Testimonies and Experiences
Elder Porphyrios – Prophet of our time
K.I.: Mr. Sotirchos, you had the good fortune to know Elder Porphyrios. We therefore ask you to talk about his personality and his holiness.
P.S.: The whole of Greece mourned the passing away of Elder Porphyrios, not just geographically, but universally, throughout the whole world. It's not only my personal opinion. All his spiritual children believed that. Elder Porphyrios is a holy person of great spiritual height, a true saint. All those who had the opportunity to know him well saw his sanctity in his silence, in his words and in his actions. I don't say Elder Porphyrios is a saint because I believe it but because I feel it. I can't help saying it. I can't put it any other way, because he had all the characteristics of a saint.
We've already been honored by God with signs of Elder Porphyrios' sanctity, not only while he was alive but immediately after his passing too. I give the following testimony.
There was a very well educated man here in Athens who was a spiritual child of Elder Porphyrios for many years. Whenever he had a problem he would go to see the elder or simply phone him up. When Elder Porphyrios passed away this man was absent on business and so hadn't learnt about his death. When he returned to Athens he came across a family problem and, as always, sought the Elder's advice. He picked up the telephone, dialed the Elder's number and heard Elder Porphyrios himself answer the phone.
He greeted him, sought his blessing and then went on to tell him about his problem and to ask for some advice. Elder Porphyrios told him what to do and what not to do. The spiritual child was pleased and said,
"I'll come and see you, Elder, as soon as I can." Elder Porphyrios then said,
"Don't telephone me again, because I have died."
K.I.: That's astonishing, Mr. Sotirchos, even to the point of being unbelievable.
P.S.: It really does appear to be unbelievable, Mr. Ioannides, but it's not unbelievable. It's simply a reflection of God's love. As a well-known monk from the Holy Mountain said, if we were truly able to know God's love for man, then, even now, we would be placed in paradise by it.
It's God's all-encompassing presence, even through His saints so that (please don't think it an exaggeration, because personally I completely believe it.) as we talk, God's grace gives Elder Porphyrios the blessing to hear what we're saying. I'm trying to avoid saying that he's standing in this room where we're speaking.
Let me explain that. Whatever we say about Elder Porphyrios it's not said to glorify him, because heaven has no need of the earth's glory. Here on earth we are in a miserable state. These things happen to give us the chance to follow their example, "to imitate a saint is to honor a saint," as Saint John Chrysostom says. It's like the raft of salvation that the castaway searches for in order to be saved. I believe that this is what is needed more than anything else in our times. We must find the hand of God in the midst of the saints, one of whom, I believe, is Elder Porphyrios.
K.I.: Mr. Sotirchos you've known and even written about elders of Orthodoxy. Your book Mystical Ascents is one of the most important Orthodox books, that I have read in recent years.
K.I.: The experiences of the elders that they received with the help of God and with the help of an elder is the correct road for every Christian to take.
The relationship between an elder and spiritual child is both fatherly and filial. It's part of the tradition of the Church from the very day of her foundation. It's the principle that we ought to follow.
An elder's existence is not the result of a personal decision. You don't say, "I want to become an elder," and it happens. It's "not enough to want it; you must give up your whole being. That's what the elder does in his individual struggle.
It starts with purification (catharsis), through hard asceticism. It does not attempt to avoid matter, but primarily purifies our inner being. Purification is not something that is achieved easily. A material house is built brick by brick, the same is true of the process of purification.
After the first stage, which is purification, comes the second stage, God-given enlightenment. Elder Porphyrios was barely educated; he had only gone to elementary school. However, the whole world did not know what the Elder knew. Holiness is not a piece of knowledge. It is a condition, a power, a quality of God. The saint enters the life of God and acquires the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
At this point we must make a small deviation, in order to say that grace is benevolent, but it is also painful for its bearer. Those who have grace also have pain. It's enough for us to recall the suffering of St. Paul the Apostle and St. John Chrysostom. The same was true of Elder Porphyrios, even though he had enormous gifts he suffered from many diseases until the moment of his death.
After that comes the reward, the prize, the third stage, theosis, which the Elder acquires without knowing it, unknowingly. The Elder now functions like an instrument, a tool of Divine Grace.
When he has the gift of discernment, or foresight, or healing, or whatever other pastoral gift, it functions in a completely natural way. It is just like doing all the other things in life, like breathing, thinking, talking, and so on. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are imparted in this natural way, just like a mirror reflecting the light of the sun.
K.I.: Elder Porphyrios' spiritual beam was so bright and so strong that whatever anyone says about that holy man is not enough.
P.S. The blessed Elder was one of the greatest contemporary figures of true spiritual holiness. His chief characteristics were his immense humility, meekness, and prayer. This triptych truly showed us the figure of a saint as bequeathed to us by our Orthodox tradition.
K.I. As you've quite rightly mentioned, Elder Porphyrios belongs to the great patristic tradition of our Church. The discernment that he had was striking. He helped everybody move one step forward. It was always a complete offering, service and ministry to his fellows.
P.S.: Elder Porphyrios had many gifts and each one complemented the others.
He had boundless long-suffering and spiritual mercy not only for all his spiritual children, but for all his visitors. Thousands of people went and visited him in his cell. The greater part of Greece's spiritual elect respected him, visited him, and obeyed him.
He taught love by practical example. His basic sermon was love towards God. He wanted us to love God so that we could love people, the world, every single thing.
He was an ascetic for over seventy years. From his childhood until his extreme old age he was a man who continually exercised and struggled for himself and for his spiritual children. That's why God gave him so many gifts. Amongst others, the gifts of discernment, foresight, prophecy, and especially his wonderworking prayer. It is well-known that he healed many people from some very serious diseases.
Many academics characteristically went to him for advice, either before making an important decision or before an academic conference, or, in the case of doctors, before a major operation.
K.I.: "The humble people cried unto the Lord and the wise men of the world were admonished and their wisdom melted like wax."
P.S.: Exactly. Elder Porphyrios was a great blessing from God upon all of us. Before we continue, however, it would be good to make some clarifications. Discernment is the gift of the Holy Spirit, where the soul of the believer can see through people and things.
The gift of foresight is when man knows the events from God before they happen. This gift is complemented by the gift of prophecy, which gives a fuller forecast of the future. That's why many faithful instead of calling him Father Porphyrios called him Father Prophet, an example of the impact his spiritual work made.
K.I.: Elder Porphyrios' eyes saw what we can't see.
P.S.: Elder Porphyrios knew the details of time and space. The extent to which he saw things, people and events that happened in the past, that happen in the present, and that will happen in the future is incredible. He saw all these things without actively looking for them. You are, I imagine, aware of the fact that he saw the Turkish invasion of Cyprus.
P.S.: On that terrible morning, at dawn on the 20th July 1974, he jumped up out of bed and woke up his company.
"At this very hour," he told them, "the Turks are
K.I.: He even indicated to them the exact spots where the Turks were landing at that hour. Let us proceed from this addition, as we have recorded this shocking experience from others.*
*In July 1974 Elder Porphyrios traveled by car with three of his spiritual children to Mt. Athos. On the 20th of July 1974 he could be found in the village Metamorphosis, Chalkhidiki, where he had stopped to visit a monastery. There he heard the news of the Turkish invasion on the radio. He remained thoughtful and 'saw' that this situation was part of the development of a greater plan, as he told his companions. The radio had announced a call-up of reserves and one of his companions was required to report to the assembly point at Tyrnavos, all four of them took the car and headed for home. The reservist reported for duty somewhere in Tyrnavos. The Elder and the rest of the party spent the night in a hotel. The next day the Elder determined that it was unnecessary for them to remain, since the recruits name could not be found in the army directories. They went and picked him up, finally returning to Athens. One evening, during the journey, the Elder turned to one of his spiritual children and said that an important Turk was highly irritated because things were not going so well for them. He said that officers and leaders were coming and going giving orders and directions.
We were told this at the Convent founded by the Elder, by two of his spiritual children who spoke to us.
K.I.: We're waiting with great anticipation Mr. Sotirchos, for you to tell us more.
P.S.: I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to share some of my astounding experiences with your fellow Cypriots.
Once, the Elder set off for a monastery with three of his spiritual children to celebrate Vespers. At first they said they would go on foot. However, after walking some distance, Elder Porphyrios became tired, and the monastery was still quite far away. They decided to find a vehicle to take them the rest of the way.
At that moment, a taxi appeared in the distance. The Elder's three lay companions told him that they would wave it down and ask the driver to take them to the monastery.
"Don't worry," he told them, "the taxi-driver will
stop anyway. But when we get into the cab, no-one is to speak to the
driver; I'm the only one who'll speak to him."
That's exactly what happened. The taxi-driver stopped without them waving him down, they got in and the Elder told the driver their destination.
When the taxi set off the driver began to put down the clergy and to blame them for a thousand and one different things. Each time that he said something he addressed it to the three laymen sitting in the back seat of the cab:
"It is like that, isn't it, you guys? What do you say?"
They kept their lips tightly shut and didn't say a
word, just as the Elder had told them.
When the driver saw that the others weren't answering him he turned to Elder Porphyrios and said,
"Isn't that the way it is, pappouli?. What do you
say? The things they write in the papers are true, aren't they?"
Then Elder Porphyrios said to him,
"My son, I'll tell you a little story. I'll tell it only once to you; you won't need to hear it a second time. There once was a man from a certain place (he named it), who had an elderly neighbor with a large property. One night he killed him and buried him. Then, using falsified papers, he got hold of his elderly neighbor's property and sold it. And do you know what he bought with the money that he got from selling the property? He bought a taxi...."
The moment the taxi-driver heard the story, he was so shaken, that he pulled over to the side of the road, and shouted,
"Don't say anything pappouli. Only you and I know
"God also knows about it," Elder Porphyrios answered. "He told me, so that I could tell you. See to it that you change your way of life from now on."
K.I.: You mean to say, Mr. Sotirchos, that Elder Porphyrios saw, with his gift of foresight, that the taxi-driver had committed murder.
K.I.: That's more than astonishing.
P.S.: When talking or hearing about the wonders of Elder Porphyrios' life one really does find one thing more astonishing than the other. Elder Porphyrios was really a spiritual giant. His journey here on earth was a journey entirely towards holiness.
K.I.: Mr. Sotirchos, could we please hear about one more event. One never becomes tired of hearing stories about Elder Porphyrios.
P.S.: One day, a spiritual child of Elder Porphyrios phoned him from South Africa, where he lived, to seek his advice about some problem he had.
As they were speaking on the phone Elder Porphyrios said to him,
"What's happening there? Is it still raining or has it stopped?"
Can you imagine it, the Elder in Greece knew that it
was raining in South Africa that day.
The caller knew about Elder Porphyrios' gifts of discernment and foresight. When he finished his own conversation he said,
"Elder, I also have a friend of mine here who
would like to speak with you, to receive your blessing." He
said it without mentioning his friend's name, he simply said, "a friend
The friend picked up the receiver and heard the Elder say,
"Good Evening X, my child."
X was taken aback. Immediately afterwards he heard the Elder ask him,
"How are your four girls?" and then, "Pay
attention to your oldest daughter - she has problems and could be making
a big mistake."
I must make it clear at this point that Elder Porphyrios didn't know this man and had never met him. When he heard what Elder Porphyrios said to him he became soaked in his sweat from the shock. He had realized that he had spoken to a true saint. This incident shows that Elder Porphyrios didn't only care about his spiritual children but about each human soul.
K.I.: That was the greatness of Elder Porphyrios' love; it truly overwhelmed you from the first moment you saw him, spoke with him or telephoned him.
P.S.: Elder Porphyrios' great and fundamental ascetic effort, apart from his humility, vigil and fasting, was prayer. Through his prayer he could see events in the past, in the present and in the future. When a Professor from the Polytechnic University was going to attend some European conference, he went to get the Elder's blessing. There they spoke about astronomy. As the professor himself told us, Elder Porphyrios told him what he would encounter at the conference and what he should do.
During the conference, the professor saw that everything Elder Porphyrios had told him beforehand came true. He was so moved that, not only did he become a most humble spiritual child of Elder Porphyrios, but he visited the Elder's Convent at Milesi regularly and humbled himself by doing manual labor there.
People didn't only come to see him from within Greece, but they came from all over the world, even from as far away as Japan. They went and put all their problems, worries and whatever else troubled them to him, and he helped all of them with lots of love, humbleness, gentleness and prayer -most of all prayer.
In one of our conversations, (I was blessed enough to see him many times), he said to me, "There are elders who can cover the whole of Greece when they stretch their arms out in prayer." He didn't say if it was himself or someone else that he was talking about.
K.I.: Every time I met Elder Porphyrios I felt as if our conversation was a spiritual banquet. I was greatly impressed by the freedom he allowed to the person who spoke with him. I saw all of Orthodoxy's freedom embodied within his face.
P.S.: Elder Porphyrios never forced anyone to do anything and he never suggested anything that would infringe upon another's freedom. He didn't want us to lord it over others, he wanted us to respect others. The holiness within him meant that he saw the world with infinite compassion.
With the freedom, as you said, that he gave to those who spoke with him, he helped them realize in the best possible way that they were going along the wrong path. He always said that we should keep away from sects.
A basic quality of his was that he accepted everybody. He welcomed agnostics and atheists. He even welcomed gurus, without judging or criticizing anybody for their beliefs. However, to all of them he pointed out that the truth is found in Christ and in the Orthodox Christian Faith.
One of the Elder's major attributes was to be accepting - to accept all things and all people. He was, to put it more simply, an exact copy of the way God acts towards us in order for us to become better, to be cleansed and to advance towards salvation. That was Elder Porphyrios' practice. He never criticized anybody but captivated
everybody. He had the grace of transforming people.
I'll tell you a typical incident involving a French woman, a professor. She had heard about the Elder's gift of discernment and wanted to test him.
This French lady had attended a conference in Japan on the subject of gurus. Anyway, she went and saw the Elder without telling him that she had taken part in the conference.
Elder Porphyrios let the conversation flow freely, as he always did. The French lady said whatever she wanted to say and at some point in the discussion they found themselves talking about gurus. He then said to her,
"There was a certain gentleman sitting next to you at that conference you attended a few days ago, didn't he tell you something about the subject of the question you're asking me now?"
He also named the gentleman, who was a Christian.
The French lady felt as if she had been struck by lightning. She really had talked about that subject with the person whom Elder Porphyrios named. She then realized that Elder Porphyrios was a person enlightened by God.
K.I.: His words were full of fatherly wisdom. What else can you tell us, Mr. Sotirchos?
P.S.: He advised us to use gentle words when we said something to someone to avoid the element of confrontation. He gave the following example. "If you need to tell someone he is lying, don't tell him that he's telling lies, because naturally he'll become hurt and will react. Tell him that he is not telling the truth."
The greatest weapon for the salvation of us all is tolerance. This compassion comes to us from God and we in turn must give it to others as a present in return.
K.I.: He was highly inoffensive, an expression of his meekness.
P.S.: That was another of the Elder's virtues. It's also the reason why whoever spoke with him felt that whatever we've done as fallen beings, God's mercy would come to liberate us. It's enough to just seek his mercy, to call upon it with prayer and with a clean lifestyle.
In his farewell letter he writes, "I always made the effort to pray and to read the hymns of the church, may you also do the same." He showed us a road that we could follow and find the help and support that is so important in these trying times in which we live.
K.I.: He knew that I wrote poetry. He knew it before I had even met him: When some friends of my wife were telling him about our wedding he said, "Yes, I know, she married a poet and philosopher." Take note that no-one, not even my wife, had managed to tell him that I studied philosophy and wrote poetry.
In one of our conversations, he told me that the saints are poets and the Christ wants refined people next to him, like the true poets.
P.S.: This evolution, this development, not in the worldly sense, but in the spiritual sense, is the subject of my latest book with the title, "The Poet and the Saint."
In the hook I put forward that in life's river, we have the poet on one bank and the saint on the other. Both of them are reaching out to meet one another. At the point at which they meet we find the Christian writer, the Christian poet, who gives us poetry according to God, in Christ, feeling and expressing the world in another way, in a renewed way. This re-birth gives him God's holiness, which passes into life and meets man. I gained great joy from the fact, which you mentioned, that the late Elder told you that Christ wants refined people near him, because I've always thought that a person is refined when he manages to throw off the passions of this world, and thus open the closed door which prevents us from approaching Christ. We thus become more accepting of God's mercy.
K.L May the grace of Holy Spirit help all of us to accept this blessing from heaven, always allowing us to remember Elder Porphyrios, who bore so much witness to life according to God.
P.S.: I personally have the conviction that he is a true saint of our time. I would like to make one wish, -that this conviction, the conviction of thousands of people, is for Elder
Porphyrios to become known throughout the Church and to be recognized 'officially' as a saint of our Church. We have a need of such examples.
I ask him to pray for all of us, as I believe that he lives in the land of the living, in the tabernacles of the saints, and that he speaks openly before God.
One more wish, that all those who have any kind of testimony from a meeting or conversation with the Elder write it down and present it to us, so that everything can be gathered together now while the memory of his passing is still fresh in our minds.
K.I.: Mr. Sotirchos I would like to give you our warmest thanks for the important things that you've told us and for all your advice regarding the selection of material for this current edition.
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Article published in English on: 11-2-2009.
Last Update: 11-2-2009.