Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Visiting the Elders' Cells

On the way from Karakallou to Karyes, we convinced the driver to make a brief stop on the way at Iveron Monastery, so that we could venerate the famous wonderworking icon Panagia Portaitissa. He agreed on the condition that we stay only 15 minutes, but the monk there was very kind and allowed us to venerate the icon, then inside the katholikon, then the room lined with cases of relics. The next thing we knew, the driver was searching for us and muttering to himself about "15 minutes." Above is a shot I took of Iveron as we were running back to the van before he left without us.

As we approached Karyes, I asked the driver to let us off near Panagouda, the cell of Elder Paisios. He gave me directions how to walk to the secluded cell, but I either misunderstood them or he was still angry about us being late back to the van, because we got lost hiking around in the woods for awhile before we finally found our way. We first recognized the Cell of St. John the Theologian, where Hieromonk Gregorios resides with his four disciples. Hieromonk Gregorios is the author of several very well-regarded catechetical style books in Greece. His book on the Divine Liturgy has recently been published in an excellent translation. Ironically, though, he had just left for his first trip to the United States, primarily to visit some of the monasteries of Elder Ephraim there. We, however, were warmly received by his disciple, Fr. Ioannis, and we had a very interesting conversation about the role of prophecies in Greece today, specifically the prophecies coming from modern-day elders of Mount Athos.

We then made our way "next door," so to speak, to the Elder Paisios's cell. There, we were welcomed by one of the two monks living there now, who were both disciples of Elder Paisios. Above is a photo of the yard outside the small, ramshackle little house, where Elder Paisios served the people with such pain of heart for so many years. Below is a photo of one of the signs pointing the way to his cell.

We then headed up the hill in the general direction of Karyes in order to visit Elder Gabriel in his cell. Here's a photo of our group making the hike.

Here's a photo of a sign pointing the way to Elder Gabriel, who is one of the most famous elders on the Holy Mountain today.

We had a very blessed meeting with him. He started off by wishing God's blessing on us and our families, praying that our children be kept free from the snares of drugs, etc. One of our group, Sava, asked him how long he had been on the Holy Mountain, and he responded (if I remember correctly), that he had been there since 1974. This led him to reflect on his long friendship with Elder Paisios, and he began telling us about the elder's incredible sense of humor.

One story he told was about how the elder was inundated with visitors. He perceived that some of them were simply curiosity seekers, so, in order to get some peace and quiet, he would take the Psalter and find a hiding spot out in the woods. He left on the door of his cell a sign that read "The Zoo is Closed. The Monkey is Away."

The elder concluded our visit by letting us venerate his small chapel, and his myrrh-streaming paper icon of the Panagia, from which he gave each of us a cotton.

We then continued our hike up the hill (everywhere we went seemed like it was uphill) to Karyes. Here we are taking a break near Koutloumousiou. A dog came over and made friends with Fr. Joseph.

We walked through Koutoumousiou Monastery and venerated inside the church (see above).

Here is a photo of Fr. Joseph sitting next to a fountain at the entrance to Koutloumousiou.

This is a photo of the iconography above the central door to the katholikon. The iconography dates to 1744, as you can see from the inscription.

We then continued on into Karyes, where we were just in time to venerate the famous Axion Estin icon of the Panagia. This was the first time I'd seen the Protaton without the enormous metal superstructure covering it (see above).

We then headed on to the nearby Skete of St. Andrew. More on that in the next post.

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