Friday, February 20, 2009

Visiting the Holy Elders

My main hope for this, my seventh visit to the Holy Mountain, was to visit some of the Holy Mountain's living treasures, its holy elders, many of whom live in little cells in between Koutloumousiou and Iviron. Here, you get a different taste of the Holy Mountain from what you see in the major monasteries.

So, armed with directions, we headed off. Of course, at the first turn, we were lost. Nevertheless, we plowed ahead and soon enough we ran into someone to ask. We then ran into a monk, who told us he was heading past Elder Gabriel's cell and would take us there. We followed him, past a handmade sign pointing the way to this well-known holy elder (see photo above), and on to this cell (see photo below).

Elder Gabriel's cell is located right next to Elder Paisios' last cell, Panagouda, and is widely considered his "successor," as it were, as of one the Holy Mountain's saintly elders. I visited him once before with Fr. Alexios, our parish priest, on my first visit to the Holy Mountain 2.5 years ago. At that time, I had just come to Greece and knew no Greek. I remember Fr. Alexios asked him at that time to give me a blessing to learn the language.

This time, we knocked at his door and found him talking to another pilgrim, who was just leaving. So we had the blessing to have him all to ourselves. He took us into his tiny chapel to venerate his little paper icon of the Panagia, which has been streaming myrrh for some years now. Then we went and sat with him in his sun room.

It was a great blessing to know the little Greek I now know, because now I had this treasure of spiritual experience available to me. We spoke about a few matters, and then three priests from Thessaloniki came. We had a lively discussion then about ecumenism and ecclesiology and finally the elder, tired, signaled for us to leave. He gave us all some cotton with myrrh from his icon, and we went on our way.

We followed the three priests over to nearby Panagouda (see bottom photo), which was where Elder Paisios spent his last years, and where one of his disciples, Fr. Arsenios now lives. We went inside and venerated inside the chapel. Then I had some questions for Fr. Arsenios about the cell from the time when the elder was there--I was clarifying some points for this long-awaited English translation of the definitive book on the elder's life, which I've had the blessing to help with. Fr. Arsenios was quite helpful, and we finally moved on to another nearby cell, that of Fr. Gregory, another well-known elder and author.

His cell is pictured immediately below. He treated us to Turkish delight and some water to refresh us from all our travels, and I asked him some questions, as I had Elder Gabriel, about preparing for the mystery of ordination to the priesthood. He was quite helpful and gave us some books he had written as a blessing when we left.

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