Tower of Virtue. St. Hilarion the Georgian of Mt. Athos Part 2

See Part 1

7. Return to Mt. Athos and Desert-dwelling

Dionysiou Monastery Dionysiou Monastery
Reproaching himself and considering himself unworthy of the crown of martyrdom, Fr. Hilarion returned on foot to Athos and again settled in Dionysiou Monastery. There he carried out his same obediences, while also serving the Turks, who had settled in droves in the monasteries of the Holy Mountain.[1] In Dionysiou alone there were about fifty of them.

This circumstance forced Fr. Hilarion to move to the desert. He settled not far from the monastery in a cave beneath the mountain, where he lived for two and a half years. Here he had no food for himself. Initially, someone gave him some squash, and every day he cut off a small piece and ate it plain. Soon both his food and water supply ran out. After three days, he resolved to go to the monastery to obtain food. However, upon leaving the cave he found a sack of flour, which had been left by someone unknown to him. He went to the monastery to ask if they had brought the flour. But no one in the monastery had thought about bringing him flour, since the monks themselves had not enough to eat. Fr. Hilarion then gave the monastery half of the flour and took half for himself—mixing dough which he ate either raw or cooked.

Then because of the adversary, open warfare began to assail him and he moved from that cave to Katounakia,[2] where he lived in many different caves. In all he spent three and a half years in the caves, enduring difficult temptations. In the course of that time he ate neither bread nor anything cooked, consuming only herbs, roots and chestnuts.

At this time he found no rest day or night. Those who knew him said that when he lived in Katounakia there did not remain a single place—hardly a single rock—that he had not watered with his tears during his vigils of prayer and unendurable warfare. Preserving strict hesychia [stillness], he saw almost no one, and if he would accidentally meet some hermit, he would avoid him and not break his silence.

During a period of the fiercest attacks of the enemy, the elder spent forty days in a crucified position. Neither eating nor drinking and almost without rest, he conquered the enemy. The devil was enraged to such a degree that in addition to natural fire, he enkindled beneath him immaterial fire. Although the elder was scorched, the evil one could not vanquish the athlete's bravery. At other times the enemy fell upon him and tempted him in various ways, appearing in the guise of Moors, soldiers, and wild beasts—all in order to tear the elder away from prayer.

There were other trials. Due to the extreme dampness in the cave nearly all his hair fell out. This cave was sufficiently broad, but as it was unprotected on one side the rain would pour in. To the dampness was added hunger and illnesses—the elder suffered from incessant colds and his feet swelled.

Once during an illness his supply of water ran out. Not having the strength to go down to the spring, he started to pray. Just then God sent a rain cloud which stopped over his cave, dropping enough water to fill all his vessels.

One time a desert-dweller came to him. Having spoken on spiritual topics, they ate some soft bread that the desert-dweller had brought. He promised to return soon to Fr. Hilarion, but was only able to visit the elder a month later. Therefore, when he came he asked forgiveness for being late.

Fr. Hilarion objected, "What are you talking about? What four weeks? You were here yesterday and we spoke about such and such." The elders argued for several minutes, each proving his own point. Remembering the soft bread that they had eaten the previous day, Fr. Hilarion went to grab the remainder to prove his point. Finding only stale bread, hard as a rock, he was convinced that the desert-dweller was right. This caused him to ponder: he had spent all that time in spiritual rapture, forgetting everything earthly.

During all this time the Lord God, Who provides for His faithful servants, sent Fr. Hilarion everything he needed. Once, after he had spent more than two weeks without any food, the elder was so weak from fasting that he could not move from his spot, and he lay down to await death. By God's providence a desert-dweller, who had bought sugar somewhere, was walking with his bag near the elder's cave. Along the road he desperately wanted a drink. Going down to the spring which was below the elder's cave, he decided to call on Fr. Hilarion. Entering the cave he found the elder almost dead. Understanding that this was due to extreme exhaustion, he poured a little water into his mouth and, moistening some sugar, he gave it to Fr. Hilarion to eat, thereby saving his life.

Toward the end of Fr. Hilarion's third year of residence in the cave, a monk who was gathering snails entered the cave by accident. There, he found the elder extremely wasted away. Learning that it had already been fifteen days since Fr. Hilarion had eaten, he fed him the snails. Then he went and told everyone in the sketes about him. Soon everyone learned where he was living, and from everywhere they began to bring him food. Perceiving in him a holy elder, they began to turn to him for counsel. At first he tried not to admit anyone, but then he decided to flee totally from men, loving stillness and unceasing prayer.

8. Reclusion

The Tower at New Skete, and place of Elder Hilarion's reclusion. The Tower at New Skete, and place of Elder Hilarion's reclusion.
Having resolved to go into seclusion, Fr. Hilarion received a blessing from the Monastery of St. Paul to shut himself in the tower of New Skete.[3] He spent about three years there in reclusion.

For food he made use of dried bread or crusts and ate once a day, and on Fridays he ate nothing. When he had first come to Athos, the elder ate so much that to him three pounds of bread a day was a small amount. However, when he went into reclusion, in imitation of St. Macarius the Great he would crumble the dried bread into a narrow-mouthed gourd, and eat only what he was able to draw out in his hand. This would suffice for the entire day. Fr. Gerasim of New Skete was appointed to assist the elder. He would come every fortnight and bring Fr. Hilarion the dried bread.

Likewise, the elder would allow himself only one small cup of water each day. When Fr. Hilarion had been living in the queen's palace in Russia he had drunk an excessive amount of wine. After coming to the Holy Mountain he would instead drink huge amounts of water. Because of this, an abundance of sweat was always dripping from him, so that he was hardly able to change into a dry shirt before it would also need changing. During Fr. Hilarion's sojourn in the cave his confessor, Elder Neophytus (Karamanlis),[4] seeing his excessive consumption of water, restricted him and in a short time reduced his consumption to one small cup per day. He told him that self-will is not to our benefit, and that excessive consumption of water leads invariably to sickness.

He became fervent in making prostrations, which he had never done while living in the palace, and slept only two hours each night and later only one.

Amid such outward struggles, Fr. Hilarion immersed himself in the sea of spiritual contemplation and noetic prayer; consequently, a bitter spiritual battle began. Many times hordes of demons appeared to him like battle regiments. Approaching the tower, they would scream, as if laying siege, attacking the tower, but they were unable to achieve their ends. Sometimes the entire multitude would try to frighten the elder, crying out, "Three sides have already been taken; there remains one, but we'll take it." Another time a regiment of demons appeared to him, but unable to cause him harm they cried out, "Don't think you'll defeat us. We'll bring you down in the end! We'll stir up all men against you; we'll lead the Turks here and dig out this entire spot so that not one stone will remain upon another! Then we'll chase you out of here and out of Athos as well!" To this Fr. Hilarion replied, "Blessed be God! If it is God's will, then you can devour me!" The demons, seeing the elder's fortitude, cried out, "Do you know against whom you have arrayed yourself and are contending?" At that moment the top of the tower parted in two, and the devil appeared in such gigantic stature that his head seemed to touch the heights of the starry heaven. Right then Fr. Hilarion turned to prayer and the demon disappeared smitten by the power of Christ's name.

Soon after Fr. Hilarion's arrival in the tower, Fr. Gerasim came to him, carrying his food. Both ascetics began to converse on soul-saving subjects. Suddenly, they heard the heavy footsteps of a man climbing up the staircase. His step was so heavy that the walls of the tower shook with his every step. Judging by the noise, a massive saber clanged behind him as he ascended. They were dumbfounded at how this man could have come in, knowing that the doors of the tower were locked from the inside. Suddenly, the doors flew wide open, and a tall warrior entered, fully clad in armor from head to foot. Unsheathing a massive sabre, he threatened Fr. Hilarion with it, shouting, "Are you taking up arms against me?"

Fr. Hilarion, startled by the sudden and frightful appearance of the specter, recoiled against the wall. Totally surrendering himself to God's will, he raised his hands aloft and called upon the name of the Lord, and the demon immediately vanished. Fr. Gerasim, who had been present, remained immoveable with fear. There were, however, also times when the Lord allowed the demons to attack the elder, and in their malicious wrath they would beat him, leaving him nearly dead.

A short while after his move to the tower, his spiritual father, Elder Neophytus—the only person other than Fr. Gerasim allowed into the tower—came and asked, "Why have you moved here, abandoning your cave?" Fr. Hilarion replied that an abundance of visitors had forced him to do so. The confessor further questioned him, "How could you have ventured upon such an exalted ascetic labor without a blessing?" Fr. Hilarion said that since his spiritual father had not been home at the time (Fr. Neophytus was the confessor for all the desert-dwellers in the region around Athos and often journeyed through the wilds to confess and give them Holy Communion), he had turned to his former spiritual father, Abbot Stephen of Dionysiou, and asked a blessing from him. He finished his explanation by saying, "Everyone was glorifying me there, and I came here, giving a vow to die here."

Once Fr. Hilarion wanted to learn how to conquer sleep. He spent twelve days without sleeping and thereby seriously harmed his health—tremors went through his entire body. His head whirled so that the entire world spun before his eyes and his mind grew dark. Seeing the elder's condition, the ever-cunning demon approached him and began to suggest this thought: "See, you are already in deception! Command them to tie a rope around your neck and affix you to the wall; tell your disciple to kill you, since you have lost your mind. You're of absolutely no use to anyone."

Fr. Hilarion told Gerasim of the evil one's suggestion when the latter next came to him. Fr. Gerasim, unaware of what kind of ascetic labors he had taken upon himself, replied that this was likely due to sickness. Inquiring in detail into the elder's health, he learned that he had not slept for twelve days, and in cutting off sleep he could no longer fall asleep. He gave the elder a little water to drink, persuading him to be at peace. The latter, having drunk a little, dozed off for several seconds. Then Fr. Gerasim gave him a little more water and a little piece of moistened dried bread. This proved much more effective, in that the elder fell asleep for several minutes. Thus, by drinking water and eating a little food bit by bit, the elder was finally able to sleep an entire hour and soon fully recuperated.

When Fr. Gerasim would bring Fr. Hilarion food every fortnight, he would leave it in the antechamber of the tower, and the elder would later bring it inside. Once Gerasim forgot to bring the designated portion. Fr. Hilarion went out to retrieve the dried bread, but not finding anything, he said to himself, "It seems that this trial has been sent to me from God!" Although he could have called passersby, he wished rather to rely on God's will. He spent nine days thus, without diminishing his usual ascetic labors. When these nine days had passed, he grew weak and could no longer conduct his usual prayer rule.

Crossing his arms, he sat on his mat and remained the next six days in that position. After fifteen days, Fr. Gerasim returned. He asked the elder if he was well. The elder meekly answered that he was healthy but he had become very weak. Only then did Fr. Gerasim remember that he had brought neither food nor water the previous time. He began to bitterly reproach himself for such negligence. He immediately wanted to feed the elder but it was impossible, as the latter's lips were severely parched. So, he heated some water, moistened some crusts of bread in it and placed them in the elder's mouth. Slowly the elder regained his strength. In order that something similar would not happen again, they arranged that in case of need Fr. Hilarion would hang a towel from the tower window.

Once the demons boasted that they would force him out of the tower with snow, and during one frightful winter storm the roof collapsed and the elder was buried in snow. He spent three days under the snow until the brethren of the skete dug him out. Finding him half dead, they took him to the skete guesthouse. With difficulty were they able to bring him to his senses. They strongly urged him to abandon his reclusion, but the elder would not agree. Afterwards he suffered from rheumatism his entire life. This had also been brought on by his three years in the unheated, damp tower, which leaked terribly. It was only due to the elder's strong constitution that his reclusion did not lead him to the grave.

Once three pilgrims from Anatolia (Asia Minor), traveling past the skete by boat, were caught in a powerful storm and despaired of being saved. Knowing of Fr. Hilarion, they turned to the Lord in prayer, asking Him to spare them "for the sake of the holy elder's prayers." Im­mediately the storm abated. Reaching the shore, the pilgrims went to thank their benefactor, but coming to the tower they found it locked. They began to beseech Fr. Gerasim to open the tower for them and permit them to see the elder, but he would not comply. Then, two of them climbed into the tower window and opened the door from within. They went inside and began to climb up. Fr. Hilarion took them for demons and, although usually quite fearless of anything, became quite frightened. Thus did the Lord dispose, demonstrating that without Him we can do nothing.

The pilgrims noticed the elder's fright. In order to convince him that they were people, they went into the adjoining church and began to pray and cross themselves. Then they came to the elder, bowed and kissed his feet, thanking him for deliverance from drowning.

The pilgrims' visit created a great temptation for the elder, and he decided to abandon his reclusion. The demons gave him no rest, unceasingly suggesting to him, "Look, you're a saint, you're already a miracle-worker."

In order to humble the thoughts that arose, Fr. Hilarion asked Fr. Gerasim to make known to all the fathers that he had fallen into delusion, asking them to say prayers by the prayer rope for him. This was done, but the warfare did not abate. Next, Fr. Hilarion asked Gerasim to tie his hands and lead him around the cells of the skete as one mad, requesting the prayers of the fathers. But this last request Fr. Gerasim would not agree to fulfill.

Once a large group of pilgrims came to the skete and, hearing about the recluse, wished to see him. As the elder received no one, they were not admitted. The pilgrims therefore decided to form a human ladder, standing one on top of the other in order to reach the window through which they might see the elder and receive his blessing. Seeing what the pilgrims had devised, Fr. Hilarion was horrified, for the window was high above the ground. If they attempted this, one of them could have suffered a terrible death.

New Skete. New Skete.
The elder faced a powerful interior battle. One thought suggested to him to open the tower door without fail so as not to become the cause of death of those zealous "not according to knowledge" (cf. Rom. 10:2). Simultaneously, a contrary thought forbade him to break even once the rule he had established, justifying himself that it was not his fault that they had conceived this scheme. For several minutes the elder's soul was torn, not knowing how to decide. Finally, conquered by love for his neighbors, he hastily unlocked the door, went out, and hid. This breaking of the rule caused him to wonder if he should return to the tower. To resolve this doubt he turned to the skete's confessor, Fr. Leontius, and revealed his thoughts to him. The latter calmed him down and persuaded him not to consider this departure from reclusion to be a significant infraction of the vow, and advised him to return.

The demons, taking advantage of this incident, conducted a siege. One after another they began to climb into the tower window in the guise of pilgrims. They told the elder that they entered this way because he forbade anyone to come inside. They said they wanted so much to see him as one of their compatriots, and that for his sake they had come from a far country to take counsel about various matters. Taking them for actual pilgrims he entered into conversation with them, which was just what the demons needed. They entangled him in a long conversation about the poverty of his people and his Church. They ended by physically beating him with such violence that he lay dumb for two months.

The demons next attempted to delude the elder by presenting to his imagination a vision that so much snow had fallen in the courtyard that visitors could freely walk into the tower on top of the snow. When he saw this, a thought suggested to him: "Go away, go away from here as fast as you can." But Fr. Hilarion answered the thought aloud: "I will die, but I will not leave!" And at these words the demons vanished.

About this time, a hierarch came and wished to speak with the elder for his spiritual benefit. No matter how he entreated him to unlock the tower door, the elder would not receive him. Grieved at this, the bishop said loudly, "Look, you stylite, do not fall into high-mindedness by your reclusion! You have despised a bishop who came to you not out of curiosity, but for spiritual profit; for this may the Lord punish you!" Right after the departure of the hierarch, as Fr. Hilarion was performing his prayer rule, fire from heaven fell upon him. It scorched him so that be became as it were outside himself—so strong were the hierarch's words. The Lord had sent this for the elder's spiritual benefit, as well as the benefit of all who thirsted for his words of experience.

At the end of his reclusion, Fr. Hilarion saw numberless regiments of demons. Marching in a vast array straight towards him, they extended all the way from St. Paul's Monastery, thirty minutes away. By God's allowance they beat the elder, as they had Saints Anthony the Great, Abramius and others, so that he barely remained among the living. Within three days Fr. Gerasim came to bring him food and found him lying half dead. Gerasim called the other monks and they carried the elder to the nearest cell. By their common efforts they brought him to his senses.

When Fr. Hilarion awoke, he related this most recent trial and asked that they take him back to the tower. The fathers of the skete, however, would not allow it. They called his friend Fr. Benedict and asked him to mediate in the affair. After a long conversation with Fr. Hilarion, he made it known to him that he could no longer live in reclusion. Everyone agreed with him. Accepting the common voice of all the elders, Fr. Hilarion obeyed their common decision. They settled him in the cell of St. Charalampus, where Fr. Benedict cared for him. Soon the elder began to recover. His entire back had been flogged by the demons and he lay in bed for two months. Although he suffered greatly in body, it was his spiritual state that was in the greatest danger.

Fr. Benedict, highly experienced in the ascetic life, began to severely cut off Fr. Hilarion's will in everything. Besides moving him into a cell, for the elder's humility he made him eat food with oil, fish and cheese. Fr. Hilarion was so wise and meek that he obeyed his friend in everything without contradiction, having faith in his discernment.

When he had recuperated from his illness, Fr. Hilarion was transferred to the Dionysiou Cell of the Holy Apostle James. There the elder acutely felt the rheumatism he had contracted in the tower and suffered greatly. Another difficulty came in the form of divisions among the brethren concerning the reception of Holy Communion. Several insisted that the brothers commune of the Holy Mysteries each week; others, every month; still others had different ideas. There were disputes and everyone tried to incline Fr. Hilarion to their side. This deeply grieved the elder's peace-loving soul, and within two months he moved to Iveron Monastery.

9. Residence in Iveron and Reception of Disciples

Fr. Hilarion settled in Iveron while still ill. As soon as he recovered a little, he took charge of the Georgian library, compiled a catalog, and made extracts from the books and manuscripts. This work was comprised of twelve volumes, and entitled The Enlightener. This anthology, consisting primarily of the Lives of the Saints, was eventually published in the Georgian language.

After six months, the elder settled in the Skete of the Forerunner, where Georgians had lived since the eighth century. When asked why he had moved from the tower to the skete, the elder replied, "Here I have found true hesychia. All those who come to me, I direct to the spiritual father of the skete, telling them I am not a confessor but have come here to weep over my sins." People still came to him, and so he moved to the Cell of the Holy Archangels, which had been expressly built for him by the monastery.

Two brothers came to him here and asked the elder to receive them. Since settling on Athos they had become disciples of an elder who had died within three years of their arrival. He had left them a large cell and a plot of land. Having lived for a short while without an elder, they realized it was impossible to live without spiritual guidance. The eldest of the two entered Iveron Monastery, where he had been invited since he was a talented calligrapher. The younger, Sabbas (1821-1908), still remained alone in the cell, for he sought an experienced elder. After reports of Fr. Hilarion's ascetic endeavors had spread throughout Athos, Sabbas decided to approach him.

Upon arriving, Sabbas found the elder wearing threadbare, oft-mended clothing that was soiled and patched. His kamilavka [cylindrical monastic hat] was in a similar state, and his hair and beard were disheveled. When Sabbas asked the elder to receive him as a disciple, Fr. Hilarion resolutely refused. After unremitting pleas from Sabbas, the elder relented, saying, "If you wish to join me, you must observe these rules: You must not accept anything from anyone, nor have any money; you must lead a life of abstinence until your last days, being content with xerophagy,[5] and the days and nights must belong to prayer." With absolute eagerness Sabbas agreed to everything and settled with him.

After six months his brother Macarius also joined the elder. This Macarius was of a very firm character, and, at the elder's command, he carried out great ascetic labors, exhibiting the highest degree of selflessness attained only by few. Devoting himself to obedience, he totally cut off his will before the elder in everything.

10. At the Cell of St. James

The ruins of the Cell of St. Onuphrius, which St. Hilarion had reconsecrated and dedicated to the Holy Resurrection. Photo taken in 1998. The ruins of the Cell of St. Onuphrius, which St. Hilarion had reconsecrated and dedicated to the Holy Resurrection. Photo taken in 1998.

The Cell of the Holy Apostle James is situated on the slope of the Holy Mountain, about one and a half hours above Dionysiou Monastery. Here the elder's illnesses became especially severe. At times he would seclude himself in the isolated Cell of St. Onuphrius.[6]

While living in the Cell of St. James, the elder did not take upon himself the duty of confessor despite all requests. He did, however, begin to receive those who came to him for spiritual counsel. All who came to him turned to him as to a confessor, but he would not read the prayer of absolution over them. There were only five people whom he absolved at different times, being inspired to do so because of important causes.[7]

People came from everywhere with spiritual questions. They called him "the confessor of the confessors." The fathers of the Holy Mountain placed him on the highest spiritual level, calling him "one of the ancients." They saw the elder's transformation from a life full of worldly glory to his present state: a desert-recluse, confessor, and great ascetic. Because of this and the manifestations of Grace in his life, they regarded him with the deepest respect. His word carried authority without respect of persons. Sometimes he spoke prophetically about what was to happen and his word always came to pass. The renowned ascetic of Athos, Fr. Eustathius, who later lived in Halki, said that Fr. Hilarion passed all ten steps of the spiritual ascent set forth in The Philokalia by the Blessed Theophanes.[8]

In August 1849, the Russian writer and pilgrim, Andrew Muraviev,[9] visited Fr. Hilarion. Muraviev wrote about their meeting: "The elder was little accessible. However, at Iveron Monastery I visited another Georgian ascetic, Benedict. He instructed me to knock in the name of Benedict on the door of the recluse, his kinsmen and friend. Fr. Hilarion's appearance, in spite of deep old age, was extremely flushed. The color pink shone in his cheeks, but the yellow of his hair and beard revealed his age. He had, as it were, renewed his youth like the eagle's in his lofty nest (cf. Ps. 102:5). The elder sat me beside himself and, learning where I was from, asked about Russia. 'What have you come to see in my hermitage?' he asked me with a sigh. 'My sins? Or are there so few parasites in the world like myself? What I have seen and know has been forgotten long ago. I will live here in this thicket as long as God suffers me. However, for your humility it is profitable that you visit the holy monasteries, for there is always edification from labors undertaken with a good aim.'

"I wanted to receive from him some kind of visible sign of his blessing in remembrance of our meeting. Elder Hilarion went into his chapel and brought out a prayer rope made of what is referred to as black Imeretian amber. 'If you desire a blessing of my unworthiness, then may this accompany you.' Having said this he dismissed me in peace."

Once Fr. Nikodim the Bulgarian from Konstamonitou Monastery was visiting Fr. Hilarion's cell with a certain hieromonk. They conversed for so long on spiritual subjects that unnoticeably the conversation was prolonged late into the evening. When the conversation was finished, the elder said to them, "Well, now go with God." They were embarrassed, wondering where they might go in such darkness, for the night was moonless. But, reverently heeding the elder, and not daring to disobey, they departed. They had only gone out the door of the cell and begun to grope their way along the steep and winding path, when a light shone suddenly and everything became almost as bright as day, and they easily managed to reach Dionysiou.

During the time of the cholera epidemic, when quarantines were instituted in the regions surrounding Athos, a storm drove a skiff with laymen in it to the shore of Dionysiou Monastery. They wanted to come ashore, hoist the skiff out of the sea and wait out the foul weather in the dockside tower. But because of the epidemic, the watchman in the tower could not let them ashore without asking a blessing from the abbot. The latter ordered that they not be allowed to come ashore, telling them to sail into the quarantine zone in Daphne.

Those in the skiff explained that because of the storm and nightfall, it was impossible for them to reach Daphne. The monks categorically refused to receive them, however, and shoved the skiff away from the shore. In such conditions it took great effort to reach the next monastery.

Several of the brothers became indignant with the abbot for his actions, and went to Fr. Hilarion to relate what had taken place. The elder calmed them, adding that the Lord would punish the abbot in a twofold manner. For his personal benefit, he would be visited by such an illness that he would bellow for three days like a cow. And, since many of the brothers had taken part in this, another misfortune would occur for the benefit of all.

In three days the abbot's throat became so afflicted that he screamed like a cow and bellowed with a voice not his own—for exactly three days. After his recovery, several of the brothers were sent in a skiff to catch fish with all the monastery nets on board. The day was calm, but, suddenly, a violent whirlwind blew and such a huge storm broke that they all lay on the bottom of the boat as if they were paralyzed. The skiff was dashed against the shore and broken to pieces, while the fishermen themselves were barely saved. Then another boat, sent to rescue the first, also sank, capsized by the storm.

In the Monastery of Dionysiou there was one monk, a gardener, who due to the circumstances of his life had lost hope of salvation and had thereby fallen into despair. Once Fr. Hilarion sent Fr. Sabbas to the monastery for a certain matter. En route he met the gardener, who was on his way to part forever with Mount Athos. When Fr. Sabbas asked his reason for leaving, the monk replied that having lost hope of salvation, he was enduring the afflictions of the monastic life in vain. Therefore, he had decided it was better to live untroubled in this life and hence resolved to return to the world.

Fr. Sabbas began to persuade him to remain, reassuring him and telling him to place all his hope upon God and not despair of his salvation. The gardener did not want to listen at first, but gradually began to side with the thought that Fr. Sabbas was right. He finally agreed to stay on the Holy Mountain, but only under the condition that Fr. Sabbas would take his sin upon himself. The latter agreed by placing his hand upon his.

On his return, the devil began to get the better of Fr. Sabbas, by instilling thoughts that it was beyond his strength to have taken upon himself his brother's sin. The thought drove him to fall into despair. It urged him not to go to the elder but to go elsewhere. At that time Fr. Hilarion learned in spirit that his disciple was in danger and armed himself against the devil for Fr. Sabbas' sake. Fr. Sabbas just then felt an alleviation of thoughts and decided to return to the elder, albeit with a heavy heart. Fr. Hilarion met him on the road: "What has happened to you? You left so joyful but have returned so sad. Don't be afraid! The Lord had taken upon Himself the sins of the whole world: would He really not will the salvation of one man?" And Fr. Sabbas became completely peaceful.

11. At Little St. Anne's Skete

Elder Hadji George. Elder Hadji George.
An entry from the diary of the abbot of St. Panteleimon's Monastery, Archimandrite Macarius:

"On January 8, 1857, Fr. Ioasaph, a Georgian monk who lives with us, went to Dionysiou Monastery for confession with the renowned ascetic of our days, Hieroschemamonk Hilarion. At our monk's departure I requested him to ask the elder to pray that the Lord would grant me patience, and that if my life would serve for God's glory, then may the Lord prolong it, but if my life was unto my detriment, that He shorten it.

"Fr. Hilarion's reply: 'Patience is acquired by hoping in the Lord and considering oneself unworthy of everything. People whom the Lord calls to serve Him, out of humility consider themselves very weak, both inwardly as before the Lord, and outwardly as well: such people seek not their own glorification but only God's majesty. Concerning people who seek their own glory, they sacrifice everything that they might obtain their goal—to exercise authority.' And he promised to pray for me."

The envier of our salvation did not leave the elder alone in Dionysiou, either. He raised a fierce persecution against Fr. Hilarion through Abbot Eulogius, who forced the elder to leave the monastery and move to Little St. Anne's Skete.

Soon after his move to the Skete, Elder Hadji-George[10] came to him and out of love for Christ remarked, "You taught me patience, but you yourself left!" "No," the elder meekly replied, "I heeded only the Gospel which says: When they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another (Mt. 10:23)."

During Fr. Hilarion's stay in Little St. Anne's Skete, a memorable event occurred. The church of his cell had been consecrated to St. Onuphrius and the altar was in need of extensive repair, but the elder did not want to disturb the monastery with a request for help. The elder said, "During my lifetime I don't want to trouble anyone for myself in any way. We would also be obliged to summon a bishop—and along with him his acolytes and chanter—for the reconsecration of the altar table, all of which would entail expenses. It would be better for us to endure patiently, leaving the entire matter to the will of God."

At this time a monk of the Great Lavra was in Wallachia collecting funds. Walking through a certain city, he met a woman who handed him twenty ten-rouble notes. She asked him to take them to Mount Athos to Elder Hilarion the Georgian at the Cell of St. Onuphrius, adding that he presently had need of them. Then this woman disappeared.

When this monk finished his collections, he returned to Athos and immediately came to Fr. Hilarion. Giving him the money, he remarked that this woman was known to him. Fr. Hilarion, struck with awe, said that he had never been to Wallachia and knew no one there. Therefore, most likely he was mistaken and the money had been sent to some other friend. The monk explained that this woman not only used his name but also the name of the church for which the money had been designated. Thus, he could not give the money to anyone other than him. The elder absolutely refused the money. He told the fund collector that, if he could not find someone else with the same name, he could distribute the money to the poor.

The monk related everything at the Great Lavra. Since they already knew that the elder's church was in need of rebuilding, the monastery council of elders decided that the alms-gatherer should hire craftsmen and arrange everything necessary. After the renovation he was to invite the bishop and his clergy and to hold a feast for the guests after the consecration. He did all of this. At Fr. Hilarion's request, the newly constructed church was dedicated to the Resurrection of Christ.

12. Life at St. Panteleimon's Monastery

In 1862, Fr. Hilarion came to the Monastery of St. Panteleimon[11] and announced that he wanted to move there permanently. The monastery elders received him and his disciple with joy. They asked him to choose a deserted cell to inhabit until the Cell of St. George was ready for him. The elder temporarily settled in the Cell of the Holy Fathers of the Kiev Caves, which had been built by the monastery's former superior, Ambrose.

Fr. Hilarion had given this spiritual testament to his disciple, Fr. Sabbas: never to eat food with oil or to drink wine, but to serve the Liturgy daily and pray for the whole world. When they lived together, they unfailingly carried this out. Furthermore, they passed every night in vigil. When both ascetics moved to the Russikon, they observed the following order: in the evening they did not sleep. After everything had grown quiet, the elder would leave his cell, and either cough, walk past his disciple's cell, knock three times, or summon him for some matter. He did all this so as not to allow Sabbas to fall asleep during the time for vigil.

At midnight, the elder would leave his cell and begin to walk about noisily, so that the brethren who lived there might hear his footsteps and wake for Matins—he never roused anyone by calling to them. The brothers in the Cell of the Holy Fathers of the Kiev Caves rose to perform their prayer rule, which lasted until 8:00 a.m. and was followed by Liturgy. The elder no longer served Liturgy but would always receive Holy Communion.

The elder expressed himself poorly in Greek. Thus, he would usually explain himself in Turkish, and Sabbas would translate. Although he had known Russian, he had completely forgotten it, not having had any communication with Russians for more than forty years. There were cases, however, when he would begin to speak Greek and Russian very well. This was not from a knowledge of the languages, but due to inspiration from on high (these were cases of extreme spiritual need). Once, while he was still living in the Cell of the Holy Fathers of the Kiev Caves, there also lived a Russian monk, Fr. Thomas, a cabinetmaker, who served as a sexton. He carried out his obediences with zeal. One night a demon came to him in the form of a man and said, "Why are you keeping wine in your cell?" He replied that this wine was for church, and he did not keep it for his own use. The demon then demanded some wine and was ready to take it. Fr. Thomas, grabbing the flask, started arguing and became so enraged that he screamed that he would not give him the wine. This scream woke everyone. The elder knocked on his door, but Fr. Thomas, not understanding anything, kept screaming that he would not give him the wine. When he came to himself and opened the door, all were greatly troubled.

Fr. Hilarion took him to his cell and began to calm him, explaining to him what had happened. The elder said that the enemy had done this out of jealousy since Fr. Thomas' ardent service had been hateful to him. He conversed with him for a long time until Fr. Thomas was totally at peace. Only in the morning did he suddenly remember that they had conversed in Russian. After the service, Fr. Thomas approached the elder and wanted to speak with him about what had happened, but Fr. Hilarion resolutely stated he did not understand anything Fr. Thomas said.

Fr. Thomas objected, "How's that? We spoke for so long last night."

The elder replied through Fr. Sabbas, "I don't know how I spoke, but the Lord, seeing your need, allowed you to understand my speech as if I had spoken Russian. But truly, I don't speak Russian."

In other instances he also spoke Greek through the same state of Grace, when the occasion demanded.[12]

In 1863, one year before his repose, the elder moved into the Cell of St. George. The cell stands amidst an olive grove and is located about one hour's walk from the monastery.

About this time, the elder became mortally ill. His bowels had become twisted and he could neither eat nor drink. The doctor said the elder would die the next day at a certain hour without fail. Fr. Hilarion lay immoveable and moaned. All the elders and brothers came to beg pardon. He, too, was convinced this was the end, and so he parted with everyone.

The Monastery of St. Panteleimon as it appeared in the 19th century. The Monastery of St. Panteleimon as it appeared in the 19th century.

The next day, at the very hour that the doctor had appointed for his death, Elder Hilarion came on foot to the monastery to visit the sick Fr. Macarius. Upon seeing him, everyone marveled. The elder's healing had taken place in the following manner: When he was already at his last breath and was lying on his bed praying, he heard a voice from the icon of the Savior: "Do you wish to remain among the living and become well?"The elder, always obedient to God's will, answered that he would submit to God's providence. He was then told that he would be granted life and health. Fr. Hilarion rose from the bed absolutely healthy. In the morning, hearing of Fr. Macarius' illness, he hurried to visit him.

In the Cell of St. George, a Russian cell-attendant was assigned to them. He observed their daily labors, all-night vigils and strict fasting. However, to hide their asceticism, they sent him away to the Cell of the Fathers of the Kiev Caves.

They cooked food only on Saturday and Sunday, and that primarily for appearance. However, when Fr. Hilarion had guests, out of deep discretion he did not decline from treating them, and also ate whatever they gave him. His disciple, however, never broke the fast. On the day of Holy Pascha he alone was given lenten food, and when the elder returned to the cell from the Paschal services and celebrations, he also observed the fast once more.

The elder slept only two hours a day, one hour standing, leaning on a staff, and the second sitting on the floor, leaning his back against the wall. To aid him in practicing mental prayer through the entire night, he had a special support constructed. Four iron rings hung from the ceiling, and a towel was tied on each side of the elder between two of the rings. When he grew weak he could lean on the towels. So that no one would comprehend the purpose of these rings, the elder would hang his laundry out to dry on them during the day.

Once Fr. Hilarion related an event that happened to him, as if he were speaking about another person: A certain monk was living in seclusion. Coming out of his refuge, he saw a demon in the form of a monk sitting and weeping so bitterly that one could scarcely find a man capable of communicating such sorrow. The recluse, treating him like a man, with great sympathy asked the cause of this bitter lamentation. The demon replied that he had been imploring the Lord for thirty years to forgive him his sin, but the Lord would not forgive him. Having said this the demon began to groan and weep.

The monk attempted to console the mourner. After he returned to his cell, however, an evil thought began to pester him, inspired of course by the same demon: "Here is a man who weeps over one sin and entreats God for forgiveness and cannot propitiate Him. And you have sinned from your youth; you have sinned and continually angered God. What do you expect for yourself? What are you living here for, wasting your time in vain?"

But the merciful Lord did not permit his slave to fall into the devil's snare. Right then the recluse heard a voice, "Don't believe the demon who is tempting you. Go out and tell him that not only would thirty years of repentance placate the Lord for one sin, but even if a man had upon him the sins of the whole world and began to repent with all his soul, then the Lord would accept three hours of repentance and forgive the penitent. The Lord would receive even you, satan, if you would but repent!"

Fr. Sabbas related the following story: Once a rabid dog came to Athos. The officers, no matter how much they tracked her, could not catch her. She attacked cows and people. Once she came to the cell of Fr. Hilarion. He caught sight of her through the window and yelled to Fr. Sabbas to bring a rope. However, since the word for "rope" in Turkish sounds like the word for "dog," the disciple thought that the elder had ordered him to bring the dog. Without so much as deliberating, he ran out, caught the dog by the ear and wanted to bring it to the elder. The latter, on seeing her foaming at the lips and her gleaming eyes, recoiled and ordered him to let her go, rebuking his disciple. The dog fled without touching Fr. Sabbas and was soon caught by the police.

13. The Repose of Fr. Hilarion

From childhood Fr. Hilarion had possessed great love for and fervent devotion to the Holy Great-martyr George. Fr. Sabbas attested that the Saint had appeared many times to Fr. Hilarion, protecting him throughout the course of his life. Fr. Hilarion had been baptized in a church dedicated to St. George and had spent his childhood and youth in monasteries dedicated to the Saint—the Tabakini and Dzhruchi Monasteries. Thus, it was fitting that his repose should occur under the Saint's protection, in the Cell of the Holy Great-martyr George.

A day before his death, Fr. Hilarion allowed Fr. Sabbas to go and serve Liturgy in the Cell of St. Demetrius. The elder became worse at that time and prayed. Simultaneously, Fr. Sabbas heard the elder's voice calling him, "Sabbas, Sabbas!" When Sabbas returned he found the elder totally enfeebled. On the next day, February 14, 1864, the elder reposed, having reached his eighty-eighth year.[13]

The elder, foreseeing that the monks of the Russikon would honor him as a saint, had commanded Fr. Sabbas to secretly carry away his body and bury it in a place unknown to the Russians. Thus, one night Sabbas took the relics and it is believed that he buried them at Iveron Monastery in the Skete of the Forerunner, where the elder had once labored. Fr. Sabbas revealed the location of his grave only to a few of the elder's close friends.

One of these, Fr. Bessarion the Georgian, a disciple of Fr. Benedict, wanted to pray at the elder's grave. The night before he was to do this, Fr. Benedict appeared to him in his sleep and asked, "Where are you planning to go?" He replied that he was going to Fr. Hilarion's grave, over whose loss he wept inconsolably. Fr. Benedict objected that Fr. Hilarion had not died—so why go to his grave? Fr. Bessarion began to argue, but Fr. Benedict continued to insist that Fr. Hilarion had not died but was still living, and asked him not to believe rumors. Fr. Bessarion in his grief finally said, "Why, father, are you mocking me?" Fr. Benedict then said, "Fr. Hilarion lives and is now with St. Athanasius of Mount Athos." At this Fr. Bessarion woke up and felt within him a surge of joy. Coming to the grave of Fr. Hilarion, he related to Fr. Sabbas all that he had seen in his vision.

To whomever had faith in the elder, much was revealed. For more than fifteen years Schemamonk Nikodim the Bulgarian had always gone to Fr. Hilarion for confession. On the day of the elder's repose, the thought came to Fr. Nikodim: Why had he, going for so many years to the elder, not once asked him to read the prayer of absolution over him? Fr. Nikodim decided to ask him the next time he went. The next day, however, he learned that Fr. Hilarion had reposed, and he greatly grieved.

Three days later, after fervent prayer for the deceased, Fr. Nikodim fell into a light sleep an hour before Matins. Fr. Hilarion appeared to him majestically, radiantly and joyfully, saying, "Don't grieve that I never read the prayer, but go to Fr. Sabbas, and he will read it for you in my stead." Then Fr. Nikodim immediately grabbed his rucksack and walked the familiar path to the Cell of St. George. Arriving, he found Fr. Sabbas sitting in church, wearing an epitrachelion [priest's stole], and holding a thick book. Fr. Sabbas turned to him and said, "I've been waiting for you! The elder ordered me to read the prayer of absolution over you." Fr. Sabbas then stood and read the prayer from the Book of Needs.

Before his death Fr. Hilarion said to the elder of the Russikon, "Don't assign the cell to Fr. Sabbas. He doesn't want to live here and he won't. He's accustomed to life at Little St. Anne's, so I'm letting him go there." Fr. Sabbas did just that: soon after the elder's repose he returned to the Cell of the Resurrection of Christ, where he lived until his death in 1908.

By 1867 rumors about the state of the elder's relics had spread over Mount Athos. Fr. Sabbas, desiring to dispel these idle tales, determined to open the grave of Fr. Hilarion. He sent four people to uncover and transfer the relics but remained by himself in his cell to pray. At the Ascension Vigil, May 25, the monks unearthed the bones of Fr. Hilarion. During the opening of the relics they smelled a wonderful fragrance, which continued during the entire procession across the peninsula to Little St. Anne's Skete. There in his disciple's cell such fragrance flowed forth that everyone present was amazed—four Russian and seventy-four Greek monks.

After the transfer of the relics one desert-dweller had a vision: in brightest daylight, at five o'clock Byzantine time, he saw a sphere in the likeness of a sun in the cell of Fr. Sabbas. The sphere sent forth rays of light and was lifted in the air directly above the cell. This lasted about an hour. The monk who had seen this wished to tell others about the vision, but as soon as this thought appeared, the sphere vanished. He concluded it must be the uncovered relics of Fr. Hilarion. Moved by love for the reposed, he hurried to Fr. Sabbas to relate to him what he had seen, and Fr. Sabbas in turn told him of the uncovering of the relics, showing them to him.

From: The Orthodox Word, Nos. 23—231 (abbreviated). Published with permission.

[1] In reprisal for the Athonite monks' support of the Greek Insurrection, Turkish garrisons were housed on the Holy Mountain at the expense of the monasteries.
[2] Located at the southwestern tip of the Athonite peninsula, between the Sketes of St. Anne and St. Basil.
[3] New Skete is a dependency of the Monastery of St. Paul and is located on its land.
[4] See Elder Paisios of Mount Athos, Elder Hadji-Georgis the Athonite, (Thessalonica: Holy Convent of the Evangelist John the Theologian, 1996), pp. 80-84.
[5]Xerophagy: A diet consisting of only vegetables and grains cooked without oil.
[6] Later this was renamed the Cell of the Holy Resurrection. It is located at the top of Little St. Anne's Skete.
[7] Because of the elder's strict adherence to the canons, few could bear the heavy penances he would have dispensed. Realizing this, the elder found it more profitable to receive people for revelation of thoughts, help them through spiritual counsel, and send them to a confessor for the Sacrament of Confession.
[8] "The Ladder of Divine Graces" in The Philokalia, vol. 3 (London: Faber and Faber: 1984), pp. 66-69.
[9] Aclose friend of St. Innocent of Alaska and St. Philaret, Metropolitan of Mos­cow, Andrew Muraviev wrote many books about his pilgrimages to holy places, in­cluding Greece, the Holy Land, the Caucasus and Northern Russia.
[10] Elder Hadji-George (Georgis) was renowned as one of the strictest ascetics of Mount Athos in the nineteenth century.
[11] Also known as the Russikon, St. Panteleimon's Monastery is the only Russian representative among the twenty governing monasteries on Mount Athos. In 1856 Fr. Hilarion developed a close spiritual bond with Fr. Jerome, the renowned elder and confessor of St. Panteleimon's Monastery. Fr. Jerome would walk to Little St. Anne's Skete every year and visit Fr. Hilarion.
[12] A similar occurrence took place in the life of a contemporary Greek elder, Fr. Porphyrios. For a description and an explanation of this gift, see Constantine Yiannitsiotis, With Elder Porphyrios (Athens: The Holy Convent of the Savior, 2001), pp. 131-49.
[13] Here it is appropriate to relate Fr. Hilarion's teaching on prayer for the reposed. One Russian monk, Fr. Barsanuphius, was once with Elder Euthymius in the Skete of St. Anne. Their conversation touched upon the death of a certain monk. Unexpectedly, Fr. Euthymius broke into tears and said, "Fr. Hilarion told me that when you hear of the death of someone, you are to leave aside your prayer rule or any concerns for your own soul, and pray and weep over that soul which is passing through the toll-houses. For we still remain among the living and can repent, but the soul of a deceased person can no longer do anything for itself and is in extreme need of prayerful aid."
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