Spirit-Bearing Elders

A Talk on the Spiritual Life and Ascetics in a Tbilisi Church, Part 2

Part 1

Metropolitan Athanasius of Limassol recently met with Archpriest Theodore Gignadze and the other clerics of the Holy Cross Church in Tbilisi to discuss the spiritual life and great elders of the twentieth century.

St. Joseph the Hesychast

St. Joseph the Hesychast St. Joseph the Hesychast Of course, I didn’t personally know St. Joseph the Hesychast. I was born the year he died… Although I knew all the fathers who were close to him.

Since 1973, I’ve been in the brotherhood of Monk Joseph of Vatopedi, where we, of course, often heard about St. Joseph the Hesychast and met all the fathers who were connected with him and who were his spiritual children.

He’s our father and teacher. And whatever we do in our spiritual life, we try to do it according to his teaching and with his blessing. And I’m convinced that everything we’ve been able to do, including on Cyprus, comes from St. Joseph the Hesychast—everything has been accomplished through his prayers.

Like all the saints, St. Joseph the Hesychast enlightened both his own soul and the entire Church by his life and teaching—especially those people who love the Jesus Prayer, monasticism, and desire to love Christ with their whole heart. For them, Fr. Joseph is a shining star, illuminating and showing the way.

Elder Ephraim of Arizona

Elder Ephraim of Arizona Elder Ephraim of Arizona I met Elder Ephraim of Arizona in 1976 at Philotheou Monastery.

And since he was a spiritual brother of Fr. Joseph of Vatopedi, we also had very close relations. I can simply say that we lived with him for many years.

A month before his repose, I went to Arizona, and I can tell you that our last meeting was the most important one for me. It was then that I especially felt and realized what a great saint this man was. He was the personification of unceasing prayer. He prayed constantly, showing us the way of this unceasing prayer.

He was a very warm, grace-filled man. He was filled with the spirit of self-sacrifice and love for every man. He was also a remarkable spiritual healer. Wherever a spiritual “operation” was needed, he did it without any doubt.

Elder Joseph of Vatopedi

Elder Joseph of Vatopedi Elder Joseph of Vatopedi Monk Joseph of Vatopedi was my spiritual father, and I lived with him for many years. I began communicating with him when I was fifteen. At first, I would write him letters and he would reply. And starting at eighteen, I lived with him in the monastery on Mt. Athos.

He was a man who really loved his spiritual father, his Geronda. He was able to cultivate amazing tears, or the ability to repent, which came from great love for Christ. He also had the amazing gift of theology.

During his departure, the Lord granted him great grace and glorified him with an amazing state at his repose. During his life, he endured many temptations and much slander. He spent his whole life in weeping, but after his repose he smiled, in accordance with the Savior’s word: Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted (Mt. 5:4).

St. Ephraim of Katounakia and his standing before God during Liturgy

St. Ephraim of Katounakia St. Ephraim of Katounakia It’s impossible to describe Fr. Ephraim of Katounakia—he’s a very great person. Only the angels can characterize him. I can only say that our spiritual father, Joseph of Vatopedi, really loved him, and we also had a very lively fellowship with his brotherhood.

I can say outright that Fr. Ephraim was a prophet, only not in the sense that he could foretell the future, but in the sense that he constantly felt Divine grace, and saw Christ and the angels. He’s among the greatest saints of our Church.

And our fathers considered him a direct successor of St. Joseph the Hesychast.

When Fr. Ephraim was serving and I was there, or I was serving and he was there, I always had a great sense of awe before him.

I had the feeling that he was like Moses, standing before God on Mt. Sinai.

When he liturgized, I had the distinct feeling that there was only him and Christ standing before one another, and no one else.

He was a very simple man, but everyone who was at his services was seized by the feeling that he was the greatest saint and an amazing man of prayer. Such things can’t be conveyed in words. I watched him serve for so many years, but my impression of him never got any simpler.

While he was alive, we met nearly every single day. I served with him many times, and we often talked… Sometimes he even wrote me letters, I’d go to him, and he’d confess me. And despite our lively and close relations, I always had a special trepidation before him—it wasn’t a psychological fear. His personality never seemed simple and ordinary to me—I had the strong feeling that I was standing before Christ. I’ve never seen the Lord, but I’ve seen a man who was like Christ.

St. Paisios the Athonite

St. Paisios the Athonite St. Paisios the Athonite You could say that St. Paisios was a special flower of Mt. Athos, with a special fragrance. The modern fathers, every one of them, had a kind of special fragrance distinct from the others. St. Paisios was one of the greatest ascetics, hermits, and hesychasts.

He was a man who found God through his great ascetic labors and glorified Him with his holy life. As a result, the Lord generously rewarded him with great spiritual gifts. He strengthened and comforted many people, both monks and laypeople who visited him daily.

St. Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia

St. Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia St. Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia I saw St. Porphyrios about ten times. The first time was in Kavsokalyvia, in 1985-1986; the last time in Athens.

St. Porphyrios was a great sun shining on all of Athens. Such saints are quite rare in our Church.

I even asked St. Paisios several times where Fr. Porphyrios got such amazing gifts. And he would tell me that he had the greatest purity of soul and humility, and the Lord gave him these spiritual gifts so he could serve others.

I can say that everything we saw with our own eyes when talking with him or that we heard from others is completely unfathomable for human logic.

He himself didn’t write down his words that have been published in books. They’re compiled from audio recordings of his talks and sermons. His teachings are best suited for modern people living in the world.

Frs. Charalampos of Dionysiou and Arsenios the Cave-Dweller

Elder Charalampos of Dionysiou Elder Charalampos of Dionysiou Frs. Charalampos of Dionysiou and Arsenios the Cave-Dweller were also from our brotherhood. Many may not know about them, but they were great fathers.

Fr. Arsenios was St. Joseph the Hesychast’s co-laborer. He was truly a great ascetic. He had amazing humility, childlike simplicity, and unceasing prayer of the heart. His heart and mind were always with Christ and Geronda Joseph.

Fr. Charalampos was the nephew of Fr. Arsenios, and was distinguished by how he forced himself in the spiritual life, in ascetic labors. He was also very strong physically. He was a man who labored diligently in noetic prayer. He truly loved noetic labor and forced himself in the spiritual life until his repose. There are few ascetics like him. May their prayers be of aid to us.

St. Sophrony (Sakharov)

St. Sophrony (Sakharov) St. Sophrony (Sakharov) We love all of these fathers, because they’re modern saints.

In 1990, Fr. Joseph of Vatopedi and I went and visited St. Sophrony (Sakharov). If memory serves me right, we stayed at his monastery for three days.

I can say that in his face I saw a perfect man in Christ.

Meeting him gave me a vivid experience of how Christ purifies and heals a man. He was an example of a spiritually healed man. He was a man of amazing nobility and striking wisdom. Divine grace always abode in his heart.

St. Jacob (Tsalikis) of Evia and Archimandrite Aimilianos (Vafides) of Simenopetra

Преподобный Иаков Эвбейский (Цаликис) Преподобный Иаков Эвбейский (Цаликис) Fr. Joseph and I also went to visit St. Jacob in 1990. I then visited him a few other times after that.

He was a man of wondrous grace and joy. He was always overflowing with Divine grace, though he hid this state with his childlike simplicity.

Everyone was filled with joy being with him and felt how abundantly he was rewarded with Divine gifts. I had a blessing from Fr. Joseph to confess to Fr. Jacob. Once, when I went to him for confession and got down on my knees, before I could say anything, he told me my whole life. He revealed all of my infirmities and passions to me. Then he asked me: “Is there anything else you want?” I said: “No, Father. What else could I want?”

As for Fr. Aimilianos, he was an amazing sun shining on Mt. Athos.

I visited him many times, both with Fr. Joseph and by myself. We had a very good relationship. He was an amazingly wise and noble man.

He had a very great inner asceticism, which he hid in every way possible and did everything without any noise. There was nothing outwardly noticeable about him; he looked like an aristocrat from the outside.

Archimandrite Aimilianos (Vafides) Archimandrite Aimilianos (Vafides) You could say that internally, Fr. Aimilianos was a bearer of the spirit of St. Joseph the Hesychast. He acquired the gift of sobriety. He was a very great ascetic, living in a cenobitic monastery as if in solitude, in the desert. He was filled with constant inner joy, and with Christ.

But I haven’t done anything like this with all that I’ve been telling you now.

Archimandrite George (Kapsanis)

Over the past year, I discovered Archimandrite George (Kapsanis).1 Now let me paint a picture of him for you too… He was an amazing man—a warm elder, humble, filled with tears, wisdom, and discernment. He precisely confessed the dogmas of our faith, thoroughly comprehended the essence of ecclesiology, and bore with great humility and amazing nobility these traditions that the Holy Fathers handed down to us in the Church. Besides these virtues, he was a great theologian from an academic point of view. You could say that Archimandrite George was the measure of the Orthodox faith.

He was wondrously clothed with grace and was a great pastor. May his prayers help us!

I wish the Lord to preserve and protect you, for all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12).

May God grant you patience in trials, and save and protect the spiritual labors being performed at your parish.

Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol
Translated from Georgian by David Tavartkiladze
Translation by Jesse Dominick



1 Elder George was the abbot of Gregoriou Monastery on Mt. Athos for many years. He reposed in the Lord in 2014.—Trans.

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