“‘Pray for us!’ is the message that comes from the people from the USA to the Greek Orthodox Christians. ‘Orthodox Christians hold your faith!’ With these words ends the interview of Archimandrite Damascene, abbot of St. Herman’s of Alaska monastery in California, in this last part.”
“Athos is the motherland of orthodox monasticism in the world!”
In this third part of his interview to Pemptousia, Archimandrite Damascene, abbot of St Herman of Alaska Monastery in Platina, California, talks about his pilgrimages to Mount Athos. He also reflects on encountering such sincere veneration of Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) by the monks of the Holy Mountain, especially meaningful as monasticism in America is so young by comparison.
September 2 will mark the 35th anniversary of the repose of Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) of Platina. In the weeks leading up to this date, I will be occasionally posting a variety of media and articles of interest.
A warm and inspiring first-person account of the author’s journey to the Holy Mountain as a young man, his experiences with different monasteries, counsels received from various monks and elders, and how the Lord directed his steps and helped him grow in his early days as a monk.
Published in the early years of St Gregory Palamas Monastery (Hayesville, Ohio) under the direction of Bishop Maximos and the sponsorship of the GOA Diocese of Pittsburgh, this beautiful memoir exudes the fragrance and savor of Holy Orthodoxy, and may be of special help to monastic seekers in discerning the Lord’s will for their lives, and in helping them live it to the fullest, as they heed the call to the narrow way to the Kingdom of God.
Rather than being a didactic book of instruction like The Arena and Letters To A Beginner, Recollections of Mount Athos weaves monastic counsels through a charming narrative of unforgettable ascetics, strugglers, abbots and elders, all seen through the wide, perceptive eyes and warm, faithful heart of young George, the future Archimandrite Cherubim, and all overshadowed by the grace of God.
From Chapter 1, First Impressions:
From the time I was fourteen years old, the vivid descriptions of two Hagiorite [i.e., Athonite] hieromonks who were rigorous in practicing the virtues, the Elders Paisios and Chrysanthos, had molded Mount Athos in my soul like a place that, though terrestrial, touches heaven. My burning desire for that place urged me toward the big decision: I was going to live there forever…
As soon as my foot stepped on land, my first concern was to kneel behind an old building an with emotion kiss that holy ground. I had vowed to do it. I used to say: “My Panagia [Greek for “All Holy”, a loving term for the Virgin May, the Theotokos], enable me one day to find myself on the Holy Mountain, and the first thing I will do will be to kiss its ground.”
My favorite quote:
“Talk like a monk, look like a monk, sit like a monk, walk like a monk, eat like a monk, sleep like a monk, think like a monk, pray like a monk.” ~ Papa Joachim, St Anne’s Skete, Mount Athos, p. 82.
Featuring an Introduction by Bishop Maximos of Pittsburgh, ‘Monasticism in the Orthodox Church’, with a helpful glossary of terms.
“This book springs from the author’s own personal monastic experience on Mount Athos, the Holy Mountain. Archimandrite Cherubim Karambelas spent only four years on Mount Athos. He was eighteen years old when he went to the Holy Mountain with the intention of staying there forever. However, he was forced, due to ill health, to return to wartime Athens. He was not to return to the Mountain again until many years later, and then only to visit a dying monk, a friend, who wished to see him before he died. At that time he was the abbot of the Holy Monastery of the Paraclete which he established, located on the outskirts of Athens.” — From the Translator’s Preface
Here is a wonderful spiritual reflection on Elder Ephraim of Arizona and the significance of his establishing 17 monasteries in North America in the Athonite tradition.
You can learn more about St Anthony’s Monastery in Florence AZ here, which relates the story of Elder Ephraim’s monastic life and how he began establishing monasteries in America in 1995.
I have several of the Elder’s monasteries on my itinerary, and look forward very much to imbibing spiritual nectar from them, and, God willing, to making some compelling photographs of their hidden life.
The author of the below article, Igumen Gregory (Zaiens), is a monastic himself, and writes from the Hermitage of St Arsenius in Texas. Fr. Gregory describes the unique gift which Elder Ephraim has planted in America as follows,
For those in America who have chosen monasticism and have the thirst for an intense struggle in prayer, the Elder Ephraim has brought them the Athonite Hesychast tradition.
The Elder Ephraim of Arizona: His contribution to North America
The Elder Ephraim recently reached the age of ninety. He has not been functioning as an elder for more than a year because of health issues; and at his age and with his physical condition it is doubtful that he will again function in that capacity. As one who has become somewhat renowned, however, there has occasionally been controversy over him. Most of the spiritual children of his monasteries consider him to be a saint and one who has wrought a miraculous renewal among the Greek Orthodox in North America. This effect did not cease with the Greek faithful but spread elsewhere, as well.. Indeed, the lives of many have been touched and changed by the Elder. However, he has also been under attack at times, and negative opinions have been expressed concerning him—I do not want to approach this subject. But there is one aspect of the work he has accomplished that has been much on my mind recently and this is what I want to write about. I will introduce this topic with a question: What has Elder Ephraim done for monasticism in our land?
“Orphaned at an early age,” this great saint “was raised by a certain good and pious nun.” He “imitated his adoptive mother in the habits of monastic life, in fasting and in prayer,” and grew to be a shepherd of souls, founding a monastery which thrives to this day, over a millennium later.
From this we see how proximity to monasteries through regular pilgrimages can help children and young people — all of us, really — grow in the Life in Christ by cultivating the good habits of the monks and nuns. And who knows, some of us may eventually become monastics ourselves!
Venerable Athanasius the Founder of the Great Lavra and Coenobitic Monasticism on Mt. Athos
OCA.org, Commemorated on July 5; reposed ca. 1003 A.D.:
Saint Athanasius of Athos, in holy Baptism named Abraham, was born in the city of Trebezond. He was orphaned at an early age, and being raised by a certain good and pious nun, he imitated his adoptive mother in the habits of monastic life, in fasting and in prayer. Doing his lessons came easily and he soon outpaced his peers in study.
After the death of his adoptive mother, Abraham was taken to Constantinople, to the court of the Byzantine emperor Romanus the Elder, and was enrolled as a student under the renowned rhetorician Athanasius. In a short while the student attained the mastery of skill of his teacher and he himself became an instructor of youths. Reckoning as the true life that of fasting and vigilance, Abraham led a strict and abstinent life, he slept little and then only sitting upon a stool, and barley bread and water were his nourishment. When his teacher Athanasius through human weakness became jealous of his student, blessed Abraham gave up his teaching position and went away.
During these days there had arrived at Constantinople Saint Michael Maleinos (July 12), igumen of the Kyminas monastery. Abraham told the igumen about his life, and revealed to him his secret desire to become a monk. The holy Elder, discerning in Abraham a chosen vessel of the Holy Spirit, became fond of him and taught him much in questions of salvation. One time during their spiritual talks Saint Michael was visited by his nephew, Nicephorus Phocas, a military officer and future emperor. Abraham’s lofty spirit and profound mind impressed Nicephorus, and all his life he regarded the saint with reverent respect and with love. Abraham was consumed by his zeal for the monastic life. Having forsaken everything, he went to the Kyminas monastery and, falling down at the feet of the holy igumen, he begged to be received into the monastic life. The igumen fulfilled his request with joy and tonsured him with the name Athanasius.
WE HAVE THE PRIVILEGE of living in an age in which stone piled upon stone no longer remains. The last consequence of the values and and ideals exalted by Western society has been the disintegration of society.
I consider it a quite positive and challenging fact to live in a culture in ruins. Those values and ideals were idols destroyed by the power of their own deceptive effectiveness. Now we have the possibility to begin anew with the enriching experience of the past.
As an Orthodox monk, I believe in the fertility of zero. I think that those idols were the product of an unconscious but mistaken search for the authentic Value, for the true God, in whom all values are recapitulated. In fact they were created in order to justify man’s egoistical passions. This exaltation of man led Western society not only to abandon belief in God, but even in man himself…
In his edifying little patericon, ‘Athonite Fathers and Athonite Matters’, Elder Paisios (who was officially entered into the calendar of saints a year ago, on January 13, 2015) presents “the lives of Athonite fathers who were vessels of divine grace and lived approximately in the period from 1840-1980. As a conclusion to the book, the author offers a distillation of his own experience and God’s wisdom, with the title: ‘Return to God from Earth to Heaven’.”
In his conclusion, the Elder provides some very simple spiritual counsel for those seeking to discern God’s will for their life:
“The years go by, and people grow old. So, don’t sit at the crossroads. Choose a cross relative to your philotimo, proceed to one of the two paths of our Church and follow Christ to the Crucifixion, if you want to rejoice in the Resurrection.” (p. 181)
One path is married life, the other is monasticism. (Of course, there are some who may find themselves living as a solitary in the world, but this is rare.)
We may have an idea of what the married life in the world may entail from parents, friends, relatives. But we cannot gain an appreciation of the monastic way without making some pilgrimages and testing the life.