be hinted that they did what they did with the Elder’s blessing or approval. However, the Elder neither knew them nor sanctioned their activities. In fact he twice requested that relevant notices to be written for the briefing of Christians. On both occasions he revoked the order for their publication.

Here is one example. The Elder had taken a certain stance regarding various ecclesiastical issues that were dividing the faithful. This was known to very few people, who should have kept it confidential. Sometimes, however, people came who followed or expressed the opinion of one side or the other. It is not right to suppose that because a certain person saw the Elder, the opinion which that person held was then blessed by the Elder. If only we were obedient to the Elder! If only those of us who approached him had embraced his advice and in general his spirit!

His spirit generally speaking was one of absolute submission to the “official” Church. He did absolutely nothing without her approval. He knew from experience in the Holy Spirit that the bishops are bearers of divine grace quite independent of their personal virtue. He perceptibly felt divine grace and he saw where it was acting and where it wasn’t acting. He graphically emphasized that grace is opposed to the proud, but not to sinners, however humble.

For this reason, he didn’t agree with actions that provoked disputes and conflicts within the Church or verbal attacks on bishops. He always advised that the solution to all the Church’s problems should be found in the Church and by the Church with prayer, humility and repentance. It is better, he said, for us to make mistakes within the Church than to act correctly outside it.

b) “Stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel.” (Phil.1:27)

The Elder taught that the basic element of the Spiritual life in Christ, the great mystery of our faith, is unity in Christ. It is that sense of identifying with our brother, of carrying the burdens of one another, of living for others as we live for ourselves, of saying “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon ME” and for that “ME” to contain and to become for ourselves the pain and the problems of the other, of suffering like they suffer, of rejoicing like they rejoice, their fall becoming our fall and their getting up again becoming our getting up again.

This is why his last words, his last entreaty to God, his last prayer, his greatest desire was that we “become one.” That was what he ached, wished and longed for.

In this wonderful and simple way, how many problems were solved and how many sins were avoided. Did my brother fall? I fell. How can I blame him since I am at fault? Did my brother succeed? I succeed. How can I envy him since I am the winner?

The Elder knew that because it’s our weakest point, it is here that the evil one does greatest battle. We put our own interests first. We separate ourselves. We want to flee the consequences of our actions for ourselves only. However when such a spirit prevails, there is no salvation for us. We must want to be saved along with everyone else. We should, together with God’s saint, say, “If you don’t save all of these people, Lord, then erase my name from the book of Life.” Or, like Christ’s apostle, wish to become accursed from Christ, for the sake of my fellow man, my brothers and my sisters.

This is love. This is the power of Christ. This is the essence of God. This is the royal way of spiritual life. We should love Christ who is EVERYTHING, by loving His brothers and sisters, for whom the least of which Christ died.

Extract from the book “Elder Porphyrios: Testimonies and Experiences” by Klitos Ioannidis

Saint Meletios of Lardos

Saint Meletios was born in the village of Lardos, Rhodes, during the difficult time of Turkish Occupation. At baptism he received the name, Emmanuel. He travelled through life with little worldy learning, but held a wealth of grace, virtue, purity, innocence and great love for God.

St. Meletios was a man of prayer.

He discovered the deserted places about Lardos, while shepherding his father’s sheep, and calming his soul with prayer and zeal for the monastic life.

On one of his excursions he had a vision which showed the icon of the Virgin Ypseni at the root of a certain tree. Following this vision, and led by the grace of the Virgin, he decided to follow the monastic life and dedicate himself to God. So, he built a Church in the place where he found the icon, dedicated to the Dormition of the Mother of God. The Metropolitan ordained him a Priest-Monk and made him Abbot of the Monastery.

He lived a strict ascetic life… In the evenings he escaped to a cave near the monastery and prayed and during the daytime he heard confessions of the Christian faithful, giving them strength to keep their faith throughout those difficult times. God also gave him the gift of healing and he cured sick and spiritually troubled souls.

He was slandered by the Turks and a price put on his head because of his work amongst the Greek Orthodox faithful. In the end, the Saint proved his innocence before the Metropolitan and then gave his last breath.

He was honoured as a saint by the Christians of the island and his relics, which continually gave off a sweet smelling fragrance, were shared out to various places. A piece of the Holy Relics is kept in the Holy Monastery of Ypseni as a priceless treasure and source of healing and blessing for all those who venerate them with devotion.

Since St. Meletios his day of actual repose is not known his feast is celebrated together with that of his namesake St. Meletios, Bishop of Great Antioch on the 12th February.