Mt. Athos, October 21, 2019
Patriarch Bartholomew made a joyous announcement during his homily at the Protaton Church in Karyes on Mt. Athos yesterday.
Many of the Athonite monks present were moved to tears, Mystagogy reports, when Pat. Bartholomew announced that the Patriarchate of Constantinople had decided to canonize four great 20th-century Athonite elders, beloved throughout the Orthodox world: Ieronymos of Simenopetra (+ 1957), Daniel of Katounakia (+ 1929), Joseph the Hesychast (+ 1959), and Ephraim of Katounakia (+ 1998).
It is reported that Abbot Ephraim of Vatopaidi, a spiritual grandchild of Elder Joseph the Hesychast, especially expressed his gratitude, saying: “We are moved, Your All-Holiness, by this announcement of the canonization of four new elders of the Holy Mountain.”
Pat. Bartholomew responded: “Holy Abbot, I was keeping it from you as a surprise.”
The announcement comes during a time of great tension on the Holy Mountain and in the Orthodox world, with the monasteries split over the issue of recognizing the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine.” There were fears of extreme reactions against Pat. Bartholomew’s visit to Mt. Athos, though the trip has been peaceful thus far.
The monks have been waiting for the canonization especially of Elder Joseph for a long time; 4 of the 20 monasteries are under the guidance of Elder Joseph’s spiritual child, Elder Ephraim, and have been among those most vocal and strict against recognizing the OCU.
The canonization of Elder Joseph the Hesychast is also especially relevant for the English-speaking Orthodox world, as 17 monasteries were founded throughout America and Canada by Elder Ephraim, who resides at St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence, Arizona.
Elder Joseph’s precious skull is also cherished and venerated at St. Anthony’s, and his memory is venerated and propagated at these monasteries.
Though Elder Ephraim of Katounakia was not part of Elder Joseph’s brotherhood, he also learned the art of hesychasm from him, and their memories are bound up together.
“Papa Ephraim,” as he is lovingly known, said of Elder Joseph:
Elder Joseph was a spiritual giant and a teacher of noetic prayer taught by God. His love for our dear Panagia was unmatched. For her sake he patiently endured everything, and it was from her that he received the great charism of prayer of the heart. He was counted worthy of seeing her many times in his temporal but angelic life. Alas! Where are people like him nowadays to tell you heavenly words full of grace? His pure heart said the prayer without ceasing: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” and the Holy Spirit was upon his head.
And he continues with a rather striking statement about the greatness of his spiritual father:
I believe that Elder Joseph reached higher levels than St. Silouan the Athonite—much higher, in fact. Nowadays there are no figures like him anymore; he was the last one (My Elder Joseph the Hesychast by Elder Ephraim, pp. 668-669).
Elder Daniel of Katounakia (1846-1929) was tonsured at St. Panteleimon’s Monastery on Mt. Athos and later lived at Vatopaidi, where he was miraculously healed of nephritis by the Holy Belt of the Mother of God. After 5 years in Vatopaidi, he became a hermit in Katounakia, where a brotherhood began to form around him after a few years. He is known to have had the gift of spiritual counsel and consolation in sorrows, and saved many monks from spiritual delusion.
Elder Ieronymos of Simenopetra (1871-1957) labored on the Holy Mountain beginning in 1888. He became a great schema monk on Palm Sunday in 1893 and later served as abbot of Simenopetra from 1920 to 1931, during which time the monastery flourished. He retired to the metochion of the Ascension in Athens, where he labored until his repose in 1957.