This happened in the monastery of Vatopedi, when Elder Joseph “the Younger” still lived there. It was late November. I was then fulfilling the obedience of guest master. In those days, there were conflicts arising in the Polytechnic University in Athens between students and police. Certain of the anarchist students wanted to hide from the authorities, and moved to Mt. Athos. One of them, an anarchist with a green Mohawk, had an uncle laboring in monasticism in the monastery of Esphigmenou. This young man suggested that everyone go live there for a time.
Naturally, they had no permission to visit Athos. They didn’t even have any idea about how they would get there. They tried to travel there on a ship but they were kicked off. Then they decided to go there on foot.
At long last they reached Esphigmenou. It must be said that this is a very strict monastery, and therefore when they saw this group of youths with shaven temples and earrings in their pierced ears, they kicked them out. Barely on their feet from fatigue, by evening they had stumbled to Vatopedi. The gatekeeper was already preparing to close the monastery gates when he saw these kids. Naturally he was also frightened by their savage appearance—you won’t see too many of these types on Mt. Athos. He was forced to tell the abbot about them.
“Father, what should I do with them? Should I send them away? But where will they go? Where will they spend the night? After all all the monasteries are now closing for the night!
Geronda answered, “The Mother of God has brought them to us. Only put them all in one room, and don’t let the other pilgrims see them. And keep a watch on them.”
I was the guest master and saw that they were settled into their room. To me they seemed frightened, open-mouthed at the situation surrounding them, and exhausted from their many hours of walking. When the students had rested a little, they were taken to the trapeza for some fortification. The monks talked with them for a short while and then said that they must leave the next day, because the monastery only receives pilgrims for one night. Geronda told the young men that God is Love, and no matter what they’ve done in their lives, they can still repent.
On the next day, the one with the green Mohawk said to me, “Father, I would like to stay here another day. Is it possible?”
The others didn’t want to stay. I asked Geronda for a blessing and he allowed the young man to stay another day—but he was supposed to put on a hat so that the fathers and pilgrims would not be scandalized by his appearance.
Peter, as this green-eyed student was named, stayed for two days, and then a third. One day during evening services, I heard loud weeping in the narthex of the church—not even weeping but wailing. I went to find out what was going on and saw Peter in the narthex on his knees, wailing.
I approached him and asked what had happened. I thought perhaps someone had hurt him.
“No, nothing has happened,” he answered. “Father, I want to talk with you.” After the end of the Vespers we left the church.
“Father, is salvation possible for me, too?”
“Peter, it is possible for all to be saved. The thief on the cross repented and Christ saved him.”
Then Peter opened up to me. He told me that his family broke up; his father beat his mother, and it was very painful for Peter to see this. At age twelve he left his home, lived on the streets of the Exarchia neighborhood, got tangled up with the anarchists, started taking drugs, and then fell into all sorts of other grave sins. His life was one long stress.
Despite all this, the young man’s soul was beautiful.
Brothers, I am telling you this so that we would not turn away even the worst sinner! Because the Lord “gathers” to Himself the ones we turn away. We make a great mistake when we consider ourselves better than them. Elder Paisios said that at the Last Judgment we will all be very surprised, because those we expected to see in paradise will not be found there, and those who we had no inkling of seeing there we will see in the kingdom of Heaven. May this not happen to us! We wish that all be saved and hope that through Christ’s love we will be saved.
After this change in Peter, which happened through the prayers of the Theotokos, we told him that he needs to go to confession. At confession he was seized with such contrition that a puddle formed on the floor beneath him.
Peter remained in the monastery for a good amount of time. Geronda told him that he should at least trim off his Mohawk. But Peter replied, “No, I won’t shave it off before I’ve arrived back to the city so that the guys won’t say that the monks shaved me. When I go back to the world I’ll trim it off myself.”
So he went around in a cap.
Peter left the monastery and started living a spiritual life. He came back here once, now with a different, normal appearance. Then he disappeared.
We knew that he had not seen his mother since the day he left home, that he had never once looked in on her, and we tried to repair Peter’s relationship with his mother. We searched for her telephone number and called her, telling her everything. His mother had lost all hope of seeing him again alive and was very touched at our story. For us this was a very joyful event.
Two years after these events, I and several other fathers attended a Church feast at another monastery on Mt. Athos. With us was the blessed Metropolitan Gregory of the city of Castoria. His Eminence told us not to tell anyone that he was a bishop—he didn’t want to be shown special honor, or cause the monastery brothers any extra fuss.
We came to the monastery, and were brought the traditional Athonite treats. When we were ready to set off for home, one monk came up to me and asked, “Fr. Niphont, don’t you recognize me?”
I looked at him and said, “No, I don’t recognize you.”
“Look at little more closely.”
And what did I see?! Those big green eyes were looking at me! It was Peter.
Peter had become a novice of that Mt. Athos monastery. Of course we embraced each other happily. We were both touched to tears! I thank the Most Holy Theotokos for her great blessings and miracles fulfilled for us! I have only told you about one of them. For us, his change of life was a true miracle.
From the archives of Vatopedi Monastery
Monk Niphont of Vatopedi
Translation from the Russian version by Nun Cornelia (Rees)